Dolley Madison

Moving Image
Created: 2010


Dolley Madison
Summary: "DOLLEY MADISON, a 90-minute documentary, challenges our traditional view of 19th-century American history and the notion that politics of that period was made only by men. Told through the eyes of a fascinating and charismatic founding mother, the documentary sheds light on the unofficial public roles that women played long before they could vote or participate formally in politics. DOLLEY MADISON, which premiered in 2010 during Women's History Month on PBS' American Experience, demonstrates the tangible impact Dolley had on America during the tumultuous early years of the nation.

"Born in relative obscurity before the American Revolution, Dolley Madison became one of the most influential and best-loved figures of her day, honored at her death by the largest state funeral Washington D.C. had ever seen. She entered the national spotlight in 1809, as wife of America's fourth president, James Madison. Dolley quickly turned the ill-defined role of First Lady into a public position for the first time, using that role to help unite the fragile new country.

"Both the young nation and its undeveloped capital in Washington were struggling: how should a democratic republic express its legitimacy in a world still dominated by kings and courts? As First Lady, Dolley Madison created a uniquely American style at the White House, combining power with republican values. She opened the first Inaugural Ball to the public, and transformed the President's House into an elegant and democratic space. An accomplished political hostess, Dolley threw weekly parties so crowded they were called 'squeezes.' At these events, held during one of the most bitterly divided periods in Washington, when the country was threatening to come apart, Dolley encouraged political enemies to set aside their differences and work together in bipartisan ways.

"DOLLEY MADISON draws on rich new scholarship on women's lives in the pre-suffrage age, examining both Dolley's public achievements and her often troubled private life -- in particular, her relationship with her only son, a drinker and gambler who almost ruined her final years. The documentary also explores how Dolley, while raised as a Quaker, unhesitatingly married into a slave-owning family and near the end of her life, was forced to sell slaves to settle her son's debts.

"DOLLEY MADISON was produced by Twin Cities Public Television in association with Middlemarch Films, the team that created the George Foster Peabody Award-winning series, Liberty the American Revolution. Using on-camera actors, animation, and richly costumed period recreations, the documentary creates a vivid picture of not only the First Couple, but also of Washington D.C.'s early years. Actors include Eve Best (Nurse Jackie, The King's Speech) as Dolley Madison and Tony Award-winning actor Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife) as James Madison.

"DOLLEY MADISON was one of the most highly rated episodes of the American Experience, and was seen by 7.5 million viewers."--2010 Peabody Awards entry form.

Corporate Producers: Twin Cities Public Television (Saint Paul, Minn.) | Middlemarch Films | Public Broadcasting Service (U.S.)

Persons Appearing: Eve Best | David Ogden Stiers

Broadcast Date: 2010-03-01