8 January 2009
Dolley Madison played a role in the important history of the White House. Before she was a First Lady, Dolley was the hostess to many official White House functions while Thomas Jefferson was in office. (It should be noted that while Dolley lived there, the White House was called the President’s Mansion.) Dolley continued the role of hostess when her husband, James Madison, was elected to become the nation’s 4th president. Over the years Dolley became well known for making everyone feel welcomed at the White House. In an effort to make the White House more hospitable, Dolley also renovated the interior of the White House.
One of the items she used in the renovation was a full-length portrait of George Washington, also known as the Lansdowne portrait. The portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart, as a gift from Senator and Mrs. William Bingham of Pennsylvania to the Marquis of Lansdowne, a well-known supporter of the American Revolution. When the War of 1812 brought British soldiers to the steps of the White House, Dolley had the portrait cut from the frame and removed for safekeeping. As was customary at the time, Stuart made copies of the Lansdowne portrait, where they were hung in official US government buildings. During the War of 1812, the original Lansdowne portrait was still in England. The portrait that Dolley Madison saved was one of those copies Stuart made. The original has since returned to the United States, and it is currently hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.