The Three Dolly Madisons

By Don Vitale

C'Mon, folks, 'fess up. It's the same question you always wondered about...but never bothered to find out: How did this woman really and truly spell her name? Was it Dolley WITH an E...or Dolly WITHOUT an E...or Dollie WITH an IE?

All I know is she's part of this country's early history. It's important that we know the Real Story.

Look, if you're at all interested, you want an answer that's exact, clear cut and 100 per cent rock solid. You're not interested in a wishy-washy answer. It's got to be THE answer-- no ifs, ands or buts.

Alas dear friends, not everything in life is clear cut or 100 per cent rock solid. This one is no exception.

Before we get to that, you should be asking me who exactly was Dolley Madison. [Please note I'm using Dolley with an E, at least for now...but that doesn't mean that's the true spelling of her name. Maybe it is...maybe it isn't]. And not only 'who' she was but 'what' she did? Why do we think she's important enough for us to even discuss her?

The 'who' is easy.  She was the wife of James Madison. Madison, as I'm sure everyone who's reading this epistle on early America knows that Madison was this country's fourth President. He wrote the constitution, federalist papers, and the bill of rights, the man didn't have anything else to do, led the country during the war of 1812.

Whether because of this or in spite of it, his wife Dolley Madison was the first woman to hold the position of First Lady of The White House.

See, friend, you just learned something you didn't know.

You should also know that at this point in our history the White House had become the official residence built for the president of the United States. After Madison was elected President, Dolley created weekly social events, entertaining guests with music and presiding over dinner parties. As her reputation for hospitality and her social graces spread, she attracted politician and diplomat alike to the President's home.

With abundant charm, intelligence and poise she made the White House the scene of refreshments and lively conversation. Her striking and welcoming presence was the centerpiece of these parties. No surprise that these get-togethers were popular, offering guests a relaxed atmosphere where politicians could mingle with friend and foe alike.

In short...the lady became a major player in the capital's social and political scenes. All the while boosting her husband's popularity as leader of the country. No doubt about it, folks, Dolley Madison truly was the hostess with the mostess.

Let me point out an event that embedded her in this country's history. It has to do with what's known as The War of 1812.  That's right, folks, we went to war again with Great Britain. Can you believe it...37 years after the shot heard round the world, we had to do it again with those Brits across the water. [What's this got to do with Dolley Madison? Patience, folks, patience....] This country declared war on England for any number of reasons.  It pretty much was a case of kill or be killed. But that's a whole other story....for another time.

Okay, two years later...the war got closer, in fact, too close. British troops moved into Washington, setting fire to the major government buildings.  When they were seen heading toward the White House, the staff prepared to leave before the enemy arrived.  Dolley knew the value-- both symbolic and historic -- of Gilbert Stuart's full length painting of George Washington, the one that hung on the wall. She didn't waste time telling the servants to remove the painting.

Quote Dolley Madison:
"Our kind friend Mr. Carroll has come to hasten my departure, and in a very bad humor with me, because I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall....I have ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas taken out....It is done, and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen from New York for safe keeping..."
The war ended in 1815. Both sides signed a peace treaty at Ghent....neither gaining anything they didn't already have. During the next two years and after, Dolley became a national heroine for removing the painting of Washington, saving it from destruction by British soldiers.

Back to business....Dolley Madison's real name.  Was it Dolley with an E? Or Dolly without an E? Searching her birth records we find that her name at birth was registered as Dolley, with an E. No surprise then that over time historians have settled on Dolley as her given name at birth.

End of story, right?

Hold your horses, friends. It's not over till it's over. By that I mean.....we found that her will of 1841 shows it as Dolly without the "E." Her will began...and I Quote: "I, Dolly P. Madison" I said, it's not over till.....oh well, you get what I mean.

It's important to know that many newspapers and a number of influential magazines spelled her name Dolly. "Without the E." One of the Maine newspapers reported an approval by Congress of an allowance for "Madame Dolly Madison" to buy furniture for the White House. And lest we forget, how about her grand-niece Lucia Beverly Cutts. In 1896 writing the memoirs of Dolly Madison she used the spelling of Dolly throughout. Is that powerful....or what? As we search further, we note that she may have been named after her aunt Dorothea, that Dolly was her nickname.

Dare I even point out that a national bakery producing snack cakes uses Dolly Madison as their brand name. That's another Dolly without the "E."

If that's not enough confusion to stir the pot, enter scholars and biographers who felt that her given name at birth was "Dollie".  Notice the "ie" ending. If you're still awake, let me be so bold as to ask..... where are we going with this historically momentous question? After all, friends, she was a legendary figure in America's early history, deserving of our time and attention. Was she Known As Dolley With The "E"......Without The "E".... Or Dollie With An "ie"......

I have shown you that the lady's name was spelled three different ways over the course of her life....and beyond.  Any one of these spellings worked then.... any would work today. Bottom Line: If we were to call a vote today, I'd go with "Dolley" with an "E".  If we voted tomorrow, I'd probably select "Dolly" without An "E." A year from now, it'd be "Dollie," hands down.

You wanted an answer that's exact, clear cut and 100 per cent rock solid. No ifs, ands or buts, remember?

Well, you just got it.--dv