Dolley Madison helped define what a first lady would be, hosting guests and addressing social problems. She campaigned for her husband, hosted events with single President Thomas Jefferon, raised funds for Lewis and Clark, and famously saved the famous portrait of George Washington from the White House when the British burned D.C. in the War of 1812. She was even the first citizen to send a message by telegraph.
In 1844, before women were even allowed to vote, Dolley Madison had a seat on the floor of the House of Representatives whenever she wanted. The former first lady enjoyed listening to the elected officials debate each other over the latest policy. Today only Members of Congress, their staff former members, and the President and Vice President are allowed on the House floor. Congress actually had the fourth first lady’s back a few other times as well. After the president died in 1836, the House paid her to publish books of James Madison’s papers.
Then when she fell into poverty twelve years later, so much so that her former slave Paul Jennings was giving her money when he saw her, Congress paid her today’s equivalent of over $700,000 to buy more of the papers from her. When President Zachary Taylor gave her eulogy, he may have originated the term by referring to her as America’s “First Lady”. The alternate term of “Presidentresss” was also used by some, but it didn’t stick.