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In Brief

Dolley Madison Braves British to Save White House Treasures

19 June 2012

Painted portrait of Dolley Madison (AP Images)

One hero of the War of 1812 was a woman. First lady Dolley Madison stayed in the White House until the last minute to save precious treasures, notably a famous portrait of George Washington.

Dolley Madison (1768–1849) was an early first lady of the United States of America, wife of the fourth U.S. president, James Madison (1809–1817). She is still celebrated as one of the most colorful and courageous first ladies. She was known for her beauty, charm and kindness. Her ebullient personality was sometimes at odds with her sedate Quaker upbringing, but it served her well as wife of an important politician.

During this bicentennial of the War of 1812, Dolley Madison is remembered for her bravery. President Madison was away reviewing troops when the British invaded Washington in August 1814. She remained at the White House to ensure that important state documents, valuables and the famous portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart were safely removed. She fled just before British troops arrived. They burned the White House to the ground.