The Dolley Madison Legacy Luncheon: The Inaugural Event
In Fall 2005, restoration of James Madison’s Montpelier was going well. While the mansion’s exterior was transforming into its 19th-century Madison retirement era aspect, Carolyn Quinn set her sights on how to transform the interior to allow visitors to see a vibrant Madison house and to get a sense of Dolley Payne Madison’s home.
While James was the intellect of the family, Dolley was its heart. During the Madisons’ time in Washington and as America’s first “First Lady,” Dolley had become a symbol of gracious hospitality. She had worked with the famous Benjamin Latrobe to create a glamorous presidential home for entertaining. Her famous “Wednesday Nights,” when she invited politicians from both sides to mingle, became so popular they earned the title of “Squeezes.” Even before her time in Washington, she had filled Montpelier with art, wallpaper, French furniture, and dramatic mirrors, much of which she ordered from Europe.
Carolyn assembled a group of volunteers to discuss a suitable way to honor Dolley Madison and raise money for special acquisitions for the mansion’s interior. With Dolley’s hospitality in mind, they decided to have a party in May (Dolley’s birthday month) when the Montpelier gardens would be in full bloom. Montpelier would ask a prominent speaker to address Dolley’s influential role as a pre-eminent hostess in Washington and to explore the role of women in the history of our emerging nation. Carolyn invited Cokie Roberts, who had demonstrated her interest in the Colonial period by writing a New York Times bestseller, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.
An Honorary Committee was created. Carolyn contacted the Virginia Historical Society for use of its striking Dolley Madison silhouette on all promotional material. Carolyn came up with the perfect favor for guests to take home as a memory of the inaugural luncheon, a bookmark featuring an illustration of Dolley Madison on a 15-cent stamp including her quote: “There is one secret, and that is the power we all have in forming our own destinies.”
May 17, 2006, was a beautiful day. Michael Quinn, President of The Montpelier Foundation, gave Cokie a tour of the mansion exterior; although the scaffolding obscured some of the architectural details, guests enjoyed seeing the restoration’s progress. Cokie’s speech highlighted Dolley as one of the important “Founding Mothers.” Next to the podium was a sketch of how the Montpelier drawing room might look like when finished, featuring Dolley’s favorite color, scarlet red. The afternoon concluded inside the mansion, as Cokie signed copies of her book Founding Mothers for guests.