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Dolley Todd (Madison) House

Home of the woman who would become First Lady


The Experience

The 18th century equivalent of a blind date (arranged by Aaron Burr of the famous duel) elevated Dolley Todd from young widow to wife and First Lady to James Madison, America’s fourth president. But long before she moved to D.C. and introduced ice cream to the White House, Dolley and her first husband, John Todd, shared a middle-class home in the heart of Philadelphia.

Between her husband’s legal practice and political connections, they rubbed elbows with the power brokers of the day. The home’s size and furnishings reflect the Todd’s rising status. Among the rooms on display are John’s law office, the Todd’s bedroom, and the parlor where love bloomed between Dolley and James. Tour includes Bishop White House.


John Payne, Dolley’s father, was both a Quaker and a Virginia landowner who had slaves. He came to deplore slavery and, acting on his convictions, gave up everything. He moved the family to Philadelphia which was a center of the abolitionist movement. Pennsylvania passed The Manumission Act on March 1, 1780, becoming the first state to make slavery illegal.

Insider Tip

Dolley was executor of her father’s and husband’s estates, an 18th century no-no. Overcoming society’s conventions, she became quite feisty, risking her life to save George Washington’s portrait and other treasures when the British torched the White House, in D.C., in 1812.

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