By Bill Mattox, JMI Resident Fellow
PBS will air the premiere of Dolley Madison today–Monday, March 1. The 90-minute documentary takes an in-depth look at the woman who defined the role of “First Lady”. From all indications, the PBS broadcast will pay appropriate tribute to America’s “hostess with the mostest” – but I’ll still be curious to see whether this documentary is as enjoyable as that award-winning Florida History Fair documentary by Chiles High School student Dana Edwards that I wrote about in the (2009 Spring/Summer JMI Journal ).One of the things I really enjoyed about Edwards’ documentary is that it devoted attention to the ceremonial role that Dolley Madison played in the life of our country even after her husband’s death. For example, Samuel B. Morse selected Dolley to be the first private citizen to send a message on his new invention, the telegraph. And the U.S. House of Representatives awarded Dolley an “honorary seat” so that she could watch important debates from the floor of the House (a remarkable gesture when you consider that women did not gain the right to vote until 1920). No wonder Andrew Jackson called Dolley a “national institution,” and Zachary Taylor dubbed her America’s “First Lady.”By the way, for those of you looking to sample some of the treats that Dolley Madison served at White House functions – well, not the actual desserts but some fresh treats made from Dolley’s recipes – please come to JMI’s special program, “An Evening with James Madison” at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County on Thursday, March 18. We’ll have some of Dolley’s treats to enjoy – and, yes, a hostess dressed as Dolley eager to greet you. Bon appétit!