American Experience (1988– )
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Dolley Madison 

Dolley Madison lived through the two wars that established the U.S., was friends with the first 12 Presidents, and watched America evolve from a struggling young republic to the first modern democracy in the world.


Muffie Meyer


Ronald Blumer




Episode credited cast:
Catherine Allgor Catherine Allgor ... Herself - Historian
Carl Sferrazza Anthony Carl Sferrazza Anthony ... Himself - Writer (as Carl Anthony)
Jim Barbour Jim Barbour ... Congressman
Carol Berkin Carol Berkin ... Herself - Historian
Eve Best ... Dolley Madison
Maria Cecile Callier Maria Cecile Callier ... Widow
Sonya Chisholm Sonya Chisholm ... Sukey
John Ellison Conlee ... Congressman George P
Michael Cumpsty ... John Randolph
John Curless John Curless ... Anthony Merry - British Envoy
Kendall Diggs Kendall Diggs ... Lucy Payne
Mireille Enos ... Grand Niece - Lucia Cutts
Liam Ferguson ... South Carolina Congressman
Tom Fleming Tom Fleming ... Himself - Writer
Terry Menefee Gau ... Madam Pinchot


Dolley Madison lived through the two wars that established the U.S., was friends with the first 12 Presidents, and watched America evolve from a struggling young republic to the first modern democracy in the world.

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Release Date:

1 March 2010 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

WGBH See more »
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Did You Know?


Ethan Marten plays Dolley Madison's first husband, John Todd, Jr.. His Mother is Historic Romance Writer Jacqueline Marten. The little-known historic figure makes several appearances within her eighteen novels. See more »

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User Reviews

An excellent argument for revering Mrs. Madison
14 March 2011 | by claudecatSee all my reviews

I just read an online review of the "James Madison's Montpelier" tourist site, in which the writer called Dolley Madison "a shopaholic bimbo" and "a dunce" and stated, "no wonder Madison is forgotten." I didn't realize until that moment how captivated I had been by the American Experience's much more likable portrait of Dolley Madison and her husband James. The documentary argues convincingly that, far from being a "dunce", Mrs. Madison was the first to see the impact a clever first lady could have on her nation's politics, and one of the first to recognize the importance of America's symbols. Both the Madisons helped invent America as we know it today. In addition, Dolley led a life that's fascinating to anyone interested in that period of American history. Some professional historians might claim that Mrs. Madison was not such an important figure, but it's hard to resist this documentary's combination of sage-yet-human historians, beautifully filmed period settings, and contemporary testimony delivered by talented actors dressed in fabulous and accurate historical costumes (the importance of which cannot be overstated).

The film covers the social history of the time--and includes light moments such as Dolley's disagreements with her White House decorator--but also dramatizes Dolley's firsthand experience in the War of 1812, an episode of American history often skipped over in schools today. The portrait that emerges of the largely unbuilt Washington, DC, of Dolley's day might be downright shocking to anyone who has spent time in that city recently--although the politics haven't changed that much. This is definitely a "pro-Dolley" film, but the producers do not ignore her flaws: actors portraying two of her slaves describe memorable dark moments in their lives with the Madisons.

The documentary does follow the standard conventions of the American Experience series, so if you don't care for their narration/photo system, you won't find this episode substantially different, except that it relies more on actors' interpretations, which are sometimes quite lively. My only wish was that the characters had been labeled on screen--it was hard to remember the identity of every talking head. Otherwise, I found this an excellent documentary that I would recommend to friends, students, old and young people looking for inspiration...and Jane Austen fans.

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