Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Which I Am Thrilled by Dolley

Last night I watched PBS' American Experience, one of my favorite history-themed television shows (the Nerdy Scientist loves history as much as science). This new show profiled Dolley Madison, wife of one of our early presidents, James Madison, and the woman who has been credited by presidential historians with defining the unofficial office of the First Lady. It was fantastic! I heartily recommend it. The graphics were a little unusual, but the actress portraying Mrs. Madison did a fine job. I liked the graphics showing what Washington D.C. would have looked like at that time. But here's what enthralled us in the Nest.

There are existing photographs of an elderly Dolley Madison. Well, daguerrotypes, probably, but real images nonetheless taken shortly before she died in the late 1840s. When one of her standing next to President Polk was shown, it stirred a memory in me that I had seen that image somewhere and didn't remember where. Then they showed several formal seated portraits of her and I gasped. We were looking at the face of a woman who knew George Washington, whose husband was Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, whose husband wrote the Bill of Rights. And that was really her face! Not a painted portrait, but a photograph. A photograph!

Yes, I was stunned. I love history, and seeing the face of history was amazing to me.

P.S. Olivia Judson's science opinion piece today in the New York Times is about grasses--as usual, her topic is as interesting as it is well written. Don't think an essay about grasses can be fascintating? Give her column a try.


  1. Hi!
    Thank you for your piece about the Dolley Madison film. I am the producer/director....I have my "Google alerts" set for Dolley and came across your piece. I make a lot of films for PBS about history, and am passionate about science.

  2. Not only did I love your documentary on Dolley, so did my coworker (another nerdy scientist). I can't wait to see what you come up with next.