Until 1800, the U.S. capital had been Philadelphia, a big city. Then the capital moved to Washington, DC, a small town with dirt roads, lots of trees, and the not-quite-finished Capitol and presidential mansion, known to some as the “White House.” In the winter of 1809, when Abe Lincoln (future President No. 16 – the tallest) was still a baby, James Madison, the new president (No. 4 – the shortest), gave a party. It happened that James’s wife, Dolley, was excellent at bringing all sorts of people together and making sure they had a jolly time. This was her way of making Mr. Madison popular.
So, one Wednesday evening, the Madisons’ servants (enslaved African Americans, some of them) welcomed party goers to the White House. The large East Room, where Abigail Adams (wife of President No. 2) hung up her laundry, was closed off. Now the politicians, government workers, foreign diplomats, and their wives exchanged smiles with rosy Dolley Madison. (She used blusher – very daring then!) Imagine people in the oval-shaped Blue Room (cream-colored then, with red velvet curtains), laughing with the First Lady, all fancy in her Paris gown.
Next door was the sunny gold parlor (the Red Room now), where you might visit with shy, brainy President Madison. (Did you know he helped to write the U.S. Constitution? Well he did!) Best of all was the big State Dining Room. It had been an office for Thomas Jefferson (President No. 3). Now it was full of FOOD: Savory snacks, tea and other drinks, little cakes and a rare delicacy: ice cream. Imagine guests with their mouths full and eyes wide, staring up at Gilbert Stuart’s great portrait of President No. 1. Some of the guests had met George Washington, but they all knew how much he’d done to make the United States possible.
Everyone had such a good time, that there was another party the next Wednesday and the next. LOTS of people came – even the most disagreeable politicians! The popular weekly party, with its crowds of mashed together party goers, was a White House tradition for a while. It even got a name: Mrs. Madison’s Crush.
Cheryl Harness's latest book is Flags Over America, a picture book history of flags, especially America's. It was published for the 200 YEARS anniversary since Francis Scott Key wrote his poem about the Star Spangled Banner. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Wednesday Night Crush." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ the-Wednesday-Night-Crush.
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