Dolley Madison: Courage in Time of War

Dolley Madison: Courage in Time of War
Dolley Madison: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


The War of 1812 brought much destruction to our nation’s capital.  The White House was burned: only the sandstone walls remained.  Dolley Madison knew of the impending British invasion and potential destruction, so she quickly selected and packed items of significance.  One of the items she chose was a full-length portrait of our country’s founding father, George Washington.


Students will learn about the War of 1812, the effect it had on the White House and American history, and the role played by Dolley Madison in saving important symbols of the nation.

Materials Required:

Computer.  Acces to the Internet.  Word processor (or paper and writing utensil).  Research tools (books, videos, photos, and magazines).  Printer (print images and other resources) (optional).  Art supplies.  Decide what art materials are necessary based upon the ability level of your class (or, a computer art/drawing program.)


  1. Introduce the War of 1812 to your students through age-appropriate videos, books, or websites, including those listed below.  Explain to students the story about Dolly Madison saving Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington.
  2. After viewing the video tour of public rooms in the White House (see below), ask students to collectively produce a list of items that might have been found in the White House in the early 19th century.  Write these items on the board. 
  3. Have each student rank the list as to which 5 items they would take with them if the British were coming to destroy the White House. 
  4. As the final assignment and assessment, (grade-level appropriate) have the students find or draw a picture of the item and write a brief explain why they chose each item. 

Extending the Lesson:

  • Compile the top item from each student, make a new list, and vote as a class the most important 5.
  • Create a bulletin board or web site that displays the students’ items and explanations.

Sources & Resources:


Debnam, Betty. A Kid's Guide To The White House: Is George Washington Upstairs? (Paperback). Riverside, NJ: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1997.


        Video Tour of the White House

        Dolley Madison, the White House, and the War of 1812

        The Burning of Washington, by Dolley Madison

        Portrait of George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart


This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University