The Hostess with the Mostest

The Hostess with the Mostest
Dolley Madison: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One week


Dolley Madison has been written down in history as one of the most hospitable first ladies.  She entertained like no other—her style of dress, methods of entertaining, dinner menu, etc.  It is suggested that she influenced many government leaders with severely differing viewpoints to come together for the good of the country.


Students will learn about Dolley Madison’s peculiar entertaining methods and design their own ‘dinner party’ for potential individuals from various countries, etc.  They will learn about the cultures of other countries and methods that could be implemented to dissipate conflict.

Materials Required:

Research tools.  Access to the Internet.  Printer (optional).


1. Have a discussion about a fancy dinner party.  Look at the website about how State dinners work (see below). Ask students such questions such as:

  • What would you like to eat?
  • Who would you invite?  Why?
  • What type of decorations and eating utensils would you use?   

2.  Invite your students to research the kinds of foods and dinner etiquette of the early 19th century.

3.  As a class, decide on one to three other countries whose citizens might be present at a State dinner party.  

4.  In small groups, have students develop a full dinner party, complete with entertainment and dinner menu using the computer.  Keep in mind that the students should try to make the guests from the other cultures comfortable.

5.  For group assessment, each group menu will be printed and presented on class bulletin board.

6.  For individual assessment, have each student write a response paper written from the perspective where the student is present at the dinner party.*

*ESL students can include the words used for item(s) on the menu in their native languages.

Extending the Lesson:

  • As a class, design your own dinner party like one in the early 19th century and produce it for the class to enjoy.  Each student could bring a dish that is from a different culture that would have been served during the 19th century.  Students could also design the classroom similar to the dining room in the White House.

Sources & Resources:


          Dolley Madison

          White House Welcome         

          White House Tour          

          Ethel Merman Singing "Hostess with the Mostest on the Ball"


This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.'