Freedom of Religion: The Plain People: Quakers in America

Freedom of Religion: The Plain People: Quakers in America
Dolley Madison: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

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


Dolley Madison was reared as a Quaker.  She grew up in a strict religious society that was set apart from other members of the community.  When Dolley married James Madison, who was not a Quaker, the reaction of church leaders was one of utter rejection.


Students will understand what a Quaker is, and will be able to identify changes and challenges that were experienced by Dolley Madison during her transition from leaving the Quaker community.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet.  Word processor (or paper and writing utensil).  Research tools (books, videos, photos, and magazines).  Printer.


  1. Allow students the opportunity to explore and research the fundamentals of the Quaker religion and lifestyle of the 19th century. 
  2. Once a basic understanding of Quakers is obtained, instruct the students to research Dolley Madison’s lifestyle after she became First Lady.  Web sources may be the most helpful.  Use a general search engine (, searching for “Dolley Madison”. 
  3. Assignment: Students can select one of two topics.
  • How Dolley’s extended family would have reacted to her transition.
  • What would Dolley have had to do differently in order to fit into her new role as First Lady?  What do you think she thought about these changes?
    4.  Engage students in a discussion of the differences between the life of a Quaker woman and Dolley Madison's life as First Lady.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Have students share their thoughts and ideas about the Quakers and how being a Quaker might have influenced Dolley’s life growing up and as the First Lady.

Sources & Resources:


Early Quaker history 

The Religious Society of Friends 

Information and Links to all Things Quaker


This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University