I read an article about Dolley Madison, wife of the 4th President of the United States, James Monroe, and I was struck by the similarities between her and Varina Howell Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.
Dolley and Varina both experienced tragedy in their lives. Dolley lost multiple family members to alcoholism, epidemics, accidents at sea and even one to murder. Varina lost four sons and one daughter, and lived through the War and the aftermath with the courage of her convictions.
They both married men 17 years older than themselves, men who were very intelligent but introspective. Likewise, these women seemed polar opposites of their mates – exuberant, gregarious and vivacious.
Both made excellent First Ladies, opening their “White Houses” to the best social and political minds of the day. Dolley’s gatherings earned the sobriquet, “squeezes” because so many people would cram into the home of the President. Varina entertained grandly, both at the First White House in Montgomery and later in Richmond.
They both faced danger courageously, Dolley, when the White House burned and she rescued many of the valuable papers, silverware and the portrait of George Washington; Varina, in the face of the fall of the Confederacy and subsequent imprisonment of her husband and aftermath, when they, like most in the post-war South, had gambled everything on the Confederacy and lost all.