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Sarah Childress Polk

(1803 - 1891)

First Lady from March 4, 1845 to March 4, 1849

 Sarah Childress Polk, born near Nurfreesboro, Rutherford County, Tennessee, 4 September, 1803, is the daughter of Joel and Elizabeth Childress. Her father, a farmer in easy circumstances, sent her to the Moravian institute at Salem, North Carolina, where she was educated. On returning home she married Mr. Polk, who was then a member of the legislature of Tennessee. The following year he was elected to congress, and during his fourteen sessions in Washington Mrs. Polk's courteous manners, sound judgment, and many attainments gave her a high place in society. On her return as the wife of the president, Having no children, Mrs. Polk devoted herself entirely to her duties as mistress of the White House. She held weekly receptions, and abolished the custom of giving refreshments to the guests. She also forbade dancing, as out of keeping with the character of these entertainments.

 

In spite of her reforms, Mrs. Polk was extremely popular. " Madam," said a prominent South Carolinian, at one of her receptions, "there is a woe pronounced against you in the Bible." On her inquiring his meaning, he added: "The Bible says, ' Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.'" An English lady visiting Washington thus described the president's wife: "Mrs. Polk is a very handsome woman. Her hair is very black, and her dark eyes and complexion remind one of the Spanish donnas. She is well read, has much talent for conversation, and is highly popular. Her excellent taste in dress preserves the subdued though elegant costume that characterizes the lady." Mrs. Polk became a communicant of the Presbyterian church in 1834, and has main-rained her connection with that denomination until the present time (1888). After the death of her husband she resided at Nashville, in the house seen in the illustration and known as "Polk Place."


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