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Elizabeth Monroe

by John T. Marck

First Lady: 1817 to 1825

Wife of President James Monroe

Born: June 30, 1768 Died: September 23, 1830

Elizabeth Kortright was born in New York, New York. Her parents, Captain Lawrence and Hannah Aspinwall Kortright were quite wealthy, but had fallen on hard times as a result of the Revolutionary War. At the age of sixteen, Elizabeth fell in love with a Virginian, James Monroe, who was in New York as a member of Congress, and who was the heir to a wealthy uncle. As their affection for each other was mutual, they married on February 16, 1786. They settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where James's wealthy uncle had built them a house. In Fredericksburg James practiced law and Elizabeth took care of the home and their children. In 1799, James changed from law to politics, and moved his family to Charlottesville, to be near his political friend, Thomas Jefferson. Elizabeth spent many happy years with her husband, traveling in Europe, when James was Minister to France, and special American envoy in Europe. They traveled in Paris, Madrid and London.

The Monroe's also spent many years in Washington when James was a Senator and Secretary of State, prior to his becoming President. Upon his election to President, Elizabeth postponed her duties as First Lady until the presidential mansion was restored, having been burned by the British. Her first public appearance as First Lady was during a New Year's celebration in 1818 at the presidential mansion, which had been painted white. In 1820, the White House was the setting for its second wedding, that of the Monroe's younger daughter, Maria to Samuel L. Gouverneur. In the last years of her term as First Lady, she gave most of the social responsibilities to her eldest daughter, Eliza Hay, who however was careless, and did a lousy job.

Elizabeth was quite happy leaving Washington and her duties as First Lady to retire at their home at Oak Hill, the mansion her husband built near Leesburg, Virginia. She lived there in retirement for five years until her death on September 23, 1830.

Copyright 1990-2022 by  John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.