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Sarah Polk

by John T. Marck

First Lady: 1845 to 1849

Wife of President James Polk

Born: September 4, 1803 Died: August 14, 1891

Sarah Childress was born near Nashville, Tennessee. Her father Captain Joel Childress had done very well on his land, and saw that Sarah was well educated. She was schooled in Nashville, then went to the Moravian Female Academy in Salem, North Carolina, where her serious religious Presbyterianism ideals were formed. Near Nashville, is the town of Murfreesboro, which at this time was the State's Capital for a few years. In Murfreesboro she met a young Senator by the name of James Knox Polk. Although their temperaments differed, they were drawn together and were married on January 1, 1824. In 1825, they left for Washington, where Polk would begin his fourteen years in Congress.

In 1845, Polk became President. As the White House hostess, Sarah set a new style of entertainment. She allowed no dancing, nor any kind of drink, not even wine, at dinner parties. She regarded formal receptions as tedious. People at times complained to the President; however, nothing was ever said to Sarah.

During the Presidency, the Polk's maintained a Tennessee home that had been built by James's father. Upon their retirement, they bought a mansion in Nashville, however James died only three months after his term ended, leaving Sarah a widow at the age of forty-five. Sarah remained at "Polk Place," the mansion they had bought, receiving family and friends, however scarcely left the grounds. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops treated Polk's Place as neutral ground. The war left her impoverished, until Congress finally granted her a pension.

Sarah Polk died at Polk's Place in Nashville on August 14, 1891.

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. From The First Ladies of the Unites States by John T. Marck.