Aunt Dolley

New this month is our annotated edition of Mary Cutts’s memoir of her famous aunt, Dolley Madison. The Queen of America presents both drafts of Cutts’s manuscript with an introductory essay and notes by Dolley biographer and Parlor Politics author Catherine Allgor. A reliable guide is especially necessary in this case because it turns out Cutts may have had a few things to hide—or at least conveniently ignore—in her life of the First Lady. Allgor spoke with us about the fine line Cutts walked in her famous memoir.

Q: Your book includes draft versions of the memoir Dolley Madison’s niece, Mary Cutts, wrote about her aunt. The drafts show that Cutts, and her family, changed things in her account. What were they trying to hide?

Allgor: First, Mary lies about Dolley’s birthplace as part of a general cover-up about Dolley’s father, a difficult man who may have been a bit shady in his dealings. Mary stresses Dolley’s charm, but omits that it never got her anywhere with her marital family, the Madisons, who had a low opinion of “Dolly” and would have sued her at a moment’s notice.