|First Lady of the United States|
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
|Preceded by||Dolley Madison|
|Succeeded by||Louisa Adams|
June 30, 1768|
New York, Province of New York, British America
|Died||September 23, 1830
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
|Children||Eliza Kortright Monroe Hay
James Spence Monroe
Maria Hester Monroe-Gouverneur
|Occupation||First Lady of the United States|
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (June 30, 1768 – September 23, 1830) was First Lady of the United States from 1817 to 1825, as the wife of James Monroe, fifth President, who held the office for two terms. Due to the fragile condition of Elizabeth's health during his presidency, many duties of official hostess were assumed by her eldest daughter, Eliza Monroe Hay.
Early Life and Marriage
Born in New York in 1768, Elizabeth was the daughter of Lawrence Kortright and Hannah Aspinwall, 6th generation of Dutch Flanders origins. Lawrence Kortright the eldest son of Cornelius Kortright, also a merchant. During the French Indian wars, he became wealthy and prominent. He was part owner of several privateers fitted out at New York against the enemies of the British Crown . He was one of the founders of the Chamber of Commerce in 1768. He had a large interest in Tryon County lands, and on his purchase the township of Kortright was settled. He had identified himself with the Episcopal Church, and during the Revolution remained quiet at his residence, but his sympathies were with his country. His residence was 192 Queen Street about the time mentioned. In 1778, partly on his security, Judge Fell, then a prisoner in the Provost, obtained his release. He died in 1794, but before his death he conveyed his farm at Harlem with some woodland, to his only son, John, Elizabeth's older brother. Elizabeth acquired social graces and elegance at an early age. A gown in the collection of the James Monroe Museum  indicates she was a petite woman, not taller than 5 feet. She first caught Monroe's attention in 1785 while he was in New York serving as a member of the Continental Congress. James, age twenty-seven, married Elizabeth, age seventeen, on February 16, 1786, in New York City. After a brief honeymoon on Long Island, the newlyweds returned to New York to live with her father until Congress adjourned. Their first child, Eliza, was born in December 1786 in Virginia.
Ambassador's and Governor's Wife
In 1794, James was appointed United States Minister to France by President George Washington. In Paris, as wife of the American Minister during the Reign of Terror, she helped secure the release of Madame La Fayette, wife of the Marquis de Lafayette when she learned of her imprisonment and threatened death by guillotine. The Monroes also provided support and shelter to the American citizen Thomas Paine in Paris, after he was arrested for his opposition to the execution of Louis XVI. While in France, the Monroes' daughter Eliza became a friend of Hortense de Beauharnais, step-daughter of Napoleon, and both girls received their education in the school of Madame Jeanne Campan, who had been an advisor on court etiquette to Marie Antoinette. This association led to a friendship between the family of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Monroes. James was recalled from his Ambassadorship in 1796, due to his support of France in the opposition of the Jay Treaty.
The Monroes returned to Virginia where he became Governor. A son, James Monroe, Jr., was born in 1799 but died in 1801. During this time, Elizabeth suffered the first of a series of seizures and collapses (possibly epilepsy), which would plague her for the rest of her life, and gradually cause her to restrict social activities.
In 1803, President Jefferson appointed James to be United States Minister to Great Britain, and also the United States Minister to Spain. The Monroes' third child, a daughter whom they named Maria, was born in 1803, probably in England. However, Elizabeth found the social climate there less favorable than in France, possibly because British society resented the United States' refusal to ally against France despite the governmental change. In 1804, James was sent as a special envoy to France to negotiate the purchase of Louisiana, in addition to remaining the Ambassador to both Great Britain and Spain. In December 1804, Napoleon invited the American Monroe and Elizabeth were invited to attend his coronation in Paris, and were part of the official American delegation.
Return to Virginia and Washington
The Monroes returned to Virginia in 1807. James Monroe won election and returned to the Virginia House of Delegates, and also resumed his legal career. In 1811 Monroe won election to another term as governor of Virginia, but served only four months. In April 1811, his friend President James Madison appointed Monroe Secretary of State, and the Senate agreed. However, Monroe had little to do with the War of 1812, as President Madison and the War Hawks in Congress were dominant. During the War, Elizabeth stayed primarily inland in Virginia, on the Monroe family estates, Oak Hill in Loudoun and later Ashlawn-Highland in Albemarle Counties.
The war went very badly, so Madison turned to Monroe for help, appointing him Secretary of War in September 1814 after the British had invaded the national capital and burned the White House. Monroe resigned as Secretary of State on October 1 but no successor was ever appointed, so he handled both offices from October 1, 1814, to February 28, 1815. As Secretary of War, Monroe formulated plans to invade Canada a second time to win the war, but the peace treaty was ratified in February, 1815, before any armies moved north. Monroe therefore resigned as Secretary of War and was formally reappointed Secretary of State. Monroe stayed on at State until March 4, 1817, when he began his term as the new President of the United States.
First Lady of the United States
Elizabeth began her tenure as First Lady on March 4, 1817, when her husband commenced his first term as the fifth President of the United States. However, the White House was still under reconstruction, so Elizabeth hosted the inaugural ball at their private residence on I Street, and part of the time the First Family lived in the Octagon House. Since all the White House furnishings had been destroyed, the Monroes brought some from their private residences. Her husband was re-elected to a second term in office in 1820, and Elizabeth attended the inaugural ball held in Brown's Hotel. Therefore, she remained in her role of First Lady until March 3, 1825.
Although Elizabeth Monroe regained a measure of respect and admiration during her husband's second term, she compared poorly to her predecessor, Dolley Madison, who had captivated Washington society, setting a standard by which future First Ladies were measured. Furthermore, Elizabeth and her eldest daughter may have sought to make access to the White House more socially exclusive, reflecting French practices, which were barely tolerated given American democratic values, although President Monroe's term was also known for the good feelings and relations. Still, Elizabeth had made such an impression upon General Andrew Jackson that her husband always mentioned her to him in their correspondence. Elizabeth also drew favorable reviews as the couple briefly hosted General Lafayette during his return tour through America. During Elizabeth's illnesses, some of the social duties were carried out by her daughters, as discussed below. Furthermore, James or Elizabeth destroyed her correspondence, both between themselves and with others, before her death.
James and Elizabeth had three children:
- Eliza Kortright Monroe Hay (1786–1835): Eliza appeared to many a haughty, pompous socialite, quick to remind others of her good breeding and lofty station. In 1808 she married George Hay, a prominent Virginia attorney who had served as prosecutor in the trial of Aaron Burr and later U.S. District Judge. Eliza alienated most of Washington society for her refusal to call on wives of the diplomatic corps, as was the custom, and caused another social furor in closing her sister's wedding to all but family and friends. For all her apparent vanity, however, she demonstrated genuine compassion during the fever epidemic that swept Washington during her father's Presidency. She spent many sleepless nights selflessly caring for victims. Following the deaths of her husband and father in 1830 and 1831, Eliza moved to Paris, converted to Catholicism and lived in a convent. Her daughter, Hortense, was named in honor of her childhood friend, Hortense de Beauharnais, step-daughter of Napoleon.
- James Spence Monroe (1799–1801): The only son of the Monroes was sickly and died in early childhood. His name is merely educated speculation, as his gravestone reads "J.S. Monroe".
- Maria Hester Monroe-Gouverneur (1804–1850) was still a child when her father was elected president. Maria finished school in Philadelphia before moving into the White House in 1819. On March 9, 1820, she married her first cousin, Samuel L. Gouverneur, in the first wedding of a president's child at the White House. Many in Washington criticized the Monroes for keeping the wedding private; just 42 members of the family and close friends were invited. Friction between Maria's husband and her outspoken sister strained family relations thereafter. The Gouverneurs moved to New York City. Former President Monroe, upon losing his wife in 1830, moved in with them. President John Quincy Adams appointed her husband postmaster of New York City.
Death and legacy
After Monroe's terms as President expired, he and Elizabeth faced considerable debts from their years of public service, both from non-reimbursed entertaining expenses and because Monroe was forced to manage their various properties remotely. Monroe sold his plantation, Highland in Albemarle County to pay debts, and both retired to Oak Hill in Loudoun County, nearer Washington, D.C. and their daughter Eliza and her husband (although the Hays moved to Richmond in 1825 when he became the U.S. District Judge for Virginia). Although retiring, Elizabeth managed to travel to New York to visit her younger daughter, as well as other friends and relations, but made no further social visits. Sickly and suffering several long illnesses (including severe burns from a collapse near a fireplace a year after leaving the White House), Elizabeth died at Oak Hill on September 23, 1830 aged 62.
She was interred at the estate, but her husband later died in New York under their daughter's care and was originally buried in that northern state. His remains were moved 25 years after his death to become a key attraction during the development of Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth's remains were reinterred there in 1903, where both spouses remain buried.
The First Spouse Program under the Presidential $1 Coin Act authorizes the United States Mint to issue 1/2 ounce $10 gold coins and bronze medal duplicates to honor the first spouses of the United States. Elizabeth Monroe's coin was released in February 2008.
|Monroe family tree|
|First Lady Elizabeth Monroe, C‑SPAN|
- COURTRIGHT (KORTRIGHT) FAMILY  by JOHN HOWARD printed by ABBOTT TOBIAS A. WRIGHT Printer and Publisher 150 Bleecker Street, New York 1922
- "Presidents & First Ladies". While House History web site. The White House Historical Association. Retrieved March 13, 2011.
- U.S. Mint: First Spouse Program. Accessed 2008-06-27. "The United States Mint also produces and make available to the public bronze medal duplicates of the First Spouse Gold Coins."
- "First Lady Elizabeth Monroe". C‑SPAN. March 18, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2013.
- Elizabeth Monroe at Findagrave
- Elizabeth Monroe at C-SPAN's First Ladies: Influence & Image
|First Lady of the United States