Elizabeth Kortright Monroe - History

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe - History

Elizabeth Monroe was First Lady from 1817-1825. She holds the dubious distinction of being dubbed a snob during her White House tenure. She had been a great social success in Paris while her husband had been minister to France. But by the time they entered the White House, she was ill and social occasions held little allure for her.

Elizabeth Monroe had three children; her only son died in infancy. But she did marry off her younger daughter in a White House wedding; this event further infuriated Washington society because it was deemed too small. (Few government personages were invited not even Cabinet members!)


Elizabeth Monroe

Since few of her personal papers remain in existence, relatively little is known about Elizabeth Kortright Monroe. Most of the information about her comes from other people’s letters and writings. As First Lady, she is probably best remembered for reinstating a more formal style of entertaining in the White House and for adopting the etiquette of European courts. Elizabeth Kortright was born to a wealthy family in colonial New York. Her father, Lawrence Kortright, was a prominent merchant who lost much of his wealth during the Revolution. She met James Monroe when she was sixteen years old and married him a year later their marriage, which lasted until her death, was by all accounts a strong partnership.

In 1786, the young couple moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia. The relocation demanded quite an adjustment for Elizabeth, who was raised in the big city of New York, but she adapted to her new life. In 1794, she accompanied her husband to France after President George Washington appointed him minister to that country. The Monroe family had a delicate task: helping the United States be taken seriously as a world power without offending the government in revolutionary France. As such, Elizabeth immersed herself in French culture and life she learned to speak French, educated herself on the ins and outs of European etiquette, and enrolled her daughter in a French school. She thrilled the French people by adopting their customs, and they, in turn, affectionately referred to her as "la belle americaine." The Monroes returned to the United States in 1797, and for three years Elizabeth lived in Richmond while her husband served as governor of Virginia. By 1803, however, the couple was back in Europe with Monroe serving as minister to both France and Britain. Although they had friends in London, their time in England was difficult. The British viewed the United States as a political nonentity and thus did not treat Elizabeth and James with the respect usually accorded European diplomats. Both were relieved when the President recalled Monroe and hurried home, risking a winter crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1807 rather than waiting until the weather improved in the spring. From their time in Europe, the Monroes learned that Europeans placed more importance on formal etiquette than Americans. They wanted European diplomats to respect the United States and take it seriously as an international power. Therefore, when she became First Lady in 1817, Elizabeth instituted a more formal protocol in the White House than the Jefferson or Madison administrations had used, knowing that it would be more familiar to European diplomats. Although her changes offended some in Washington society, Elizabeth stood by them. Elizabeth Monroe often suffered from ill health and could not carry on all her duties as First Lady. As such, she reduced the number of social calls she made and limited the White House social calendar. On many occasions, her daughter Eliza served as White House hostess. It was hard for Elizabeth to follow Dolley Madison as First Lady. Whereas Dolley was very energetic and outgoing and enjoyed the social demands of the White House, Elizabeth was more introverted and preferred a quieter lifestyle. She was not always at her best in large groups and occasionally came across as being aloof. Still, those who knew her personally commented upon her warmth, beauty, and intelligence. Elizabeth Monroe was a constant partner to her husband. Despite his frequent travels, she was rarely separated from him for any extended period of time. However, her level of involvement in his career and in politics is far from clear. She did not insert herself into his presidency and seemed to concentrate her energies mostly on domestic matters. In the White House, she developed more formal social customs that future First Ladies followed for years to come.


Elizabeth Kortright Monroe

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe served as First Lady of the United States from 1817 to 1825 as the wife of the fifth President, James Monroe.

Romance glints from the little that is known about Elizabeth Kortright’s early life. She was born in New York City in 1768, daughter of an old New York family. Her father, Lawrence, had served the Crown by privateering during the French and Indian War and made a fortune. He took no active part in the War of Independence and James Monroe wrote to his friend Thomas Jefferson in Paris in 1786 that he had married the daughter of a gentleman, “injured in his fortunes” by the Revolution.

Strange choice, perhaps, for a patriot veteran with political ambitions and little money of his own but Elizabeth was beautiful, and love was decisive. They were married in February 1786, when the bride was not yet 18.

The young couple planned to live in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Monroe began his practice of law. His political career, however, kept them on the move as the family increased by two daughters and a son who died in infancy.

In 1794, Elizabeth Monroe accompanied her husband to France when President Washington appointed him United States Minister. Arriving in Paris in the midst of the French Revolution, she took a dramatic part in saving Lafayette’s wife, imprisoned and expecting death on the guillotine. With only her servants in her carriage, the American Minister’s wife went to the prison and asked to see Madame Lafayette. Soon after this hint of American interest, the prisoner was set free. The Monroes became very popular in France, where the diplomat’s lady received the affectionate name of la belle Americaine.

For 17 years Monroe, his wife at his side, alternated between foreign missions and service as governor or legislator of Virginia. They made the plantation of Oak Hill their home after he inherited it from an uncle, and appeared on the Washington scene in 1811 when he became Madison’s Secretary of State.

Elizabeth Monroe was an accomplished hostess when her husband took the Presidential oath in 1817. Through much of the administration, however, she was in poor health and curtailed her activities. Wives of the diplomatic corps and other dignitaries took it amiss when she decided to pay no calls–an arduous social duty in a city of widely scattered dwellings and unpaved streets.

Moreover, she and her daughter Eliza changed White House customs to create the formal atmosphere of European courts. Even the White House wedding of her daughter Maria was private, in “the New York style” rather than the expansive Virginia social style made popular by Dolley Madison. A guest at the Monroes’ last levee, on New Year’s Day in 1825, described the First Lady as “regal-looking” and noted details of interest: “Her dress was superb black velvet neck and arms bare and beautifully formed her hair in puffs and dressed high on the head and ornamented with white ostrich plumes around her neck an elegant pearl necklace. Though no longer young, she is still a very handsome woman.”

In retirement at Oak Hill, Elizabeth Monroe died on September 23, 1830 and family tradition says that her husband burned the letters of their life together.


Elizabeth Monroe

Elizabeth Kortright was born in New York on September 30, 1768, daughter of an old New York family. Her father, Lawrence, served the Crown privateering during the French and Indian War and made a fortune. He took no active part in the War of Independence and James Monroe wrote to his friend Thomas Jefferson in Paris in 1786 that he had married the daughter of a gentleman "injured in his fortunes" by the Revolution. They were married on February 16, 1786, when the bride was 17.

The young couple planned to live in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Monroe began his practice of law. His political career, however, kept them on the move as the family increased by two daughters and a son who died in infancy.

In 1794, Elizabeth Monroe accompanied her husband to France when President George Washington appointed him United States minister. Arriving in Paris in the midst of the French Revolution, she took a dramatic part in saving Marquis de Lafayette’s wife, imprisoned and expecting death on the guillotine. With only her servants in her carriage, the American minister’s wife went to the prison and asked to see Madame Lafayette. Soon after this hint of American interest, the prisoner was set free. The Monroes became very popular in France, where Elizabeth received the affectionate name of la belle Américaine.

For 17 years Monroe, his wife at his side, alternated between foreign missions and service as governor and legislator of Virginia. They made the plantation of Oak Hill their home after he inherited it from an uncle, managing the plantation and enslaved people who provided the labor to sustain the family and the comforts they enjoyed.

The Monroes appeared on the Washington scene in 1811 when he became Madison's secretary of state. Elizabeth Monroe was an accomplished hostess when her husband took the presidential oath in 1817. Through much of the administration, however, she was in poor health and curtailed her activities. Wives of the diplomatic corps and other dignitaries took it amiss when she decided to pay no calls — an arduous social duty in a city of widely scattered dwellings and unpaved streets. Moreover, she and her daughter Eliza changed White House customs to create the formal atmosphere of European courts. Even the White House wedding of her daughter Maria was private.

In retirement at Oak Hill, Elizabeth Monroe died on September 23, 1830 and family tradition says that her husband burned the letters of their life together.


A European Touch at the White House

The Monroes eventually moved back to Virginia, and then to Washington, DC, in 1811, when James was appointed secretary of state by President Madison. Monroe was elected president in 1817, making Elizabeth the nation&rsquos fifth First Lady. Elizabeth, who remained interested in European customs and manners, altered the White House hosting customs to reflect more of the European hosting style during her time in the White House. She even went back to Europe numerous times to travel through London and Paris.


Elizabeth kortright monroe

For anyone looking, I was able to purchase a copy online at the James Monroe Museum website. And I&aposm grateful to them for making them available.

It&aposs too bad nothing really survives of Mrs. Kortright Monroe. This booklet does a good job of objectively putting pieces together through snippets of letters and diaries of those who met or dined with her. She sounds like a lovely, well-educated, beautiful woman, wife, mother, and grandmother. For anyone looking, I was able to purchase a copy online at the James Monroe Museum website. And I'm grateful to them for making them available.

It's too bad nothing really survives of Mrs. Kortright Monroe. This booklet does a good job of objectively putting pieces together through snippets of letters and diaries of those who met or dined with her. She sounds like a lovely, well-educated, beautiful woman, wife, mother, and grandmother. . more

"Mrs. Monroe is an elegant, accomplished woman. She possesses a charming mind and dignity of manners."

Unfortunately, very little is known about the 5th 1st lady of the United States. Elizabeth and James Monroe destroyed most of the letters between them, making it difficult to know much about Elizabeth.

This pamphlet/book is the only book I&aposve been able to find about her. Books on all the 1st ladies have short biographies of her in them, but I have been unable to find any other books specifically "Mrs. Monroe is an elegant, accomplished woman. She possesses a charming mind and dignity of manners."

Unfortunately, very little is known about the 5th 1st lady of the United States. Elizabeth and James Monroe destroyed most of the letters between them, making it difficult to know much about Elizabeth.

This pamphlet/book is the only book I've been able to find about her. Books on all the 1st ladies have short biographies of her in them, but I have been unable to find any other books specifically on her. I will continue to look, but in the meantime this short biography gives us a small glimpse into her life.


While she attracted admirers for her fashionable presence and youthful appearance, and critics for her imperious pompousness, Mrs. James Monroe came to the White House with a disadvantage. She wasn’t Dolley Madison. After all, her predecessor had been widely regarded and loved for her generous, congenial and lively personality as well as how these qualities were reflected in the way she entertained so anyone who succeeded her would find Dolley a “a tough act to follow.” Yet Elizabeth Monroe didn’t attempt to duplicate Dolley’s ways and because she was exhibited a more formal and continental than American method of entertaining she met with criticism and scorn among Washington society. But through it all, Elizabeth retained her own identity.

Elizabeth Kortright was born in New York in June, 1768, the daughter of a British army officer turned businessman. The Revolutionary war had seriously affected the family fortune but Kortright retained the respect of the business community, and in 1770 he and others formed the New York City Chamber of Commerce.

The family atmosphere of wealth and privilege stamped Elizabeth with what could be called haughtiness, and when she became engaged to James Monroe in 1785 the talk of New York society was speculation as to whether the marriage would work. Monroe was a lawyer from Virginia and came from a respectable but less prosperous family. Like many southern farming families, the Monroes owned their own land but the profits from farming it were often less than the value of the land.

At the time they met Monroe was a member of the Continental Congress in 1785, and he was as unassuming and sociable as Elizabeth was imposing, even at age seventeen. Elizabeth’s family urged the marriage, perhaps because it meant one less person to support on a declining family income, so Elizabeth and Monroe were married in February, 1786. Though there is little record of how Elizabeth was educated she possibly had a private tutor as a child. James on the other hand had attended William and Mary College in Virginia, and when he left college at his father’s death, he joined the American army in the Revolution before he returned home in 1779. He then began studying law with Thomas Jefferson, then Virginia’s governor, and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1783.

After his marriage Monroe began to practice law in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and also continued with his political interests. The next year, in July, 1787 they had their first child, a daughter named Eliza, and the next year Monroe became a member of the Virginia Convention and in 1790 was elected to the Senate. One reason he sought this office was to be able to move to Philadelphia where Elizabeth could visit her family in New York. Then in 1784 Monroe was appointed to be American Minister to Paris, and the family moved to France. That country was in the throes of the French Revolution and before the Monroes arrived the Marquis de Lafayette had been imprisoned. A long time ally of Washington and the new American nation, Lafayette had been a major figure in their struggle for independence, so his imprisonment required a quick and determined response by the new American minister. However, he would have to be careful since he was supposed to be officially neutral and could not be seen to be taking an interest in an internal French matter.

Then Monroe heard that Madame Lafayette was in danger of being executed and decided to try to save her life, but decided that what he couldn’t do, his wife could.

He arranged for a fine carriage, complete with liveried coachmen and footmen to take Elizabeth to visit the prisoner. Crowds gathered as the coach approached the prison, impressed at the elaborate vehicle, since such a symbol of wealth and position could not belong to anyone French at that time of revolution. News of the vehicle’s arrival, along with the identity of its passenger, spread quickly – that it was wife of the American Minister, and she was there on a personal visit to a controversial figure. Unsure of her reception, Elizabeth arrived at the prison for the visit, possibly unaware that Madame Lafayette’s mother and grandmother had just been executed.

Madame Lafayette was brought out of her cell, possibly convinced she too would be soon put to death but to her utter relief she realized that her American friends had not deserted her. It is said that witnesses to the visit were in tears. As she left, Elizabeth made it clear that she would return the next day to visit the prisoner again, a message that impressed and also challenged the guards and the prison officials. For it was thought that Madame Lafayette was due to be executed that same day, and if that happened, then what would be the American reaction if Mrs. Monroe arrived and found her friend had been put to death?

That quandary may have been Monroe’s purpose. For some have speculated that Monroe’s reasoning was his wife’s visit to such a high profile prisoner would attract attention and make it difficult for the French government to justify harming such a prominent person with influential foreign friends. If this was his idea then he succeeded. Conscious of public opinion and the evident American interest, the government succumbed to the pressure and released Madame Lafayette soon after. The public then dubbed Elizabeth as “la belle Americaine.” (the Beautiful American).

Elizabeth and her family grew to admire and emulate the French customs, culture and language during their time in Paris, an influence Elizabeth would long retain. Their daughter Eliza, now eight, attended a fashionable girls’ school and as one author described it: “Here aristocratic little girls developed inflated ideas of their own importance and often became insufferable snobs. Eliza was no exception.” (Presidents’ Wives, Carole Chandler Waldrup, p. 41). One of her classmates was Hortense Eugenie Beauharnis, stepdaughter of Napoleon, and her presence assured royal protection. Hortense, who would eventually be named Queen of Holland, remained a long time friend of Eliza’s.

However, what some considered to be an excessive admiration of the French may have proved detrimental to Monroe’s diplomatic career so he was recalled in December, 1796, and when he returned he found that he met disapproval because some officials felt he had lost his diplomatic neutrality. Now out of government service, Monroe began construction of a home in Virginia, near Monticello, Jefferson’s home. Ash Lawn, as he named the farm, was then the center of many visits from not just Jefferson but also James and Dolley Madison.

In 1799 Monroe was elected Governor of Virginia and served four years and that same year Elizabeth gave birth to their only son who lived but a few months. Monroe’s term as governor was completed in 1803 and since fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson was then president he decided to use Monroe’s diplomatic skills again in France. Monroe reluctantly accepted the offer since he wanted to serve, but he also knew it would not help them financially. Government service did not pay enough to live well in Europe, and Monroe was still in debt from his previous service. However, he accepted and he and his family arrived in France in April, 1803. Eliza returned to the fashionable girls school and they resumed their former routine in a favorite atmosphere.

Yet Jefferson had a new assignment for Monroe and that concerned the acquisition of a vast tract of land that would become known as the Louisiana Purchase. Napoleon had agreed to sell the land to the U.S and Monroe seized the opportunity to manage the negotiations and thus boost his diplomatic reputation. However, in 1803 Monroe was transferred to London, where Elizabeth and Eliza found it an unpleasantly unhealthy atmosphere and that they missed their French friends. Elizabeth developed rheumatism, which added to her misery, plus the English ladies she called on did not receive her properly. The only bright spot was that she gave birth to Maria Monroe in 1804, and because of the rude response of the English diplomats the family grew closer to each other. When Monroe was transferred to Spain in 1805 they welcomed the change.

However, there Monroe failed in several treaty negotiations and Jefferson called him home. On his return home in 1808 Monroe ran for president against his friend James Madison, but lost and then became Secretary of State and then later Secretary of War in the Madison administration. He was more successful in these positions than he had been as a diplomat, so when he ran again for president in 1816 this time he won.

When the Monroes arrived, as a national capital Washington was a great contrast to the great cities of Europe where Monroe had previously served. It had few paved streets, buildings were run down and ramshackle, in dry weather the dust choked everyone and in wet weather the dust turned into sticky goopy mud. To make matters worse, the Executive Mansion had not yet been repaired since it was burned during the War of 1812, so after the inauguration in March, 1817 Monroe went on a national tour and Elizabeth returned to her Virginia home till the White House was ready for them.

However, when they did return to the President’s House, Elizabeth shocked Washington society by deciding that she would not call on anyone and instead would follow the French custom of remaining at home and receiving Washington society there! Yet though they Washington dames griped and gossiped, they did come to call, partly to see the furniture the Monroe’s had imported from France, some of which had belonged to the late Queen Marie Antoinette. Even after Congress appropriated funds for new furniture, the Monroe’s imported more pieces from France. Along with Elizabeth and James, Eliza and her husband George Hay resided in the White House, along with their little daughter, Hortensia.

For many years the New Year’s Eve reception at the White House was a Washington tradition, and when the Monroes hosted their edition in 1818 it was an open house of sorts to show off the newly renovated White House. Elizabeth received her guests in a $1500 French imported gown, which caused even more tongues to wag. Actually she was a very private person who saw nothing wrong with wearing pretty clothes so she paid no attention to the gossip. The Monroes did host a weekly formal reception for politicos, as well as dinner parties that were known for being dull. Since Elizabeth seldom attended, custom decreed when she did not that no women could be guests. Those who did found it a solemn and joyless occasion, for once their guests arrived, they sat in silence for a few minutes till they entered the State Dining Room, again in silence. Also, Elizabeth and Monroe never attended political dinners outside the White House. However, Elizabeth’s heath was not always the best and when she could not preside, Eliza served as her father’s hostess.

Historians cannot accurately identify the illness that precluded Elizabeth’s White House appearances. It could have been arthritis, and other historians have suggested it was epilepsy or as it was sometimes then called: “the falling disease.” Since this was such a widely misunderstood condition at the time, and would be for many years, it was natural that it was kept very private, particularly in a First Lady. Some commonly believed at the time that it had mental or emotional origins so it could be embarrassing and shameful to those afflicted. Monroe wrote that Elizabeth was prone to “convulsions” and that one time that when she was sitting front of a fireplace she had fallen in and been seriously burned.

Yet if the ladies of Washington society gossiped and criticized Elizabeth they also did not miss out on a chance to visit the First Lady to admire her elegant wardrobe and stylish appearance. Also, because Elizabeth was unusually young looking for her age, there was also speculation as to whether she got some help. Did she look so well because she “rouged”? The application of such makeup was a characteristic of “loose” women but there was conjecture that Elizabeth might do it – a habit she’d picked up in decadent Europe.

Then if Washington society had been displeased with Elizabeth’s lack of calling or speculation that she “rouged” then the wedding of daughter Maria in the White House in 1820 did nothing to boost local admiration for them. Elizabeth and Eliza arranged that the wedding would be in the “New York style” which meant it would be so private only relatives and close friends would be invited. Washington society was aghast! How could the Monroes ignore the fact that this was a first White House wedding and it was their responsibility to open it to the public! Even foreign diplomats got the cold shoulder. When the Russian minister asked Eliza how he might honor her sister as the bride, he was informed he should ignore the event!

At the time there was no presidential expense allowance for entertaining so by 1822 Monroe was $35,000 in debt. Since his salary was only $25,000 he left office in debt and spend many years in seeking reimbursement for his expenses.

Monroe served two terms, and before the end of his second administration he had begun construction of a retirement home in Virginia based on plans drawn by Thomas Jefferson, and under the supervision of James Hoban, who had also built the White House. After the Monroes had retired to their new home, one of their visitors in 1825 was Marquis de Layfayette who brought a fine gift in gratitude for Elizabeth’s part in securing his wife’s release.

From that date till her death, Elizabeth enjoyed retirement, including frequent visits from her children and grandchildren, until her death in September 1830.


Elizabeth “Eliza” Kortright Monroe was born to James Monroe and Elizabeth Monroe (née Kortright) in December 1786 in Virginia. She spent much of her childhood in Paris during the French Revolution, when her father was the American minister to France. She attended school at Maison d'éducation de la Légion d'honneur, the school set up by Henriette Campan, a former lady-in-waiting to Marie Antionette. While at the school, Hay befriended Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine de Beauharnais and future mother of Napoleon III. Hay also "befriended many women of European royal families." [1]

James Monroe assumed the presidency in 1817, when Hay was 31. During his administration, she often acted as unofficial First Lady when her mother was ill. Hay was "primarily remembered for her domineering style and insistence that every iota of protocol be followed." [2] Her "influence over her father was marked." [3] She was also rumored to be snobbish, difficult to work with, and to have "an already high opinion of herself." [4] [5] In the book Executive Privilege: Two Centuries of White House Scandals, writer Jack Mitchell refers to Hay as a snob and "a bit of a society bitch." [6]

Hay and her husband had a daughter Hortensia, whose godmother was her mother's close friend Hortense de Beauharnais. [7] Hortense, by then Queen Consort of the Netherlands, would send Hortensia presents, including oil portraits of herself, her brother Eugene, and Henriette Campan. [8] The friendship with Hortense did not afford Hay an invitation to a ball at Caroline Bonaparte's Château de Neuilly, as "the sister of an Emperor could not be expected to receive the daughter of an honest republican." [9] Hortensia married Lloyd Nicholas Rogers of Baltimore as his second wife. [7]

In 1803, at the age of 17, Hay returned with her family to the United States. By then, she was fluent in both French and English. [10] In 1808, at the age of 22, she married attorney and judge George Hay, who was from Virginia. [11]

On September 21, 1830, Hay's husband George died, followed by her mother Elizabeth two days later. Her father James died less than a year later, on July 4, 1831. Following this string of deaths, Hay moved back to Paris, where she converted to Catholicism and joined a convent. [4] While she was living in Paris, Pope Gregory XVI sent her a bracelet he had blessed. The bracelet was "French silver-gilt, with a cameo setting of the head of Christ." [12]

Hay died in Paris on January 27, 1840, and was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.


Elizabeth Kortright Monroe: America’s First Ladies #5

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe was our nation’s fifth First Lady. Not as much is known about her as previous First Ladies, but she was a more private person. She still has an interesting story that is well worth knowing. Here it is.

Share:

Elizabeth Kortright was the fifth First Lady of the United States, as the wife of the 5 th U.S. president, James Monroe. She has a lower profile in the historical record than the four First Ladies who came before her, but her story is an interesting one, nonetheless. If you’ve ever been curious about James Monroe’s wife, or First Ladies in general, then Elizabeth’s tale is one you won’t want to miss.

Elizabeth was born in New York City on June 30, 1768, the youngest child and daughter of Lawrence Kortright and Hannah Aspinwall. Her father was a wealthy merchant and was also one of the founding members of the New York Chamber of Commerce. Lawrence was a co-owner of several pirate ships that sailed out of New York, and also owned at least four slaves. The land he owned in what became Delaware County, New York is now the town of Kortright, New York, named after him.

Elizabeth had four older siblings… sisters Sarah, Hester, and Mary, and a brother named John. She was raised in a wealthy and socially known household, and so was taught the proper social graces at an early age. She was later known for her grace and elegance.

When Elizabeth was nine years old, her mother died of what the parish records record as “child bed,” which means she died giving birth. It is assumed that the child she was birthing also died, as no further siblings are recorded for her. She did have one unknown sibling, however, as a few days after her mother’s death, the parish records mention the death of a 13-month-old infant of her parents’ who is recorded as having died of fever and flux. A name for the infant is not recorded. Elizabeth’s mother and unknown sibling were buried together at St. George’s Chapel in New York City. Her father, Lawrence, never remarried.

The Kortright family still had some hardships ahead of them, as their house was nearly destroyed in a fire a year after the death of Elizabeth’s mother. As many as fifty houses near Cruger’s Wharf in Manhattan were damaged or destroyed in this same fire, the extensive nature of it being caused by British troops mismanaging the firefighters. No one in the Kortright family was hurt or injured in the fire, thankfully.

When Elizabeth was about 17, James Monroe first noticed her. This was while Monroe was in New York City serving as a member of the Continental Congress during the Revolution. Elizabeth and her sisters were at the theater one evening, and, according to Monroe’s cousin, William Grayson, they were all so beautiful, all the men in the other theater boxes left them to come seek out the attention of the lovely, single Kortright sisters.

James was particularly attracted to Elizabeth and asked her to marry him a few months later. They were married early the next year, shortly before Elizabeth turned 18. James Monroe was twenty-seven at the time. The wedding was on February 16, 1786, at Lawrence Kortright’s house in New York City. The Monroes briefly honeymooned on Long Island, then returned to make their home in New York City with Elizabeth’s father. They stayed with Lawrence until the Continental Congress adjourned. They moved to Virginia later that year, where their first child, Eliza Kortright Monroe, was born in December of 1786.

Elizabeth traveled quite a bit with Monroe during the early years of their marriage. After the Revolution, in 1794, Monroe was appointed as US Minister to France by George Washington. The Monroes ended up in Paris at a bad time, during the infamous Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Elizabeth was instrumental in securing the release from prison of the wife of American Revolutionary hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, and likely saved her from beheading by guillotine by doing so. She and Monroe provided a refuge to American Thomas Paine in Paris after he was arrested for opposing the execution of the French king. Elizabeth’s daughter, Eliza, became friends with Napoleon’s step-daughter, and they received their schooling at the same exclusive school. Because of this association, the entire Monroe family became friends with Napoleon Bonaparte.

After being recalled to the United States, the Monroes went to Virginia, where Monroe was elected governor. Elizabeth gave birth to a son, James Monroe, Jr., there in 1799. He died in 1801. After his birth, Elizabeth had the first of what would become a series of seizures that bothered her the rest of her life. They eventually became so bad, she had to restrict her social activities. The Monroes had a third child during Monroe’s governorship, a daughter named Maria Hester, born in 1802.

Monroe was appointed as US Minister to Great Britain by Thomas Jefferson in 1803, and the family moved once more. Elizabeth did not like English society as much as French society, because there was still a lot of coldness from the British toward the Americans at this time. Monroe was appointed US Ambassador to Spain during this time, though he remained stationed in Great Britain. In 1804, the family was invited personally by Napoleon Bonaparte to attend his coronation in Paris.

The Monroes came back to the United States in 1807, where Monroe was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and also began practicing as a lawyer once more. He also served as governor again, then as James Madison’s Secretary of War and Secretary of State during the War of 1812. Elizabeth mostly stayed home in Virginia during this time. When Monroe was elected as President of the United States in 1817, Elizabeth went to the White House with him.

She began her First Lady duties by hosting his inaugural ball at their private residence because the White House was still under reconstruction and repairs from the war. The Monroes even furnished the White House from their own collection, since all of the previous White House furniture had been destroyed in the war. Elizabeth was well-liked as First Lady but was not as popular as her predecessor, Dolley Madison, who had set a standard by which all other First Ladies became measured. Part of Elizabeth’s lesser popularity seems to have been because she, along with her eldest daughter, tried to make access to the White House more exclusive than it had been in the past. This was in keeping with French cultural and social traditions, which she liked, but went against the Democratic nature of the new nation over which her husband now presided. In spite of this, she generally drew favorable reviews for the parties and other social events she hosted, and General Andrew Jackson, who would later become the 7 th US president, always asked about her in his letters to Monroe.

In keeping with the traditions of the time, which aimed to respect and protect the privacy of highborn ladies, either Monroe or Elizabeth herself destroyed all of her correspondence between each other and everyone else she ever wrote to sometime before her death. It is because of this tradition that we know so little about Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Fortunately, more records exist about Elizabeth outside of her correspondence, giving us a better picture into her life and who she was as a person than we have about Martha. As a contrast, 2 nd First Lady Abigail Adams bucked this tradition and chose to have her correspondence saved and published, so we know much more about her than most other early First Ladies.

After retiring from public life following Monroe’s second term as president, the Monroes sold their plantation in Albermarle County, and moved to the Oak Hill estate in Loudon, to be closer to their daughter, Eliza, and her husband. Elizabeth was suffering from poor health at this point but made a visit to New York City to visit her younger daughter, as well as other friends and relations. She made no more trips after this visit, and her health became even more precarious after she suffered burns after falling near a fireplace during a seizure. She died at Oak Hill on September 23, 1830.

She was originally buried at Oak Hill, but Monroe died the next year in New York while visiting their younger daughter, and was buried there. A quarter-century later, his remains were moved to the new Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, to become a major attraction there. In 1903, Elizabeth was moved to Hollywood and placed beside him. They are both there together still.


Site History

Four forces joined to create the collection associated with James Monroe and his family. One was the general human desire to save such items as connections to the past. A second was that of the special attachment of Americans to items associated with past Presidents of the United States. A third was the great importance attributed to this President and all his achievements that led Monroe’s family and associates to keep so many and such varied items. And the fourth was the splendid generosity of the family members, descendants and associates, who wanted so much to share their perceptions and their memories that they gave away to the rest of us this wonderful patrimony – forming the Monroe Collection at the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library.

The sense that Monroe’s objects were valuable connections to his important roles in city, state, national and world politics was developed very early in his family. His children Eliza Monroe Hay and Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur inherited some items and bought others. Maria and her husband Samuel L. Gouverneur were special collectors, and two of their children, Samuel L. Gouverneur, Jr. and Elizabeth Kortright Gouverneur Heiskell, inherited Monroe items.

Samuel Gouverneur, Jr. was deeply involved in preserving his grandfather’s legacy. He was the leading family member in the 1858 negotiations to remove Monroe’s remains from the Marble Cemetery in New York City and reinter them in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. In his duty as first United States Consul in Foo Chow, the capital of the Chinese province of Fokien, he had an artist make a painted copy of a Leslie’s Illustrated engraving showing him standing beside his grandfather’s coffin, lying in state in the Governor’s Room of New York City Hall. Sam Jr. also went into Orphan’s Court to gain possession of some of the Monroe items which his father had taken to the home of his second wife, Mary Digges Lee Gouverneur. And it was Sam Jr. who made personal notes in some of the books now in our collection, attesting to their ownership by James Monroe.

The intensity of involvement increased in the long and productive life of Sam Jr.’s daughter Rose de Chine Gouverneur Hoes. She not only played a central role in the creation of this museum but was also the leading figure in the creation of the collection of “Gowns of the First Ladies” at the Smithsonian Institution, for which Rose Hoes wrote the first catalog of that collection, published in 1916.

In 1927, when notified that the old buildings on Monroe’s Fredericksburg town lot were about to be demolished and replaced with a gasoline service station, she bought the buildings and brought there her collections of objects, books and documents, opening our James Monroe Museum, now in its seventy-fourth year.

Rose’s sons Gouverneur Hoes and Laurence Gouverneur Hoes assisted at that early moment, and Laurence and his first wife Ingrid Westesson Hoes gave the next fifty years of their lives to enhancing the collections, adding to the building, establishing the James Monroe Memorial Foundation, and giving the museum to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Laurence’s second wife Camilla has continued generous gifts in her widowhood, and Laurence and Ingrid’s late son Monroe Randall Hoes and his wife Mary Alice Regier Hoes have made further generous contributions. It is particularly to Rose and her family that we owe our treasure house of Monroe materials, and I remain in awe of their work and their generosity.

It was my personal honor and pleasure to know Laurence and Ingrid Hoes, and it continues to be my honor and pleasure to know not only their descendants but so many others who have continued the wonderful gifts that make this a living, growing collection. Just within the last few years so many of the descendants have contributed objects to the collections. They have also contributed their funds and interest to the work of the museum, to the Friends of the James Monroe Museum, and to the annual Monroe Reunion which we began in 1990.

At the very first Reunion, Minor Fairfax Heiskell Gouverneur II (deceased 1993), a great-great-great-great-grandson of James and Elizabeth Monroe, gave us the original key to our old buildings.

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe Emory Gatchell (deceased 1996), great-great-great-granddaughter of the Monroes, gave us "Maria’s quilt,” the unfinished quilt on which Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur had been working when her recently widowed father came to live with her in 1830 Maria put down the quilt and never took it up again, making it a very special memorial of the last year of James Monroe’s life.

I have already mentioned the late Monroe Randall Hoes and his wife Mary Alice Regier Hoes. They have given us a number of very important items in the last few years, including a group of Monroe’s bank checks, 1811-1822, which shed light on his personal financial transactions, and a beautiful set of pearl handled, silver-bladed fruit knives and forks, engraved with Monroe’s eagle crest, an ornament we have used in a number of ways at the museum and in our catalogue, A Presidential Legacy: The Monroe Collection .

In 1989, Margaret N. Randol, a collateral descendant of Mary Digges Lee Gouverneur, generously donated one of Monroe’s dispatch boxes. Others have told us of their intentions to give us Monroe items still in the family, or help us create an Acquisitions Fund through which to acquire Monroe materials which are offered for sale. An envelope arrived filled with wonderful family information, from Jane Fairfax Gouverneur Ten Eyck, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the Monroes.

It has been a delightful revelation to me and the staff to meet many other descendants whose interest, family information, financial gifts and general support are so important to the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. It is especially inspiring to us that so many of the younger generations are now interested – including those who are helping us construct a web page and others helping us build a Monroe Family e-mail network.

From these family efforts have come our wonderful collections, now presented in the catalogue by former Curator Lee Langston-Harrison, with the help of many students and faculty members of the University of Mary Washington (which administers the museum). And now I hope all of you who read this will become members of the Friends of the James Monroe Museum (“honorary Monroes"), carrying on the special mission of finding the objects, books and papers which illuminate the life, times and influence of James Monroe, and helping us create the programs to carry the message to others.

John N. Pearce
Director of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library, 1993-2010


Watch the video: Elizabeth Monroes Wedding Shoe