chapter  6
14 Pages

“A Place to See and Be Seen”

The Uses of the Drawing Room
WithAllgor Catherine

During the James Madison administration years, from 1809 to 1817, on Wednesday nights there was only one place to be: "Mrs. Madison's drawing rooms", as they were called. The Madisons adopted a form of European royal levees but called them "drawing rooms", which seemed less foreign while still evoking the aristocratic mystique of the British gentry. Dolley's drawing rooms were literally a bipartisan location. More like modern cocktail parties than formal receptions, people moved freely, making connections, forming and re-forming groups, and mingling. The key component of access made the drawing rooms the place to be in Washington. Access to important people and to key points of decision is crucial to politics and provides important tools for implementing unity. In a political culture that framed issues in black and white, where there was no way to understand the function of an informed dissent, at Dolley's drawing rooms people could interact with everyone at their most human.