COVER STORY: JULY 2014
Montpelier Foundation President Kat Imhoff Takes Us Inside the Estate and Private Lives of James and Dolley Madison
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Publisher Be Inkandescent
If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Virginia home of James and Dolley Madison, be sure to put it on your to-do list.
After Madison’s presidency, Montpelier became the family plantation that the couple retired to in 1817. They entertained hundreds of visitors and jointly edited Madison’s significant political papers—including his notes on the Constitutional Convention.
“Madison predeceased Dolley by 13 years, after which she traveled back and forth between Montpelier and Washington, DC, before permanently settling in the nation’s capital in 1844,” explains Kat Imhoff, who has been president of The Montpelier Foundation since January 2013.
Interviewing Imhoff for the July episode of The Grateful American™ TV Show was a pleasure. In addition to being an expert on the Madisons, she formerly was chief operating officer and vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, heading special initiatives and leading the team that created the new Visitors Center.
Imhoff also served as the state director for The Nature Conservancy in Montana, where she led the organization’s Montana Legacy Project—the purchase of more than 300,000 acres of land in the Northern Rockies bordering Glacier National Park. This land now completes a corridor of environmental protection extending across Montana from Wyoming.
Before we dive into our Q&A with Kat Imhoff, here’s a brief primer on James Madison.
Often considered the most cerebral of the Founding Fathers, Madison had one of the most effective and influential careers in the history of American politics.
“Even as a young child, Madison was bright, erudite, analytical, and thirsty for knowledge,” Imhoff explains. “Madison was literate in seven languages, curious about the latest technological advances, and obtained his degree from the College of New Jersey, which today is Princeton.”
He was considered tenacious, perhaps a bit scrappy, and a defender of rights for all Americans. He was a skillful legislator, serving in the Virginia Assembly, the Continental Congress, and the first four Congresses of the United States. He also served as secretary of state for Thomas Jefferson, and then as two-term president of the United States, from 1809-1817.
Imhoff says Madison is best known for his role as Father of the Constitution, in recognition of his leadership, scholarship, and dedication in shaping the values that characterize our nation and resulted in the first and longest-standing representative government on earth.
As for his love life: On Sept. 15, 1794, the 43-year-old, never-married Congressman James Madison married 26-year-old widow Dolley Payne Todd. Throughout their 42-year-long marriage, Dolley was an indispensable aid to her husband’s career and is responsible for many notable accomplishments in her own right.
“Dolley was known to be fond of feminine frippery, and for using her social savvy as a means of political diplomacy,” Imhoff notes. “She implemented unprecedented standards in the nation’s new capital in Washington, DC, creating traditions that are still followed to this day.”
For more insights, click here for 10 Leadership Lessons from JMU President Jon Alger.