FIFTY: Washington, D.C. — "The Dress"
Each story in the FIFTY collection focuses on a remarkable American from a different state. Below are some recommended topics to inspire further investigation of the history and geography of the state, as well as themes that can support our children's growth and development.
For reasons that were unclear, First Lady Dolley Payne Madison had a strong connection to the velvet drapes in the White House Oval Drawing Room. She pushed for them to be used even after the official decorator balked at them. She saved the drapes right before the White House was burned down by the English in the War of 1812. And then, years later, she transformed them into something very unique and special. Many people wondered why she gave the drapes so much attention — but her niece Anna knew the reason. And it was something far more important than people realized.
Note: Though this is historical fiction and the characters have been developed to accommodate a story, their attributes and development may be useful as reference points and inspirations.
Washington, D.C. History History of the United States capitals History of the White House construction, burning, and rebuilding Biography of Dolley and James Madison
Washington, D.C. Geography Map of the British invasion of Washington, D.C. Map of Virginia and distance between Montpelier and Washington, D.C.
“The Dress” Study Topics A study of First Ladies and their influence on the Presidency and executive policy A comparison of U.S. Presidents based on net worth
Topics for Reflection
From a Child Development Perspective:
Our actions impact the lives of others. We need to remember that choices that we make for ourselves have consequences not only for us, but also on those around us. Anna‘s Aunt Dolley had lived a noble and honorable life, but the behaviors of her son were such a drain on her that by the end of her life, she paid for his poor choices.
A favorite article of clothing can have great significance. Sometimes we wear our clothing or our jewelry or accessories not just because it is fashionable, but because it helps us to feel stronger, more powerful, or more beautiful — or because it has sentimental value. Anna knew that her Aunt’s red velvet dress had a certain magic to it, and she wanted that dress — not because of beauty or fashion or even value, but because of its special power.
Memories are very important. When Anna saw that beautiful red dress, she recalled her youth when she first visited the White House. Just seeing the cloth from the curtains also reminded her of the time years later when she was living in Virginia and her Aunt Dolley had left the White House carrying a box of silverware, the large set of chinaware ... and the velvet curtains.
Sometimes, it’s best to trust a gut feeling. Those red velvet curtains represented Dolley’s confidence. She knew they were just the right curtains for the Oval Drawing Room even though the designer thought that they were garish and ugly. Dolley was delighted by those curtains and she confidently stood by her opinion!
Sometimes we have to be “squeezed,” or forced, to make compromises. The conversations that took place in the Oval Drawing Room “Squeezes” required that people with differing opinions come together to listen to each other and come up with solutions that could work for the majority. This was important to the Madisons in their White House, and it is necessary for politicians today!
If we find ourselves accidentally overhearing a conversation, we can see, hear, or experience things that are too big for us. If you find yourself in a situation like Anna did, follow her example — step out and let someone know you were there. Anna heard things about the War of 1812 that she was too young to understand, and she’s very lucky that her uncle, the President, was able to comfort her.
Even if something is damaged or old, one shouldn’t necessarily discard it. Naturally, it is important to take care of our belongings, but it’s also important not to waste things when they need to be tended. Although Dolley’s beloved velvet curtains were damaged when they were transported to Virginia, she worked with a talented seamstress to turn the damaged cloth into a beautiful and elegant velvet dress. She took something that could have been disposed of and she made it beautiful — and that gave it even more value.
When we sense the urge to carry on the mission of an honorable person, it is wise to listen carefully. When Anna bought “the dress” at the auction, she also won the comfort and confidence to do whatever was needed to help herself, her family, and ultimately her country. The dress helped Anna become who she wanted to be: bold and passionate, a person who did what was needed in the name of the United States of America.
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