Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Sarah Childress Polk  1803 ~ 1891

 


Sarah Childress Polk

Sarah Childress Polk, nee Childress, daughter of Captain Joel and Elizabeth Childress was born near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, September 4, 1803. She was educated at the Moravian Institute at Salem, North Carolina. She was married at the age of nineteen to James Knox Polk, of Murfreesboro. Mr. Polk was then a member of the legislature of Tennessee and in the following year was elected to Congress, and after serving on the most important committees of the House of Representatives, he was elected speaker, a position for which he was especially fitted,

Mrs. Polk accompanied her husband to Washington every winter and occupied a prominent position in society. Her influence was not only social, but political. She took great pains to inform herself on political affairs, and was deeply interested in all the discussions of the day which in any way affected the welfare of her country.

She had lived all her life in the atmosphere of politics and had extensive acquaintance with the public men of the time, and often counseled with her husband on national subjects. They resided at Columbia, Tennessee. She was a member of the Presbyterian Church of that city and was much esteemed for her devotion to her religious duties. Mrs. Polk was the recipient of many testimonials of high esteem from distinguished men, among them she received a copy of verses addressed to her by the eminent jurist, Honorable Joseph D, Story. In 1839 Mr. Polk was elected Governor of Tennessee and removed his residence to Nashville.

Mrs. Polk as mistress of the executive mansion exercised a powerful influence in harmonizing the bitterness which then existed between rival parties. In the campaign of 1844, for the Presidency, in which Henry Clay was the idol of the Whig party, and James K. Polk of the Democratic Party, there was the greatest excitement. Mr. Polk was elected and inaugurated on March 4, 1845. Having no children, Mrs. Polk devoted all her time to her duties as Lady of the White House, and no other mistress of that stately mansion left a more favorable impression upon the people and society of that day than did Mrs. Polk. It may be said that she maintained the dignity of the President's mansion without assuming the slightest hauteur and much has been said of her attractive manner, queenly bearing and sincere cordiality. The receptions of President and Mrs. Polk were very largely attended and universally enjoyed. Her style of dress was particularly becoming to her.

She had very black hair and eyes and a fair complexion and was much given to wearing bright colors and gay turbans. It was with much regret that the social circles of Washington saw Mr. and Mrs. Polk depart from the White House. It was during Polk's administration that we had the war with Mexico and much credit is due to the President and Mrs. Polk in causing the settlement of the difficulties between the United States and Mexico.

Mr. Polk, on his retirement from the White House, purchased a house in Nashville, Tennessee, but did not live long in enjoyment of it. After his death Mrs. Polk lived a great many years in this Nashville home, receiving here the homage of all distinguished visitors to the capital of Tennessee. The legislature of that state called upon her in a body every New Year's Day when they were in session.

During the confederate days of Nashville, Mrs. Polk received the most distinguished consideration, all general officers, both Confederate and Union, paying their respects to her by calling in person. The writer remembers hearing George Bancroft, the distinguished historian, give a graphic account of his charming visit to Mrs. Polk not long before her death, which occurred in 1891.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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