You may wish to the Polk Home and Museum.

Martha Washington
Abigail Adams
Martha Jefferson
Dolley Madison
Elizabeth Monroe
Louisa Adams
Rachel Jackson
Hannah Van Buren
Anna Harrison

Letitia Tyler
Julia Tyler
Sarah Polk
Margaret Taylor
Abigail Fillmore
Jane Pierce
Harriet Lane Johnson
Mary Lincoln
Eliza Johnson
Julia Grant
Lucy Hayes
Lucretia Garfield
Ellen Arthur
Frances Cleveland
Caroline Harrison
Ida McKinley
Edith Roosevelt
Helen Taft
Ellen Wilson
Edith Wilson
Florence Harding
Grace Coolidge
Lou Hoover
Eleanor Roosevelt
Bess Truman
Mamie Eisenhower
Jacqueline Kennedy
Lady Bird Johnson
Pat Nixon
Betty Ford
Rosalynn Carter
Nancy Reagan
Barbara Bush
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Laura Bush
Michelle Obama
Melania Trump

Sarah Childress Polk

Sarah Childress was born on September 4, 1803 in Murfreesboro, TN.
She attended a boarding school and then went to the Moravian Female Academy in Salem, North Carolina.

Besides her academic studies she had to practice the piano, clean part of the dormitory and learn needle point. This was part of her training "to be a "good wife."

Sarah met James Knox Polk in 1821. He proposed to her in 1823.

Before they were married Sarah had James pledge that he would run for Congress.

They were married on New Year's Day of 1824.

The Polk's had no children.

The election of 1844 was very bitter. James Polk was very unpopular with some people in Washington.

At Polk's inauguration, Sarah wore a blue satin dress. She carried a fan with her that her husband had given her. It had pictures of the ten presidents who came before him and an image of the Decoration of Independence on the back of the fan. At that time the President's wife didn't ride with the President.

Sarah had the military band play Hail to the Chief when Polk entered the room. This became a Presidential Tradition.

That night there were two inaugural balls. One for the richer people that cost $10.00 to attend and the Democratic Association party that was less's formal and cost $5.00. The Polk's made an appearance at the fancy ball but spent more time and ate dinner at the $5.00 party.

She was Presbyterian and very religious. She did not allow card playing or dancing in the White House.

Sarah hosted the first formal Thanksgiving dinner ever held at the White House.

She and her husband were friends of Francis Scott Key who wrote the Star Spangled Banner.

Sarah was not the typical 19th century with who tended to the children and the house. She was very much engaged in her husband’s work. James encouraged to read about politics and to come with him on his political trips.

Sarah became one of the most powerful First Ladies in history. Some think Polk would have never become president without her. 

Mrs. Polk once served a formal dinner without napkins on the table. She never noticed it during the meal.

Gas lights were installed in the White House during their time living there. They were also the first family to use an ice box in the White House.

Library of Congress

Sarah was very religious and her religion made her shun follies and amusements of the world. She banned dancing, card playing and hard liquor from the White House.

She staffed the White House with her slaves. She renovated the basement of the White House so her slaves could live there.

Sarah worked at the presidents personal secretary. They sometimes work 16 hour days.

Mr. Polk became ill while on tour of the Eastern States. He had cholera. He died from this disease on June 15, 1849.

Sarah wore widow's black the rest of her life.

She outlived her husband by 42 years. She was the longest living widow of a president. She never remarried.

In 1860, the Civil War was getting near. She sold her land and the slaves.

Sarah said her husband would have never of secession.

Mrs. Polk died on August 14, 1891. She was 87. She is buried next to her husband in Nashville, TN.

In addition to the books listed below I also used:

Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America

First Ladies by Betty Boyd Caroli


First Ladies Home

U.S. Presidents Home

Black History






Sources of Information:

Barden, Cindy,Meet the First Ladies, Lorenz Corp.
Gormley, Beatrice,First Ladies: Women Who Called The White House Home (First Ladies) , Scholastic Paperbacks, 1997
Smith, Carter, Editor,Smithsonian Presidents and First Ladies DK Publishing, New York, 2002

Web Sites:
The White House:
Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies:


You may wish to the Polk Home and Museum.

This page was updated: August 18, 2017