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Sarah Polk's Geni Profile

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Sarah Polk (Childress)

Birthplace: Rutherford, Tennessee, United States
Death: Died in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, United States
Place of Burial: Tennessee State Capitol Building and Grounds Nashville Davidson County Tennessee
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Joel W Childress; Joel Childress; Elizabeth Childress and Elizabeth Childress
Wife of James K. Polk, 11th President of the USA
Mother of Charles Taylor Polk
Sister of Maj. John W. Childress; Mathilda "Mary" Fountain Catron; Susan Rucker and Anderson Childress

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About Sarah Polk

In Washington as congressman's wife during the administrations of John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren, Mrs. Polk very much enjoyed her social duties. She risked a breech with Jackson, her husband's mentor, by taking part in the social ostracism of Peggy Eaton.

Although not particularly attractive, Sarah Polk was lively, charming, intelligent, with a good conversationalist. President Polk at times discussed policy matters with her. Sarah helped James with his speeches in private, copied his correspondence, and gave him advice. While she enjoyed politics, she also cautioned him against overwork. A devout Presbyterian, she as First Lady banned dancing and hard liquor at official receptions and refused to attend horse races or the theatre. She hosted the first annual Thanksgiving dinner at the White House.

Only 41 when her husband became president, Sarah Polk outlived several of her successors: Margaret Taylor, Abigail Fillmore, Jane Pierce, Mary Todd Lincoln, Eliza Johnson and Lucy Webb Hayes. Only a handful of first ladies have lived longer -- Anna Harrison, Edith Bolling Wilson, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, and Bess Truman. Only three months after retirement to their new home "Polk Place" in Nashville, James Polk died. (He had the shortest retirement of any former US President).

Contrasted with Julia Tyler's waltzes, the Polk entertainments were noted for sedateness and sobriety. Although some accounts stated that the Polks never served wine, a Congressman's wife recorded in her diary details of a four-hour dinner for forty at the White House--glasses for six different wines, from pink champagne to ruby port and sauterne, "formed a rainbow around each plate. Mrs. Polk was said to be popular and respected.

She retired with the former president to Nashville, Tennessee, where she remained after his death in 1849. During the Civil War, she supported the Confederacy. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers came to pay their respects to her.

Sarah Polk lived on in that home for 42 years. She lived through the longest retirement and widowhood of any former US First Lady, and wore black always.

She and James had no children.

She was the First Lady of the United States after James was inaugurated as the 11th President on March 4, 1845.

James' and Sarah's bodies were moved to the grounds of the State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee in 1893.

Presidential First Lady. She was born Sarah Childress on a plantation near Murfreesboro, Tennessee the daughter of a prosperous planter and merchant. As was usual with daughters of the wealthy during this time, her education was entrusted to a series of finishing schools. She was well qualified to assist a man with a political career. James K. Polk had just began his first year's service in the Tennessee legislature when a courtship with Sarah commenced and ended in marriage; he was 28, she 20. It is said that Andrew Jackson himself was the matchmaker. The couple was childless and all her energy was directed to helping her husband, acting as his secretary and upon becoming First Lady worked along side the president conducting the business of the land and even attended cabinet meetings. However, fun times in the White House were over. An over zealous Presbyterian, she issued edicts: no dancing, singing, music, card playing, gambling or alcohol at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No business was conducted on Sunday. Sarah observed the first traditional Thanksgiving day dinner in the White House. Just three months after the Polk's vacated the White House to retire to a newly constructed home in Nashville, (Polk Place) Andrew died of Cholera. Sarah endured the longest widowhood of any first lady extending over forty two years. During the Civil War, both sides respected her neutrality and she entertained officers from both armies. Clad always in black, she turned their home into a shrine in her husbands memory. His grave was on the grounds of the estate. Because of her austere views and no children, her life became barren and joyless. She had some famous visitors, President and Mrs Hayes stopped by and later President and Mrs Cleveland. Upon her death at age 87, her burial next to her husband was short in duration. Polk Place became a run down, unkempt mansion in downtown Nashville and sadly was sold and demolished. The graves were moved to an even more austere site on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol. Only the cast iron fountain from the property was preserved and is today displayed at the James K. Polk Ancestral Home in Columbia. Constructed by his parents, he began his political career from this home. Adjacent is the Polk Sister's home containing many items from President and Sarah Polk. The Polk Memorial in Pineville, North Carolina is a reconstruction on land from the farm of his birth and where he spent most of his childhood. The log buildings and furnishings are not original to the Polk homestead but are period pieces of that time. (bio by: Donald Greyfield)

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Sarah Polk's Timeline

September 4, 1803
Rutherford, Tennessee, United States
January 1818
Age 14
August 14, 1891
Age 87
Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, United States
Salem, North Carolina, United States
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, United States
Tennessee State Capitol Building and Grounds Nashville Davidson County Tennessee