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Sarah Polk

Sarah PolkAKA Sarah Childress

Born: 4-Sep-1803
Birthplace: Murfreesboro, TN
Died: 14-Aug-1891
Location of death: Nashville, TN
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville, TN

Gender: Female
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: First Lady

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Wife of US President James K. Polk

When Sarah Childress married James Knox Polk, he was a Tennessee state congressman. As his political career progressed, most biographers agree that he trusted neither adversaries nor allies, but he had a profound trust in his wife. While he was President, she served as his secretary, so of course she was privy to everything. She helped him write his speeches, attended cabinet meetings, advised him on crucial nominations, and gave him knowledgeable counsel on political issues.

In an era when men would socialize in one room and their wives would retire to a different room for "ladies' talk", she was known for her occasional insistence on accompanying her husband into the men's conversation. She frequently spoke publicly on political matters, although every opinion was preceded with, "Mr Polk says..." She was, however, devoutly religious. She refused to dance, play card games, or attend theatrical plays, and while her husband was President the White House did not serve hard liquor.

They had no children, but raised a nephew, Marshall Tate Polk Jr. (1831-1884). Her husband died just three months after leaving the Presidency, whispering his last words, "I love you, Sarah, for all eternity, I love you." Mrs Polk reportedly wore black to signify mourning for the 42 years remaining in her life, and beyond attending church on Sundays she rarely left their Tennessee home, which was called Polk Place. After her husband's death, she took in her niece, Sarah Polk Jetton (1847-1924).

She refused to take sides on the question of slavery, and during the Civil War she accepted both Union and Confederate officers as guests at her estate. In 1877 she had a telephone installed at Polk Place, the first phone in metropolitan Nashville, and in 1888 she performed the honor of ceremonially turning on Cincinnati's first electric lights.

Father: Joel Childress (tavern keeper, d. 1819)
Mother: Elizabeth Whitsitt Childress
Sister: Susan Childress
Husband: James Knox Polk (US President, b. 02-Nov-1795, m. 1-Jan-1824, d. 15-Jun-1849)

    High School: Salem Academy, Winston-Salem, NC (1817-19, dropped out)


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