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Widower Andrew Jackson asked his niece, Emily Donelson, to serve as White House hostess. Born in Tennessee on June 1, 1807, Emily Donelson was the daughter of John and Mary Donelson.1 She married her cousin, Andrew J. Donelson, on September 16, 1824.2 The couple accompanied Andrew and Rachel Jackson to Washington, D.C. shortly after their marriage. They went on to have four children together and lived at The Hermitage with the Jacksons.3

During Andrew Jackson’s presidency, Andrew J. Donelson served as the president’s private secretary, while Emily Donelson stepped in as White House hostess, entertaining guests, and managing free and enslaved laborers.

While in the White House, the Donelsons became embroiled the “Petticoat Affair,” a scandal involving cabinet wife Margaret Eaton and alleged marital impropriety. Several of Jackson’s cabinet members and their wives, including Emily, excluded Eaton over these rumors. This led to political and social fallout, ruining the Donelsons’ time in Washington and permanently affecting Andrew Donelson’s career.4

This scandal, coupled with her own poor health, led Emily Donelson to return to their plantation, Poplar Grove, in Tennessee in 1836; she died of tuberculosis on December 19, 1836.5 She is buried at the Hermitage.

Click here to learn more about the enslaved household of the Jackson family.

Footnotes & Resources

  1. “Emily Tennessee Donelson,” Find a Grave,
  2. Emily T Donelson in the Tennessee, U.S., Compiled Marriages, 1784-1825, Dodd, Jordan, comp.. Tennessee Marriages to 1825. Electronic transcription of marriage records held by the individual counties in Tennessee,
  3. “Andrew Jackson Donelson,” in Notable Southern Families Vol. 2, ed. Zella Armstrong (Chattanooga, TN: Lookout Publishing Co., 1922), 103.
  4. Mark Cheatham, “"A House Divided Cannot Stand:” Andrew Jackson Donelson and the Pressures Placed on a Presidential Nephew", White House Historical Association,
  5. “Emily Tennessee Donelson,” Find a Grave,