Sarah Childress Polk

John Sartainc. 1850

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Sarah Childress Polk received one of the most advanced educations available to women in the early 1800s, in the course of which she met future president James K. Polk. As the intelligent wife of a congressman and then as first lady, Sarah Polk assisted her husband with his speeches, gave him advice on policy matters, and played an active role in his political campaigns. In the White House she was famously sober and austere, banning liquor, card games, and dancing from official receptions and earning herself the nickname “Sahara Sarah”. Sarah and James Polk were the only presidential couple to never have any children; biologically, adopted, or from previous marriages. James Polk would die of cholera only three months after leaving office, the shortest retirement of any president, and though eight years his junior, Sarah Polk lived on for another 42 years: the longest for any first lady.

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  • Title: Sarah Childress Polk
  • Creator: John Sartain
  • Date Created: c. 1850
  • Physical Dimensions: w15.7 x h25.4 cm (Sheet)
  • Classification: Print
  • Type: Engraving on paper
  • Rights: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution