Yesterday, the White House was placed on lockdown when an armed man approached a checkpoint to the complex and refused to put down his weapon, resulting in his being shot by a Secret Service agent. The incident yet again brings focus to the ongoing efforts by the federal protection force to ensure the privacy and safety of not just the President, but the First Lady.
No matter how freely a First Lady may think she has managed to live while a resident of the White House, one thing is for sure: she will always be shadowed by members of the United States Secret Service.
Protection for the incumbent President’s family members was first enacted during Theodore Roosevelt’s Administration, he having inherited the position while Vice President to William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901.
Despite the provision funding the safety of presidential family members, however, it was not yet strictly enforced.
When young Quentin Roosevelt walked out of the White House to attend classes at a local public school, for example, he might be trailed by a Secret Service agent from a distance – or he might not.
Edith Wilson was the first presidential spouse who was specifically assigned a Secret Service agent, she was almost always in the company of the President when in public and thus covered by those protecting him.
Harry Barker, a native of Newton, Massachusetts became the first Secret Service agent to truly serve a First Lady. In the process of being out in public with the highly active Florence Harding and at her side on presidential trips to the south and out west, and then up to Alaska, they became especially close.
While the President’s Secret Service agents developed a protective personal feeling for him, Barker remained doggedly loyal to Mrs. Harding, a quality she found especially comforting when those she’d considered reliable friends appointed to political office began to betray the trust she and the President had invested in them. On one occasion, when the President’s mistress came to meet with him, Barker interceded and informed the First Lady.
When she was at the residence, Florence Harding entrusted Harry Barker to retrieve her astrologer Marcia Chaumprey and discreetly deliver her to the family quarters for her readings and predictions.
Upon the death of the President, Mrs. Harding gave their beloved Airedale Laddie Boy to Harry Barker who lovingly made the dog part of his family, his wife and sons caring for the famous pooch at their Massachusetts home.
Whenever she set out on her daily power walks around Washington, D.C. Grace Coolidge was always in the company of her Secret Service agent James Haley and the duo became a familiar sight around the capital.
While later generations of agents would, for obvious security reasons, remain largely anonymous figures in public, Jim Haley was identified in the press by name.
He earned unwanted publicity during the 1927 presidential summer vacation to South Dakota, however, when he and the First Lady headed out for a hike in the nearby woods and were gone for several long hours.
The President feared something terrible had occurred and was angered when they finally appeared at the lodge that was serving as their residence. President Coolidge ordered that Haley be removed from his position and reassigned to another position within the agency.
The press, however, suggested that Coolidge was really jealous of a secret love affair between his wife and Haley. Unknown to the President, the First Lady wrote a strong letter to the Secret Service director, commending the behavior of Jim Haley. She remained a friend of his, as well as his wife Joan, for the rest of her life.
How each First Lady has reacted to being trailed by armed guards largely depended on both the degree of public exposure they had and how accustomed they may have previously been with the experience of being guarded.
Eleanor Roosevelt, with her constant travels around the nation and making three overseas trips as First Lady, felt the presence of protection was an encumbrance on her activities.
She refused to accept Secret Service protection and the agency acquiesced only on the condition that she always carry a pistol and learn how to properly use it. Mrs. Roosevelt went through the training, but rarely took her gun with her on trips.
Bess Truman especially dreaded having her privacy intruded upon and insisted upon driving her own car during her initial period as First Lady. Several months into her tenure, however, when she would drive and have to stop her car at a stop sign or red light, pedestrians and other motorists immediately recognized her. Finally, Mrs. Truman acquiesced to being guarded at all times.
Mamie Eisenhower formed a close friendship with agents who protected her and the President. During her first two summer sojourns to the Denver, Colorado home of her mother, the First Lady fostered a romance between a local woman and Secret Service agent Robert Newbrand.
When the couple married, Mrs. Eisenhower attended the wedding ceremony and stood prominently on the church steps to throw rice on them as they emerged.
Finding that she could have relative peace and solitude by taking walks with scarves and sunglasses on, Pat Nixon enjoyed strolling the Pacific Ocean shoreline near the presidential home in San Clemente, California and window-shopping at night in Washington, D.C. With the risk of any potential harm to her being relatively low, Mrs. Nixon managed to have her Secret Service agents trail her at a slight distance, giving her a simulated sense of freedom.
Betty Ford, though never having had her every movement watched, formed an immediately friendly relationship with members of her Secret Service agent detail.
With a tendency to take a protective attitude towards them, she famously cheered on and coached members of her Secret Service detail in a 1976 summer game of touch football against those who guarded the President, while at the presidential vacation home in Vail, Colorado.
The 1981 assassination attempt on her husband’s life just two months after he assumed the presidency left Nancy Reagan dramatically shaken; for the rest of his presidency, she remained worried about his exposure to potential harm and kept a direct line of contact with the chief of his detail.
Since the president’s four grown children were also trailed by agents, the First Lady found that she could keep an eye on their private activities by requesting reports of their movements from the Secret Service.
After leaving the White House in 1989 and until her death two months ago, in March of 2016, Mrs. Reagan maintained a close friendship with some of her former agents, especially John Barletti.
Barbara Bush endeared herself to agents with her motherly concern for their personal well-being.
As both the wife of a Vice President and a President, Mrs. Bush sought to ensure that they were warm when stationed outside in cold weather and arranging the presidential family vacations during the holiday season in a way that permitted the agents to spend time with their own families, as Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson had also done.
Mrs. Johnson was even known to buy and wrap Christmas presents for some of her agents.
More recently, Michelle Obama also extended a warm overture to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect her own and those of her family.
Reports claim that she insisted they call her by her first name, and that she invited them to and joined private family parties.
Since she was the first First Lady to make multiple and extensive trips to foreign countries, Jacqueline Kennedy’s Secret Service agent Clint Hill had an opportunity to travel the world, from a 1962 summer vacation on the Amalfi Coast of Italy to a 1963 luxury cruise on the legendary yacht of Aristotle Onassis.
While always maintaining a professional relationship and always calling him formally by “Mr. Hill,” the duo became especially close, even sharing cigarettes.
The 1963 assassination of President Kennedy forever changed the Secret Service protection of those women who either would be or had been First Ladies.
The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson ordered immediate protection for the three living former Presidents, the widowed Herbert Hoover, and the married Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.
By default, Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower had some form of protection.
Also, for the first time, special protection was approved for a singular First Lady, the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy, was given protection by vote of Congress as were her children. She lost her protection with her 1968 second marriage and they upon turning 16 years old.
Five years later, as former President Eisenhower began his long decline in health leading up to his April 1969 death, President Johnson recognized that the anxious Mamie Eisenhower would be left essentially abandoned and isolated upon widowhood, living in relative isolation at the large Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm where the couple had retired; thus LBJ signed legislation providing for the first protection of presidential widows.
At the time, this new ruling applied only to Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower, since Mrs. Kennedy had the protection since 1963. Just several months later, however, Jacqueline Kennedy lost her Secret Service protection when she lost her status as a president’s widow upon her October marriage to her second husband, Aristotle Onassis.
Nevertheless, when she was in the presence of her two young children Caroline and John, she remained under their observation if not their technical protection by law. The Kennedy children lost their Secret Service protection when each reached the age of 16 years old.
When their husbands’ presidencies ended, Secret Service guard was provided to Lady Bird Johnson (1969). Pat Nixon (1974). Betty Ford (1977), Rosalynn Carter (1981), Nancy Reagan (1989), Barbara Bush (1993), Hillary Clinton (2001), and Laura Bush (2009). Several years before her 1993 death, Pat Nixon gave up her Secret Service protection, making relatively few public appearances and feeling it was an unnecessary expense to the federal government.
Initially uncomfortable having the presence of guards around her, Hillary Clinton has had a long period of period of protection, beginning with her tenure as First Lady in 1993, continuing on while she served as a U.S. Senator unit 2009.
Due to her status as a Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s Secret Service detail was increased between 2009 and 2013.
It reduced after she left that position until just recently, when she became a 2016 presidential candidate.
From the time that First Ladies were designated as figures requiring Secret Service, during Edith Wilson’s tenure, they have also been dubbed with nicknames used by the Secret Service.
However, the names have been chosen by the White House Military Office.
Some side notes on the matter of First Lady codenames.
Whatever agents may have called Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge and Lou Hoover remains a mystery; none have surfaced in nearly a century. Whether they were assigned one is even uncertain.
Barbara Bush had two known codenames.
Here is a list of each of their codenamed: Edith Wilson, Grandma; Eleanor Roosevelt, Rover; Bess Truman, Sunnyside; Mamie Eisenhower, Springtime; Jacqueline Kennedy, Lace; Lady Bird Johnson, Victoria; Pat Nixon, Starlight; Betty Ford, Pinafore; Rosalynn Carter, Dancer; Nancy Reagan, Rainbow; Barbara Bush, Snowbank, Tranquility; Hillary Clinton, Evergreen; Laura Bush, Tempo; Michelle Obama, Renaissance