First Ladies Library Blog

Welcome to the National First Ladies Library blog. This replaces the “asked/answered” page and all information from it has been transferred to the blog. Here will be an ongoing public forum on the work of the NFLL and its collections, discussion on new and emerging scholarship and popular publications, news stories, and any other information or discoveries related to directly to the subject of First Ladies. The public is invited to engage here with questions on the subject.

Research, reading and writing on the subject of American First Ladies opens windows into so many fascinating aspects of not just national and international history and culture but contemporary issues as well.

Enjoy our blog and feel free to post your comments.

by Patricia Krider

The bronze medal for biography awarded by the Independent Publishers Book Award for the biography of First Lady Ida McKinley.

The Independent Publishers Book Award bronze medal for biography was awarded to the biography of First Lady Ida McKinley.

Ida McKinley: The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady Through War, Assassination, and Secret Disability, by Carl Sferrazza Anthony (The Kent State University Press/Published in cooperation with The National First Ladies Ladies’ Library), was recently awarded a bronze medal in the Biography category of the 2014 IPPY Awards, during the annual American Booksellers Association convention.

I was honored to attend the award ceremony on May 28th in New York City and to accept this prestigious award on behalf of Carl, the National First Ladies’ Library and Kent State University Press.

NFLL Executive Director Pat Krider at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, June 2014.

NFLL Executive Director Pat Krider at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, June 2014.

The Independent Publisher Book Awards, also known as the IPPY Awards, is an annual book awards contest conducted to honor the year’s best independently published titles. The awards are open to independent authors and publishers worldwide who produce intended for an English-speaking market. The Independent Publisher Book Awards are intended to bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university and self-published each year. Since the inaugural contest in 1996, over 5,000 books have received IPPY Awards. The Independent Publisher Book Award is considered one of the highest honors for books published by independent publishers.

Mary Regula, founder and president of the NFLL at a  Congressional Club event.

Mary Regula, founder and president of the NFLL at a Congressional Club event.

Ida McKinley, the first full-length biography of the wife of William McKinley who served as U.S. President from 1897 to 1901, was an original idea by the NFLL Founder and President Mary Regula.

In 2006, the organization commissioned NFLL Historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony to execute the project, and underwrote the costs of the research, writing and editing of the book. It was published in November of 2013.

The Saxton-McKinley House (NFLL)

The Saxton-McKinley House (NFLL)

The Saxton-McKinley House, a property of the National First Ladies Historic Site, is now fully restored and was the home of Ida McKinley and her family, perhaps the only residence inherited through four generations of women. It also served as the longest place of residence to William McKinley.

{ 0 comments }

A posthumous portrait of Martha Jefferson Randolph

A posthumous portrait of Martha Jefferson Randolph

One consistent factor among those adult and married “First Daughters” who assumed all or several of the different roles carried out by a “First Lady,” when their mother was either unable or unwilling to do so or had died before the presidency, is how exceedingly close to the President they are in terms of both private, emotional support in private and public, political defense.

Jefferson.

Jefferson.

In the case of Martha Jefferson Randolph, she played a central role not only in her father’s presidency but throughout his entire life from the moment her mother died in 1782, when she was 33 years old.  Among “First Daughters,” she may well have been the most important one.

Martha Jefferson Randolph, a portrait owned by the Monticello Foundation.

Martha Jefferson Randolph, a portrait owned by the Monticello Foundation.

History has both overestimated and underestimated the importance of the daughter whom third President Thomas Jefferson always called “Patsy.”

Of the eight social seasons which ran from approximately October to May that her father spent in the White House, Patsy Randolph lived with him there for a period of only two social seasons.

It was through the letters they exchanged and the conversations they had during their time together at home in Virginia, however, which permitted Patsy Randolph to provide the President with emotional support and personal encouragement during his trials as President.

At the time of his inauguration on March 4, 1801 Jefferson had been a widower for two decades, his beloved wife, the former Martha Wayles, having died after the birth of their sixth child. Two of their children lived to adulthood but only one of these would outlive her father, the eldest of them all, Patsy, who was born on September 27, 1772.

A late 19th century drawing depicted young Martha Randolph serving as her father's hostess at a dinner for George Washington.

A late 19th century drawing depicted young Martha Randolph serving as her father’s hostess at a dinner for George Washington.

The other daughter who lived to see him become President was Maria Eppes, who he always called Polly. She died at age 26, seven months before he was re-elected to a second term in 1804.

During Jefferson’s presidency, his adult daughters continued to live their lives as mothers and managers of Virginia plantations located near his estate Monticello, where they had both been born and raised.

Their husbands Thomas Mann Randolph and John Eppes did live in the White House with their father-in-law during the periods they represented Virginia, serving as members of Congress.

Jefferson never perceived the absence of a woman fulfilling an official capacity in his household as a deficit.

He had long been accustomed to serving as the lone host of private dinner parties during his diplomatic service in France, as Secretary of State under George Washington in New York and Philadelphia and as Vice President to John Adams in Philadelphia.

Martha Wayles Jefferson.

Martha Wayles Jefferson.

As President, he assumed full control of his public and private entertaining, tailoring the rules and protocol, the menus and wines, the guest lists and the ceremonial formalities to his specific ideals of democracy. When there were women guests in attendance at his dinners, President Jefferson did determine that a woman representing the Administration with some official rank should be present.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Since his Vice President Aaron Burr was also a widower, it was Dolley Madison, the wife of his close friend and highest-ranking Cabinet member Secretary of State James Madison, on whom he depended. Intermittently, she fulfilled two official roles in the Jefferson Administration: she was given the highest rank bestowed on an unelected figure and woman simply by the status of being the official escort of the President at formal dinners and she appeared to welcome women at the large, open-house events like New Year’s Day and Independence Day, where the public citizens were invited to meet the President.

Dolley Madison also served as a guide to life in the new and still developing capital city for Patsy Randolph when she made her first visit there, a year after her father’s 1801 Inauguration, which she did not attend. During her 1902 stay, she was accompanied by her sister Polly Eppes.

She also was absent from his second Inauguration, in March of 1805 but followed her pattern of coming to live with him in the White House a year later, during the 1806 social season.

Jefferson, Martha, his grandchildren and a woman slave depicted at Monticello by artist G B McIntosh on the Monticello website.

Jefferson, Martha, his grandchildren and a woman slave depicted at Monticello by artist G B McIntosh on the Monticello website.

During that second visit, she gave birth on January 17, 1806 to her eight child, James Madison Randolph; thus he became the first child born in the White House.

Four of her children were born during the time her father served as President, from 1801 to 1809: Virginia, Mary, James and and Benjamin.

As a testament to the intensity of the bond between them, it was her father and not her husband who Martha Jefferson Randolph asked to name each of her one dozen children.

In fact, the one attribute which seemed to mark her otherwise uneventful time in the White House was the presence of her many children.

Superficially, the absence of women in the Jefferson White House might make as good an argument as any that a presidency can be entirely successful without the presence of a First Lady.

Anne Randolph, Patsy Randolph's eldest child, born in 1791. (Monticello)

Anne Randolph, Patsy Randolph’s eldest child, born in 1791. (Monticello)

Such an argument, however, would fail to consider the more important role which Patsy Randolph played for the President in private, through personal correspondence.

Patsy Randolph spent almost his entire time in the White House at either Monticello or the Virginia plantation, “Edgehill” of her husband. Largely through their correspondence, but also during his lengthy visits home, Patsy Randolph became her father’s comfort and close adviser, perhaps the single most important personal factor that stabilized him during his presidency.

A colorized engraving of Martha Randolph.

A colorized engraving of Martha Randolph.

When the newspaper story that Jefferson and his half-sister-in-law and Monticello slave Sally Hemings had children out of wedlock was first widely reprinted in the first weeks of 1802, Patsy Randolph may have served a political purpose: she immediately joined her troubled father in Washington, along with her children Ellen and Jeff, and her sister Polly, as a sign of family unity. The usually non-church going Jefferson also suddenly began publicly appearing at the Sunday religious services then held in the hall of Congress, always politically shielded by the presence of his two daughters and two grandchildren.

A minature of Martha Jefferson Randolph before her marriage, painted in France. (US State Department

A minature of Martha Jefferson Randolph before her marriage, painted in France. (US State Department

During her father’s long stays home at his Monticello plantation, Patsy Randolph received his guests, both public and private, as his official hostess and helped to manage the family tableaux which she and her children provided for the President as a form of political appeal.

The intensity of the bond between Jefferson and his daughter had begun in the days following his wife’s death when young Patsy was the only family member with whom he would initially speak and spend time with alone.

Becoming constant companions, her emotional support to him continued when she went to live with him in France for his first diplomatic mission.

Patsy's husband, Thomas Mann Randolph.

Patsy’s husband, Thomas Mann Randolph.

Although she was placed in the Abbye Royale de Panthemont Catholic convent school and taught by French nuns, he continued to focus on her development with exacting instructions by letter. When she considered converting to Catholicism, however, he moved her to his residence where she presided as a young hostess.

Upon returning to the United States, she wed Thomas Mann Randolph on February 23, 1790 and began a tumultuous marriage with a husband often given to irrational rages, heavy drinking and mental illness.

Martha Randolph depicted in a full-length portrait which appeared in work by collector Stephan Lorant.

Martha Randolph depicted in a full-length portrait which appeared in work by collector Stephan Lorant.

Part of the problem may have been Patsy’s greater loyalty to her father. Her life at Monticello and admiration for her father, however, also had its complications.

As mistress of Monticello, she also directed the domestic staff of enslaved people which included Sally Hemings, who was the half-sister of Patsy’s mother.

While she never remarked openly on the claim that she had several half-siblings who were the children of Jefferson and Hemings, Patsy Randolph viewed slavery as evil for its horrific effect of breaking up families, but when her own family finances began to falter she felt she had no choice but to sell humans held as slaves.

Martha Randolph in later life. (Monticello)

Martha Randolph in later life. (Monticello)

Following the death of her father in 1826, Patsy Randolph had to sell Monticello to pay off his heavy debts.

Her husband died two years later and she went to initially live with her married daughter Ellen in Boston.

She later lived with another daughter in Washington, D.C. and was a frequent and honored guest of President Andrew Jackson at the White House. As a tribute to her father, the state legislatures of both South Carolina and Louisiana eventually awarded her gifts totaling $2,000, which she needed  to live on.

Two years before her 1836 death, Martha Randolph added a special codicil to her will, ensuring that Sally Hemings be given her freedom from slavery, but she would remain a slave, dying a year before Jefferson’s daughter.

{ 0 comments }

Eliza Monroe Hay. (Monroe Presidential Library and Museum)

Eliza Monroe Hay. (Monroe Presidential Library and Museum)

Dominant by nature, Eliza Monroe Hay’s social edicts shaped the very nature of her father’s Administration.

James and Elizabeth Monroe, parents of Eliza Hay. (both The White House)

James and Elizabeth Monroe, parents of Eliza Hay. (both The White House)

This wife and mother, thirty-year old at the time her father James Monroe began his eight-year, two-term presidency in 1817, managed to help worsen an acrimonious situation between the Administration and the representatives of foreign countries into a serious diplomatic crisis.

Like other Presidents before the Civil War such as the two Adamses, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, James Monroe invited extended family members to live with him in the White House and named one, his wife’s nephew, to collect the federal salary for the post of land officer while performing the duty of private presidential secretary.

The nephew, Samuel Gouverneur would go on to marry his first cousin Maria and then become the presidential son-in-law.

Eliza Monroe Hay. (James Monroe Presidential Museum and Library)

Eliza Monroe Hay. (James Monroe Presidential Museum and Library)

The First Family also included the President’s eldest daughter Eliza Hay, married to the prominent Virginia attorney George Hay who had also served as prosecutor in the trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr, and their only child, a daughter Hortensia.

During the first six years of her father’s presidency, Eliza Hay’s husband served in the Virginia House of Delegates in Richmond, until moving to Washington in 1822 and going into private law practice.

While Hortensia Hay would come to help her grandfather in organizing his papers before the family vacated the White House before the end of his presidency, her mother was playing a far more public role on behalf of the First Lady, specifically, and the First Family, generally.

Eliza Hay's Irish harp. (Mone Presidential Library)

Eliza Hay’s Irish harp. (Monroe Presidential Library)

The precise nature of the debilitating ailment afflicting Elizabeth Monroe during her husband’s presidency is indeterminable but there are references to her suffering from both severe arthritis and a condition which led to her “falling.” The latter matched certain symptoms of epilepsy. At public events she was described as youthful but always with an entourage of other women relatives, like her daughters, sisters and nieces.

The bed used by Eliza Monroe Hay in the White House, now at the Decatur House in Washington. (andrewhopkinsart.blogspot.com)

The bed used by Eliza Monroe Hay in the White House, now at the Decatur House in Washington. (andrewhopkinsart.blogspot.com)

Among these Eliza Hay was the most prominent, an outspoken woman with none of the grace of her mother nor submissiveness with which women of her class and era were often expected to behave. There are scant claims that she substituted for her mother on occasion but most accounts pinpoint her as receiving guests along with her mother yet assuming a role more dominant than the First Lady at social figure.

Although it was an era when the details of a President’s family life were largely considered to be private, his daughter assumed the most overt role among them, acting as a sort of modern equivalence of a spokesperson. She never held press conferences or made formal announcements, but she did make distinct verbal declarations during her interactions with members of Congress, the diplomatic corps and other officials in Washington.

The young Eliza Hay, at the time she first lived in Europe. (Monroe Presidential Library and Museum)

The young Eliza Hay, at the time she first lived in Europe. (Monroe Presidential Library and Museum)

Whereas the President and First Lady had only first gone to Europe as adults to fulfill two assignments of his diplomatic career, most importantly as Minister to France, their eldest child, Eliza, was only eight years old in 1794, when they first lived on the Continent. In 1803, they returned, bringing with them their infant daughter Maria who was sixteen years younger than her sister.

Eliza Hay’s entire outlook was heavily influenced by her French education and friends. She was enrolled at the elite Parisian private school of Madame Campan, the former lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette. She also befriended many women of European royal families and would later count Queen of Holland Hortense de Beauharnois and Queen of Naples Caroline Bonaparte.

Hortensia di Beauharnais, friend of Eliza Hay, who named her daughter after the future Queen of Holland. (wikipedia)

Hortensia di Beauharnais, friend of Eliza Hay, who named her daughter after the future Queen of Holland. (wikipedia)

To what degree Eliza Hay coordinated the protocol established during the Monroe Administration with her father is unclear. Certainly the presidential social life which Mrs. Hay dominated suggested the same sense of American autonomy in its own hemisphere and an effort to protect the contiguous United States from being colonized by foreign countries.

Mrs. Hay and Mrs. Monroe refused to make the first social call on foreign diplomats, a snub which symbolized the prerogative of the United States government to determine its own rules in its own land.

Eliza Hay was also the Monroe presidential family member who decided that the guests at her sister Maria’s March 9, 1820 White House wedding would be limited to some four dozen relatives and close friends and that invitations would not be made to the diplomatic corps, nor would their gifts be acknowledged. Further, she agreed to attend a charity ball as a guest on the peculiar condition that her presence as the First Daughter not be acknowledged.

Maria Monroe, White House bride and sister of Eliza Hay. (Monroe Presidential Library)

Maria Monroe, White House bride and sister of Eliza Hay. (Monroe Presidential Library)

She could often be dismissive towards those who made polite inquiries about her husband and his well-being.

The foreign representatives were so taken aback by Mrs. Hay’s rudeness that they formally protested the President’s protocol shift from the less exclusive Jefferson and Madison Administrations. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams made it the subject of discussion at two Cabinet meetings but the Monroes insisted on adherence to their new regulations.

Secretary of State Adams.

Secretary of State Adams.

Margaret Bayard Smith, wife of the of the newspaper National Intelligencer editor, who often provided brief items about Presidents and their families for the paper, nevertheless also chronicled how Eliza Hay ignored threats to her own health by serving as a volunteer nurse to local residents who were suffering during a malaria outbreak.

After the presidency, Eliza Hay remained a central figure in the Monroe family, sometimes at odds with her brother-in-law on how to best seek government restitution for the large sums of personal spending which her parents had outlaid during their years of foreign public service.

Monroe laying out his famous doctrine to his Cabinet.

Monroe laying out his famous doctrine to his Cabinet.

Eliza Hay’s mother and husband both died in 1830, her father a year later.

Although she still had a married daughter living in the United States, this widowed White House hostess returned to France, where she seemed to have most naturally felt at home, converting to Catholicism and living in a convent.

She is buried not with her family members in Virginia, but in Paris.

{ 0 comments }

First Ladies who never married Presidents. Left to right, top row: Martha Randolph, Anna Roosevelt, Jane Harrison, Harriet Lane, Priscilla Tyler, Chelsea Clinton; second row: Helene Taft, Jane Findlay, Martha Patterson, Mary Stover, Angelica Van Buren, Letitia Semple; third row: Abby Fillmore, Rose Cleveland, Sarah Jackson; bottom row: Margaret Wilson, Helen Bones, Susan Ford, Emily Donelson, Abigail Means, Molly McElroy, Mary McKee, Eliza Hay.

First Ladies who never married Presidents. Left to right, top row: Martha Randolph, Anna Roosevelt, Jane Harrison, Harriet Lane, Priscilla Tyler, Chelsea Clinton; second row: Helene Taft, Jane Findlay, Martha Patterson, Mary Stover, Angelica Van Buren, Letitia Semple; third row: Mary Fillmore, Rose Cleveland, Sarah Jackson; bottom row: Margaret Wilson, Helen Bones, Susan Ford, Emily Donelson, Abigail Means, Molly McElroy, Mary McKee, Eliza Hay.

This is an introductory essay to a forthcoming series on the National First Ladies Library Blog about some of the most obscure yet often most important “other women” of the White House, with individual articles coming in the weeks and months ahead.

With a series of presidential spouses in the White House who have, for over a half a century now, been healthy and vital as well as interested in assuming public responsibilities, it is hard to conceive of the role of First Lady being assumed by anyone other than the person who happens to be married to the President.

President Harrison, daughter Mary McKee and grandson Baby McKee. (Benjamin Harrison Home website)

President Harrison, daughter Mary McKee and grandson Baby McKee. (Benjamin Harrison Home website)

Yet there have been some two dozen First Ladies who had a variety of family relationships with Presidents other than that of spouse, being daughters, daughters-in-law, niece, sisters, cousin, and aunts.

Even when these “other women” are acknowledged as “surrogate First Ladies” or “White House hostesses,” the titles by which they are often designated, little to no consideration is given to the value their presence provided a President in private or what the nature of their uncertain status revealed about the nation’s evolving perceptions of the presidency.

It’s been a century since there was an incumbent President who was either widowed or had a wife unable or unwilling to assume any public duties or fulfill the traditional expectations placed on them as the spouse of the nation’s chief executive.

Yet even in the intervening years, the nation has seen some brief moments when schedule or health prevented a presidential wife from being able to make public appearances with her husband and a daughter has substituted on her behalf to both fulfill traditional expectations for the public and press and to serve as a companion of familial support for the President.

Helene Taft aided her mother as hostess during the First Lady’s last social season, when her poor health required assistance.

Chelsea Clinton was her father’s companion during a state visit to Australia, while her mother was campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

Anna Roosevelt was her father’s companion during his World War II conference at Yalta.

Susan Ford served presided as hostess over a state dinner when her mother was recovering from breast cancer surgery.

Susan Ford with her father and the family dog Liberty on the White House South Lawn. (GRFL)

Susan Ford with her father and the family dog Liberty on the White House South Lawn. (GRFL)

Like that modern trio, most of the other “surrogate” First Ladies were presidential daughters.

Three daughters assumed the First Lady role upon their mothers dying in the White House: Letty Tyler Semple, Mary Harrison McKee and Margaret Wilson. Margaret Wilson shared the duties with the President’s cousin Helen Bones, who had worked for the first Mrs. Wilson as personal secretary.

Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and Chester Arthur were the four Presidents who assumed office as widowers. Jefferson’s daughter Martha Randolph, Jackson’s niece and daughter-in-law Emily Donelson and Sarah Jackson, Van Buren’s daughter Angelica Van Buren, and Arthur’s sister Molly McElroy served for varying lengths for them.

James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland were both bachelors when they assumed the presidency.

Cleveland’s sister Rose Elizabeth served as his First Lady until he married fifteen months into his administration.

Harriet Lane. (Picture History)

Harriet Lane. (Picture History)

Buchanan’s niece Harriet Lane acted as his hostess and was a highly visible public figure, assuming all of the roles a presidential wife of that era would have. By her prominence yet lacking the marital status of presidential wife, the press bestowed on her the term “First Lady,” making her the first woman who was publicly referenced by that unofficial title. Among all the “other women” of the White House, Harriet Lane served for the longest period of time, the full four years of the Buchanan presidency.

Andrew and Eliza Johnson with their daughters Martha and Mary.  Tennessee State Museum Collection

Andrew and Eliza Johnson with their daughters Martha and Mary as children. (Tennessee State Museum Collection)

Five daughters and one daughter-in-law assumed the leading public role of hostess at Administration social events while their mothers or mother-in-law, with either chronic health problems or disinterest, assumed control of presidential private life and entertaining: Eliza Hay (James Monroe’s daughter), Priscilla Tyler (John Tyler’s daughter-in-law), Betty Bliss (Zachary Taylor’s daughter), Mary Fillmore (Millard Fillmore’s daughter) and Martha Patterson and Mary Stover (Andrew Johnson’s daughters).

Presidential wife Anna Harrison had every intention of coming in the warmer spring weather from her Ohio farm to join her husband in the White House after his 1841 inauguration but in her absence daughter-in-law Jane Harrison and Jane’s aunt, the former congressional wife Jane Findlay, acted as hostesses for the brief one-month administration.

Anna Roosevelt talks with the British Ambassador during the 1945 Yalta Conference, to which she accompanied her father as aide. (FDRL)

Anna Roosevelt talks with the British Ambassador during the 1945 Yalta Conference, to which she accompanied her father as aide. (FDRL)

Struggling with depression and keeping herself from public view during a mourning period for her son, Jane Pierce relied on her aunt-by-marriage Abby Kent Means to assume household management and the fulfillment of the public duties of hostess.

Who these figures were as real human beings, how they came to assume the public role of First Lady, what their presence meant to a President and how the rest of their post-White House lives played out will be explored in this forthcoming NFLL Blog series.

{ 0 comments }

Congressional Club banner at 100th anniversary of the First Ladies' Luncheon

Congressional Club banner at 100th anniversary of the First Ladies’ Luncheon.

One of the time honored traditions each Spring in Washington DC is the spectacle known as the First Ladies’ Luncheon.

2012 Luncheon

2012 Luncheon.

A  ticket to lunch with the current First Lady and 1300-1400 associates of members of Congress and/or Cabinet members in the intimate ballroom at the Washington Hilton; these invites are coveted and not easily obtained.

It is a fashion show of luncheon attire that could rival gowns at the Academies and it’s as much fun to just hang out in the Hilton lobby and observe the latest trends of the season as to be a participant. One  year hats were in style and the “plummery” was so abundant  one could hardly see across the room to view the First Lady at the podium.

Centerpiece FLL 2013

Centerpiece FLL, 2013.

Started by the Congressional Club in 1912, the event was originally a breakfast and later morphed into a luncheon, now held at the Washington Hilton in the Grand Ballroom. It was originally at the Shoreham Hotel, but in the late 80’s outgrew that space.

Each member of the Club is permitted to bring three guests. Currently there are 693 members (More information on the Congressional Club and its history will appear in my next blog post). Guests come from around the country and the world to attend the event, some staying on to enjoy the sights in Washington, others just blasting in for a quick overnight. Sometimes local restaurants have specials in honor of the event and even cardboard cutouts of the President and First Lady for patrons to pose beside.

author & friends with "waxy" Michelle

Author & friends with “waxy” Michelle, 2010.

One year Madame Tussauds’ Wax Museum provided wax statues of the current and former First Ladies. Guests at the luncheon could wait in the queue and have a picture taken with the lifelike replica of the First Lady. It was a memento to take home and impress friends with your proximity to the First Lady!

Mary Regula, past pres. of Congressional Club 2012

Mary Regula, past president of the Congressional Club.

Pomp and circumstance opens the show with the Marine Band and the introduction of the Junior hostesses, daughters and granddaughters of Congressional Club members. This is followed by the introduction of distinguished guests. The First Lady is then introduced and follows the preceding guests walking down the cat walk in the center of the ballroom. She is escorted, as are the distinguished guests, by a Marine.

This procedure has varied over the years and at one time all the past presidents of the Congressional Club came down the runway also, but in the last couple years this has not been the case.

Mrs. Obama  FLL 2012

Mrs. Obama speaking at the FLL 2012.

Centerpiece First Ladies' Luncheon 2014

Centerpiece at the First Ladies Luncheon 2014.

Every year the luncheon has a different theme and everything from the tablecloths to the favors (always some type of bag filled to the brim with goodies) to the centerpieces revolves around this theme. Generally the theme is inspired by the state from whence the chairman of the luncheon committee hails. Goodies in the bag usually come from the state and the food on the menu is representative as well.

This year the chair was from Illinois and the theme was America the Beautiful. The unusual appetizer was St Patty’s Day Chicago River Soup with Corned Beef & Cabbage Dumpling.

Corned beef cabbage soup 2014

Corned beef cabbage soup, 2014.

This year’s goodie bag included a “dove of peace” pin of hand-made pewter plated with 18k gold and designed by Lois Breaux, wife of former Senator John Breaux. Also included was a nifty purse hanger (not so useful for the males in attendance) and the usual variety of small snacks; popcorn from a specialty factory in IL and a cookie with the Congressional Club seal on it.

Goodie bag! 2012 First Ladies' Luncheon

Goodie bag! 2012 First Ladies’ Luncheon.

Every year it’s a treat to see what’s in the bag and normally restrained women gleefully open them before the ceremony starts or surreptitiously look them through during lunch. A personal favorite was the year the chairwoman was from Florida and it was a beach bag filled with a huge beach towel with the CC seal and a pair of leather thong sandals as well.

Cherry Blossum dessert 2014

Cherry Blossom dessert, 2014.

Usually there is a one of a kind piece of jewelry made especially for the event and perfume is a favorite as well. Again always keeping with the theme or representative of the State affiliation of the Chair.

After being satiated with the gourmet lunch the fun begins with the entertainment. Always spectacular this is a highlight of the event. This year it was Ken Ford, an electric violinist. Not only was his violin electric, his performance was as well. He danced, played and gyrated down the runway giving a breath taking, hand clapping, foot stomping show.

Ken Ford performs at First Ladies' Luncheon 2014

Ken Ford performs at First Ladies’ Luncheon, 2014.

In a previous year Gloria Estafan literally had the entire audience up dancing to her high energy tunes. Other entertainment has included a former American Idol winner, Ruben Studdard.

LeeAnn Womack entertains in 2012

LeeAnn Womack entertains in 2011.

A good time and a special memory; the First Ladies Luncheon is a unique experience. Each year more and more male faces appear in the crowd of what used to be exclusively women, a  sign of changing times. Spouses of members of Congress, Justices of the Supreme court and Diplomats are no longer all women!!

One last note: One of my guests learned the hard way not to leave the goodie bag anywhere a four legged friend might want to search to see what was missed at the First Ladies Luncheon.

oops!

oops!

yum, was that the Congressional Club cookie?  loved it!

yum, was that the Congressional Club cookie I just ate? loved it!

{ 1 comment }

Impressionism Painting of Ellen Wilson

One of Few Female American Impressionists:
First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson

by Nassem Al-Mehairi

Ellen Wilson (Library of Congress)

Ellen Wilson (Library of Congress)

Ellen Axson Wilson was the wife of the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. In a period marked by flashy attire and the beginnings of globalization, First Lady Wilson was a woman who found solace in painting the world around her.

Ellen Axson Wilson was born on May 15th, 1860 in Savannah, Georgia. Her love of art was cemented when, at the age of 18, she won a bronze medal at the Paris International Exposition for her art piece School Scene. She married Woodrow Wilson in 1885, and in 1890 the family went to Princeton University, where Woodrow became a professor. As she began to have to take on further social responsibilities, she took refuge in art. She found herself putting self-second, but saw no reason why she should have give up her love of art.

One of Ellen Wilson's landscape paintings.

One of Ellen Wilson’s landscape paintings.

In 1905, Ellen entered a deep depression after the death of her sister-in-law, youngest brother, and a child. She joined an art colony in Connecticut and developed her art even further. It was here Ellen chose to paint motifs such as mountain laurels and the river. She returned here nearly every year after this.

In November 1911, Ellen sent one of her pieces to the MacBeth Gallery in New York under a fake alias. When she revealed her real identity, the gallery owner encouraged her to enter more works and eventually began to act as her agent and advocate.

Ellen was influential in getting her husband the Democratic Nomination for President in 1912. She made sure that he met William Jennings Bryan and made an impression on party leaders.

Shortly before the inauguration of President Wilson, a one-woman show of 50 of Ellen’s art pieces opened in Philadelphia. The funds that came from that exhibition went to the Berry School in Georgia to help underprivileged children. Other than her family, Ellen’s other greatest passion was to help reform social issues.

Another image of one of Ellen Wilson's paintings.

Another image of one of Ellen Wilson’s paintings.

In the summer of 1913, Ellen Wilson went to an art colony in Cornish, New Hampshire. The letters sent between Woodrow and Ellen show how much he relied and leaned on her.

When First Lady Wilson returned to the White House in the fall of 1913, she planned to use the studio that had been installed for her there. Soon, however, she began to realize that her social duties had to take precedence. She influenced the cause of the slums of Washington D.C., and she visited areas of them. She lent her prestige to bring this to the attention of Congress and other officials.

As First Lady, she also utilized her love of art and created the Rose Garden, with the assistance of the gardener she had during her time at Princeton. This was a way Ellen could display her artistic ability while fulfilling her social roles.

Ellen Wilson had suffered from a kidney issue since she was young, but never was able to be diagnosed with any disease. As her health began to deteriorate, her daughter Jessie moved her wedding up for Ellen to be able to see it. This went through, and was one of the happiest moments of her life, but depleted her bit of remaining strength. On August 6th, 1914, Ellen Wilson passed away, leaving behind a legacy through her work as a social activist and as an artist.

            Ellen Wilson was one of the few women who painted in the Impressionist style. Her work incorporates the themes, brushstrokes, and color palette that defined this artistic period. A woman who remarkably balanced her art with her duties as mother, wife, First Lady, reformer, and activist, Ellen Wilson leaves behind a legacy we feel still today in society and nation.

 Currently, there is an amazing exhibit on display at the National First Ladies Library entitled, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson, American Impressionist,” which includes her art, her letters to President Wilson, and a movie about her life. The display will run until May 16, 2014.

Author Note: I personally was able to see the exhibit displaying Ellen Wilson’s art and it was fascinating. It had fascinating information on a First Lady who had such an amazing life. I would recommend it for anyone.

Author photo.

Author photo.

Nassem Al-Mehairi was born in 1999. Possessing unique viewpoints due to his heritage and the times, he is well-suited to understand the solutions to modern issues, such as domestic poverty, international relations, and women’s rights. He aspires to higher education, law, and politics, as well as to continue writing.

Mr. Al-Mehairi is an author and currently runs the personal online column Seize The Moment. He is in progress of writing a novel about his maternal line ancestor Baron Resolved Waldron, who resided in New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1610-1690. 

He resides in Ashland, Ohio.

Note: Seize the Moment above links to www.nassemalmehairi.wordpress.com

 

 

{ 0 comments }

The Clintons kick off the 1995 Easter Egg Roll.

Bill and Hillary Clinton kick off the 1995 Easter Egg Roll.

By 1975, it had been a remarkable one-third of a century since a First Lady had been seen at a White House Easter Egg Roll.

Betty Ford sampling some circus makeup from a clown who applied the greasepaint to kids at the 1975 Easter Egg Roll.  (carlanthonyonline.com)

Betty Ford sampling some circus makeup from a clown who applied the greasepaint to kids at the 1975 Easter Egg Roll. (carlanthonyonline.com)

And then, Betty Ford showed up, the first presidential spouse to do so since Eleanor Roosevelt had attended the last of the annual events held during her husband’s presidency, in 1941.

Furthermore, Mrs. Ford gamely entered into the festivities of the day by permitting her face to be painted up in clown-makeup along with some of the children in attendance. The following year, she brought along her husband, making Gerald Ford’s appearance at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll the first one by a President since Dwight Eisenhower had done so in 1960.

Making the important decision that all the eggs distributed by the White House would be plastic rather than real, Betty Ford may have disappointed the traditionalists, but she saved the government time and money: it no longer meant that gardeners had to work overtime in cleaning the rotting mess from the massive South Lawn.

A color photo showing Betty Ford permitting a clown to apply some makeup to her face at the 1975 Easter Egg Roll. (Ford Library)

A color photo showing Betty Ford permitting a clown to apply some makeup to her face at the 1975 Easter Egg Roll. (Ford Library)

Building on Pat Nixon’s gesture to have certificates printed for all the children who attended the event to take away as souvenirs of the White House Easter Egg Roll, Betty Ford also wrote welcoming messages and notes about the holiday, which were printed on small pieces of paper and then inserted inside the plastic eggs.

Betty Ford’s more assertive interest in how the White House Easter Egg Roll was conducted marked the beginning of the White House’s efforts to enlarge the Easter Egg Roll into an event which reflected the interests of First Ladies and their methods of accommodating and engaging those of its thousands of young guests each year.

Rosalynn Carter and her family at the 1977 Easter Egg Rool, the President holding his grandson Jason on his shoulders.

Rosalynn Carter and her family at the 1977 Easter Egg Rool, the President holding his grandson Jason on his shoulders. (Washington Post)

Rosalynn Carter continued Betty Ford’s custom of writing messages which were printed and inserted into plastic eggs.

She also appeared at each year’s event, joined not only by the President but their daughter Amy and grandchildren Jason and Sarah.

The stage that had been used for many years from which the Marine Band provided music throughout the day was expanded and used for several children’s entertainment performances.

Amy Carter and nephew Jason.

Amy Carter and nephew Jason.

Rosalynn Carter also had a petting zoo set up for the children, allowing them to enter a gated pen to pet and interact with farm animals.

In 1981, Nancy Reagan initiated a new custom which proved especially popular and remains to this day. Instead of plastic eggs, wooden ones were carved and imprinted with the image of the White House and the date of the event. Each one also bore the carved signature of the President and First Lady.

Among the cut-out figures at the White House Easter Egg Roll was one depicting the First Lady as the Queen of Hearts.

Among the cut-out figures at the 1983 White House Easter Egg Roll was one depicting the First Lady as the Queen of Hearts.

During several of the Reagan years, the wooden eggs also carried the signatures of some celebrities who attended the event. Now, any child under the age of twelve receives one as they leave the grounds.

In 1983, Nancy Reagan also had art exhibits placed on the South Lawn to be enjoyed and appreciated close-up by children and their accompanying adults alike, ranging from eggs painted with landscapes and caricatures by famous American artists placed in glass exhibit cases to large cardboard cut-out figurines made by Corcoran Gallery of Art students of the familiar characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with the faces of famous people at the time.

Reagan Nancy and Smurg Smurg at the 1981 Easter Egg Roll.

Reagan Nancy and Smurg Smurg at the 1981 Easter Egg Roll.

There was even one of the First Lady as the Queen of Hearts.

During the Carter years, costumed cartoon  and other characters from stories familiar to American children at the time began appearing more frequently. While Nancy Reagan was First Lady, however, there seemed to be a far larger contingency of them, delighting children who had a chance to meet the likes of Quick Draw McGraw or Papa Smurf.

George Bush and Barbara Bush preside over an Easter Egg Roll contest.

George Bush and Barbara Bush preside over an Easter Egg Roll contest.

Barbara Bush was a seasoned professional by the time she was presiding over the Easter Egg Rolls, having served as the surrogate hostess one year of the Reagan Administration, when her husband was Vice President.

The President and Mrs. Clinton at their first White House Easter Egg Roll in 1993, as he blows the whistle to start the first race.

The President and Mrs. Clinton at their first White House Easter Egg Roll in 1993, as he blows the whistle to start the first race.

During her tenure, the old and frayed White House Easter Bunny suit was retired for new ones representing both boys and girls, even one with spectacles and these figures began posing with Presidents and First Ladies to be photographed together at the annual event.

A page from the Easter Egg Roll program given to guests at the last of eight events hosted by Hillary Clinton. (WJCPL)

A page from the Easter Egg Roll program given to guests at the last of eight events hosted by Hillary Clinton. (WJCPL)

Under Hillary Clinton, there was finally a White House Easter Egg Roll grandstand built and colorfully painted, serving as the platform where the President and First Lady would officially welcome the crowds and kick off the festivities.

One of the Clinton wood eggs, marked with the notation of 1998, given to guests.

One of the Clinton wood eggs, marked with the notation of 1998, given to guests.

Excerpt scenes from Broadway musicals, magic shows, science demonstrations and other performances were provided on a continuous basis, thus distracting those children who lined up on endless queues for their chance to compete in the now-orderly egg-rolling contests.

Hillary Clinton also proved to share more than just an overt interest in public policy with Eleanor Roosevelt, for like this predecessor who served as something of a mentor to her, she never missed any of the Easter Egg Roll events held during her tenure as First Lady.

Laura and George Bush presiding over an Easter Egg Roll event.

Laura and George Bush presiding over an Easter Egg Roll event.

While the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States closed the White House to its regular flow of tourists and limited the number of visitors, Laura Bush used the annual White House Easter Egg Roll to demonstrate appreciation for the sacrifice endured by children who had parents serving in the active armed forces, thus opening access to the closed mansion that one day as a way of also honoring the U.S. military.

Once the event was again publicly accessible, she further widened the parameters of those children who were welcomed by including families with same-sex parents.

Crowds rush to greet Laura Bush at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Crowds rush to greet Laura Bush at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

A conscientious interest in the lives of children at the event was continued by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Along with the performances by many well-known singers and actors that was provided for the children, there were also food preparation demonstrations offered as a way of encouraging the children to eat more healthily, a component of her “Let’s Move” program.

The Obama family greeting children to the first Easter Egg Roll they hosted, in 2009.

The Obama family greeting children to the first Easter Egg Roll they hosted, in 2009.

Beginning with Betty Ford’s appearance at the 1975 Easter Egg Roll, the returned presence of First Ladies for the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt also seemed to mark the end of a traditional aspect of the annual event.

From Frances Cleveland appearing with the family dog Hector in 1887 through the years that Eleanor Roosevelt was joined by her police dog Major, children at the event had come to expect the pets of presidential families to make an appearance.

The Obama family brought their dog Bo to the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll.

The Obama family brought their dog Bo to the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Alas, Betty Ford did not show up with Liberty the golden retriever or Shan the Siamese Cat. Rosalynn Carter came but Grits the dog and Misty the cat were no where to be seen. Nancy Reagan was there but without either Lucky or Rex, the two dogs of the Reagan White House. Barbara Bush made Millie the springer spaniel famous by ghostwriting her memoirs but the dog did not come down to delight children at the Easter Egg Rolls of the late 1980s or early 1990s. Neither would  Hillary Clinton’s dog and cat, Buddy and Socks or Laura Bush’s dogs and cat, Spot, Barney, Mrs. Beasley, and India.

It was Michelle Obama, however, who unwittingly restored this nearly-lost custom when she began presiding over the White House Easter Egg Rolls as First Lady.

She was always joined by the President, her daughters Sasha and Malia, her mother Marian Robinson.

And the family dog Bo.

The President and Mrs. Obama read to children as Bo takes attention at the 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll.(Getty)

The President and Mrs. Obama read to children as Bo takes attention at the 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll.(Getty)

 

{ 1 comment }

Barbara Eisenhower, the President's daughter-in-law, posed during the Easter season with her children David, Anne and Susan in 1953. (AP)

Barbara Eisenhower, the President’s daughter-in-law, posed during the Easter season with her children David, Anne and Susan in 1953. (AP)

After its longest run of seeing seven First Ladies from Nellie Taft to Eleanor Roosevelt appear at the White House Easter Egg Roll, the event entered a dark period during which it was not only suspended but, even when revived, failed to capture enough interest from First Ladies to attend.

The 1953 Easter Egg Roll hosted by Mamie Eisenhower returned to the custom of encouraging all children to attend.

The 1953 Easter Egg Roll hosted by Mamie Eisenhower returned to the custom of encouraging all children to attend.

Despite their increasingly public roles in civic and political activities, the line of mid-century First Ladies Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Nixon were never to appear publicly at the annual event.

Although the Easter Egg Roll was suspended for three years, from 1917 to 1920, due to World War I, food rationing and President Wilson’s stroke, it was a relatively brief hiatus compared to the longest one since the tradition was known to have begun.

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, security forced the closing of the White House to the public shortly thereafter and there was no egg roll in 1942 on the property. One did occur in the city, but it was moved to the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building, a ironic choice given that it having been originally banned there in 1876 is what led to the White House South Lawn becoming the site of the public event.

The U.S. engagement in World War II of the remaining three Roosevelt years, and then the post-war national food conservation, followed by the entire renovation and re-construction of the White House during the six years of the Truman Administration meant it was suspended completely from 1943 to 1951.

Heidi the Weimaraner proved too unpredictable to appear at a White House Easter Egg Roll (seen here being held by Ann Eisenhower) and Mamie Eisenhower was too wary of the crowds to join her husband and do so.

Heidi the Weimaraner proved too unpredictable to appear at a White House Easter Egg Roll (seen here being held by Ann Eisenhower) and Mamie Eisenhower was too wary of the crowds to join her husband and do so.

In April of 1953, the newly-inaugurated President Dwight D. Eisenhower revived the tradition after its twelve-year hiatus. Emerging with him into a massive crowd, far larger than any previous seen, were his grandchildren David, Ann and Susan, along with their mother, daughter-in-law of the President, Barbara Eisenhower.

The  grandchildren of President Eisenhower were the first to appear in the two decades since the early Franklin Roosevelt years when his granddaughter and grandson, then living in the White House temporarily. As a result of both the media frenzy and the public curiosity, young David Eisenhower was swamped by the crowds, his basket of candy and eggs overturned and he had to be whisked away from the engulfing public, along with his sisters.

While Mamie Eisenhower was referenced to that year as the official hostess who invited the public to again return to the White House South Lawn and is credited with wanting the event revived, she was no where to be seen that day. Photographs later photographed seemed to suggest she was there, but they were merely close-ups of her on another spring day on the South Portico.

And even though the White House Easter Egg Roll has returned to Washington, it was still be a very long stretch before another First Lady participated in the carnival-like event.

The Kennedys leaving his parents Palm Beach, Florida home for church on Easter morning 1962.

The Kennedys leaving his parents Palm Beach, Florida home for church on Easter morning 1962.

The following year of 1954, the Eisenhower family began their own personal tradition of spending the Easter weekend at “Mamie’s Cabin,” their home in Augusta, Georgia on the Augusta National Golf Course.

Not until the very last Easter Monday of the Eisenhower Administration did the President again return, for his second appearance. But Mamie Eisenhower was still no where to be seen, avoiding the crowds entirely.

Jackie Kennedy coloring eggs with her son John. Her daughter Caroline and family friend Sally Fay at Eastertime 1963.

Jackie Kennedy coloring eggs with her son John. Her daughter Caroline and family friend Sally Fay at Eastertime 1963.

And Mrs. Eisenhower’s three successors were also away for Easter.

Jacqueline Kennedy was with the President and their children at the Palm Beach, Florida estate of her in-laws, where she worked in the kitchen of the large old house, dying eggs in teacups and trying to prevent her young son John from spilling the color dyes about, much like any other young mother of the era.

Lady Bird Johnson was with the President and their children at their Stonewall, Texas “LBJ Ranch,”where her husband was insistent upon going as often as possible, to take a break from the constricted life in Washington.

Lady Bird Johnson in the rose garden with her grandson Patrick Lyndon Nugent and an Easter Bunny. and her daughter Lynda Bird Robb, 1968. (Corbis)

Lady Bird Johnson in the rose garden with her grandson Patrick Lyndon Nugent and an Easter Bunny. and her daughter Lynda Bird Robb, 1968. (Corbis)

During the Johnson years there were several massive chocolate candy figures donated for display on the South Lawn during the Easter Egg Roll, including a giant bunny.

The LBJs were at their ranch and missed the White House Easter Egg during their tenancy but a Texas-sized chocolate Easter Bunny still drew in the crowds.

The LBJs were at their ranch and missed the White House Easter Egg during their tenancy but a Texas-sized chocolate Easter Bunny still drew in the crowds.

The irresistible giant treat, however, was kept safely far behind a white-picket fence in the center of the lawn, warding off those youngsters unable to resist snapping a piece of candy from it and potentially having it tumble down.

Whether or not it was the LBJ giant chocolate bunnies which inspired her or not, she never said, but it was on Pat Nixon ‘s watch that the Easter Egg Roll finally got its official Easter Bunny.

This involved coaxing an adult White House staff member to dress in a bunny costume with a large, painted paper-mache head. The costumed figure began a regular feature for all the future annual events.

First Lady Pat Nixon tried to return the festivities to its traditional beginnings by having thousands of eggs dyed to ensure that children who had come to the event without any of their own could join in an “egg hunt.”

Tricia Nixon makes an appearance with the first White House Easter Bunny.

Tricia Nixon makes an appearance with the first White House Easter Bunny.

In 1974, the Nixons also suggested that formal egg races be organized to give the children a point of focus to the day, and that the first certificates be printed up for the children to take away as souvenirs making it official that they had rolled Easter eggs at the White House.

The Nixons and Mamie Eisenhower attend Easter Services near Camp David in Thurmont Maryland, April 11, 1971.

The Nixons and Mamie Eisenhower attend Easter Services near Camp David in Thurmont Maryland, April 11, 1971.

Otherwise, without a President or First Lady appearing, the event had become really just a chance to walk about in new Easter clothes. but it also revived the problem of the stench and mess of so many broken eggs on the lawn.

Pat Nixon was away with the President at either their Miami, Florida or San Clemente, California homes, or the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland.

On several occasions, however, their two daughters did appear separately to greet the crowds.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower at the 1974 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower at the 1974 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox did more than just wade through the crowds shaking hands and signing autographs, but also acting as unofficial mistresses of ceremonies at small stage shows set up on the South Lawn and featuring  costumed characters from popular television shows of the era, like The New Zoo Review.

Children meet the Easter Bunny at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 1969.

Children meet the Easter Bunny at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 1969.

Having the two well-known First Daughters mix with the crowds and officiate at the White House Easter Egg Roll was at least the inkling of a new start to perhaps better organizing the event and encouraging more of the public to appear.

The 1961 White House Easter Egg Roll barely drew out a crowd. (JFKL)

The 1961 White House Easter Egg Roll barely drew out a crowd. (JFKL)

The lack of any enthusiasm on the part of recent Presidents and First Ladies about making an appearance at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll seemed to be resulting in dwindling numbers each year.

A 1965 Washington Post article admitted that, “At its best the annual egg rolling seems to have lost its zest in recent years and today’s rain made it far from a gala affair.”

Twin sisters at the 1961 event. (JFKL)

Twin sisters at the 1961 event. (JFKL)

Yet just like the early decades when the White House Easter Egg Roll seemed to be on the verge of distinction, all it took was one woman, one First Lady, who especially enjoyed the event to bring life back to it.

And in following that same inkling that had compelled Lucy Hayes, Ida McKinley, Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge and Eleanor Roosevelt to delight in the eggscades of the say, Betty Ford helped launch the White House Easter Egg Roll onto its strongest upswing in history.

A bunted bandstand provided music for the small crowd at the 1961 event.

A bunted bandstand provided music for the small crowd at the 1961 event.

It would soon reach the point where a First Lady seemed to not even consider missing that great and noisy day when tens of thousands of children screamed with glee all day, in their back yard.

{ 0 comments }

Grace Coolidge brought her raccoon Rebecca to one of the Easter Egg Roll events she attended.

Grace Coolidge brought her raccoon Rebecca to one of the Easter Egg Roll events she attended. (LC)

Coming along the presidential timeline between the two Cleveland Administrations, the Benjamin Harrison Administration marked the first known time that an entire First Family appeared at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

The entire extended Harrison family watched the Easter Egg Roll festivities from the South Portico.

The entire extended Harrison family watched the Easter Egg Roll festivities from the South Portico.

The first Easter Egg Roll of that Administration, in 1889, was a four-generation affair which included the First Lady’s elderly father, her niece who worked as her social secretary, the President and his wife Caroline, their two adult children Mary and Russell, son-in-law and daughter-in-law, three little grandchildren.

One photograph showed the entire clan from the back, standing on the South Portico balcony overlooking the kiddies and their bright eggs, the President and his father-in-law holding up two of the little children.

Frances Cleveland with two of her three daughters, Marion and Esther.

Frances Cleveland with two of her three daughters, Marion and Esther.

By the turn-of-the-century, the portico balcony was where the children on the lawn could expect to catch a fleeting glimpse of the First Ladies, Presidents and their families, waving to them below, somewhat like an American royal family on a balcony acknowledging the lilliputian citizenry.

There seemed, however, to be a reluctance to let the little children who belonged to First Families go out among the crowds of public children.

Despite her enjoyment in watching the Easter Egg Roll during her first term as First Lady, for example, during her second term, from 1893 to 1897, Frances Cleveland protectively kept her three little daughters from public view during the festivities, keeping them instead at the private home the family lived in, while using the White House for official functions.

A friend gave Ida McKinley a diorama Easter egg showing her long-gone daughters Katie and Little Ida on the White House South Lawn.

A friend gave Ida McKinley a diorama Easter egg showing her long-gone daughters Katie and Little Ida on the White House lawn.

The two daughters of William McKinley and Ida McKinley had died nearly a quarter of a century before they got to the White House; “Little Ida” was only three months old and Katie McKinley had been three and a half. From that time forward, the First Lady especially loved being surrounded by little girls about that age and she spoke often of her two “lost girls,” to all who would listen, as if their spirits were always near her.

Marjorie Morse, great-niece of the McKinleys.

Marjorie Morse, great-niece of the McKinleys.

It made the gift of a simple sugar egg with an inner diorama depicting Katie and Little Ida as young girls on the lawn where the crowds of children the most meaningful and precious one of all given to Mrs. McKinley. She never failed to watch the activity, either from an open bedroom window upstairs or the portico.

In 1900, she was especially delighted that her husband’s niece Ida Morse had come to visit them from San Francisco and brought her little daughter Marjorie Morse along to enjoy the Easter Egg Roll.

With the exuberant clan of four boys and two girls who composed the children of President Theodore Roosevelt and First Lady Edith Roosevelt, public expectations were high that they would all be romping with the general public on the lawn.

Theodore Roosevelt Family.

Theodore Roosevelt Family.

“The Roosevelt youngsters will be in their glory today s leaders in the annual egg-rolling contest in the back lot of the White House,” the Omaha Daily Bee promised in its March 31, 1902 news story.

While the President continued to host a reception for the children, his own remained separated from the masses, strictly removed on the portico instead. One senses this was an edict from Edith Roosevelt who was not known to have publicly appeared at the event during her five years in the White House. She decidedly did not approve of the Easter Egg Roll, believing it to be a “needless” wreck of the well-groomed South Lawn.

Nellie Taft. (Library of Congress)

Nellie Taft. (Library of Congress)

In 1909, there were reports of Nellie Taft joining her husband in receiving a delegation at an afternoon reception on Easter Monday but nothing about the egg roll. The following year was simply a notice stating that the President had “given consent” for the annual event.

First Daughter Helene Taft and her poodle Caro attended the Egg Roll with First Lady Nellie Taft in 1912.

First Daughter Helene Taft and her poodle Caro attended the Egg Roll with First Lady Nellie Taft in 1912.

By 1912, however, there were newspaper reports of how delighted Nellie Taft was to be able to go out on the lawn among the crowds and remain virtually unnoticed.

This is the first report of a First Lady leaving the portico post from above and joining the public.

That same year her daughter Helene Taft, a college student, also appeared on the steps of the South Portico with the family dog, a caramel-colored poodle named Caro.

Ellen Wilson got to enjoy one Easter Egg Rolls at the White House, in 1913. The following year, she and the President spent the holiday weekend in Hot Springs, Virginia where the First Lady was already ailing from the the kidney disease which would kill her just months later.

First Lady Ellen Wilson takes in the 1913 Easter Egg Roll from the South Balcony.

First Lady Ellen Wilson takes in the 1913 Easter Egg Roll from the South Balcony.

She is the first to be photographed on her own, overseeing the festivities from the White House South Portico balcony. Margaret Wilson, acting as First Lady for her widowed father, appeared at the 1915 event.

Edith Wilson watched 1916 egg-rollers before the event was cancelled for four years. (LC)

Edith Wilson watched 1916 egg-rollers before the event was cancelled for four years. (LC)

By the following Easter Monday, President Wilson had remarried and his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson presided over the 1916 event, as reported in newspapers. It would prove to be her only one.

With U.S. entry into World War I coming on April 6, just eighteen days before Easter Monday in 1917, the event was cancelled and remained inactive through 1918, 1919 and 1920, following the end of the war and President Wilson’s stroke.

Florence and Warren Harding overlooking the crowds at the 1921 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Florence and Warren Harding overlooking the crowds at the 1921 White House Easter Egg Roll.

The Roaring Twenties began a long period of First Ladies actively participating in the White House Easter Egg Roll, two notably making a point of leaving the higher officials and their young children who now composed the elite circle invited to view the event from the South Portico balcony and joining the crowds of children on the lawn.

Just a month after becoming First Lady in 1921, Florence Harding gleefully revived the custom, along with the tradition of showcasing the presidential pet, in this case Laddie Boy the Airedale dog, as the real star member of a First Family who delighted the children.

Laddie Boy, the Harding Airedale at the 1921 Easter Egg Roll.

Laddie Boy, the Harding Airedale at the 1921 Easter Egg Roll.

While both the President and First Lady waved to the kiddies from the South Portico, Florence Harding permitted the White House dog-keeper Arthur Jackson to take Laddie Boy out on the lawn among the children.

Overlooking crowds from the South Portico on April 21, 1924, Grace Coolidge brought and held one of the family cats, while the President made his only known appearance at an annual Easter Egg Roll.

Overlooking crowds from the South Portico on April 21, 1924, Grace Coolidge brought and held one of the family cats, while the President made his only known appearance at an annual Easter Egg Roll.

Grace Coolidge was beaming a broad smile in all of the images snapped of her during the five Easter Monday parties she hosted as First Lady, from 1924 to 1928. This would appear to give her the record as the first First Lady to attend all of the annual egg-rolling events held during her tenure as First Lady.

Mrs. Coolidge also earns another White House Easter Egg Roll footnote by becoming the first to fully engage with the children of the general public by going down among the crowds with her different pets each year (Mrs. Taft had slipped into the crowds without being recognized, delighting in her anonymity rather than making herself known).

Grace Coolidge with two of her dogs at the Easter Egg Roll. (LC)

Grace Coolidge with two of her dogs at the Easter Egg Roll. (LC)

Perhaps one of the most popular photographic series ever taken of a First Lady is the one depicting Grace Coolidge holding her famous pet raccoon Rebecca at one of the annual Easter Egg-Roll parties and bringing the animal into the crowds for the children to pet. Another year she brought one of the family cats out with her, and more frequently it was her famous white collie Rob Roy alone with accompanied by other family dogs.

By never missing any Easter Egg Roll and mixing it up with the crowds, Grace Coolidge was a key figure in helping to establish the event in the public mind as one where they could expect to see, if not meet a First Lady.

Grace Coolidge brought her racoon Rebecca to one of the Easter Egg Roll events she attended.

Grace Coolidge brought her raccoon Rebecca to one of the Easter Egg Roll events she attended.

Lou Hoover ovberlooking the crowd gathered for the White House Easter Egg Roll. (LC)

Lou Hoover overlooking the crowd gathered for the White House Easter Egg Roll. (LC)

In 1918, when she was working in partnership with her husband as President Wilson’s World War I Food Administrator, Lou Hoover had led a national crusade to “Go Eggless for Easter,” and save an estimated 60 million eggs nationwide for consumption rather than sport.

As First Lady, Lou Hoover still seemed a bit concerned about the “egg problem,” meaning the mess and smell that hundreds of broken hard-boiled eggs on the South Lawn would cause. She decided to provide the first sort of organized activities for children to watch, intending to distract them from needing to roll – and break – too many eggs.

A maypole ceremony organized by Mrs. Hoover for the 1929 Easter Egg Roll. (LC)

A maypole ceremony organized by Mrs. Hoover for the 1929 Easter Egg Roll. (LC)

One of the events she provided was folk dancing, including children performing a traditional maypole ritual with colored ribbons winding around a pole to welcome the spring season.

In 1931, Mrs. Hoover even permitted her two grandchildren Peggy and Peter, then in residence with her and the President, to deliver welcoming remarks on a live radio broadcast from the event bandstand.

Despite all of her commitments to serious endeavors related to public welfare and policy and her constant traveling around the nation, nothing seemed to bring greater pleasure to Eleanor Roosevelt than making sure she appeared at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll and diving into the crowds, meeting as many children and their adult companions as she could.

Eleanor Roosevelt, her police dog Major, daughter Anna and granddaughter Sisty at the 1933 Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt, her police dog Major, daughter Anna and granddaughter Sisty at the 1933 Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt with some toddlers at the 193 Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt with  toddlers at the 193 event.

A magician performs a trick on Sistie and Buzzie Dall, as their grandmother First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt looks on during the 1934 White House Easter Egg Roll.

A magician performs a trick on Sistie and Buzzie Dall, as their grandmother First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt looks on during the 1934 White House Easter Egg Roll. (carlanthonyonline.com)

 

An ad for the book Scamper the White House bunny, by Anna Roosevelt.

An ad for the book Scamper the White House bunny, by Anna Roosevelt. (carlanthonyonline.com)

In 1933, her first year, Eleanor Roosevelt appeared at the White House Easter Egg Roll along with her dog Meg, daughter Anna Dall and grandchildren Sisty and Buzzy.

The event even inspired the First Daughter to write a children’s book called Scamper: The White House Bunny.

Eleanor Roosevelt greets guests at the 1937 Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt greets guests at the 1937 Easter Egg Roll. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Another year, Mrs. Roosevelt had a magician performing tricks with her grandchildren  as they were popularly known, on the steps of the South Portico, for all the crowd to watch.

During a later Easter Egg Roll event, she broadcasted a live radio greetings to the nation.

Eleanor Roosevelt sits with European refugee children who she invited as her personal guests on the South Portico steps during the Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt sits with European refugee children who she invited as her personal guests on the South Portico steps during the Easter Egg Roll.

Although this First Lady decided to scale back the traditional White House entertaining schedule, feeling it was unseemly during the Great Depression when so many American families were barely surviving, she refused to cut the Easter Egg Roll.

And, as the Third Reich began its march across Europe, leading to thousands of refugees seeking asylum in the United States and other free nations, Mrs. Roosevelt not only showed her compassion but scored a political point across the world by inviting a group of European refugee children as her personal guests to the 1940 and 1941 Easter Egg Rolls at the Roosevelt White House.

The First Lady made clear her belief that the annual event was likely the one great pleasure of the year for so many poor children in Washington.

As a friend of hers stated, “Of course, she loves children. She had so many of them. And they are all over the world.”

At the April 13, 1936 Easter Egg Roll, Eleanor Roosevelt was surrounded by children and adults alike.

At the April 13, 1936 Easter Egg Roll, Eleanor Roosevelt was surrounded by children and adults alike. (FDRL)

 

{ 0 comments }

A National Archives photo showing the South Lawn during the Lincoln Administration where the first public Easter Egg Roll took place.

A National Archives photo showing the South Lawn during the Lincoln Administration where the first public Easter Egg Roll took place.

Of the two accounts which recall how young Tad Lincoln hosted a little egg-rolling contest in order for a disabled friend of his named Tommy, who needed crutches to walk.

Mary Lincoln flanked by her sons Willie on the left and Tad on the right, photographed the year Abraham Lincoln was elected President. (Illinois State Historical Library)

Mary Lincoln flanked by her sons Willie on the left and Tad on the right, photographed the year Abraham Lincoln was elected President. (Illinois State Historical Library)

It is recorded that Tommy’s mother worked as a clerk at the Treasury Building and was the widow of a Union Army soldier and these facts, as well as the family’s schedule pinpoint this first known White House Easter Egg Roll as having taken place on either the second or the fourth Easter which the Lincoln family celebrated in the White House, either April 21, 1862 or March 28, 1864.

Neither of the two eyewitness sources mentions Mary Lincoln being present or watching the event.

Documentation does show, however, that a far more obscure First Lady was likely the first to appear at a White House Easter Egg Roll event.

In his memoirs, White House clerk William Crook recorded the fact that, despite her chronic condition of tuberculosis limiting most of her public appearances on the state floor at public social events, First Lady Eliza Johnson came out onto the South Portico to watch her five little grandchildren rolling colored eggs on Easter Monday and taking great delight in watching their games.

In this rarely seen image in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of History,  Eliza Johnson was the first known First Lady to attend a White House Easter Egg Roll.

In this rarely seen image in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of History, Eliza Johnson was the first known First Lady to attend a White House Easter Egg Roll.

There was no mention, however, about whether there were other children present.

What is established as fact is that, formally or informally, sometime before or after the Civil War era, children of Washington were coming to the greensward of the U.S. Capitol Building the Monday after Easter Sunday, where its sweeping lawn provided the perfect place to hold contests to see who could roll their brightly-colored dyed Easter eggs along with a spoon the fastest.

After leaving a litter of paper and straw, and the stench of broken eggs rotting in the sun, however, the children irritated the members of Congress working just inside. It led to passage of the Capitol Building Turf Protection Law, enacted on April 21, 1876.

The reverse of a 2011 gold commemorative coin designed by Barbara Fox, shows Lucy Hayes applauding children participating in the first White House Easter Egg Roll. (US Mint)

The reverse of a 2011 gold commemorative coin designed by Barbara Fox, shows Lucy Hayes applauding children participating in the first White House Easter Egg Roll. (US Mint)

This was the last Easter which Julia Grant marked as First Lady in the White House, but there is no indication that the Grants invited the city children to roll their eggs on the White House lawn or even that they held any sort of festivity for their own young children and their friends.

Rain drowned out any chance of Easter egg-rolling anywhere in Washington in 1877.

Credit for starting the Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn has traditionally been given to First Lady Lucy Hayes in 1878, her second Easter in the White House, but the more precise accounts credit her husband, President Rutherford B. Hayes with granting permission for the White House lawn to be used by the Washington children who had been banned from their annual custom on the U.S. Capitol lawn.

Although Lucretia Garfield was living in the White House on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1881, she was by then beset by malaria and bedridden. Taking place two days before her birthday, it proved to be the only one she marked in the White House due to her husband’s assassination several months later.

Molly McElroy, who served as First Lady for her widowed brother President Chester Arthur was not in residence at the White House for Easter of 1882.

A children's magazine drawing which suggests that 1883 White House Easter Egg Roll guests gave First Daughter Nell Arthur one of their eggs.

A children’s magazine drawing which suggests that 1883 White House Easter Egg Roll guests gave First Daughter Nell Arthur one of their eggs.

The following year, in following the old tradition of ending the White House social season of receptions and dinners on Ash Wednesday, she departed Washington on March 11 for her permanent home in Albany, New York, exactly two weeks before Easter.

She remained longer in the White House in 1884, however, and thus would have been able to attend the Easter Egg Roll held that year, her brother’s final one as President.

Her immediate successor Rose Cleveland was also a presidential sister serving as First Lady and in residence at the White House on Easter Monday April 6, 1885 but there were no reports of her attending the event that year or the next.

Rose Cleveland was also decidedly absent at the side of her brother, bachelor President Grover Cleveland, when he came down from his office to shake hands with exuberant egg-rollers eager to shake his hand or even just glimpse him.

The incident was carefully recorded in local newspapers at the time and it became a custom for him.

Grover Cleveland shakes hands with a child during an East Room reception.

Grover Cleveland shakes hands with a child during an East Room reception.

On April 9, 1887, The Memphis Appeal reported that:

Children of all races were welcomed in the pre-Jim Crow Washington 1890s at the White House Easter Egg Roll. (Library of Congress)

Children of all races were welcomed in the pre-Jim Crow Washington 1890s at the White House Easter Egg Roll. (Library of Congress)

“On Monday morning Mrs. Cleveland will come in from Oakview, where she has been the last few days, to see the egg rolling on the White House grounds.

This will be a novel spectacle to her, and is one of the curious and distinctive of children’s customs in the world.

Egg rolling at Easter is common enongh, but why it was inaugurated children, far longer back than any body can remember, should this day take possession of one particular spot is as queer as anything in the mysterious regions of child myths and customs.

Nobody knows when it originated.

It is required of every President that besides giving up his private grounds on that day, he shall come out at least once that afternoon and show himself on the south portico.

Grover Cleveland and his dog Hector, the first known First Dog to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Grover Cleveland and his dog Hector, the first known First Dog to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll.

No doubt ‘Frankie’ as the children call Mrs. Cleveland will be anxiously expected on Monday, and her arrival will be hailed even more than the President’s.”

In their second term from 1893 to 1897, the Clevelands continued their East Room receiving line for the children after the egg rolling contests.

While Eliza Johnson was the first known First Lady to preside over an egg-rolling contest and Lucy Hayes is dutifully credited with inviting the general public to attend, Frances Cleveland began the first real custom the event: the appearance of the White House animal companion of a President and First Lady, in this case a dog named Hector.

A color-tinted magazine illustration of children being watched by their caretakers at an 1880s White House Easter Egg Roll. (whitehousehistory.org)

A color-tinted magazine illustration of children being watched by their caretakers at an 1880s White House Easter Egg Roll. (whitehousehistory.org)

Grover and Frances Cleveland let Hector roam the lawn among the egg-rollers.

The dog seemed to be the star of the day, the kiddies freely giving him as many eggs as he could gobble up.

Until, as reporter Frank Carpenter noted, Hector had to find a corner and empty his stomach.

{ 0 comments }