President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush had made a conscious effort to invite each of their five children to a state dinner, for the memorable experience. In contrast were Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Their two children Ron and Patti were never invited to a state dinner, nor was the President’s adopted son from his first marriage, Michael.
His daughter by his first marriage, however, was in attendance for two. Maureen Reagan appeared as a guest at the November 16, 1988 state dinner for Margaret Thatcher and the June 11, 1985 one for Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, hosted by her father and stepmother.
The likeliest reason for this was the simply that unlike the other three Reagan children who lived permanently in California, Maureen Reagan was working for weeks on end in Washington during her father’s second term, and lived at the White House when she was in town.
Those adult presidential children who did live “at home” with their parents in the White House certainly seemed to have the advantage on invites to the big suppers downstairs.
Susan Ford may well hold the record. Of the four Ford children, she lived longest and most permanently at the White House.
In 1976 alone, she scored invitations to the February 24, 1976 state dinner for U.S. Governors, the March 17, 1976 state dinner for the Irish Prime Minister, and the March 30, 1976 state dinner for the King of Jordan.
In contrast, her brother Jack Ford, who lived in the White House for the second longest time among his siblings, was invited that year only to the January 27, 1976 state dinner for the Israeli Prime Minister.
In his speech, Prime Minister Trudeau made reference to remarks made by an American President on June 10, 1946 to the Canadian legislature, after which his predecessor Mackenzie King hosted a state dinner for Harry and Bess Truman – and their daughter.
Margaret Truman was later invited by her parents to attend a January 1952 state dinner for the visiting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
By then the First Daughter no longer made the White House her primary residence and as then living full-time in New York, pursing a professional theatrical career. Part of the reason she was asked to attend, however, was to serve as a companion to her English counterpart: Sarah Churchill was then pursing a professional acting career.
Like Margaret Truman, Susan Ford, Lynda Bird Johnson, and Chelsea Clinton made foreign visits with their parents and were thus included in the list of guests at the formal state dinners that foreign leaders hosted for the U.S. President.
Strictly speaking a state dinner is an official event hosted by a U.S. President honoring an incumbent head of state of a sovereign nation, but it is a term that has long been used in reference to any formal dinner entertaining, even if it was to honor an American official.
First Daughters assumed the highest visibility, of course, when they served as hostesses, substituting for their absent mothers or serving them as a social aide, a sort of second hostess.
In the 20th century, this included the prominent presence of Susan Ford, Anna Roosevelt Dall Halstead and Margaret Wilson, during periods when they were each in residence. In the 19th century it was more common, some six daughters and two daughters-in-law assuming that role, and about five First Sons, who lived in the White House and worked as their father’s private secretaries, came as guests.
Other First Daughters assumed unique roles at these dinners. For example, Chelsea Clinton served as a co-hostess with her mother, alongside her father, at the large tented Millennium State Dinner, held on December 31, 1999, and stood with them at the foot of the Grand Staircase to receive incoming dinner guests.
During an official visit to the U.S. by England’s Prince Charles and his sister Princess Anne, it was not the President and Mrs. Nixon who served as hosts for a dinner held in their honor, but rather their daughters Tricia Nixon and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, and son-in-law, David Eisenhower.
During the official visit to the United States by German Prince Henry in 1903, First Lady Edith Roosevelt gladly acquiesced the center of attention to her popular stepdaughter Alice Roosevelt, who relished publicity.
The First Daughter was given the honor of christening the Prince’s yacht, Meteor, in a ceremony heavily covered by the global media of the day, and earning her the nickname of “Princess Alice.”
Unfortunately for her, President Theodore Roosevelt decided to host that evening’s White House state dinner for the Prince as a stag event, meaning only men were invited. “Princess Alice,” alas, did not get to preside alongside Prince Henry.