State Dinners and Funerals: Protocol and Diplomacy

State Dinners and Funerals: Protocol and Diplomacy
Ida Mckinley: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two Weeks


Prior to the McKinley Administration, First Ladies and their spouses sat at separate tables.  At his first state dinner this practice greatly troubled and distracted the president.  Ida McKinley had a medical condition that caused seizures.  By sitting next to her, he could sense when a seizure was going to occur and either placed a handkerchief over her head or, if it was a particularly serious seizure, he had her taken to the private residence via the elevator.  President McKinley decided to break protocol and at all future dinners the President and First Lady sat next to each other.  Another White House protocol broken by Ida McKinley was that she did not stand and offer her hand to guests.  Instead she sat holding a bouquet of flowers.  This too may have been due to illness.


In this lesson students will gain an understanding of the significance of manners and protocol in United States diplomacy as well as differences between Internet based and library based research.  

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet and access to a public library.


Explain to students that manners are not only a matter of personal interactions and demonstrations of respect; manners are a matter of international diplomacy.  Also explain to students that the word for manners and etiquette at a state or international level is protocol.  

The sources below will help students gain an understanding of White House protocol and United States diplomacy.  Direct students to review the sources below and to report back on the differences between researching information on the internet and researching information in a library by using the following questions as guides:  

1. What are the credentials of the individuals who compiled information available on the Internet and authors of books?

2. Which process is faster and why?

3.  Which process provides the most in-depth information and why?

4. Which process provides the most reliable information and why?  

Once students have completed their review of materials have a class discussion using the above questions.  

Brainstorm with students the different components of state dinners, state funerals, protocol and diplomacy from their review of the literature (i.e. the role of the first lady, the Cold War, Lincoln’s funeral))  

End this lesson by having each student select one segment of the overall lesson, research it more in-depth and then teach the class what they learned.

Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson, have students review George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation and Miss Manners.  Have a discussion regarding the differences between manners at the birth of our nation and now.  

Sources & Resources:

   Anthony, Carl Sferrazza.  First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents’ Wives and their Power, 1789-1961. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. 
   Buchanan, Wiley.  Red Carpet at the White House: Four Years as Chief of Protocol in the Eisenhower Administration.  New York: Dutton, 1984. 
   Caldwell, Mark.  A Short History of Rudeness: Manners, Morals, and Misbehavior in Modern America.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 
   Carol, Betty Boyd.  Inside the White House.  Pleasantville: Readers Digest, 1999. 
   Clinton, Hillary Rodham. An Invitation to the White House: At Home with History.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. 
   Dembinski, Ludwik.  The Modern Law of Diplomacy: External Missions of States and International Organizations. Hingham: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988. 
   Eban, Abba Solomon.  Diplomacy for the Next Century. New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1998. 
   Garlik, Harry. Final Curtain: State Funerals and the Theatre of Power. Atlanta: Rodopi B. B, 1999. 
   Geert, Hofstede.  Culture’s Consequences, Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications, 2001. 
   Heffner, Richard D. A Documentary History of the United States: Seventh Revised Edition.  New York: Penguin Group, 2002. 
   Hillenbrand, Martin Joseph. Fragments of Our Time: Memoirs of a Diplomat.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998. 
   Jonas, Manfred.  The United States and Germany: A Diplomatic History. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984. 
   Klose, Nelson and Lader, Curt.  United States History Since 1865.  Hauppauge: Barron’s Educational Series, 2001. 
   Patterson, James T. Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. 
   Richardson, Dick.  Decisions and Diplomacy: Essays in Twentieth Century International History.  New York: routledge, 1995. 
   Schlesinger, Arthur Meier.  The Cycles of American History.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1986. 
   Smith, Joseph.  The United States and Latin America: A History of American Diplomacy, 1776-2000.  New York: Routledge, 2005. 
   Watson, Robert P.  Life in the White House: A Social History of the First Family and the President’s House.  Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. 
   Whitcomb, John and Whitcomb, Claire.  Real Life at the White House: 200 Years of Daily Life at America’s Most Famous Residence.  New York: Routledge, 2002.
Office of the Chief of Protocol

Ceremonial Division of the Office of the Chief of Protocol

Protocol and State Funerals

White House Time Machine

U. S. Diplomatic History

White House State Dinner Links

International Manners

George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation

International Manners and Etiquette

Cross Cultural Comparisons of Manners

Miss Manners


This lesson was written by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.