The Second Floor

When John Adams first occupied the President's House in 1800, the second floor was generally reserved for private and family use. President Adams kept a small office adjacent to his bedroom on the southwest corner of the house, but other early presidents chose to work in rooms on the state floor. About 1825, the two rooms that we now call the Lincoln suite were adapted to be executive offices. The Lincoln Bedroom actually was Abraham Lincoln's office and Cabinet Room. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in this room on January 1, 1863. Hanging above the desk is William Tolman Carlton's Watch Meeting—Dec. 31st, 1862—Waiting for the Hour that depicts slaves waiting for the proclamation to take effect. Mary Lincoln purchased the Lincoln rosewood bed set for the room in 1861, but the president never slept in it.

Until 1902 the first family quarters shared the Second Floor with the president's offices while the third floor was simply an attic. On this floor were born James Madison Randolph, grandson of Thomas Jefferson and the first White House baby and Grover Cleveland's daughter, Esther. The upstairs family quarters also witnessed the sorrow of Willie Lincoln's death and the long confinement of the mortally wounded President James Garfield. In 1927 the attic was enlarged and finished as a Third Floor while the White House roof was rebuilt.

The construction of the West Wing office in 1902 removed the noise and disruption of the executive offices from the first family's residence. When the eastern end of the second floor was used for state business, the Center Hall was partitioned off to keep the public from wandering into the family apartments. As late as WWII, the "Great Passage" was described as cluttered dark and dismal. Harry S. Truman had the space redesigned during his interior renovations of 1948-52, and it emerged as a comfortable sitting room and reception area. Paintings by American artists are displayed here, including Mary Cassatt's Young Mother and Two Children, painted in 1908, and Ruth, a 1903 portrait by Thomas Eakins.

The Treaty Room has been a popular space for a presidential study over the years. However, First Lady Lou Hoover converted the room into a parlor, decorating it with Colonial Revival furniture and calling it the Monroe Room. During the Kennedy administration, the name "Treaty Room" was chosen to reflect the many important deliberations made in the room, including the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed by Kennedy on October 7, 1963. That treaty, and many others before and since, was signed on what is known as the "Treaty Table," a magnificent Victorian desk originally used as a cabinet table by Ulysses S. Grant. George P. A. Healy's The Peacemakers (1868), hangs in the Treaty Room and depicts Abraham Lincoln conferring with his military advisers at the conclusion of the Civil War.

On January 1, 1801, John Adams held the first presidential reception in the upstairs oval parlor. Abigail Fillmore housed the first White House library here in the early 1850s. In 1889, the Harrisons placed the first White House Christmas tree in this room which was used as a library and family parlor. President Franklin D. Roosevelt converted the room into his study, and it was in this room on December 7, 1941, that he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Harry Truman continued to use the room as a study and opened access to a new balcony he added to the South Portico in 1948. The Yellow Oval Room, as it is now known, serves as a reception area and formal parlor where the president greets honored guests before leading them down the Grand Staircase to state functions. Works of late 19th century American artists, such as Jasper Cropsey's Under the Palisades in October (1895), are exhibited in the Yellow Oval Room.

Opposite the Yellow Oval Room and across the Center Hall is a small corridor that leads to a window above the North Portico. It was cut through the middle of a bedroom in 1853 during Franklin Pierce's administration. Abraham Lincoln frequently gave speeches from the perch of this window, as its position offered both high visibility and some degree of security.

Until it was converted into a dining area in 1961, the large northwest room on the second floor had been a bedchamber. It was once called the Prince of Wales Room, as the British heir to the throne slept here during an 1860 visit. Both the McKinleys and the Clevelands made it their master bedroom. White House children also used this bedroom. At a Nixon dinner party given here in the early 1970s, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, exclaimed, "My goodness ... this is the room where I had my appendix out!"

Before 1869, the West Sitting Hall was little more than a staircase landing lit by an elegant half moon window (which has its twin in the East Sitting Room). The presidents and first ladies would descend to the Cross Hall below on state occasions. President Ulysses Grant had the grand stair remodeled, allowing sitting space by the window. Charles McKim removed the steps completely in 1902 and the defunct landing became a private sitting area. Eleanor Roosevelt, who screened the area off from the Center Hall, particularly enjoyed it. In the subsequent Truman renovation, architects enclosed the hall with solid partitions and created a living room.

West End Sitting Room, c. 1888

West End Sitting Room, c. 1888


The Cabinet Room, 1889

The Cabinet Room, 1889


President Benjamin Harrison's office, c. 1890

President Benjamin Harrison's office, c. 1890


Center Hall during the Truman administration, pre-renovation c. 1947

Center Hall during the Truman administration, pre-renovation c. 1947