Vase. National Porcelain Manufactory of Sèvres, France, 1898. One of a pair of cobalt blue vases presented to McKinley to commemorate the inauguration of the Franco-American cable under the Atlantic.
Increased coverage by the press and public interest in the lives of the White House families inevitably has led to writing about objects in the White House. Mrs. McKinley granted permission to Abby Gunn Baker to research and write the first history of the White House china. The McKinley’s also refurbished the Blue Room in the Colonial Revival style—the first example of the style on the state floor.
Theodore and Edith Roosevelt brought significant changes to the White House out of the necessity of accommodating their six children. Under the direction of the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, & White, the second floor family quarters were expanded and the staff offices moved to a new west wing. A major goal of the 1902 Roosevelt restoration was to design and furnish the interior in harmony with its neoclassical exterior architecture in order that it would not be subject to changing fashion. McKim, Mead, & White designed Colonial Revival furnishings for the home, impressive chandeliers were installed in the East Room, and other furnishings were obtained to fill the house. Edith Roosevelt ordered new state china with a restrained pattern to serve 120: the capacity of the newly enlarged State Dining Room.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 176-197.
Tea and Coffee Set. Lenox, Inc., Trenton, New Jersey, 1911. This service, with silver overlay engravings, was among the gifts the Tafts received on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in 1911.
When President and Mrs. William H. Taft came to the White House in 1909, they didn’t change the furnishings in any of the state rooms. The first lady replaced the Victorian furniture in the president’s bedroom with Colonial Revival mahogany pieces and personal furnishings. The Taft's twenty-fifth anniversary was the major social event of their administration and among the many silver gifts they received was a Lenox tea service with silver overlay engraved "T" and "1886-1911."
Woodrow Wilson and his family entered the White House in 1913. First Lady Ellen Wilson, a strong supporter of mountain craftswomen, selected their textiles to decorate the second floor. She also redesigned the East and West gardens and purchased naturalistic limestone furniture for them. Ellen Wilson died in 1914 and in the following year President Wilson courted and married Edith Bolling Galt. The new first lady replaced many of the wall coverings, draperies and upholstery in the state floor rooms. Her lasting contribution was the establishment of the China Room in 1917 to display tableware. The Wilsons ordered the first American-made state service, a 1,700 piece made in Trenton, New Jersey by Lenox.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 197-202.
Water Goblet. Central Glass Works, Wheeling, West Virginia, 1921. American services and glassware, given to or personally owned by President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding, reflect the tastes of the 1920s.
War and Woodrow Wilson's ill health kept the White House closed to the public for several years prior to Warren G. Harding's 1921 succession to the presidency. When he and his wife Florence moved in, they reopened the house immediately on an unprecedented scale, giving visitors and the press more access than ever before. Florence Harding did not want to spend government allocations on furniture for the family areas, and brought many items from their Washington home to furnish the White House. No significant acquisitions were made during the Harding administration. However, the Harding Memorial Association donated gilded glassware and examples of the Lenox dessert service owned by the Hardings.
Grace Coolidge, keenly interested in history, studied old photographs of White House rooms and was disappointed to find very few original furnishings in the house. She obtained a resolution from Congress to provide for the acceptance of treasured objects as gifts to a permanent collection establishing the White House as a museum. In 1925 an advisory committee of experts was appointed to evaluate and make recommendations on the décor of state rooms and to review offers of gifts. When she crocheted a coverlet for the “Lincoln Bed”, Grace Coolidge hoped to start a tradition where each first lady would leave a memento of life in the White House.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 202-208.
Desk. Morris W. Dove, Washington, D. C., 1932. This secrétaire-a-abattant (fall-front desk), a reproduction of the one on which James Monroe drafted the Monroe Doctrine, was commissioned by Lou Hoover for the "Monroe Room."
Interest in the White House grew after President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover took up residence in 1929. Lou Hoover appreciated the historic importance of White House furnishings and introduced a collection of historical paintings, portraits, and objects into the Entrance Hall where visitors gathered before tours. The first lady also initiated a study to record all of the White House’s historic objects. Mrs. Hoover created “The Monroe Room” on the second floor as a tribute to President James Monroe. This sitting room had been used as the historic Cabinet Room and a presidential study before 1930. Mrs. Hoover furnished the room (today’s Treaty Room) with reproductions of several pieces of Monroe’s furniture, a French mahogany table from 1817, and other Monroe-associated objects from the White House collection.
In 1933, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt moved into the White House in the midst of the Great Depression. In addition to two van loads of personal possessions the Roosevelts brought with them, the first lady ordered tables, a mirror, stool and bedsteads from the Val-Kill Furniture Shop. She co-founded the company in 1927 to provide employment for men in the Hyde Park, New York region. To accommodate the entertaining by the Roosevelts, a new state dinner service was ordered from Lenox and new glassware service was ordered. In 1938, Steinway and Sons donated a unique piano designed specially for the White House.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 208-213.
Water Goblet and Finger Bowl. T. G. Hawkes & Company, Corning, New York, 1938, on blanks by Tiffin Glass Co., Tiffin, Ohio. The first new glassware service since 1891 was ordered for the Roosevelts in 1937. Also shown, Salad Plate--Lenox, Inc. Trenton, New Jersey, 1934. A state china service for 120, decorated with an inner band of gilt roses and plumes from the Roosevelt family coat of arms, was chosen by the first lady in 1934.
When America entered the second World War, it brought changes to Franklin D. Roosevelt's White House. On December 22, 1941, the Monroe Room became a temporary map room and office for wartime visitor British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Harry S. Truman= inherited the White House suddenly in the midst of World War II. The Truman family had time to settle in the White House just before serious structural problems forced them out in late 1948. Massive renovations and reconstruction of the house continued until 1952.
Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 213-218.
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