An Artist Visits the White House Past

Paintings by Peter Waddell

The Confidant

First Lady Lucy Hayes and Her Maid, 1879

First Lady Lucy Hayes in her White House bedroom, by Waddell

Peter Waddell, The Confidant, oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″, © White House Historical Association.

Essay by William Seale

President Rutherford B. Hayes announced when he was elected that he would serve for one term only; this he did, and it was an uplifting four years for the country. With his wife Lucy, Hayes determined to return tranquility to a nation troubled by recent political scandal and economic depression. They set out to be a “model American family” in the White House. recognizing value in the women’s campaigns against saloons, Mrs. Hayes decreed a “dry” White House, banning alcohol from presidential functions. “Water flowed like wine,” commented one diplomat after a dinner, but the American people admired the first lady’s stand.

The artist visits a very private corner of the Hayes White House in this depiction of Mrs. Hayes and Mary Monroe. Standing in her bedroom, Mrs. Hayes is dressing for a formal reception. Mary Monroe, her maid from Ohio, is helping arrange the complicated silk afternoon dress. At the top of the grand staircase, just outside the room, Mary would stretch the first lady’s 3-yard court-train for the dramatic descent to the company in the main floor below.

The fantastic rosewood bed with its gilded and draped crown had been purchased by Mrs. Lincoln nearly twenty years before (to President Lincoln’s disgust), and the artist has sketched it where he found it today, in the Lincoln Bedroom. Through the open door can be seen the modern faux bamboo bedroom furniture Mrs. Hayes bought when she moved to the White House.

With their four children Rutherford and Lucy Hayes entertained more than any of the presidents before them. The events are forgotten, except for one, which they introduced in 1877—the annual Easter Egg Roll, still held at the White House.

Historical Resources for
The Confidant
  • Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. Spiegel Grove, Fremont, OH.
  • Sickels, Daniel. Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes, November 1, 1878.
  • Snead, Augustine (Miss Grundy). “How the Presidents Live.” Boston Herald, March 28, 1878.