White House Historical Association
David Finley presents President and Mrs. Kennedy with the first White House Guidebook

David Finley presents the first White House Guidebook to President and Mrs. Kennedy, 1962.

Looking Back to Move Forward

The White House Historical Association

Celebrating 50 Years of History and Achievement

In 1961 First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy resolved to make the White House a “living museum,” and it was from her commitment to restore the historic integrity of the mansion’s public rooms that the White House Historical Association came to be. Created to assist in acquiring and preserving works of art and historic furnishings for the White House, the association began sponsoring projects that interpret the historic White House to the American people. For half a century, each first lady has continued a tradition of involvement with the association begun by Mrs. Kennedy.


First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy initiated a three-part program to restore the historic integrity of the public rooms of the White House, to acquire a collection of fine and decorative arts, and to establish the White House Historical Association as a private, independent, nonprofit corporation to research, publish, and market books and other educational materials interpreting the White House and its history and the persons and events associated with it.

The association was incorporated on November 3, 1961, to assist the National Park Service "in its historical, scientific, educational, and related activities . . . in Reservation Numbered I . . . known as the White House."


The Association published its first title, The White House: An Historic Guide. It was the wish of Jacqueline Kennedy that such a book be written, and she participated actively in the editing. In July 1962, the guide was delivered to a public that had ordered 10,000 copies before its first printing. Now in its 23rd edition, the guide has sold more than 4.5 million copies.


Currently in its 18th edition, the association first published The Presidents of the United States of America. The book tells the important stories of the lives and administrations of each of the 44 presidents, illustrated with official portraits from the White House collection.


By executive order in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson created the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, to advise on preservation and conservation of the public rooms of the White House and its collection of fine and decorative arts and acquisition of artworks for the permanent collection.


The Living White House, first published in cooperation with the National Geographic Society, is now in its 12th edition with more than 1 million copies distributed. This social history of the President's House provides a fascinating glimpse into the public and private life lived by the first family in the White House.


The first edition of The First Ladies of the United States of America was published. Now in its 12th edition, the book profiles the many women, from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, who have served the presidency and the nation and maintained the traditions of hospitality in the White House.


The White House ornament program began with an ornament commemorating President George Washington. Chief Usher Rex Scouten arranged for President and Mrs. Reagan to place the decoration on the Blue Room tree, and an annual tradition was begun. Now in its 30th year, all proceeds from the ornament program are used to fund the acquisition of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent White House collection, to assist in the preservation of the public rooms, and to further the association's educational mission.


White House History, the award-winning journal of the association, was published. Now issued bi-annually, it contains illustrated features on White House life that vary from biographies of presidents and their families to employees, furnishings, details of famous events, the gardens, architecture, costume, art in the White House collection, and many other subjects.


The President's House: A History, by William Seale was published. A two-volume social history of the building and its people covers every president from George Washington to Harry Truman. (Updated 2008)


At First Lady Barbara Bush's proposal, the White House Endowment Fund was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the White House Historical Association. The Endowment Fund was created to raise a private endowment of 25 million dollars to support the preservation and conservation of the public rooms of the President's House and its collections.


In the 1990s the association in cooperation with the American Institute of Architects sponsored the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) to record the interior architecture of the White House. The results of this project created a comprehensive record of the historic main house with drawings to be used as base documents for further renovations, restorations, maintenance and interpretation of the house.


The National Heritage Lecture Series was established by the White House Historical Association, The United States Capitol Historical Society, and the Supreme Court Historical Society to enhance knowledge and appreciation of the American system of government and the principles on which it was founded. Each lecture explores the history of one of the three branches of government and its role in the life of the American people.


Art In the White House: A Nation's Pride by William Kloss was published by the association. This award-winning book features the paintings, sculpture and drawings of the White House collection. (Updated 2009)


The National Park Service opened the White House Visitor Center to provide a comfortable, accessible indoor environment for learning about the White House and First Families through exhibits, audiovisual displays and interpretive programs. Through its traveling exhibition service, the association provides displays relative to the President's House. The association's museum shop is located in the Visitor Center.


At First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's encouragement, the association created the White House Acquisition Trust to accept gifts from donors who desire to designate their contributions solely for the acquisition of objects for the White House collection of fine and decorative arts.


The White House Endowment Trust was created from funds raised by the White House Endowment Fund, the income from which is to be used to support, in perpetuity, the preservation and conservation of the public rooms of the White House and its collection of fine and decorative arts.


The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families by Betty Monkman was published by the association in partnership with Abbeville Press. This award-winning book tells the story of the furnishings and decorative art objects found in the White House.


In an effort to bring White House history to local schools, the White House Historical Association launched free outreach programs for K-6 students. These standards based programs include a classroom visit from an experienced educator as well as additional pre- and post-lesson materials for the classroom teacher’s use.


As part of the educational outreach program, the association launched Paths to Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Power of the President, a program in which grade school students recreate the events surrounding the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The costumed reenactment invites students to explore notions of bondage and freedom within the real historic spaces of Decatur House.


The association published a new two-volume expanded edition of The President's House: A History by William Seale. The volumes chronicle both the continuum of the White House in American history and the human side as home to presidents and their families. Every president from George Washington to George H.W. Bush. William Clinton and George W. Bush are included in the epilogue.


The association entered into a partnership agreement with the National Park Service to revitalize the White House Visitor Center with new and more engaging exhibits illustrating the history of the White House and its pivotal role in the development of our nation. The association will provide private funding for architectural and exhibit design and fabrication of the exhibits and the National Park Service will pay for the architectural improvements to the space.


The association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation entered into a 30-year co-stewardship agreement whereby the association will operate and maintain the historic Decatur House property. The site will serve as the home for the newly established National Center for White House History. The center focuses on research related to White House history, offers programming to children in grades K-12, and hosts events, such as lecture programs, that explore both White House history and the surrounding area of historic Lafayette Square.