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Rubenstein Center Scholarship

Inside the Working White House: Early 19th Century

Diaries, memoirs, and other historical records served as the basis for this speculative glimpse of an ordinary day for domestic servants in the Jefferson White House.

"The third of April 1807 dawned chilly, and the steward, Étienne Lemaire, would have been up early to start the footmen laying fires in the hearths. The footmen were soon to get on with the dusting, tidying, and silver polishing, and at least one would change into a livery uniform and greet visitors at the door. While other servants fed the chickens in the yard, readied the bed and table linens, or cleaned the privies, Lemaire and Honoré Julien prepared the menu for the four o’clock evening meal: a quarter of bear, a French-style partridge-and-sausage specialty, a custard dessert, and European wines served with fruits, nuts, and olives.

In the small dining room, uniformed footmen waited on the president’s table, discreetly withdrawing after delivering each course. Enjoying after-dinner coffee and tea with his guests in the oval drawing room, the president could summon a servant from the cellar with the ring of a bell. The staff meanwhile was in the process of washing dishes and putting away linens and cutlery, with Lemaire ensuring that all was in order and the house secure."1