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White House Kitchen, c. 1890. A great kitchen in the basement story was at the heart of the servant and workspaces of the White House throughout the 19th century.

The African American staff, and other servants, who lived at the President’s House, most often had rooms in the basement. Open at ground level on the south, the basement (referred to as the ground floor today) had windows on the north facing a deep areaway that was entirely hidden from view. Visitors on the public tour of the White House walk through the long cross-hall of this space with rooms opening to the sides. Today the rooms are used as a Library, China Room, offices, and the formal oval Diplomatic Reception Room. However, this vaulted corridor once accessed a great kitchen 40 feet long with large fireplaces at each end, a family kitchen, an oval servants hall, the steward’s quarters, storage and work rooms, and the servants’ bedrooms. An inventory for the year 1826, during John Quincy Adams’ administration, records the typical furniture used by servants in the first half of the 19th century. For example, the cook slept on a cot, and had a pine wardrobe and a pine table; other servants’ rooms were similar, with cots and mattresses and "low post" bedsteads, blankets, and sheets; sometimes they had benches, chairs, and tables. Often the furniture was described as "worn out" or "in want of repair."

Footnotes & Resources

Read more: William Seale, The President’s House, White House Historical Association, 1986; William Seale, "Upstairs and Downstairs: The 19th-Century White House," American Visions, February-March, 1995, 16-20.

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