The Easter Egg Roll is one of the oldest annual events in White House history. Beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all walks of life celebrated the Monday after Easter on the West Grounds of the U.S. Capitol. In 1876, however, Congress restricted public use of the Capitol due to concerns about damaging the landscape, prohibiting future egg rolling on its grounds. The new edict went unchallenged in 1877 since rain cancelled all the activities that day. In 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes decided to open the White House South Lawn to egg rollers, as it had previously been reserved for the First Family’s private Easter activities. From that moment on, a new tradition was born.
As the attraction of the event grew, a rule was put in place to limit the number of people allowed on the South Lawn. The rule stated that a "grown person would be admitted only when accompanied by a child" and vice versa. As a result, unescorted egg rollers and childless adults began teaming up at random so that each could gain admittance. Enterprising children even charged a fee for parading a series of unrelated "grown persons" past the White House security guards. The situation grew so scandalous that on Easter Monday 1939, the Evening Star reported that Secret Service men were stationed at the White House gates to "break up the kids' rackets."
Since the start of the Easter Egg Roll, the role of the First Family has varied:
- President Benjamin Harrison gave his grandson limited exposure to the crowds and the Clevelands kept their daughters inside and away from the rollers.
- Grover Cleveland hosted an audience of children for both his terms in office. In 1885, children with baskets of brightly dyed hard-boiled eggs were reported by The Washington Post to haves ruined the East Room carpet with broken egg shells and smashed hard boiled eggs.
- Theodore Roosevelt’s family watched from the portico, while Edith Wilson invited family friends and cabinet members to join in the Egg Roll, and two Hoover grandchildren spoke from the bandstand for news crews in 1931.
The presence of animals have also been a reoccurring theme at the annual Egg Roll. Many first pets have attended the event over the years, including: Warren G. Harding’s Airedale Terrier, “Laddie Boy,” and Grace Coolidge’s raccoon, “Rebecca.” Naturally, bunnies are also an important presence every year—both live and costumed.
Though no president wants to be known for cancelling the event, periods of war and food rationing have caused disruptions for the annual tradition. World War I stopped the event from being hosted at the White House. During 1946 and 1947, President Harry Truman did not host an egg roll due to food conservation efforts. From 1948 through 1952, Truman’s renovation of the White House made the South Lawn a construction zone. President Dwight D. Eisenhower revived the tradition after a twelve-year hiatus, but a string of his successors could not be at the White House on Easter Monday to greet their egg roll visitors. President Gerald R. Ford reinstated the presidential appearance in 1976—the first since Eisenhower had acted as host in 1960.
See a timeline of Easter Egg Roll’s rich history and photos from past White House Easter Egg Rolls.
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