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May 31, 2019 Washington, D.C.

The White House Historical Association’s (WHHA) new episode of The 1600 Sessions podcast, “Life on Lafayette Square,” features a conversation with noted historian and author William Seale, who has written about White House history for more than 40 years. Host Stewart McLaurin, President of WHHA, interviews Seale about his new book, To Live on Lafayette Square: Society and Politics in the President's Neighborhood, which is published by the association.

Watch a preview of this episode here.

In this episode, Seale reveals fascinating stories about the historical figures who lived on the iconic public park and the significant buildings that once stood just north of the White House. Lafayette Square residents included diplomats, naval heroes, a future President and a former First Lady – including President Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison.

“[President James] Madison was worried about the future of agriculture in Virginia, and people were moving out of Virginia faster than they were coming in. He purchased, from his brother-in-law, a house on the Square, on the east side of the Square, and had it as a rental. As time went by, the economy did tumble for them. And [Dolley Madison] moved into Lafayette Square, into this house across the street from St. John's Church, and she lived there the rest of her life,” explained Seale.

Seale says Lafayette Square was a center of political power in Washington, D.C. – and was the site of a scandalous murder. The trial that followed resulted in the first time that the judicial approach of temporary insanity was successful in an American court.

Changes to the Square began in the twentieth century. Historic buildings began transitioning to commercial and government use, and plans were made to ultimately demolish several structures. In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy prevailed with a plan to preserve the now historic homes of Lafayette Square.

“President Kennedy never lived to see it materialize. Mrs. Kennedy did, but it was Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard M. Nixon who made it happen. They didn't interfere with it. They wanted it done exactly as [architect, John Carl] Warnecke had designed, and that's the Lafayette Park we have today,” Seale said.

Seale has served as editor of the White House Historical Association’s White House History Quarterly since 1983.

The 1600 Sessions

In this podcast series, White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin interviews luminaries, historians, and eyewitnesses to history about America’s most famous residence and office—the White House. Each episode includes a prominent guest or guests to discuss varying facets of White House history, including insights from former staff and many other topical issues.

The 1600 Sessions is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. To hear the full episode, visit

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About the white house historical association

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $50 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.

To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit

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