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The 2025 National History Day (NHD) theme is Rights and Responsibilities. The White House Historical Association offers a variety of resources to assist students working on NHD projects.

This black-and-white photograph, taken by Cecil Stoughton on March 11, 1965, shows twelve young protesters staging a sit-in demonstration in the East Garden Room of the White House. The demonstrators were protesting on behalf of civil rights for African Americans, following violence by law enforcement officers on nonviolent demonstrators in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

Project Starters

Trying to decide on a topic? Check out a few White House history topic ideas!

  • Native Americans and the White House: Indigenous peoples, including the Nacotchtank and Piscataway, lived in the Potomac region for thousands of years before construction of the White House began in 1792. As the United States expanded westward throughout the 1800s, thousands of Native Americans were forced from their ancestral lands. Presidents played a significant role in the two centuries of harmful federal policies that disregarded Indigenous treaties and led to violence, displacement, and forced relocation. For over two hundred years, Native Americans have come to the White House to meet with presidents, share their cultural heritage, and advocate for Indigenous rights.
  • Slavery, Freedom, and the White House: While the White House is known as a symbol of democracy, it also represents America’s history of slavery. Enslaved people were involved in every aspect of White House construction—they produced bricks, quarried stone, cut timber, assembled the building’s walls and roofs, and more. From the beginning of White House construction in 1792 until the Compensated Emancipation Act took effect in Washington, D.C. in 1862, at least nine presidents relied on enslaved labor in the White House. After the Civil War, the struggle for equal rights seemed to progress with the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. The emergence of racist Jim Crow laws and the landmark 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which legalized segregation and gave rise to the phrase “separate but equal,” further solidified racism and inequality in America’s laws. Although the struggle to end slavery was over, the fight for freedom and equality under the law had only just begun.
  • Activism and Advocacy at the White House: The White House and Lafayette Park, the public park located north of the White House, have long served as stages for people to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly. Generations of activists have gathered to advocate for various causes including women’s suffrage, civil rights, voting rights, and peace. Protests and demonstrations at the White House and in Lafayette Park have influenced government action and legislation—the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, for example—and invoke our own civic responsibility.
  • The President as Chief Diplomat: The President of the United States has many roles and responsibilities including serving as the nation’s Chief Diplomat. As Chief Diplomat, the president manages relationships with other countries by negotiating with foreign leaders, hosting heads of state at the White House, and executing their own foreign policy agendas and goals. There are many moments in history to choose from in which the White House served as a site for diplomacy.
  • First Ladies:  While the Constitution provides guidance for the roles and responsibilities of the president, it does not do the same for those of the first lady. Through the leadership of many women, the role of first lady has evolved into the influential position it is today. Early first ladies played significant roles in helping the president navigate Washington, D.C.’s complex social and political scene. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the role of president’s spouse into the modern first lady. She held all women press conferences, promoted her husband’s New Deal policies, and expressed her own political opinions in her daily newspaper column, “My Day.” Modern first ladies make the position their own and often champion causes they are passionate about. First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy devoted her time to making the White House a museum of American history and decorative arts. First Lady Betty Ford was an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s health. First Lady Rosalynn Carter helped formally establish the Office of the First Lady. First Ladies Barbara Bush and Laura Bush promoted literacy education while First Lady Michelle Obama lead initiatives for youth health.


There are several NHD topics to research with connections to White House history. Use our online resources to help choose and further research your topic!

  • Classroom Resource Packets: Ready-to-use materials covering more than 30 topics.
    • Diplomacy and the White House
    • Protest at the White House
    • Roles of the President
    • Roles of the First Lady
    • Slavery, Freedom, and the White House
    • War and the White House
    • Western Expansion and the White House
  • Video Resources: Short and compelling visual narratives of White House history.
    • Building the White House
    • Burning the White House
    • Elizabeth Keckly: From Slavery to the White House
    • The Enslaved Household of Thomas Jefferson
    • First Ladies
    • Protest at the White House
    • The White House State Dinner
  • Collections: Topic-based compilations of articles, images, and more.
    • American Under Fire
    • Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day”
    • Native Americans and the White House
    • Protest at the People’s House
    • State Dinners
    • The Hospitality of Diplomacy
    • Women and the White House
  • Digital Library: The White House Historical Association’s online archive featuring thousands of primary source images spanning various presidential administrations. Create a free account and explore!

White House History Prizes

The White House Historical Association is proud to sponsor prizes at the National Contest as well as the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia affiliate contests.

The White House history prize is given to an outstanding project, in both the junior and senior divisions, that documents and analyzes White House history through the lens of individual presidents, first ladies, residence staff, White House art and architecture, or important events that took place in the White House. We encourage students to consider lesser-known and even untold stories in White House history.

The winners can be in any category and come from either a group or individual project.

Explore a few of the winning projects from the 2024 theme “Turning Points in History”:

Maryland Contest

  • Junior Division: “Silent Sentinels: The Turning Point for Women’s Suffrage” by Madisyn, Charles County, MD
  • Senior Division: “Behind Closed Doors: The Watergate Scandal and Aftermath” by Kai and Ryan, Baltimore County, MD

Virginia Contest

  • Elementary Division: “Cuban Missile Crisis” by Eliza, Lynchburg, VA
  • Junior Division: “Gays In Government” by Jillian, Albemarle County, VA
  • Senior Division: “Modern Dance and Martha Graham: How One Woman Revolutionized Dance” by Batia, York County, VA

National Contest White House History Prize Winners

  • Junior Division: “The Unconventional Hostess: Eleanor Roosevelt Transforming the Role of First Lady” by Adrian and Thanvi, Chandler, AZ
  • Senior Division: “An Immense Responsibility: How Harry S. Truman's Steadfast Beliefs Led to a Global Turning Point” by Lydia, Brookline, MO

Assistant Director of Teacher Education Ken O’Regan with the 2024 White House History Prize winners.

2024 Paper Showcase

During the 2024 National Contest, the White House Historical Association hosted a showcase of student papers on topics related to the presidency and/or the White House.

Explore the showcase here!