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Smithsonian Festival Honors White House Workers

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Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the White House, the Festival of American Folklife featured a program entitled "Workers at the White House" on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Between June 25 and July 5, 1992, more than thirty former White House employees participated in small panel discussions, and took questions from delighted audiences of Festival visitors.

The group's chain of living memory extended as far back as 1909. Contributing stories about their White House experiences were plumbers, maids, chefs, butlers, ushers, and doormen, as well as calligraphers, stonecarvers, and police officers on the White House beat. Panelists recounted amusing anecdotes about the presidential families, and about world leaders such as Winston Churchill; and they recalled serious matters such as racial discrimination in the White House, and the making of blackout curtains during World War II.

"Workers at the White House" grew into a traveling exhibition, circulated by the Smithsonian Institution during 1993. It also resulted in a video, and an illustrated booklet. Marjorie A. Hunt, who coordinated these efforts, summarized their theme as an examination of "the relationship between occupational culture and place, [and] the distinctive ways in which the White House, as a unique occupational setting, shapes work experience."1

Former White House workers gather on stage at the 1992 Folklife Festival.

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution