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Rubenstein Center Scholarship

Speeches in the White House

President Ronald Reagan addresses the country about the economy from the Oval Office on February 5, 1981.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

When the president gives an address, not only does what the president say matter, but also where. Given the iconic nature of the White House, the president uses certain rooms to demonstrate the nature of the speech. Two of the most popular locations for president speeches and addresses are the Oval Office and the East Room.

The Oval Office serves as the president’s office. The room symbolizes the power and responsibility of the presidency. Oftentimes the president speaks to the nation from this room on issues of national importance, perhaps most notably on October 22, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy spoke directly to the American public during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This elegant and awe-inspiring oval room was first created in 1909 during the administration of President William Howard Taft. In 1934, the room was relocated from the center of the West Wing to the east side, near the present day Rose Garden and West Colonnade and in closer physical and symbolic proximity to the White House. In addition, the oval shape of the president’s office, inspired by the oval rooms of the White House, evokes the historic spaces in which the president has operated since the early days of the White House.

President Kennedy speaks in the East Room on March 13, 1961, at a reception for the Latin American Diplomatic Corps.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

While it is customary for presidents to address the American public from behind their desk in the Oval Office, presidents will occasionally stand while addressing the nation in the Oval Office. Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower frequently used various tabletop lecterns on top of their desk during their Oval Office addresses. President John F. Kennedy also used a table top lectern atop the Resolute Desk. For example, President Kennedy stood from a lectern in the Oval Office during an August 13, 1962, address on the state of the national economy. President Ronald Reagan occasionally used charts and graphics supported on stands nearby his desk, as he did during a July 1981 address explaining tax reduction legislation and a March 1983 address on the Strategic Defense Initiative. President George W. Bush announced the nomination of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts (September 5) and Harriet Miers (October 3) in 2005 from podiums positioned in front of the Resolute desk. These examples all demonstrate the president’s ability to convey the Oval Office as a working space as well as the president’s ability to handle situations of national importance by using authoritative tools such as lecterns, podiums, and graphics.

In the era of prime-time televised news conferences, the East Room has provided a location where the president could speak to a massed audience from inside the White House. For example, on July 2, 1964 from the East Room, President Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed the nation prior to signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Given its location adjacent to the Cross Hall, the East Room also provides space for a symbolic and powerful entrance by the president. For more routine press conferences, the Press Room in the West Wing provides an opportunity for the president and White House staff to talk to the press in the working space of the West Wing.

For more informal interviews, the president and first lady frequently use smaller White House rooms such as the Vermeil, Roosevelt, and Green Rooms.

President Lyndon B. Johnson addresses the nation on March 31, 1968, announcing a bombing halt in Vietnam and his intention not to run for re-election.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library/NARA