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The Working White House: Continuity and Connection

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When a new president moves in, he and his family bring along their own tastes, preferences, and customs. The new family’s ways are often quite different from those of the previous occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even time-honored White House festivities such as the Pageant of Peace and the Easter Egg Roll have been adapted to reflect the First Family’s entertainment style.

The transition to a new administration requires White House workers to help the new First Family understand how the household has previously functioned, while also adapting to the incoming family’s style and traditions. During the more than 200-year history of the White House, workers have seen many traditions set aside, and new ones established. Butlers, maids, plumbers, electricians, chefs, and doormen have provided the continuity necessary for a smooth transition.

When a new president goes in there, he doesn’t know his way around, and he’s watching you. And you must assure him—you must assure him by body language—that you have no interest other than in him, in the presidency. You don’t care who’s president—you’re working for the public. You’re a servant to the public, just like he is.

Alonzo Fields, chief butler and maître d’, 1931-53