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The Working White House: First Family

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In the day-to-day life of the White House, interactions between the first family and the residence staff have varied widely. Theodore Roosevelt’s children counted on valet James Amos to umpire their baseball games. Lynda and Luci Johnson baked cookies in the White House kitchen. Mamie Eisenhower invited workers and their children to the Eisenhower farm in Pennsylvania; and many presidents and first ladies have hosted holiday parties for staff families. Whereas the Hoovers preferred that workers not use the elevator, Franklin Delano Roosevelt invited Lillian Rogers Parks, also a polio victim, to ride with him in the lift.

Staff memoirs are rich in detail about the atmosphere of the White House as a home and a workplace. Memoirs themselves symbolize relationships between their authors and the First Family. Dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly became the confidante of Mary Lincoln, who broke off the friendship when she discovered her letters included in Keckly’s 1868 reminiscences. Yet Eleanor Roosevelt actively urged Maggie Rogers to publish her White House memories; Harry Truman did the same for maître d’ Alonzo Fields. Conversely, Jacqueline Kennedy requested that staff refrain from publishing books about their White House years.

Over the years, workers have preserved written accounts, as well as photographs, invitations, notes of encouragement and appreciation, gifts, and mementos from presidents and first ladies. These documents and artifacts reflect the affinity between employer and employee.