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White House History

From the beginning, each President and his family have created a highly individual home within the Executive Mansion by furnishing and embellishing it in their own taste. Dolley Madison expressed her warm and vibrant personality in decorating the Presidential quarters with bright yellow draperies and upholstery. Sedate and proper Lucy Hayes had her bedroom walls tinted pale blue, with panels of light gray and pink.

Abigail Fillmore, a one-time schoolteacher who had met her husband-to-be when they attended school together, obtained Congressional funds for the first official library in the Executive Mansion. With a dictionary, histories, sets of Dickens, Thackeray, and other works, she filled the bookshelves installed in the upstairs sitting room. There, she and President Fillmore spent many quiet evenings reading and chatting, while their daughter, Mary Abigail, played the piano or harp.

Equally revealing possessions have moved in and out of the White House with each successive family. With the Tafts, for instance, came the President's many lawbooks, recalling his long and distinguished legal career capped eventually by his appointment as Chief Justice of the United States.

The erudite Hoovers brought many mementos from their world travels. South American rugs, Oriental art, caged songbirds--and books in various languages, including their own translations from Latin of an important 16th-century volume on mining. All of which helped Lou Hoover transform the broad, bare hall on the second floor into an inviting reception area for guests.

To the White House from Hyde Park, New York, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt shipped some of their sturdy handcrafted furniture and a wheelchair that would carry the President along the family corridor.

During the Trumans' time, the second floor held three pianos--appropriate symbols of the close harmony that characterized the family from Independence, Missouri. One piano stood in the oval room that was then the President's study; Margaret practiced on another in her sitting room, where she also kept her record collection, while a third--a spinet in the hall--was often used for duets.

A few years later, when friends of President Eisenhower visited him in the upstairs oval room, which he, too, used as a study, they found displayed there a fascinating array of military and civilian awards, decorations, swords, and other gifts presented by world leaders. In his book The White House Years, the President wrote that he received visitors in the study "informally in the evening, whenever a somewhat homier atmosphere than could be obtained in my office was desirable."

After the Eisenhowers and the President's prized souvenirs went their separate ways, the changing scenes on the family floor continued to mirror, in colors and furnishings, tastes and activities of each new group of White House occupants.

Picture of old Julie and David  Eisenhower Mrs. Eisenhower's feminine and frilly decor, with its "Mamie pink" accents in flowered slipcovers and draperies, gave way to Mrs. Kennedy's light-blue curtains and blue-and-white furnishings that showed to advantage against plain off-white walls in the private bedroom and sitting-room areas. American period pieces, French antiques, and valuable art objects began to appear in various places: the sitting halls that share the wide corridor; the Queens' and Lincoln Bedrooms, where visiting royalty had slept; and what was called the Treaty Room, then decorated in Victorian style. They gave visible evidence of Jacqueline Kennedy's program to restore the White House furnishings that awaken a feeling of the historical past.

The Yellow Oval Room on the second floor has had the same color and Louis XVI furnishings, and has served the same functions, for the last seven administrations. Mrs. Kennedy turned this room into a formal drawing room, and it has proved to be the most suitable place in the house to entertain state guests before dinners or luncheons given in their honor.

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Past First Families

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Family Life at the White House