Thursday, February 1, 2018

Punctilious White House Etiquette

Washington D.C.’s social etiquette was changed greatly during the first Roosevelt administration. A social secretary for the President’s wife came just in time to help out. Isabella Hagner had worked as a social secretary for several women, and among them was Anna Roosevelt Cowles, President Theodore Roosevelt's sister. She was later employed by Mrs.Theodore Roosevelt as the first salaried White House social secretary. 

How the White House Changed Under Theodore Roosevelt 

Under the name of “An Old Resident,” a correspondent of the New York Herald writes extensively of what he declares to be the prevalence of “manners and customs of Courts in favor at the White House.” His statements are in part as follows: 
It is the talk of the clubs in Washington that there is a marked “inching up” toward the manners and customs of Royal Courts at the White House. It is the gossip of the kettledrums that they are at last learning how to do things properly in America. The women buzz over it with delight. They think the more formal a thing is and the more showy its accompaniments, the more desirable it is that it should mark the goings on in the home of the head of the government. And some of them unconsciously speak of him as the “Ruler.” As a matter of fact, the social doings at the White House now, and especially since the verdict of last November, differ in a widely marked degree from anything ever known. 
There is something in the formal etiquette, of the increased gold braid, which hints at a Court rather than the home of the American President. The most remarkable innovation in the White House ceremonies is that of having a constantly increasing number of army and navy officers in attendance. This has been a custom of slow growth. Former Presidents adopted it and then abandoned it, as the custom suited them, and then adopted it again. But it has now increased into proportions so great as to cause widespread comment.  
When Captain Cowles, a brother-in-law of the President, was the President’s aid at the White House he instituted the rule of having everybody arise when the President entered the room and remain standing until the President was seated. On one occasion, at a musicale or tea, he endeavored to put this into effect. Many of the women openly rebelled, and Captain Cowles had to desist in his efforts to have that deference shown to the President. They have adopted a punctiliousness without precedent at the White House under President Roosevelt. 
On state occasions army officers march ahead of the President and lead the way into the dining room. At the table all the guests remain standing until the President is seated. In leaving the table, all guests rise and remain in their places until the President has taken his departure. The President is invariably seated first. This is true not only of state dinners but of private dinners, informal luncheons and family dinners. Not even Mrs. Roosevelt is served first. The rules of the White House in connection with receptions will undoubtedly be more strictly enforced this year than ever. Those governing reporters are very strict. They are required to stand in a given place, and it must be confessed that they are at a disadvantage.
One of the reporters last winter, Miss Margaret Wade, of the Washington Post, declined to stand where she had been told to because her work was interfered with by other women spectators, who were not practicing the newspaper vocation. For this, she was excluded from the White House and has not been there since, nor would she be admitted if she applied. A singular complication now arises from the fact that Miss Made has been appointed social secretary to Mrs. Fairbanks, wife of the Vice-President. 
The custom is being recognized more and more of regarding an invitation or a summons of any kind to the White House as a command. This, of course, is borrowed from Royalty. President McKinley invited Senator Platt, of New York, to the White House near the end of his first term to meet a distinguished company at dinner. Senator Platt did not go. When he was asked why, he pleaded that he had a previous engagement. But so far as known, no person since Mr. Roosevelt has been President, has pleaded any reason other than illness for declining an invitation to dinner or luncheon, and, indeed, there is little doubt that if a plea of a previous engagement were made now the President would resent it. Even the French Ambassador had to call off a dinner on one day's notice because he had been bidden to the White House. – Press Democrat, 1905

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia