Friday, May 27, 2016

White House Mistress Etiquette

Woodrow Wilson had two wives while in the White House, one of whom died in 1914. Up until the later 1800s, the wife of  U.S. President was not the “First Lady.” The wife of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court ruled over Washington society, as her husband had his job for life, as opposed to the job of U.S. President, which is a temporary position.

Before They Were Called First Ladies, They Were the
Mistresses of the White House

Not only has Woodrow Wilson been elected President of the United States, but, what is fully as important in the estimation of multitudes of Americans, Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, and Miss Margaret Wilson, Miss Jessie Wilson and Miss Eleanor Wilson will move into the White House next March. The place of the ladies of the White House has been kept before the country almost as prominently through all these years as has that of the President himself. 

Eternally questions of precedence and etiquette have come forward. The public has wanted to know all about the daily life and the domestic doings of the Presidential family, the housekeeping woes of the mistress of the mansion and her behavior at the official receptions; the tastes and habits of all the feminine members of the family, and withal there have been at times little tales of boudoir plots and parlor intrigues, although the history of the United States has very little of the backstairs kind of gossip that has played a large part in the histories of the nations of Europe. 

Abigail Adams, First Mistress

The wife of the first President did not live in the White House, of course. Abigail Adams of Quincy, Mass., was the first mistress of the mansion, although in her time it was a mansion in the making, and the finishing seemed to her very far away indeed. It was she who used the "great, unfinished audience room" as a place in which to dry the family wash. 

Dolly Madison was almost as much mistress of the mansion in Jefferson's time as in that of his successor, her husband, and it was she who saved the one piece of the original furnishings which is this day in the Presidential residence. When the British burned the house in 1814 the redoubtable Dolly managed to carry away the portrait of Washington which hangs now over the mantel in the Red Room. 

It has taken a long time for the mansion to approach completion, and no sooner was it finished than it was destroyed by the ruthless hands of the English soldiery. The building which succeeded the first residence was a faithful reproduction in forms and dimensions of the plans drawn by the original architect, Maj. Hoban. The very foundations and part of the outside walls are relics of the building which went in fire in 1814. 

Mansion Is Now Complete 

Then in 1902 there was begun the White House improvements which have resulted in the mansion of today becoming almost precisely what the President's house was intended to be by those who made the original plans for it. It was necessary to relieve the residence of the necessity of being headquarters for the business of the executive. An office annex was built and thus the disfiguring additions to the mansion could be taken away. 

The original plans were studied for the restoration of the residence itself, and the buildings of the University of Virginia, planned by Jefferson, were investigated. A dining room was provided in which 100 guests might be entertained. Space for the comfortable housing of such a family as that of Woodrow Wilson was secured. And finally, In 1912, the office building has been enlarged and reconstructed, so that the new president will have such family accommodations as many of his predecessors sighed for in vain. 

The story of the successive White House families has much of picturesque variety. Not always has the mistress been the wife of the President. Buchanan was a bachelor; he had been disappointed in love as a young man. Jefferson, Jackson, Van Buren and Arthur were widowers. Grover Cleveland alone of the line was married in the mansion. 

Tyler lost his wife while in office, and married again, but the ceremony took place in New York. Benjamin Harrison's wife died while he was in the Presidential chair. Mrs. McKinley was an invalid, as was the first Mrs. Tyler. Andrew Jackson had a battle that cost him more sleep probably than did the battle of New Orleans, a battle over the social recognition of a certain lady while he was living in the Presidential home. 

The Pierces lost a son by a sad accident, and the calamity threw a shadow over most of their four years in the residence. And each of the two last Presidents has had a daughter to take her place as the First Young Lady of the Land, and now the new President has not only one, but three.  — The Sausalito News, 1913

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

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