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White House History
Picture of Frances ClevelandIn spite of all the aids, comforts, and privileges that come to a President and his family, homemaking in a house that is also a national monument has its drawbacks. When President Coolidge arrived at the White House in 1923, he tried to continue his pleasant after-dinner habit of sitting on his front porch--the great North Portico--and watching the people go by on Pennsylvania Avenue. So many pedestrians stopped to stare at him, however, that he gave up his modest form of relaxation. President Coolidge, too, once invited a Missouri Senator friend to accompany him on an evening walk outside the grounds. As they returned to the mansion, the Senator remarked facetiously, "I wonder who lives there." "Nobody," replied the President. "They just come and go."

Though Chief Executives have moved in and out with regularity, the White House has always been a place of extremely personal living. Indeed, the attention commanded by the Presidency intensifies and exaggerates the normal joys and sorrows of everyday family experience, the high moments of birth and death that are part of life here as in any other home. One of the most endearing aspects of life at the Executive Mansion can be glimpsed from the hundreds of stories that have come down through the years about the many children who have lived there.

The very young ones were usually grandchildren, since few men have reached the top rung of the political ladder in their early years. And the first of all children whose shouts and laughter echoed through the mansion was 4-year-old granddaughter of John and Abigail Adams. Jefferson's eight years in the presidency were cheered and brightened by the many visits of his married daughters, Martha Randolph and Maria Eppes. On one of the visits, in the winter of 1805, Mrs. Randolph gave birth to her eighth child--James Madison Randolph--the first baby born in the Executive Mansion. Picture of President Wilson

The most photographed Presidential grandchild of the 19th century must have been "Baby McKee," who lived in the White House with grandfather Benjamin Harrison and his four-generation family during the early 1890's. Little Benjamin was often photographed as he drove his own goat cart about the grounds. The goat once ran away with Baby McKee. As the goat darted off with the boy and raced down the White House driveway onto Pennsylvania Avenue, the portly President himself, dressed in top hat and frock coat, followed in hot pursuit.

President Lincoln and Mary Lincoln were loving and indulgent parents who often said, "Let the children have a good time." This the children did, and the President's friends and colleagues quite probably felt at times he was too permissive when he failed to punish Tad for bombarding the door with his toy cannon during a Cabinet meeting, or when the boy stopped his father's callers to sell refreshments and wheedle money for war charities at stands he set up at the mansion.

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Past First Families

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Family Life at the White House