By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Author, Activity Professional
Valley Press Books

Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State.  She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of

Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care.  She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials.  Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
To Order Books by Marge Knoth
The White House
by Marge Knoth

Sometimes our residents’ world gets small.  They feel the walls are closing in on
them.  They are restless and don’t know why.  But being an activity professional, you
spot the problem quickly.  They need to get out, away from the facility, have a vacation,
see some new sights, expand their horizons.  But you know that that  is impossible.  If
you work in a skilled nursing facility or an assisted living facility,  perhaps many are not
physically able to leave the facility.  So what do you do?  You bring the sights to them.  
You take them on an armchair vacation.  And what better place to begin than in our
nation’s capital, at the most important home in our nation, the White House.

George Washington called it the President’s House.  Others called it the Executive
Mansion and  the President’s Palace.  Finally Theodore Roosevelt, in 1901, dubbed it
the White House.  It was a big place even then.  Thomas Jefferson described the White
House as “big enough for two emperors, one pope, and the Grand Lama”.

It was none other than George Washington who selected the site that is now 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue.  Both Maryland and Virginia gave up some land to establish the
new capital named for that first President.  Today it is called Washington, D.C. but back
then, it was Washington City.  During the building of the new city, the government of the
United States, according to a decree signed by George Washington, would be
transferred to a district “not exceeding ten miles square, to be located on the river,

Since declaring independence from England in 1776,  the new republic had never had
a central seat of government.  Each of the 13 original colonies had their own capitals
from 1776 to 1789  as the Continental Congress had ruled from the nation’s founding.  
Then the new government under our present constitution began. That first congress
had met in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  In 1784, George Washington was
governing from New York City.  Even though Washington planned the nation’s capital
and oversaw the building of   the White House, he never lived in it.  John Adams was the
first President to occupy the President’s House, and that was  just three months prior to
his leaving office.  On his second night in the unfinished mansion he wrote a letter to
his wife, Abigail, and included a prayer that he wrote for the new residence, a prayer that
Franklin Roosevelt later had carved on the mantle of the State Dining Room fireplace:

“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter
inhabit it.  May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.”

Once it had been decided to build the Executive Mansion, a contest was held to locate a
drawing of what it would look like.  Nine entries were received.  James Hoban, an Irish
architect from South Carolina won and eventually built the White House.  One
anonymous submission was received, signed merely “A-Z”.  It was later determined
that Thomas Jefferson submitted it.

That first Executive Mansion did not look exactly like today’s White House.  It evolved
over the years with many remodelings and new additions.  During the War of 1812 it
was set on fire by British troops and nearly destroyed.  With little fire-fighting equipment
there was not much that could be done to stop it.  As the flames raged out of control,
almost miraculously, a violent thunderstorm broke out on the night of August 24, 1814
and quenched the flames.  Those same outer walls stand today.  Once again, in 1929,
during the presidency of Herbert Hoover, another fire broke out.  It was in the attic of the
Executive West Wing.  President Hoover was forced to vacate the White House while
renovation took place.  

In 1902 Theodore Roosevelt achieved what several former Presidents had not been
able to do–get  approval and funds to enlarge and renovate the White House.  The new
West Office Wing not only provided needed office space, but it allowed for the expansion
of the President’s private living quarters.  The President’s Oval Office, which today faces
the Rose Garden, was added in 1909.  And when the roof was rebuilt after the fire, a
third floor was added in what was the old attic.  The East Wing was built in 1942.  
During the presidency of Harry Truman, between 1948 and 1952, much renovation took
place.  The house was literally gutted with the interior of the mansion removed.  Each
piece of the removed old wall paneling and other details were tagged, numbered, and
stored.  A new basement was dug under the White House and much steel framework
was erected inside the original stone walls to replace the original supporting timbers.  
Finally, the old paneling and decorative features were re-installed.  Some of the ground
floor rooms were paneled with timbers taken from the original construction.  What is
today the ground floor was once the basement.

If  your residents were to visit the White House today they would find a full 132 rooms
and 32 bathrooms.  They would see six different levels, seven staircases, three
elevators, and 28 fireplaces, fireplaces that in John and Abigail Adams time had to be
kept fired to keep the house even relatively warm.  They would see 412 doors and 147
windows.  If it were to be painted, 570 gallons of paint would be required to cover it.  The
Rose Garden would be a coveted spot for visitors.  The garden, which was first planned
by our second President, John Adams, became a “rose” garden under Mrs. Woodrow
Wilson’s guidance in 1913.  Due to renovations to the mansion, the garden has been
re-arranged a few times but it remained pretty much the same until the 1960s when
President Kennedy had it redesigned to make more room for public groups on the
grounds.  In some of the garden, close-cropped hedges form rectangles, and inside
each of those rectangles is a flowering crabapple tree.  Around those are the planting
beds where you will in the spring  find crocus, narcissus, and other flowers.  Then
comes roses, pansies, daisies, geraniums, and columbines.  Fall brings
chrysanthemums, salvia, and heliotrope.  The East Garden, renamed the Jacqueline
Kennedy Garden, is used for entertaining purposes by the First Lady.

The State Dining Room can lavishly seat 140 guests with matching tables, chairs, and
china.  Hors d’oeuvres can be served to more than 1000 people.  To accomplish this
feat, the Executive Mansion employees five full-time chefs.  Other rooms include the
Yellow Room, the Green Room, the Red Room, and the Lincoln Room which is a place
for male dignitaries to meet.  The Blue Room came about when President Van Buren in
1837, re-upholstered the Monroe furniture in blue satin.  The Queen’s Bedroom, also
known as the Rose Guest Room has housed Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, Queen
Wilhelmina, and Juliana of the Netherlands, Queen Frederika of Greece, and Queen
Elizabeth II of Great Britain.  The canopy bed in the room is said to have belonged to
Andrew Jackson.  The Empire Guest Room on the third floor includes a sleigh bed
believed to be John Quincey Adam’s. The Treaty  Room,  chosen by Andrew Johnson
for his Cabinet Room, is adorned in dark green walls with white paneling, green
carpeting, and green upholstered chairs.  Long velvet maroon drapes adorn the
windows.  And, of course, the China Room displays dishes used by the various
Presidents.  Mrs. Benjamin Harrison started the collection, and the practice continues

The renowned Lincoln Bedroom wasn’t Lincoln’s bedroom at all.  Rather it was his
Cabinet Room from which he, in 1863,  signed the Emancipation Proclamation which
ended slavery forever for four-million people.  During Lincoln’s presidency, the second
floor of the east end of the White House contained all the public offices, waiting areas,
and conference chambers.  The President lived on the west side of the same floor.  
This made the house a noisy place to live and work.

George Washington opened his presidential dwelling to the public, receiving callers on
the first day of every year.  He also held weekly gatherings.  The new year welcoming of
guests continued through many presidencies.  Thomas Jefferson started opening the
White House lawn to visitors on the nation’s birthday, July 4th.  Crowds would often
follow Presidents home from their inauguration to celebrate at the White House with
them.  Today the White House receives 6000 visitors a day.

A Fun House
The White House may appear a big stuffy bureaucratic building to some, but many
families have called it home.  When fun-loving Theodore Roosevelt moved his six lively
children in, there were wrestling matches, roller skating, and pony rides in the formal
East Room.  President Garfield’s sons, ages 9 and 11,  rode cumbersome velocipedes
(giant-wheeled tricycles) in the East Room, while having pillow fights.  Tad and Willie
Lincoln rummaged in the attic and dressed up in the old clothes found there.  Abe
Lincoln liked to wrestle with his boys.  John-John Kennedy played under his father’s
desk which he called “my house”.  Eleanor Roosevelt had slides, swings, and sand
boxes built on the South Lawn for her grandchildren.  Every Easter, starting with the
Hayes administration, the White House used to host an egg roll for youngsters on the
South Lawn. President Reagan again held an egg roll, and 30,000 children and their
parents or guardians turned out for it.  President Carter held large picnics on the South

Many Presidents and their children had favorite pets.  Residents will no doubt
remember Franklin Roosevelt’s dog, Fala and how the President often referred to him
in his “fireside chats”.  He would say, “I hate war, Eleanor hates war, and Fala hates
war.”  The Lincoln children had dogs, ponies, and goats.  Tad Lincoln even made a pet
of a turkey given for the family’s Christmas dinner.  When the kitchen tried to get it to
cook, Tad ran to his President father, Abe, who interrupted a cabinet meeting and wrote
an official pardon.  Caroline Kennedy rode her pony, Macaroni, on the South Lawn.  Amy
Carter had a siamese cat named Misty Malarky Ying Yang.  Gerald Ford’s dog was
named Liberty, and the senior George Bush’s dog was  Millie.  The Lyndon Johnson’s
had two beagles, Him and Her.  Florence Harding’s dog was Laddie Boy.  Grace
Coolidge had a pet raccoon named Rebecca.  Benjamin Harrison got his grandkids a
goat with a cart to pull them around the White House grounds.  James Monroe had a
pair of sheep dogs.  Teddy Roosevelt’s son had a pet macaw, Eli.  The Nixons had
three dogs: Pasha, Vicki, and King Timahoe.  The Woodrow Wilson’s raised sheep on
the White House lawn during World War I.

Presidential Relaxation in the White House
Fun wasn’t just for kids.  Each President found his own way to relax.  Harry Truman
played horseshoe.  Herbert Hoover played “medicine ball” with his cabinet members
every day but Sunday.  Dwight Eisenhower played golf.  Jimmy Carter played tennis on
his own White House court. John Adams swam the Potomac.  Others bowled, some
brought in entertainment like ballet dancers, and many enjoyed movies.  The White
House offers its Presidents a jogging track, a swimming pool, a movie theater, a billiard
room, and a bowling lane.

Weddings are a happy time, and the White House has had its share of them.  Grover
Cleveland, the only President to wed in the White House, married the beautiful 21-year-
old Frances Folsom, who was nearly 30 years his junior.  They later had a child, Esther,
the only child of a President to be born in the White House.  Woodrow Wilson’s
daughter married in the Executive Mansion in 1914.  “Princess Alice” as she was
affectionately called by most everyone, the beloved daughter of Theodore Roosevelt,
married Congressman Nicholas Longworth there.  Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower,
who met when they were just eight at President Eisenhower’s second inaugural,
married during her father’s presidency.  Her sister, Tricia Nixon, had the first outdoor
White House wedding, in the Rose Garden.  She married Edward Cox.  Lynda Johnson
married Charles Robb while her father, Lyndon, was President.

Interesting Facts
If walls could talk, what stories the White House would tell?  Here is just a hint of the
secrets and tidbits they might reveal.
* President Taft was so large he got stuck in the bathtub. Subsequently he ordered a
custom-made bathtub so big that four men could easily fit in it.
* The Rutherford B. Hayes family would gather in the second floor Oval Room on
Sunday evenings to sing hymns.
* Dolly Madison enjoyed snuff.
* Abigail Adams hung her laundry in the East Room.  She also found the White House
cold.  Having barely any furnishings yet, she felt it lacked hominess.
* In 1822, President Chester A. Arthur had more than 20 wagon loads of White House
furniture sold at public auction.  He then hired Louis Tiffany of New York to help
redecorate the White House.
* Franklin Pierce, to show a guest upstairs, needed to carry a lighted candle to dispel
the darkness.
* Young Willie Lincoln developed a fever and died during his father’s presidency.

There is so much more that we could say but we will switch gears here and see what
activities we might pull from all this information.

How can I use this material?
As you can see, facts about the White House will make one or several really interesting
activities.  You might use this information to plan a fun armchair trip to Washington, D.
C., specifically the White House.  You might hold a lively reminiscent group and discuss
residents’ memories of the Executive Mansion and of the Presidents they remember.  
You could even use all the above facts to create a trivia “question and answer” game to
be played while residents are waiting for their lunch to be served or when your
scheduled entertainment does not show up.

Where can I get further information on this subject?
Check your library for some White House picture books to share with your residents.
Also get a few picture books of Presidents and First Ladies.  Check out the references
listed below.  Show videos,  found in the libraries, of the Presidents’ lives and
administrations.  Write the White House and ask for any free literature they might give
you for your residents’ activity program.  Check on line at  When
planning your armchair trip to the White House, secure a large U.S. map and trace out
the route.  You might also get a map of  Washington, D.C. and a map of the White
House.  Encourage residents to find the various rooms mentioned here.

As we said earlier, “If walls could talk, what fantastic stories the White House would
tell”!  But since they can’t, I hope you enjoy the stories and facts we’ve gathered for you
and that it will help you have some fun activities.  God  bless  you all.  Marge

  • The White House,  An Historic Guide, White House Historical Association
  • The Living White House, White House Historical Association
  • The White House, the First Two-Hundred Years, edited by Frank Freideland
    William Pencak
  • America’s Most Influential First Ladies, Carl Sferrazza Anthony
  • Washington in Focus, Philip Bigler
  • The City of Washington, An illustrated History, the Junior League of  Washington
  • Inside  the White House, American’s Most Famous Home, the First 200 Years,  
    Betty Boyd Caroli
  • The First Ladies,  Margaret Brown Klapthor, contributing author, Allida M Black