Babies Of The White House
( Originally Published 1908 )
IN THE one hundred and eight years of the existence of the White House less than twenty children have been born within its walls. To have entered the world in the Executive Mansion is therefor an experience so unusual as to be unique, for the newcomer is hailed at the time as the most important baby in the land.
The only child born to a President within the White House was the second daughter of Grover Cleveland, Miss Esther, who first saw the light in one of the most historic rooms in the Executive Mansion, on September 9, 1893, in the first year of her father's second term in the Presidential chair. Miss Esther is still living—she is now fifteen years of age, and is the pride of the widowed mother in her home at Princeton, New Jersey.
All other children born in the White House were grand-children of the Presidents.
The first boy, and first child, born in the White House was a grandson of Thomas Jefferson. He was the son of Jefferson's daughter, Mrs. Martha Jefferson-Randolph, and was born during the second term of his paternal grandfather and named James Madison Randolph.
The first girl born in the White House was Mary Louise Adams, granddaughter of President John Quincy Adams, and son of John Quincy Adams, Jr. She went through life "in the same happy strain with which her birth was welcomed." When she grew to womanhood she married her cousin, William C. Johnson, of Massachusetts.
Birth of a Granddaughter to General Grant
The record of births at the White House includes a grand-daughter of General Grant (daughter of Colonel, now General, Fred Grant). She was christened Julia Dent Grant (the same name as her mother's), and afterward married Prince Cantacuzene, of Russia.
The President and Mrs. Grant, we are told, had become grandparents several years before this event, but of their fairly numerous descendants only this one little girl made her first appearance in the historic old mansion. The mother of this child "was Miss Honore, of Chicago, and came to Washington a bride when the social life of the administration was at its height."
Americans were deeply interested, in May 1899, in the announcement in Frank Leslie's, of the engagement of Miss Julia D. Grant to Prince Michael Cantacuzene, of the Russian Imperial Guard, whose family had been acquaintances of the Grants for more than twenty years. The Prince met Miss Grant in Rome while she was traveling with her aunt, Mrs. Potter Palmer, of Chicago. The Prince was at that time the military attaché of the Russian embassy, and when Mrs. Palme! and her charge left for Cannes the Prince obtained leave of absence in order that he might follow her, and an engagement was the natural outcome. The Prince was then twenty-five years old, a lieutenant in the Imperial Guard, and the owner of the family estates east of Moscow, where he maintained a magnificent home. Miss Grant was an excellent linguist and was a favorite in official circles when her father was minister to Vienna.
At the time of her marriage Julia Dent Grant was popularly alluded to as "A Daughter of the Nation." She was, it is said, her grandfather's favorite, and her famous grandparent, Ulysses S. Grant, always called her "Little Sunshine."
Paying a tribute to this little girl of the White House, a biographer says :
"The stork that brought this little bundle of possibilities to the White House must have been accompanied by a whole flock of winged harbingers of prosperity and happiness, for the two and twenty years of life Julia Grant has seen have been filled to overflowing with all that the world holds best. Notwithstanding the admiration of two continents, she is about to take leave of her girlhood quite unspoiled and go to the far-away home of her husband a beautiful type and brilliant example of American womanhood."
Three Girls Born in the White House
Of all the children who first came into the world in the Presidents' official home, only three or four are still living. Two of these, already mentioned, are Esther Cleveland, living at Princeton, and the Princess Cantacuzene ( Julia Grant) living in St. Petersburg, Russia. A third is a granddaughter of President Andrew Jackson, Mrs. Mary Donelson Wilcox, who died in Washington a few years ago.
This granddaughter of the White House was christened Mary Donelson. Her father, Andrew Jackson Donelson, had been ward to "Old Hickory," his uncle-in-law. In the early days this young Donelson was a companion to General Jackson on the Seminole campaign. When General Jackson went to the White House, Donelson became the President's Secretary and confidential adviser.
Her mother, whom President Jackson always addressed as "My daughter," contributed much "to render General Jack-son's term such a brilliant epoch in American history." "Three children were born to her in the White House. As they grew up around the President, he entered into their games and plays; and some of the prettiest pictures ever presented in the White House were those of the aged hero surrounded by these merry little ones."
In 1852, in Washington, says one biographer, seven years after General Jackson's death, Mary Donelson was married to Congressman Wilcox of Mississippi, by the same clergyman that christened her in 1830. Eight Presidential aspirants were present, Millard Fillmore, the incumbent, Daniel Webster, Winfield Scott, Stephen A. Douglas, James Buchanan, Dickinson, William Marcy and Lewis Cass.
"Years later" according to her biographer, "when this baby girl had passed through many stages of life, and had seen the Nation shaken to its centre by a war that reduced her from affluence to poverty, she came back to Washington a widow, with children dependent upon her for even more than a mother's care, and accepted a clerkship in the Treasury Department.
"Without any reference to her former greatness, she continued in office until relieved of her duty as breadwinner by her daughter, Miss Mary Wilcox, now of the Pension Office, who was her mother's main support and devoted companion.
"In 1874, widowed, with a son and daughter dependent upon her exertions," says another biographer, "Mrs. Wilcox accepted from her cordial friend, President Grant, the position of translator of foreign languages in the Washington Post Office." This was evidently previous to taking her post in the Treasury. "Her linguistic talents had been cultivated by residence in the many parts of the world where her father had held diplomatic portfolios. Her hearty relations with President Roosevelt began when the latter was a member of the Civil Service Commission, and she was on the Board of Modern Languages, just established at that time."
"Mrs. 'Mary Emily Donelson Wilcox," continues her biographer, writing only a few years ago, "is the sole living representative of her generation of White House babies and is a very interesting old lady, who enjoys a wide popularity among the older order of Washington society.
"When the cornerstone of the Treasury was laid, President Jackson was asked to supply some memento in addition to the newspapers of the day and the coin of the realm usual on such occasions. He complied by clipping a sunny strand of hair from the head of baby Mary Donelson, with the remark, `that it was something precious in his eyes'.
"Mrs. Wilcox treasures to this day a letter of her mother's, written January 29, 1829, in which is given an account of an ovation given to the new President's party—of which she and her husband were members—at Cincinnati, en route to Washington. She says, `Uncle Jackson's arm is very lame, and his hand is sore and swollen from all the handshaking he has received. He is wearing it in a sling'."
The fond sobriquet of "Sunshine of the White House" that her doting "Uncle Jackson" bestowed upon little Mary Donelson, was no empty title. "She only could woo the great man from his widowed melancholy, or banish his characteristic irascible moods. He gloried in her petty tyranny over him throughout all the eight years of his incumbency. "
Other Births in the President's House
This record of those who first saw the day in the White House concludes with two other children born to Jackson's niece during "Old Hickory's" administration; and two grand children of President Tyler. Of the latter, one was a son to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tyler, Jr., in 1842, and a son born to President Tyler's daughter, Mrs. Henry Lightfoot Jones, in 1843. The Tyler grandchildren were not so happy in after life, Robert Tyler Jones having died in Washington less than twenty years ago, "after half a century of life saddened by a series of calamities and threatened by want."
Christened in the Green, Red and East Rooms
The first child girl born in the White House was also the first child to be christened within the Presidential home. She was little Mary Louise Adams, granddaughter of President John Quincy Adams.
"Her christening in the Green Room was the closing function of her grandfather's administration, and was attended by the Secretary of State and other members of the Cabinet, with the addition of many other distinguished guests." Among them was General Stephen Van Rensselaer, "the last of the patroons," and hero of the War of 1812, who acted as godfather. Her christening robe and many of the presents given on that occasion, are said to be among the valued possessions of her family.
Since then there have been many christenings in the Executive Mansion, including the ceremony performed during the incumbency of President Benjamin Harrison, when one of the "Baby McKee's" was christened. It occurred on the thirty-first of May, 1889, following a Cabinet meeting. Mr. Harrison extended an informal invitation to his official advisers that day to come into the Red Room and "see my granddaughter receive the name of Mary Lodge McKee." Mrs. Harrison's father, Dr. Scott, performed the ceremony,using for the purpose water brought from the River Jordan by Dr. Scott's son-in-law, Lieutenant Parker.
Perhaps the most ceremonious of all the christenings at the White House was that of the naming of the grandniece of President Jackson, Mary Donelson, to whom much space has already been given in this chapter. In telling the story of the christening, one chronicler says :
"Her first glimpse of the big world was through the windows of the upper western chamber, facing Pennsylvania Avenue, the same apartment President Grant used as a library, and the one in which the wife of President Harrison died.
"No American ever enjoyed a more distinguished babyhood than this small stranger. Royal honors were heaped upon her, and her christening was a function of pomp. `Spare no expense nor pains, ma'am', the President dictated to his niece, in his peremptory fashion. `We will do all honor to the baby'.
"The East Room was gayly decorated and illuminated. Miss Cora Livingstone, the belle of the period, daughter of the Secretary of State, stood godmother to the little maiden, while the President himself and Martin Van Buren shared the honors as godfathers. President Jackson held the candidate tenderly in his arms during the ceremony, enjoying the feminine caprice that prompted the little lady to desert Mr. Van Buren for him.
"Both houses of Congress, the Diplomatic and the Judiciary bodies were among the company, as well as General Robert E. Lee, then a young Lieutenant of Engineers, with his bride, Mary Custis."
President Hayes' daughter, Fanny, and his son, Scott Rus-sell, were both christened on the same day, December 30, 1877, in the Blue Room of the White House.