Child Life At The President's House
( Originally Published 1908 )
THE prattle and play, song and shout of children has been heard in the White House in nearly every administration. The first child to play in the original President's house was the little orphaned granddaughter of John Adams, Susanna Adams, then only three years old. Jefferson used to romp with his little grandson, and John Quincy Adams always showed the utmost solicitation about his little granddaughter, especially when he heard her cry at night. President Arthur very frequently joined in the games of his little daughter, Nellie, and her friends.
Mr. and Mrs. McKinley were both of them remarkably fond of little children. Sometimes, says the White House door-keeper, on going out to take her drive and little children being near, Mrs. McKinley would throw them a kiss if they were not near enough to the carriage for her to kiss them.
The Roosevelt Children
The children of President and Mrs. Roosevelt number six—four boys and two girls. The boys are Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Quentin and Archie. The girls are Alice and Ethel. Facts about the order of these children will be found in the chapters headed "Sons and Daughters." It is reserved for this chapter to tell of incidents of child life at the White House wherein the younger children are involved, and to give a suggestion of how the Presidents played the part of father.
"In the matter of family sentiment," says Charles Wagner, author of the Simple Life, who was a guest of President Roosevelt at the White House, "I found the President full of tenderness and filial respect. When he spoke of the home, it was with emotion, almost with tears in his eyes. He called it the key-stone of humanity. Here I immediately recognized the man of heart, of a fundamental human fiber wonderfully sensitive and strong. Speaking of his religious sentiments, he said : `I am very much attached to my old Dutch Reformed Church, and at the same time I belong to the Church Universal'."
Mr. Roosevelt has a way of treating his children with mock solemnity and deference—a manner which they quite see through, and in which they take delight. One day, we are told in a biography of Mr. Roosevelt, the President and a newspaper man went into the house together and turned into the study. There is a wide, deep fireplace in the room, and in the middle of this cosy cavern the embers glowed. At the sides, huddled out of the way of the live coals, four of the little Roosevelts sat staring at the fire. The President peered into the fireplace and his young hopefuls peered out at him.
"What in the world are you doing in there?" he demanded. "We thought we would get in out of the draught," explained one of the children.
"Oh, did you? Well then," continued Roosevelt, assuming his mock solemnity and deference, "permit me to apologize for disturbing your meditations, and pardon me for asking you to seek another asylum from the draught. This gentleman and myself have a matter to attend to in which I will not encroach upon your wisdom for counsel."
"If there is one youngster in Washington who should lay claim to being the most democratic juvenile in the Capital," says Mrs. Abby Baker, "it is Quentin Roosevelt, youngest son of the President. When Quentin is ready for school he straps his books over his shoulder, mounts his wheel and rides away just like any other American boy. He is a pupil at the Force School, one of the public schools of Washington, and when he arrives there in the morning he is just "Quentin" or "Roosevelt," and there is no disposition on his part or on those of his fellow students to regard him in any other light than just as a plain American boy and one of their schoolfellows. Since he was a very small youngster Quentin has gone to school by himself. Occasionally during the past year a Secret Service man has accompanied the President's son to school and called for him later in the day."
How Grant Joined in Children's Pleasures
General Grant, while at the White House was devoted to his family, and we are told that he sought relaxation with his children from official cares. He joined in their pleasures and never was so happy as when a comrade in their sports.
There have been many alterations in the White House since General Grant was President, but, as we learn from a writer of today, "the beautiful home life of the Grants is daily recalled by the natural American home atmosphere which President Roosevelt and his family create. The home life of General Grant was somewhat similar to that of President Roosevelt. General Grant was devoted to his family, and the happiest moments of his life were passed in the companionship of his children. He was ever ready to interest himself in their pleasures and their pastimes, and, on many occasions, he joined in their outdoor sports and assisted them in building some boyish structures or set the stake or post for an athletic game or a gymnastic contrivance. The pride of General Grant's heart was his only daughter, Nellie, and the outside world probably never knew, nor could it realize, how hard it was for him to give her in marriage to the dashing young Englishman."
President Cleveland's Babies
Two of President Cleveland's five children were born while he was President. These two were Esther, born at the White House in 1893, and Marion, born at Gray Gables, Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts, in 1895. Mr. Cleveland's first child, Ruth, was born in 1891, between the two terms of her father at the White House. These three children, then, are the ones whose prattle or baby cries were heard in the White House in Mr. Cleveland's second term.
These children occupied most of Mrs. Cleveland's time, and the President was naturally very proud of them. When he wished to show his offspring to his friends at the White House, Mr. Cleveland would call to his wife; "Frankie, bring Ruth in here." Whereupon Mrs. Cleveland, in a high state of excitement, would call out:
"I can't let you see her now. She's going to play on the grass and she's got a soiled apron on."
"Never mind the apron, bring her in," Mr. Cleveland would retort. And in Mrs. Cleveland would come, then, with a very shy, but very winsome little girl.
Mr. Cleveland's biographers are one in asserting that after Mrs. Cleveland came to Washington as a bride, and all during Mr. Cleveland's second term when the babies occupied so much of the mother's time, the domestic life at the White House was one of ideal happiness. "Mr. Cleveland," says one who visited the White House at the time, "has collected one of the largest children's libraries extant, and the nursery looks as if every patriotic toy manufacturer and dealer in the country had sent some contribution for the amusement of these little ones. Mr. Cleveland's office is no forbidden precinct, and both Ruth and Esther effectually prove that he does not exert much authority over them."
Lincoln's Way With Children
Mr. Lincoln, while at the White House, displayed day by day a surpassing love for children. With little Willie, his second born, who died while living in the White House, and Tad, the third son, the Great Liberator would join in play every evening at dusk—and also irregularly at any time of the day that one of the lads pleaded with the loving father to "have some fun."
"On one occasion there was no one in the room but little Tad Lincoln and myself," writes Doorkeeper Pendel, "An old-fashioned settee and some rickety chairs constituted the furniture. Those were the days when we were not thinking about furniture. Little Tad piled two or three chairs upon the settee and secreted himself behind it. Just as the President came in, Tad pitched the chairs and settee over into the middle of the floor in front of his father. The President roared out laughing."
"Almost every day about ten o'clock," continues Doorkeeper Pendel, "I would accompany Mr. Lincoln to the War Department. I used to try to expedite his leaving the White House as much as possible, because people would always hang around and wait to see Mr. Lincoln, and would thrust notes into his hands as he passed and in many ways annoy him. One day just as we got to the front door, after going out of the private corridor, there was a nurse who had been in the East Room with an infant in her arms and a little tot walking by her side. Just as we were about to pass out of the door, she got in front of us. I took hold of the little tot gently, and moved her to one side so that we could get out. The President noticed this action, and rather disapproved of my moving the child to let him pass and said, `That's all right ; that's all right'. The interpretation I put upon his words was that he would sooner have been annoyed by people thrusting letters into his hands than make a little child move aside for him to pass."
President Tyler Played Forfeits
President Tyler, frequently said that he loved, better than anything else, his daily "play time" with the children and grandchildren of the White House. The first Mrs. Tyler was an invalid and so the President was frequently in the company of his children, for the purpose of entertaining them in the mother's stead. His children, Alice and Tazewell, then in their teens, drew many young friends to the White House, and often passed their play time in Mrs. Tyler's sick room. More frequently, however, the "good time" took place in the Red Room. The President himself would often come to the Red Room and take a part in the old-fashioned games, "always insisting upon the forfeits being paid."