Charities Of The White House Tenants
( Originally Published 1908 )
CHARITY, as well as piety, has been a marked characteristic of every "First Gentlemen" and every "First Lady" in the White House. In respect to helping others, each President might justly be called a Lord Bountiful, while each lady became in fact known as Lady Bountiful.
President Washington always gave bountifully to the poor and all his gifts were voluntary, for he prided himself on doing his work for the needy ahead of solicitation. Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams were thrifty in the extreme, yet both gave intelligently, if not liberally, to those in distress. Mrs. Dolly Madison, though so fond of social festivities, set apart certain mornings for visits to the poor, and continued the custom even after she left the White House.
Whenever Mrs. Grant heard of any one in distress, she not only helped such person with gifts of money and material necessities, but often she insisted that the distressed man or woman or child be brought to the White House in order that she might personally learn the person's needs. Mrs. Garfield possessed the same kindly traits and was ever ready and eager to succor the needy.
Every day throughout the year President Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt receive more requests for charity than they can possibly grant. The requests for aid that reach the White House today are so numerous and so great in the aggregate amount asked for, that if Mr. Roosevelt complied with all requests his year's salary would be consumed in one month.
Yet the busy President Roosevelt finds time and finds it possible to grant many reasonable requests. For instance, here is a story of how Mr. Roosevelt contributed his mite to the charities of London :
At one of the great bazaars held at Albert Hall, Mrs. Henry Siegel donated the most remarkable autograph-book ever offered for public sale. On the first page was the autograph of Queen Alexandra. On the second page was the autograph of President Roosevelt. To get that autograph Mrs. Siegel sent a very long cable message to the President, explaining the whole situation. The answer came back : "With pleasure I send my autograph. But reading your cable delayed the affairs of State fully twenty minutes."
How Mr. Roosevelt Helped the Chinese Famine Sufferers
In the midst of his multitudinous duties, Mr. Roosevelt has found time, too, to consider the sufferings of people in foreign lands, and to contribute to their relief through The Christian Herald Famine Fund. A press despatch which appeared at the time of the last great famine in China gave the following facts :
President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Root have each contributed $100 to the Chinese Famine Fund. This fact was brought out in a letter from Secretary Root to Dr. Louis Klopsch, of The Christian Herald, which paper has taken a most active part in raising funds for the famine sufferers in China, as well as in previous undertakings of the kind. Secretary Root's letter says :
" `The President has asked me to say to you that he is much interested in your work to raise funds for the benefit of the sufferers by the present dreadful famine in China. He hopes you will meet with the same success that you have had in similar appeals to the humanity and liberality of our people. As a contribution to the fund he has handed me his check for one hundred dollars, which I enclose, together with a similar check of my own'."
Hayes and Cleveland Performed Kindly Services
Even after leaving the White House many Presidents have performed many kindly acts that made them still more beloved by the people. Hayes and Cleveland were particularly note-worthy in this respect, President Hayes, for example, after refusing to allow his name to be mentioned for a second term, retired in 1881 to private life. He did splendid work in later years along lines of charity, of prison reform.
"During President Hayes' administration," says the White House Doorkeeper, Mr. Pendel, "there was a newspaper man who used to slash into him right and left, through the paper with which he was connected, in the most abusive way. The President did not know who it was at the time, but after he left the White House there was a commission appointed to go and visit the different prisons throughout the United States. I think Mr. Hayes was the president of this commission. He visited quite a number of prisons, and sometimes would talk with the prisoners. One day, while visiting some prison, I do not know where, he got into conversation with a man, a prisoner, who recognized ex-President Hayes, and there he told the ex-President, `I am the man, sir, who abused you so fearfully in the newspaper, and, General Hayes, I want to ask your pardon and forgiveness, for I did you a great wrong'. What he had been sent to the penitentiary for, I cannot say. The President said to him, `Do you ever have an opportunity to do any writing in the prison here ? If you do, send it to me, and I will have it published in some magazine, and I will send the proceeds to your wife and children to help support them while you are in prison'. The man was taken aback at the ex-President's kindness to him, and I think afterwards Mr. Hayes succeeded in having this man pardoned."
President Cleveland, after leaving the 'White House, went to Princeton, New Jersey, to live, and there in an unostentatious way, aided many of the poor people, not only with advice, but with cash. One of his friends once said that if a list of his charities were made public it would be a surprise. One of his protégés, was Edward Vroom, a farmer. "Vroom was poor, not a man of affairs, but visionary. Mismanagement of his little farm of sixty acres resulted in heavy mortgages and a threat of foreclosure. Mr. Cleveland heard of his trials. He bought the farm, lifted the mortage, and gave Vroom another start in life."
Mrs. McKinley's Kindly Activities as "First Lady"
A Washington lady who knew Mrs. McKinley intimately, supplies the following facts relating to the kindly acts and Christian practices of one who was at the time of "First Lady" of the land.
One of Mrs. McKinley's most pleasing characteristics, was her perfect sincerity and thoughtfulness for others. No day passed in which she did not do some good for some one. Her friends, who ran in to pay her a morning call, or to have tea with her in the afternoon, were frequently compelled to with-hold information of the afflictions of others from their sensitive hostess, because of the latter's liability to worry and thus imperil her own very delicate health. Mrs. McKinley, however, never complained of her own health, even to the ladies who were admitted to the inner chambers of the Executive Mansion. Mrs. McKinley with her own hands, earned considerable sums of money, or its equivalent, for charitable or benevolent purposes. She knitted three thousand five hundred pairs of woolen slippers for invalids and institutions or charities.
"Think of the time and patience required to make so many pairs of slippers," said the friend who told of the incident. "Well, she is always knitting, or embroidering, or doing something that will be of use to others."
Mrs. McKinley's thoughtfulness for others was very marked. She was most solicitous concerning the welfare of all who were around her and whom she met as the hostess of the White House. When sorrow came or affliction of any kind, she never failed to send flowers, and kind, cheering messages to the suffering ones. She was especially interested in her friends' children. The loss of her own children was to her a source of great grief. She liked to have the little ones come to see her at the White House, and then she chatted lovingly of what might have been, if her own children had lived.
In the Ladies' Aid Society of the Metropolitan Church, she was always one of the most interested helpers. Each Sunday she sent to the church altar flowers from the White House greenhouses, which she had personally picked, and she always had them sent to some poor invalid, to brighten a sick-room, after church service was over. The finest blooms in her conservatories she culled and sent to the sick and the hospitals, sending with them some appetizing dainty from her own kitchen. Every day brought her notes from the thankful and delighted receivers of those pleasing attentions. She told the wife of a Senator that she had knitted with her own fingers 3,000 yarn slippers, every pair of which had been given outright to the poor. She gave from her own personal purse, times without number, to a multitude of good causes. Whenever any charitable fund was started in Washington, the promoters reckoned upon her as an unfailing contributor.
Always at the head of every movement for the advancement of religious work, she often led the work in person. She was all that a Christian wife and mother should be, and commanded the respect, almost the worship, of the other members of the congregation of the Metropolitan M. E. Church. When ill-health and all its self-denial came along, she sorrowfully gave up her work to a certain extent. The doctors said she must have absolute rest and quiet, and Mrs. McKinley reluctantly obeyed their commands. But very often, as she lay in bed at home, her mind was busy with new plans for helping her beloved church, or some new way to aid the poor of the town.
Very much has been said and written of Mrs. McKinley, yet the half of her gentleness and beauty of character has never been told, A personal friend of Mrs. McKinley, Mrs. John A.
Logan, described the gracious lady of the White House, and her charities, thus:
"Mrs. McKinley's greatest charm was her perfect sincerity and thoughtfulness for others. No day passed over her head without her doing something for some one.
"If she hears of an affliction of any kind overtaking any one no matter how much a stranger she will immediately . order something sent to that person, if nothing more than a bunch of flowers or a cheering message ; in some way she conveys her sympathy and good wishes. Her friends endeavor to keep from her knowledge many instances of illness or sorrow, because she immediately makes a personal matter of them, and is untiring in her interest until all is well again.
"No one ever heard her utter a complaint about her own ill-health. She is always bright and cheerful, never in any way alluding to herself, or to the affliction that has held her captive for more than twenty years. Her refined face, sweet smile and tender expression, reflect the spirit of resignation and the loveliness which suffering has wrought. She is interested in everything, with the enthusiasm of the most vigorous women.
"Her busy fingers have wrought much for charity. Some time ago she finished more than three thousand five hundred pairs of knitted slippers for ladies and children, all of which have been given to friends and to charity for invalids. Many of these slippers have been sold for large sums at church and charity fairs.
"It does not require an expert to figure that by. her own hands Mrs. McKinley has earned a considerable sum for benevolent purposes. Her example of continuous employment demonstrates that occupation is the surest defense against ennui and depression of spirits and morbidness from enforced confinement, most of the time within doors."
Mrs. Hayes Helped the Destitute
A tribute is paid to Mrs. Hayes by one of the employes of the White House, Doorkeeper Pendel, who tells of her charities and of her kindness to White House employes as follows, in his Thirty-Six Years in the White House:
"Mrs. Hayes was a grand lady, and the White House will never have one to surpass her. After they got settled down and the crowds had left the city, I then had a better opportunity of finding out the character of both of them. And the character of both was beautiful ! As she would be going out to breakfast through the upper corridor of a morning how often have I heard her singing a beautiful hymn. How kind-hearted she was. Always had a kind word to say to the humblest employe at the White House. Notes would come to the White House time after time from the destitute and poor wanting help. She would have me come upstairs and see her, and would say, `Mr. Pendel, here is some money, and here is a note. Take this, and find out where they live, and give it to them'. On one occasion, out on Massachusetts Avenue, there was a young girl, about twenty-two years of age, down with consumption, and Mrs. Hayes said to me, `Mr. Pendel, I want you to take these oranges up to that young lady and give them to her'. The doorkeepers at the White House fared well, for hardly an evening passed but we were told to go into the parlor, and take the magnificent bouquet that was standing there."
President Arthur's Family Helped Children
President Arthur, being a widower, brought his sister to the White House to preside as "First Lady." She was a widow, Mrs. McElroy, and with her came her two daughters, one a young lady and the other a little girl near the age of the President's own daughter, Nellie Arthur.
The little Nellie Arthur, we are told, was extremely fond of children, especially of poor children. She was an active member of the Guild of the Holy Child, a charitable organization of St. John's Episcopal Church, where her father attended services.
Nellie Arthur became president also of the Christmas Club, a society of school children that arranged a Christmas tree and dinner for the young sons and daughters of the poor. Many children joined the club, and were honored by having the badge of the order, a blue ribbon, pinned on their breasts by the young daughter of President Arthur.
The President himself, perceiving how deeply interested his little daughter was in the Christmas Club, would sometimes personally attend the annual meetings, and, standing at Nellie's side on the platform, would beam down upon the sea of happy faces and deliver an address appropriate to the occasion.