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America's First Ladies



America's First LadiesThe White House, which serves as the executive mansion and the home of the president, has required continual upkeep. Unfortunately, this home often has been in disrepair due to the Congress’ occasional reluctance to appropriate the necessary funds. The White House was destroyed by the British in 1814 and many years later it underwent extensive reconstruction during the Truman administration. The responsibility for the physical maintenance of the president’s home and for its ongoing refurbishment and redecoration has fallen on America’s First Ladies.

First Lady Abigail Fillmore was astonished to discover, when she entered the White House in 1850, that it lacked a library. She immediately set out to correct its absence, and initiated a congressional appropriation of two thousand dollars.

Caroline Harrison initiated many improvements in the White House. She introduced electricity in 1891. Additionally, she installed new flooring, updated the plumbing, added bath rooms, and painted and wallpapered several rooms.

As a way to make space for her large family, Edith Roosevelt arranged for the construction of a new West Wing in 1902. It was designed specifically to house the presidential offices, which up until that point shared a floor with the living quarters in the White House.

In the early 20th century, President William Howard Taft had a sleeping porch constructed to keep cool during hot summer nights. In 1927 Grace Coolidge had the screened-in space restructured and christened it the Sky Parlor. It remains a place for the First Family to enjoy some privacy to entertain and enjoy the outdoors.

In 1948, the White House was in danger of collapsing from age, poor maintenance, and heavy construction projects. Many thought it easier to tear the structure down entirely, but Bess Truman favored gutting and restoring the structure instead. She insisted that the four walls that survived the War of 1812 burning should be preserved, as they were evidence of a major moment of resilience in U.S. history. Congress agreed, authorizing $5.4 million to go toward the reconstruction of the White House. The project was overseen by the first lady.

More recently First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was associated with White House elegance. She led an extensive project to restore the White House’s historic interiors and exteriors. With the help of Henry Francis du Pont of the Winterthur Museum, she began adding antiques, fine paintings, and artifacts to various parts of the house.

The next post will explore the America’s First Ladies’ primary responsibility, that of helpmate and emotional support for her husband.

The information above has been excerpted from the following reference:
Sara Tardiff, Architectural Digest, Major White House Design Changes Made by First Ladies. Over the two centuries since its construction, a lot has changed at the White House thanks to these women.
http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/major-white-house-design-changes-made-by-first-ladies, August 12, 2016

First Ladies of America
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