Photo, Harris & Ewing
Then follow receptions to the members of Congress, and to the Army and Navy.
The most elaborate, however, is the official reception on New Year's Day. The attendance at this reception reached greater numbers during President Roosevelt's presidency than before. On one New Year's Day it was estimated that he and Mrs. Roosevelt shook hands with more than 6,000 persons, the line taking some three hours to pass the dais on which they stood. Large numbers of persons go to Washington every year specially for this event. It begins at eleven o'clock in the morning, and after the members of the Cabinet, Diplomatic Corps, senators, representatives, and distinguished visitors, ambassadors, envoys, etc., have been received, the general public are admitted.
It is, of course, the proud boast of the democratic Yankee that the president is accessible - and must be accessible - to any American citizen who wishes to shake him by the hand and inquire after his health. This was so at one time; but the manner in which the public abused the privilege by overrunning the White House and damaging its contents through overcrowding, led to the privilege being curtailed. On one occasion such a throng rushed in when the doors were opened, that two great cheeses which had been provided for hungry guests were thrown to the floor and trodden into a greasy pulp all over the carpets. Now, however, the receptions are regulated by cards of invitation, and people who wish to see the president and his wife are asked to attend some particular reception, and not all or any of the series.
Many amusing stories have been told of the quaint visitors to the White House, particularly at the time when Abraham Lincoln was president. Lincoln had a habit of bringing the most unconventional people in to dinner in the most unconventional way. One day an old neighbour of his from Illinois, a portly farmer,sat at his table. Stewed chicken was served. The visitor accidentally swallowed, or partly swallowed, a small bone. Choking violently, and struggling to remove it from his throat, he finally threw it across the table, where it hit another guest on the forehead. As soon as the stout Illinoisan recovered from his confusion, he congratulated the guest that the bone which hit him had not been a leg.
Times have changed somewhat since the first mistress of the White House - A John Adams - took command in 1800. Martha Washington never lived in the White House, for the "Father of His Country" had ceased to be president when the seat of the Government was moved to Washington. Mrs. Adams travelled to Washington by stage coach, and got lost in the woods outside Baltimore. When she did reach the White House, she faced a tragedy. There was not a single mirror in the place; no lights, bells, nor any means of heating the building. Mrs. Adams had scarcely got inside the White House, however, when she received a note from Mrs. Washington. The same messenger who brought the note also brought a haunch of venison and an invitation to visit Mrs. Washington at Mount Vernon. Mrs. Adams was so ill-pleased with the White House that she accepted the invitation the very next week; but, for all that, she faced the problems which confronted her, and soon brought order out of chaos. Indeed, on the first day of the year 1801 President and Mrs. Adams gave the first New Year's reception in the White House, and the custom has been followed uninterruptedly by each president for no years.
The White House. Washington, the official residence of the President of the United States of America, and the centre of both the political and the social life of the nation Photo, Underwood & Underwood
But the White House of those days is not the White House of to-day. During the war between America and Great Britain, from 1812 to 1814, the British soldiers captured the American capital. President Madison was about to give a banquet the evening the English marched into the place. The dinner was duly eaten, not by the president's guests, but by the officers of an English regiment, and the White House and all the public offices were subsequently burned down. Four years later, the White House was restored, and it has ever since been the more or less peaceful home of George Washington's successors.
Not only has it been the scene of many momentous political gatherings, but also it has witnessed many happy events in the lives of those who have resided there. Not long ago, Miss Helen Taft, the president's only daughter, made her debut there on an occasion when practically all official Washington was represented among the 1,500 guests who attended. The White House, however, was equal to the occasion, for it is said to be capable of accommodating nearly 3,000 guests at a time. As every hostess of social standing in Washington on such occasions gives at least one dance in honour of the debutante, a season of gaiety is the certain outcome of the important event.
Miss Taft makes the thirteenth White House debutante. President Grant's daughter Nellie was the first, while Miss Alice and Miss Ethel Roosevelt were both fortunate in their "coming out" during their father's - tenancy of the White House. Nellie Grant was also married from the White House during her father's presidency, while the wedding of Miss Alice Roosevelt to Mr. Nicholas Longworth in the White House will live long in American memories as the most splendid event in the history of this famous dwelling.
Both Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Taft, of course, have been extremely fortunate in having daughters old enough to assist them in their duties. A very clever and accomplished girl, Miss Taft has proved of great help to her mother in the management of their historic home. And an idea of the work entailed may be gathered from the fact that every morning when the majority of society matrons of Washington were still asleep Mrs. Roosevelt could be found seated at her desk attending to the details of the domestic arrangements for the day. Mrs. Taft, too, finds it necessary to be equally energetic, and here it might be mentioned that the demands upon the time of the president's wife are such that the rule instituted by Mrs. Adams that the president's wife cannot make calls is still strictly observed. By another unwritten law of etiquette, neither the President nor his wife can accept invitations to formal dinner parties. He can attend none but Cabinet dinners, and his wife can only be present at small, informal dinners with relatives or great personal friends.
Like Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Taft is passionately devoted to her children, and, in spite of her manifold duties, is still their chief companion. They idolise their clever mother, and she, in turn, is proud of the fact that her eldest boy, Robert, has carried all before him at college, that Helen has also distinguished herself by her scholarly abilities, and that the youngest child, Charlie, promises to be equally clever. It was Charlie, by the way, who, when his father was going to make a speech one day, said to some of his chums in his frank, free, and easy manner, "Come on, fellows; pop's going to spout; let's go and hear him." It is also related of him that on one occasion when Helen was a child in the Philippines, she was once left in charge of Charlie. The boy disappeared, and could not be found. A severe storm, such as the Philippine Islands only experience, threatened to break, and for a time everybody was nearly frantic with anxiety. But Miss Taft was not anxious. She calmly sat in the library of the house, and said, "If it were anyone but Charlie, he would get wet. But Charlie knows when to quit. He will be back before the flood comes." And he was. Like her mother, Miss Taft believes in the common-sense of the Tafts.
It is doubtful if any former mistress of the White House has gained more popularity than Mrs. Taft, who is much less formal and more accessible than Mrs. Roosevelt. She is a woman of exceeding charm and tact, has travelled widely, and gained that knowledge of men and women which is a valuable asset to one in her position. A journey of six thousand miles on the Siberian Railway, a visit to Japan, the Philippines, Russia and Peru, to say nothing of traversing the length and breadth of America, are all included in her travel experiences. Mr. Taft himself is the first to admit how much he owes to the loving help of his wife. Again, Mrs. Taft is a thoroughly practical woman, and one who is not ashamed to own that she practises economy when economy is desired. "How is it," she was once asked, "that you have so many satin gowns for formal wear in winter?" "Well, they clean without showing wear," frankly replied Mrs. Taft. Pursuing the question of dress still further, the inquirer asked, "On what income, Mrs. Taft, do you think a woman can dress adequately?" "On what income she can get," promptly replied Mrs. Taft. Such is the woman who reigns as mistress of the White House.