First Children’s Party at the White House

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Andrew Johnson

Celebrating his sixtieth birthday on December 29, 1868, President Johnson threw a dance celebration for a few hundred children.

The adults present at this first party in the White House for children were President Johnson and his wife Eliza McCardle Johnson and their daughters and sons– in – law Martha and David Patterson and Mary and Daniel Stover. (The Johnsons’ had three other children: Charles born in 1830, Robert born in 1834 and Andrew Jr. born in 1852.)

The Johnson Children and Grandchildren Host the Party

Between 300 and 400 invitations were sent out to the children of government officials and servants in the White House. The official children’s hosts were the grandchildren of the Johnsons: Lillie Stover,13; Sarah Stover,11 Andrew Johnson Patterson,11: Belle Patterson, 9; and Andrew Johnson Stover, 8. A red carpet was laid out for the guests in the flower – adorned party rooms, which included the East Room.

The festivities began at six in the evening. President and Mrs. Johnson greeted the guests. President Johnson gave hugs, kisses and handshakes as appropriate to the guests. This was the second and last event during Johnson’s presidency at which Mrs. Johnson made a public appearance. Poor health kept her out of the public eye. At this event she greeted guests seated in an armchair.

Mrs. Johnson’s first public appearance as the First Lady had been in 1866 at a reception for Queen Emma, former queen of the Sandwich Islands, today known as Hawaii. She had been queen from 1856 when she married King Kamehameha IV until November 30, 1863 when her husband died. He was succeeded by King Kamehameha V. The former Queen Emma was the first person to have held the title of queen to ever visit the White House.

List of Dances at the First White House Party for Children

Officially called a Juvenile Soiree, President Johnson’s party had a long dance card. Fiddlers played the music. The printed program for the event listed 14 dances: the promenade, the quadrille, the polka, the schottische (a dance that combined hops and polka – like steps), the lanciers (a variation of the quadrille), the galop, the waltz, the quadrille basket, the esmeralda, the varsovienne, the lanciers (again), the polka redown, the galop (again) and the quadrille sociable.

H. Bates and L. G. Marini were the dance instructors present .The book Historical and Commercial Sketches of Washington and Environs :Our Capital City (1884, shortened title) identified Marini as the proprietor of the Marini Dancing Academy at 914 E St. N. W. in 1875. Also at the party were young students from the dance school. These students helped the children at the party with their steps and even demonstrated some of the dances. Ice cream and cake was served to those attending the party.

William Crook, who worked in the White House for every president from Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson, wrote in his book Memories of the White House: The Home Life of Our Presidents (1911, shortened title) that in 1868 “the child had not wholly come into his own.” In other words, except for some children—particularly some of the very wealthy, Crook said—most parents did not lavish amusements on their children in a society in which adults and survival took center stage.

Sources:

  1. “Andrew Johnson: Seventeenth President.” President’s Graves.com.
  2. Harris, Bill. The First Ladies Fact Book: the Stories of the Women of the White House From Martha Washington to Laura Bush. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. 2005.
  3. “First Lady Biography: Eliza Johnson.” National First Ladies’ Library.
  4. “Queen Emma.” Aloha Hawaii.com.
  5. “Alexander Lihiliho: Kamehameha IV.” Aloha Hawaii.com.
  6. “Kamehameha V: Last of the Kamehameha Kings.” Aloha Hawaiil.com