At Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony today, as well as the private one held yesterday, his 2009 Inauguration as President and his 2005 oath as a United States Senator, it was not just his wife but his two daughters Malia and Sasha who were front and center, sharing the most public moment as a family.
It may seem like a routine, expected matter for Presidential children to be visible, even identifiable on the grandstands for the Inaugural swearing-in ceremony, to review the Inaugural Parade or to overlook the guests at the Inaugural Ball, but surprisingly it is only a relatively recent phenomena.
The two “children” of George Washington, who were his wife’s granddaughter and grandson, Nelly Custis and George “Tub” Custis would not arrive in New York with their grandmother for several weeks until after the first president’s 1789 inauguration.
None of John Adams’s adult sons or daughter, Jefferson’s two daughters, Monroe’s two daughters, or John Quincy Adams‘s sons attended the ceremonies for their father (Madison and Jackson had no birth children).
Although there are no reports confirming their appearance at the inauguration of their father, it is almost certain that at least one of Martin Van Buren‘s sons, Smith or Martin, Jr., who both served as their father’s personal assistant at different times, were in attendance at the 1837 event. A widower, Van Buren was close to all of the young adult men. Yale graduate John Van Buren, who graduated from Yale nine years before his father became President, worked as an attorney in Albany, while Abraham was a captain in the U.S. Army. Twenty-six year old Martin, Jr. and 21-year old Smith Van Buren, however, lived in the White House with their father and him, at various times.
There are reports that William Henry Harrison‘s married daughter Anna had come to live in the White House with her father to help him transition to life there, but whether she attended his swearing-in ceremony or any of the three Inaugural Balls held to mark the day is unknown. He died just one month after the ceremony and the numerous women of his family living with him at the time were not indiivudually identified in reports about his White House death and funeral.
It is also confirmed that Zachary Taylor’s two married daughters Betty Bliss and Ann Wood were in Washington for his Inauguration.
At his Inaugural Balls, eyewitness accounts give proof that the new President Taylor was accompanied by Betty Bliss, but its undocumented as to whether she or her sister witnessed his repeating of the presidential oath on the East Portico of the Capitol.
No accounts detail where the sons of Lincoln, Robert, Tad (Thomas) or Willie may have sat or how they may have reacted to their father’s 1861 Inauguration, but it is known that they were in Washington for it.
There was a great amount of newspaper publicity about the trio coming to the capital city from their home in Illinois with their parents by train and one anecdote told of how the President-Elect had entrusted the eldest, Robert, with a valise carrying his Inaugural Address and that the boy temporarily misplaced it.
Photo historians and Lincoln experts have positively identified him, however, in the large crowd of those standing on the East Portico for his father’s second inaugural, on March 4, 1865. Tad Lincoln was standing several steps behind President Lincoln, serving as proof that he was the first First Son to attend an Inaugural.
The 1869 Inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant was made all the more notably because of the definitive presence of his three sons and daughter Ulysses, Jr. Buck, Jesse and Nellie at his swearing-in ceremony.
In fact, just seconds after he began to deliver his Inaugural Address, Nellie Grant ran up to her father and clasped his hand, a gesture noticed by everyone, including newspaper sketch artists, one of whom captured it for the history book.
The presence of especially younger presidential children soon became routine and became a point of focus for reporters.
At the 1881 swearing-in ceremony of her father, young Mollie Garfield watched the events unfold there, and later at the Inaugural Parade reviewing stand with her friend Fanny Hayes.
The two girls were both from Ohio and had attended the same private girls’ school in Washington, Madame Burr’s. What made the pairing unusual, of course, was that Fanny Hayes was the outgoing First Daughter and Mollie Garfield, the incoming one.
Grover Cleveland was a bachelor at the time of his first inauguration and by the time he took his second oath of office for a non-consecutive term in 1893, his daughter Ruth was only two years old and not brought to the ceremony. His wife Frances Folsom Cleveland would give birth to their second daughter later that year in the White House – the only presidential child born in the mansion.
Although Benjamin Harrison’s two adult children Russell Harrison and Mary Harrison McKee attended his 1889 inaugural ceremony, the new President’s young grandchildren who were soon to become the primary celebrities of the Administration, were kept at home.
All five of Theodore Roosevelt’s young children attended his inauguration for his own full term in 1905. Reporters told in great detail how the boys fidgeted during the swearing-in ceremony of the Vice President, which took place in the Senate chamber and preceded the presidential oath.
During the festive days leading up to the event, teenager Alice Roosevelt and some friends pulled a prank. The homes of various ambassadors, Cabinet members and other officials had signs in front of them to identify for the thousands of visitors visiting Washington for the event.
The First Daughter and her pals switched the signs around and made up fake ones and hung them around town the night before the ceremony.
At the swearing-in of her father, Alice also wildly gestured to friends she saw – until her father reprimanded her, snapping that it was his Inauguration Day – not her’s. Here is a rare recording of her voice in which she recalls the incident many decades later.
Reporters noted how bored Charlie Taft was by the entire proceedings of his father’s 1909 inauguration, but he kept himself busy by reading a copy of Treasure Island.
Wilson’s three daughters were also in attendance at their father’s 1913 ceremony, but were apparently seated so far back in the stand, away from their father that reporters were confounded in trying to photograph them.
At the inaugurations of both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, in 1925 and 1929, respectively, their sons came to Washington just for an overnight visit.
Both young men were in college and their fathers did not want them distracted for too long, even though neither President had an Inaugural Ball.
Perhaps no presidential child played a more important role at his father’s inauguration than did First Son James Roosevelt.
While Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged vaguely that he suffered from infantile paralysis, the fact that it had left his lefts useless was never publicly disclosed.
To maintain this grand deception, his legs were encased in heavy iron braces, and he managed to swing them from his hips while leaning on a cane, but also on the strong arm of his son Jimmy.
Jimmy Roosevelt was an adult, with a wife and children, but he seemed omnipresent around the White House.
In this Roosevelt family home video made by the President’s son-in-law, FDR is seen coming down the aisle of the Inaugural ceremony in 1941. His dependence on Jimmy Roosevelt, who wears his U.S. Army captain uniform is evident:
He escorted his father onto the public stand for the 1933 inauguration, as well as the ones in 1937 and 1941. He also traveled to South America with his father.
All of this was to help his father in a way nobody else seemed to do as well. Since the public never learned this, there was often harsh criticism that he was living off the public funds appropriated for living expenses at the White House.
Margaret Truman, as she had during her father’s hard-fought campaign, was a central and highly visible presence at his 1949 Inauguration. Reporters noted that the First Daughter was certainly much more animated and excited at the Inaugural Ball than her mother, First Lady Bess Truman. It may have been that Margaret Truman was the one person closest to the President who never doubted he won win the election, whereas Bess Truman had held out no such hopes.
Believing the swearing-in ceremony of a President was an important moment for his children to see, outgoing President Harry Truman had used his powers as commander-in-chief to have John Eisenhower pulled from the front lines of the Korean War and ordered back to Washington, D.C. for the 1953 Inauguration of his father. Although intended as a thoughtful surprise, the gesture infuriated President-Elect Eisenhower, feeling that it suggested his son would receive special privileges apart from other servicemen.
When their father was inaugurated, Caroline Kennedy had only just turned three years old and her brother John was a two-month old infant. Their mother decided to have them stay at the home of her father-in-law in Palm Beach, later flown to their new home of the White House in early February.
Thus, neither attended the 1961 Inauguration.
Both daughters of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, all young women at the time of their father’s respective 1965 and 1969 inaugurations were prominent figures, much like Margaret Truman was at her father’s.
Like her, Lynda Bird Johnson, Luci Baines Johnson, Julie Nixon (Eisenhower) and Tricia Nixon had all played prominent roles in the campaigns and as young adults who were constantly covered in new stories were considered celebrities in their own right.
Odd as it may now seem, the 60s and 70s were a sort of Golden Age of Presidential Children, and there was no “zone of privacy” which began when the media was asked to respect the privacy of Chelsea Clinton in 1993, a practice still in place.
Along these lines, it was not only Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter who shocked onlookers when they got out of the car driving them down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, following the 1977 swearing-in ceremony – and walked.
It was also their three sons Jack, Chip and Jeff, and their wives, and young Amy Carter.
At that night’s Inaugural Balls, Amy Carter, dressed in a blue cape, went everywhere with her parents.
Without question, she was the youngest First Daughter or First Son to ever attend such an event. At some points she became openly bored and read through her book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
The children of Ronald Reagan and George Bush were all grown adults at the time of their father’s ceremonies in 1981, 1985 and 1989.
While all were in attendance at the swearing-in ceremony, on the Inaugural Parade reviewing stand and at the Inaugural Balls, none of them stood out as figures on which the public and media fixated.
The one exception was Ron Reagan, the youngest of the Reagan children. He and his recent wife Doria seemed to especially enjoy standing at the front of the stage at each of the Inaugural Balls in 1981.
Chelsea Clinton played an unusually prominent role at her father’s 1993 and 1997 Inaugurations.
For the first time, a presidential child stood at the front of the swearing-in podium, alongside the First Lady, as if she too was holding the Bible and taking the oath with her father.
She also joined her parents in walking for part of the return to the White House, following the 1997 ceremony.
Although the twin daughters of George W. Bush were rarely seen during his two terms in office, they were prominent figures at his two swearing-in ceremonies in 2001 and 2005.
More famously was the sudden “wardrobe malfunction” of Jenna Bush, which was quickly halted by her, as she danced at one of the 2oo1 Inaugural Balls with her father.
- That Mysterious Woman at Obama’s Sunday Inaugural Ceremony & Historical Context (carlanthonyonline.com)
- The Masses Crowd Two Centuries of Inaugural Balls (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Remember The Obama Girls’ First Inauguration? Oh, How They’ve Grown (refinery29.com)
- Obama starts second term in White House ceremony (reuters.com)
- Inauguration: Obama sworn in for second term in White House ceremony – Chicago Tribune (chicagotribune.com)