Clotheslines to Receiving
the East Room
Mrs. Adams' request might not have seemed strange to the servant who answered her call to hang the President's laundry in the large room flanking the east corner of the President's house. Today it is hard to imagine the beautiful East Room as the White House laundry room, but in November 1800, the first occupants had to make do with the inconveniences of living in a new house.
When President John Adams and his wife Abigail moved into the President's House in November 1800, the mansion was largely unfinished and unfurnished. The roof leaked and construction had not begun on the grand stairway. Because there was no fence around the house to protect a clothesline, Mrs. Adams hung her laundry in the secure but unfinished East Room.
President and Mrs. Adams lived at the White House less than five months before Thomas Jefferson took office in March 1801. Jefferson turned the south end of the unfinished East Room into an office and bedchamber for his aide, Meriwether Lewis. Jefferson's successor, President James Madison used the room as his Cabinet Room. The East Room was not fully decorated until 1829 during the administration of President Andrew Jackson.
The East Room is the ideal multi-purpose room. Over the years this large space has been the site of weddings, funerals, press conferences, receptions and receiving lines. Upon occasion, President Woodrow Wilson turned the area into a movie theater, and Jacqueline Kennedy used it as a theater for the performing arts.
President George W. Bush has used the East Room to sign significant pieces of legislation, such as the tax relief act, as well as a place to communicate his policies and initiatives. The President and Mrs. Bush also have hosted many performing artists, including students from the Duke Ellington School of Arts, who performed in the East Room for the Celebration of African-American Music, History and Culture.
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