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White House Life: Now and Then

Life in the Green Room
Art and Furnishings





From Quiet Reflection to Relaxed Conversation
Life in the Green Room

Anyone listening outside the locked door of the Green Room at noon on February 24, 1862 might have heard the sound of tears or perhaps a one-sided conversation of goodbye. The afternoon of his brother's funeral, young Robert Lincoln mourned with the rest of his family in the Green Room, which held his brother's metallic coffin. Robert hurried home from Harvard to attend his younger brother's funeral.

President Abraham Lincoln's son and Robert's brother, Willie, died February 20 in the White House after an illness. His body was relocated to the Green Room on the first floor to be as far away as possible from Mrs. Lincoln, who was inconsolable. His body was embalmed and placed in a casket trimmed with rosewood and silver. Behind drawn curtains and shades, candlelight lit Willie's face, and camellias filled his hands.

High-ranking members of the government and military attended Willie's funeral in the East Room, next door to the Green Room. Mrs. Lincoln was too distraught to attend. Three years later, she would not be able to attend her husband's funeral, which also took place in the East Room.

John Quincy Adams named the room the "Green Drawing Room" sometime between 1825 to 1829. The inspiration for the name may have come from Thomas Jefferson's use of the space as a dining room, when he covered the floor with a green-colored canvas for protection.

The Green Room was the site of one of the nation's earliest dramatic moments. With the stroke of a pen, President James Madison signed the nation's first declaration of war in the Green Room. The War of 1812 led to the burning of the White House by British troops in 1814.

Over the years, presidents and first ladies have used the Green Room as a small parlor for hosting guests and encouraging informal conversation. Helen Taft, the wife of President William Howard Taft, described the Green Room as her favorite. She enjoyed the room so much that she sat for a photograph in this room in 1909.

Perhaps Mrs. Taft enjoyed the room's calming color and small space, which provides an opportunity for quiet conversation. Mrs. Bush has hosted several events in the Green Room, including coffees for Marta Sahagun de Fox, wife of the President of Mexico, and Jolanta Kwasniewska, wife of the President of Poland.

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