President  |  Vice President  |  First Lady  |  Mrs. Cheney  |  News & Policies 
History & ToursKids  |  Your Government  |  Appointments  |  JobsContactGraphic version

Email Updates  |  Español  |  Accessibility  |  Search  |  Privacy Policy  |  Help


White House Life: Now and Then

Life in the Red Room
Art and Furnishings

Mrs. Grant hung a large Grant family portrait in the Red Room to show visitors that life had returned to normal following the divisive Civil War.
President Rutherford Hayes took the oath of office in the Red Room.
The Red Room was Jacqueline Kennedy's favorite State Floor room. A watercolor of the room, recently redecorated, adorned her 1962 Christmas card.





Parties and Progress
Life in the Red Room

For lonely Senators and Congressmen living in Washington, D.C. in 1809, Wednesday night was no ordinary weekday evening. The White House welcomed them to Wednesday Drawing Rooms, a regular social occasion that sometimes attracted as many as 200 guests to the White House for a relaxed evening of food, music and conversation hosted by the flamboyant Dolley Madison and her reserved husband, President James Madison.

Guests were often wowed by Dolley's eccentric style. Her head turbans accented with ostrich feathers made quite a fashion statement. Dolley's warm personality made her guests feel comfortable as they ate ice-cream in the State Dining Room or enjoyed music in Dolley's parlor, the Red Room.

Dolley decorated this parlor in "sunflower yellow." Beautiful drapes adorned the walls and yellow silk covered the furniture. By placing a piano and guitar in this room, Dolley created a central place for entertaining.

Dolley's Wednesday Drawing Rooms opened the doors for socializing between members of opposite political parties. Before President Madison took office, Washington political social life was largely segmented. Political opponents would often not speak to each other and hostesses rarely invited political opponents to the same event. No invitation was required to attend Dolley's Wednesday Drawing Rooms. This approach mixed Washington social life like never before. These gatherings gave the president an opportunity to persuade others of his ideas, including his case for going to war against Britain.

The Madison's White House parties ended on August 24, 1814 when the British invaded Washington and burned the White House. The Madisons never again lived at the President's House and their successors, James and Elizabeth Monroe, moved into the rebuilt White House in 1817.

The Red Room received its name in the 1840s. The room's small size and vivid color scheme has made it a favorite place for presidents and first ladies over the years. More than 100 years after Dolley Madison changed Washington social life, the Red Room became the site for more social change.

Very shortly after her husband's inauguration in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt hosted the first of many press conferences for women reporters in the Red Room. Because women reporters were excluded from the president's press conferences, Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences erased a social taboo and opened the doors of the White House to women reporters.

While she knitted, Mrs. Roosevelt discussed cooking and housekeeping topics with the women reporters, who dressed in white gloves and hats as if they were attending an afternoon tea. Over the years as Mrs. Roosevelt's involvement in social issues and travel increased, the topics at these press conferences changed to discussions of domestic policies.

Return to top






Presidents & First Ladies

White House

Events & Traditions