National Geographic : 1961 Jan
Inside the White House Result: appointments cleared, menus selected, and household details taken care of. Afterward her secretary brings the mail for decisions and for personal answers when possible. Mrs. Eisenhower has received an average of 1,000 letters a week, from birth day greetings to suggestions for her hair style. With the preliminaries out of the way, the First Lady is ready to step out before the public. She may attend a benefit luncheon for a national health or charity drive. Per haps an afternoon garden party is scheduled for a thousand war veterans. Or a tea for Congressional wives, followed by another an hour or so later for Service wives. "Small" Tea Party Has 400 Guests As a member of the Women's National Press Club, I went to one of Mrs. Eisen hower's teas for Washington newswomen. It was by no means a big affair for the White House-merely 400 guests to greet. Shaking hands warmly with all, the First Lady stopped often to chat, with surprising memory for names and faces. Such talents in a President's wife, I reflected, may not make headlines. But certainly they increase the effectiveness of a Nation's leader. Shaking hands is, of course, the inescap able White House chore. According to their bent, Presidents and their ladies have pro tested it, tolerated it, and even at times en joyed it. Frances Folsom Cleveland, the beautiful bride of Grover Cleveland, not only shook hands with 7,000 guests at a New Year's re ception but stepped forward each time. Mrs. Lincoln avoided the ordeal by stand ing just behind the President while he worked, as a contemporary bystander put it, "as though he had been splitting rails as of yore." Solemn, hard-working President Polk adopted a practical way to avoid bone crush ing. "I can generally anticipate a strong grip from a strong man," he said, "and I then take advantage of him by being quicker than he and seizing him by the tip of his fingers." To James and Sarah Polk, who in 1848 introduced gas lighting with some misgivings, the Executive Mansion now would seem a palace of mechanical marvels. Mrs. Polk, something of a housekeeping paragon herself, would surely goggle at the huge staff. Today's First Lady can take on as little or as much as she likes of the management chores. Mrs. Truman's staff recalls that though she left details to others, "she knew what she wanted." Mrs. Eisenhower's stand ard has been efficiency in its most sparkling form. As a former Army wife, she has been known to take unexpected "white-glove" dust inspection tours of the house. Whatever her way, the latest mistress will inherit a smoothly operating maintenance and service staff of 70 employees: engineers, elec tricians, carpenters, painters, and plumbers; maids, laundresses, cooks, waiters, butlers, doormen, housemen, and gardeners. Working staggered eight-hour periods, some of these people are always on duty. They use vast amounts of household supplies. Floor wax alone comes to 50 pounds a month. Congress and President Share Expenses Off the North Portico entrance I found the small office of the Chief Usher of the White House, whose job as general manager calls for superb organization and the tact of angels. In fact, he does just about everything but usher. In running the house, I learned, the Gov ernment shares expenses with the President. Congress pays for upkeep and personnel, and picks up the check for official entertaining. The President is expected to pay for his own servants, such as a personal maid or valet, for nonofficial telephone calls, food and laundry for his family and all private guests. When a new administration comes in, there is an additional appropriation for repairs and redecorating. The outside is painted every four years. The last regular appropriation for 1960-61-came to $505,000. Such a sum hardly seems excessive when you consider the scope and significance of this many-sided house. Every President con- Crystal Reflects Candlelight Flickering in the Private Dining Room Starting his working day early, President Calvin Coolidge entertained with 8 o'clock breakfasts in this room. One morning guests stared in astonishment as the President silently and solemnly poured coffee and cream into his saucer. Some nervously followed suit before Mr. Coolidge sprang his joke and lowered the saucer to the floor for his dog. Table and chairs came to the White House after Mrs. Coolidge appealed for gift antiques. The Trumans installed the chandelier, only nonelectric one in the house. HS EKTACHROMEBY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHERTHOMASNEBBIA © N.G.S.