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Crochet in the White House


It wasn't until 1961 that Congress began appropriating funds to maintain an arts and decorative arts collection in the White House executive residence. To honor the 50th anniversary of the White House Historic Association, the exhibition, Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts From the White House, took place this year at the Smithsonian Institution.

According to the exhibit catalog written by White House curators, William Allman and Melissa Naulin, "First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy initiated a three-part program to restore the historic integrity of the public rooms of the White House, acquire a collection of fine and decorative arts, and establish the White House Historical Association to research and publish books and educational materials interpreting the White House and its history. Every first lady since has taken an active interest in and [has] supported the work of the association in the acquisition of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent White House collection and the preservation of public rooms." (1)

Looking back in history, there are some interesting examples of crochet in the White House. James Buchanan, our 15th president from 1857-1861, was the only unmarried president in history. He liked to crochet in his free time (2) and he chose his niece, Harriet Lane, to assume hostess and decorating duties. (3)

During the 1920s, Grace Coolidge, wife of our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge (1923-29), was disappointed to find very few original furnishings in the house. She obtained a Congressional resolution to provide for the acceptance of treasured objects as gifts to a permanent collection establishing the White House as a museum. It was she who crocheted the coverlet for the Lincoln bed and in doing so she hoped to start a tradition where each first Lady would leave a memento of life in the White House. (4)

Although she was in poor health, Ida Saxon McKinley, wife of our 25th president, William McKinley (1897-1901), crocheted an estimated 4,000 pairs of wool slippers. She contributed them to friends, veterans, and orphans or sold them at auctions to raise money for charity. After her husband was elected president, she performed her duties as first lady as best she could and her illnesses were not disclosed to the public. (5)

In her blog, CrochetWithDee, Dee Stanziano reports that Edith Galt Wilson is considered the "first U.S. woman president for virtually running the nation for over six months when her husband, Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) our 26th president, suffered a severe stroke". Edith was Woodrow's second wife and she can be seen on the PBS documentary, Woodrow Wilson: The Redemption of the World, crocheting as she thinks out Woodrow's marriage proposal. (6)

If you do not live in the Washington, D.C. area or were unaware of this wonderful exhibit, the illustrated catalog can be purchased from the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum for $14.95. (7)


  1. Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House exhibition catalog
  3. A; pp. 119-137
  4. Monkman, Betty. The White House: Its Historic Furnishings & First Families; pp. 202-08
  7. Exhibit catalog: