Ask a Librarian

Presidential Children

Ithaca Journal, The (NY) - Saturday, January 24, 2009

Databases, web site host plenty of stories about children in the White House

Question: Where can I find information on children of former presidents?

Answer: Children of United States' presidents have long been popular subjects of the media. From John F. Kennedy Jr.'s famous salute toward his father's passing coffin, to Chelsea Clinton's transformation from awkward teen to hip young woman, the media has often highlighted and scrutinized the youngest residents of the White House. However, some of the best stories about these young Americans have been long forgotten or lost in the archives.

A search for information about children of U.S. presidents led to many interesting stories.

One of these storied children was Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt. Famous for many reasons, Alice had a color named for her - "Alice Blue" and was dubbed "Princess Alice" by the press. She loved to shock people and was often seen in Washington, D. C. racing around in her car at all hours. She even jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed!

Her father once remarked, "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both!" Tompkins County Public Library has an excellent biography about Alice — Alice Roosevelt Longworth: From White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery.

Children of American Presidents who have lived in the White House have had many challenges and have responded in a myriad of ways! Alice Roosevelt's brother, Quentin, actually led a pony up on the elevator to cheer up his sick brother!

The Roosevelt brothers also formed the "White House Gang" and dropped water balloons from the roof of the White House onto the guards below. The children were also known for riding metal trays down the staircase.

Charlie Taft once posed as the White House operator and chatted with everyone who telephoned the presidential manse. President Benjamin Harrison chased his baby grandson in a goat cart across the White House lawn. Tad Lincoln, dressed in a military uniform, used a toy cannon to bomb his father's Cabinet Room door. He also made all of the bells in the White House ring at once.

Susan Ford, daughter of President Gerald Ford, found the key to where the cookies were locked away in the White House kitchen so she could help herself at night. John F. Kennedy Jr. was photographed peeking out from underneath his dad's desk in the Oval Office. Many of these anecdotes are detailed on the Web site: www.whitehousehistory.org.

The Tompkins County Public Library web site has a fantastic resource in the Magazine and Newspaper Databases, available for use by all library patrons both within the library and at home. Thes research toosl provide access to over 1,700 full text magazines and newspapers, 500 reference books, 84,000 biographies and 100,000 primary source documents.

So, as Malia and Sasha Obama get settled in the White House, we have a few pieces of advice .... don't ride your pony in the elevator, bathing suits are appropriate swimming attire and don't forget to ask Susan Ford where they keep the key to the cookies!

Today's question was answered by Debbie Collier, a librarian at Tompkins County Public Library. Send your questions by e-mail to askalibrarian@tcpl.org, or call 272-4557 or visit the library at 101 E. Green St.

Page last modified May 3, 2012