Wednesday, January 18, 2012


White House, north face, 1901
Twelve babies have been born in the White House. Only one has been the child of a sitting president; all of the rest (except for one slave baby) have been either grandchildren or the children of sitting presidents’ nephews or nieces. In the early decades of the White House, it was not unusual for whole families of the president’s closest staff to live in the Executive Mansion.

One or two of the sources listed below mention specific rooms in the Executive Mansion where these babies were born, but only a couple of them. Some of the White House architecture has changed over the past two centuries, so that some earlier rooms no longer exist. The ground floor today, where the China Room, Library, and other rooms are located, was originally used for servants and slaves quarters; first-floor rooms are formal reception, dining, and dance rooms; and the second (top) floor has served as the private, residential rooms and apartments for the families of the presidents and their closest staff. Most of the earlier presidents had their offices on the second floor, too, until the Oval Office in the West Wing was constructed in 1909.

Jan. 17, 1806:  The first one was a grandson of President Thomas Jefferson on January 17, 1806. His name was James Madison Randolph, a child of Jefferson’s daughter Martha Washington Jefferson Randolph.

December 1806:  The next baby born there was to two of Jefferson’s slaves – Fanny and Eddy – who were part of Jefferson’s household staff. This is the only person of color and a slave born in the White House. There is no readily available record of the name or gender of this child, who only lived a few years, due to ill health.

Mary Louisa Adams (Durand, 1835)
December 2, 1828:  John Quincy Adams had only four months of his administration left when his son John Adams II and wife Mary Catherine, then living at the White House, welcomed a baby girl, Mary Louisa Adams, into the world.

1829-1834:  During Andrew Jackson’s presidency, four children were born to his secretary Andrew Jackson Donelson and his wife Emily, both of whom were also nephew and niece to Jackson’s deceased wife Rachel. Emily served as White House hostess during the Jackson administration.

March 1840:  Martin Van Buren’s eldest son Abraham married Angelica Singleton, a distant relation to Dolley Madison, and their daughter Rebecca was born at the White House during Martin’s presidency. Sadly, mother and daughter suffered serious illness for several months after childbirth, and although Angelica survived, little Rebecca finally succumbed that fall.

March 15, 1846:  James Polk and his wife Sarah had no children, but Polk’s nephew Joseph Knox Walker and his wife Augusta lived in the White House with the President and First Lady.  Walker served as secretary to the President.  The Walkers brought two children with them into the White House, and had two more while they lived there – Sally, b. March 15, 1846, and Joseph, b. December 9, 1847.

December 9, 1847:  Birth of President Polk’s grand-nephew Joseph Knox Walker in the White House. (See entry above.)

Esther Cleveland
September 9, 1893:  Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances are the only presidential couple to have had a child born to them in the White House during the presidency.  Ruth had been born a couple of years before, and public fascination (fostered because of other children residing previously in the White House) resulted in a candy bar named Baby Ruth in the child’s honor.  The Clevelands did their best to protect their children from the paparazzi of the day, and Esther’s arrival on September 9, 1893, surprised the press entirely. The Clevelands guarded their children’s privacy to the degree that the public speculated that Esther was deformed, which she was not.

January 17, 1915:  One hundred and nine years to the day after Thomas Jefferson’s grandson was born in the White House, little Francis Bowes Sayre, Jr., also came into the world in the White House, born to the daughter and son-in-law of Woodrow and Ellen Wilson,  Jesse and Francis Bowes Sayre.

William Seale, The President’s House: A History, White House Historical Association with the cooperation of the National Geographic Society, Washington, DC, 1986.

Susan Edwards, White House Kids, Avon Books, New York, 1999.

Adams grandson info from: - This Day In History: February 25

Polk grand-niece and grand-nephew info from:

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