Think it’s tough raising kids in your house? Try parenting in the White House! In honor of President’s Day, we’re looking back at some of the pranks, discipline problems, and embarrassing faux pas that certain First Kids have inflicted on the leaders of the free world (aka their fathers).
Teddy Roosevelt brought six rowdy offspring and a whole menagerie of exotic pets to the White House, including a pony named Algonquin. When young Archie Roosevelt fell ill, his brothers tried to raise his spirits by sneaking the pony into the White House elevator and up to his room for a visit. We wonder, did the pony have security clearance?
Not to be outdone by her troublemaking younger brothers, Alice Roosevelt tested her father Teddy constantly by smoking, staying out late with boys, and showing up at parties wearing a live snake. Asked how he would handle his wild child daughter, Teddy famously said, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice but I cannot possibly do both.” When the Roosevelts moved out, the incoming Taft family actually banned Alice from the White House after discovering that she’d buried a voodoo doll of new First Lady Nellie Taft on the front lawn.
Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were known to be permissive parents, letting their unruly sons wander freely in the White House. Visiting guests were often the victim of pranks, such as when the the boys opened fire on a cabinet meeting with their toy cannon — apparently loaded with real gun powder. Seems like somebody might have deserved a time out for that one, but Lincoln rarely punished his boys and was happy to let them wrestle him to the ground between meetings.
The Great Escape
As a rebellious teen, Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan attempted to escape her security detail, speeding away from the White House in her own car. As luck would have it, the gate was wide open, since Susan’s mom Betty Ford was arriving home at that exact moment. Tasting freedom, Susan picked up a friend and hit the bars, only returning to the White House when she remembered that her secret service agents had something she needed — her Hall & Oates tickets for that night! Despite everything, she was still allowed to attend the concert.
Out of the Mouths of Babes
The press couldn’t get enough of sweet Caroline Kennedy, only 3 years old when John and Jackie moved her into the White House. One time, when a journalist asked Caroline where her father was, she responded, “He’s upstairs with his shoes and socks off doing nothing.” Then, she dutifully reported that the First Lady was “in her bathrobe, also doing nothing.” That’s why toddlers don’t make good press secretaries.
One for the Books
Jimmy Carter’s 9-year-old daughter Amy was shy and didn’t enjoy the limelight, which is tough when you’re the First Kid. Required to attend a state dinner, she sat quietly reading a book throughtout the meal, inadvertently insulting the President of Mexico. Amy’s father defended her, saying that his family had always liked to read at the table.
Where There’s Smoke…
On her first night living in the White House, Lyndon Johnson’s 16-year-old daughter Luci Baines tried to light the fireplace in her room. When the blaze got out of hand, she stood on her desk to open a window and realized she was visible to all below wearing only her nightgown. Good thing social media wasn’t around yet!
Looking for more great stories about presidents’ children? Check out White House Kids by Joe Rhatigan.