Sunday, February 3, 2019

Inside the White House: The Library

According to the 1801 inventory of the White House in Washington D.C., the room we now know as the library was "Room 17," an unfinished basement chamber used for laundry and storage. (The laundry was dried elsewhere, and Abigail Adams was known to have hung wet laundry in the unfinished East Room upstairs.)
The White House Library, looking west. Clinton Administration. Public Domain.
For over a hundred years, the 27' x 23' room was used by staff for various purposes. Then in Theodore Roosevelt's 1902 restoration of the White House, the room was finished  and transformed into a servants' locker room.

A White House library had been first established during the Fillmore Administration (1850-1853) but in the early 1930's, First Lady Lou Hoover decided to move it to the ground floor from the Yellow Oval Room (above the Blue Room), and the locker room was refurbished into a small library. There were few books in the library at that time, so The American Booksellers Association donated books, and it is still tradition for the ABA to present the president with books.

During the Truman reconstruction of the White House in 1952,  the room was paneled with salvaged timbers taken from the White House's former frame. In 1961, a committee was appointed to select specific works for the library which were deemed representative of American history, thought, and literature, as well as Presidential papers. These books are available to the Presidential family and staff.
File:Reagan Gorbachev White House Library.jpg
President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev are photographed in the White House Library, Dec. 8, 1987. Public Domain.
The Library is furnished in the late Federal period style (1800-1820) and along with serving as a library, it is often used for teas and meetings. Decorated in soft gray and rose tones, the room boasts several important and interesting pieces of art, including a  gilded wood chandelier made around 1800 that once belonged to the family of James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans.
File:Mrs. Barbara Bush reads to children in the White House Library.jpg
First Lady Barbara Bush reads to children in the Library during the 1990's. Public Domain.
A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart hangs over the mantel. Five portraits of Native Americans by Charles Bird King also hang in the room, including this one of Hayne Hudjihini, Eagle of Delight.
Hayne Hudjihini - Eagle of Delight - by Charles Bird King, c1822.jpg
Hayne Hudjihini - Eagle of Delight - by Charles Bird King, c. 1822. Public Domain.
Hayne Hudjihini (b. c. 1795 - d. 1822) was one Otoe tribe's Chief Shaumonekusse's five wives. In 1822, she visited the President James Monroe at the White House with her husband and a delegation of other chiefs.The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) commissioned Charles Bird King to paint portraits of Hudjihini and Shaumonekusse.

Soon after, Hudjihini died of measles. It is assumed she contracted the disease while traveling.

The original portrait of Eagle of Delight was kept at the Smithsonian Institution and sadly was destroyed in a fire in 1865, but King had made a personal copy, which was donated to the White House in 1962. a patron donated King's personal copy to the White House in 1962. 

Today, the Library is used for interviews, small meetings, teas, and other intimate events.

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Charlie Rose (June 16, 2013)
President Obama participates in an interview with Charlie Rose in the White House Library, Sunday, June 16, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Today, visitors can look into the library, but not enter. Only special guests are permitted to peruse the shelves up close or curl up in one of the chairs for a cozy read.


Susanne Dietze is the award-winning author of fifteen romances. You can learn more about her on her website,


  1. Thanks so much for this peek into the library. It's a bit underwhelming, but I guess if it holds lots of history books you could do lots of research there.

    1. It's not that large of a room, true, but I'd love to go in and peek at the titles. And it's a pretty room, too!

      I hope you're having a great weekend!

  2. What rich history! Who would have thought a room used for laundry would someday be a library?

  3. I know--if the walls could talk! I would love to look around and curl up with a book in there!

    Thanks so much for coming by!