Life in the White House
The Mezzanine of the Main Gallery is largely devoted to Bill Clinton’s life from his early boyhood in Arkansas to the Clinton family’s years in the White House.
His passion for music, his early interest in politics and public service, his love of westerns, the dreams that drove him, and the way that the Clintons made the White House into a true family home are captured in this section of the Museum. Exhibits offer a warm and personal look at the events, artifacts, and memories of the 42nd President of the United States, including collections from White House holiday celebrations, china settings from official state events, and gifts to the President from people all over the world.
Among the highlights of the mezzanine exhibits are gifts of State, a table setting for a White House dinner, and a satin ball gown (designed by Vera Wang) worn by the First Lady at the state dinner for Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
Welcoming world leaders to the White House has strategic as well as symbolic importance.
During the Clinton years, every element of these state events, from welcome to farewell, was designed to strengthen the bonds of friendship with the visiting leader and highlight our two countries’ aspirations for the future.
The President and First Lady hosted representatives from emerging democracies such as South Africa and Ghana; traditional allies such as Britain and France; former foes such as Russia and China; neighbors such as Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Canada; and partners for peace such as Israel and Jordan.
State dinners are also opportunities to introduce world leaders to American culture and its diversity. During the Clinton years, the guest lists included men and women from all backgrounds and walks of life. Menus often represented a fusion of American and international cuisine. And entertainers ranged from Yo-Yo Ma to Stevie Wonder.
Making This House a Home
When the Clintons arrived in Washington, Chelsea was 12 years old.
She had just left the only home she had ever known—the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock—and her parents were determined to make the White House a place the whole family could call home. They filled its rooms with the books, music, family photos, and other personal treasures from their lives together.
The Clintons converted the butler’s pantry into a family kitchen, which became a favorite gathering spot. It was not uncommon to find the First Family enjoying dinner together, Chelsea and her friends raiding the refrigerator, the President watching a football game with the butlers, or Buddy and Socks looking for a leftover. Upstairs, you might find the Clintons gathered in the West Sitting Hall, unwinding after an event; or the family and friends watching television in the Solarium, or otherwise making themselves at home with history.
Celebrations at the White House
On the first day the Clintons lived in the White House, they invited more than 3,000 Americans, and shook hands with every single one.
They were determined to invite more people than ever before to experience the history and beauty of the White House and the best of American culture. Over the next eight years, millions of Americans came to the White House—to enjoy picnics on the South Lawn, watch the arrivals of visiting heads of state, tour the White House, or attend thousands of other events that celebrated our nation’s diversity. The Clintons expanded the Easter Egg Roll so that more children could take part, and they created a St. Patrick’s Day celebration to bring people together for peace. One year, they turned the Congressional and press picnics into old-fashioned carnivals. And every year, thousands came to see the huge Christmas tree or to celebrate Chanukah, Ramadan, and Kwanza.
Americans love to give gifts to their Presidents and First Families.
It is a tradition of long standing, dating back at least to 1801, when grateful citizens presented a mammoth 1,235-pound cheese to Thomas Jefferson. By the 20th century, the gift-giving tradition had grown in popularity, with tens of thousands of gifts streaming to the White House every year. The gifts are as diverse as the nation. From the ordinary to the unique, they represent a vital connection between “We the people” and our Chief Executive, and directly express how we think he is doing.
The Clintons received tens of thousands of gifts from their fellow Americans. They commemorate important milestones or express affection, gratitude, and encouragement. Many reflect the President’s interests in golf and music, or relate to Arkansas. Some are patriotic items such as flags and eagles. And, of course, there are many portraits of the First Family and of Buddy and Socks.