This special issue of White House History is devoted to the story of White House hospitality from the perspective of those who have served the presidency in the role of social secretary. Interviews with fifteen former White House social secretaries conducted by Richard Norton Smith and Mary Jo Binker from 2007 to 2017, form the basis for this compilation of personal reflections.
Perhaps the social secretary's best known responsibility is managing the guest lists and arrangements for Official White House State Dinners, but the job is much more than that. The social secretary is responsible for the overall planning, design, coordination, and direction of all official and personal social events in the White House and on the 18-acre grounds—everything from working lunches and bill signings to State Dinners, massive receptions for hundreds of people, and barbecues on the South Lawn for thousands. Among the many topics discussed and illustrated in this issue are: formal and informal entertaining; White House weddings, memorable royal moments; the social secretary as part of the White House staff; guests behaving badly; private times and goodbyes.
Featured in this collection of quotes, memories, and profiles are: Letitia Baldrige and Nancy Tuckerman from the Kennedy Administration; Bess Abell of the Johnson Administration; Lucy Winchester of the Nixon Administration; Nancy Lammerding Ruwe and Maria Downs of the Ford Administration; Gretchen Poston of the Carter Administration; Mabel Brandon, Gahl Hodges Burt and Linda Faulkner of the Reagan Administration; Laurie Firestone of the George H. W. Bush Administration; Ann Stock and Capricia Marshall of the Clinton Administration; Catherine Fenton, Lea Berman, and Amy Zantzinger of the George W. Bush Administration; and Desirée Rogers, Jeremy Bernard, and Deesha Dyer of the Obama Administration.
The interviews reflect that while each president and first lady bring their own individual and unique entertaining style to the White House, social secretaries share many common experiences. Often managing two, three, or four events in a single day, the demands of the job require 24/7 dedication, with little, if any, time off. Despite its demanding nature, “It’s the best job in the White House,” said Bess Abell, social secretary in the Lyndon Johnson administration. William Seale, the editor of White House History observes, "The social secretaries interviewed for this issue cover more than half a century of presidencies, beginning with Kennedy. They tell the story of the rise of the position and the vast duties it serves. White House intimates very rarely give interviews, but these social secretaries have honored our historical purposes by talking with us. The result, presented in this issue, is a unique document of history."
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