Wednesday, January 20, 2021

First Felines: A History of Cats in the White House

The following article was originally published on the Canidae website and removed when their blog shut down. I'm happy to say it won a Cat Writers Association Certificate of Excellence last year in the Written Article: Lifestyle category. We thought today would be an appropriate time to republish it here, with only the ending slightly changed to reflect current news.

No matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, one thing all pet lovers can agree on is that the White House should always have at least one four-legged occupant. Over the course of our country’s nearly 250-year history a wide range of animals have resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but today we’re going to take a look at the First Felines. 

Incredibly, I could only find evidence of 12 Presidents that have been owned by a cat! (Wouldn't you think the most stressful job in the world could use loads of purr therapy???) While Bill Clinton’s Socks is probably the most well-known, here’s a look at some others that deserve their fair share of the limelight... 

Abraham Lincoln

Our 16th President was the first to bring a cat into the White House. He actually adored cats, going so far as to feed his son's cat Tabby with a gold fork at White House dinners, which the First Lady considered shameful. When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Todd Lincoln replied, “cats.” During the Civil War, on a visit to General Grant's headquarters in the middle of winter, he found three stray kittens in the telegraph hut. When he learned their mother was dead he made sure the kittens would be fed and a good home found for them.

Rutherford B Hayes

President Hayes reportedly owned the first Siamese cat to come to the United States. Siam was a gift to Hayes and his wife Lucy in 1879 from the American Consul in Bangkok. Several months after arriving Siam became sick and despite intervention from the president's personal physician she couldn't be saved.

William McKinley

President McKinley may have been owned by a pair of Turkish Angora cats, Valeriano Weyler, named for the governor of Cuba, and Enrique DeLome, named after Spain’s Ambassador. The true story is lost to history, but some reports say that shortly after the kittens were born the Spanish-American war broke out. In an effort to “make a political statement,” the President’s wife Ida ordered them to be drowned. Another source says the McKinleys never owned cats, and the drowning story is just a myth. Let’s hope so! 

Photo: National Archives

Officer Benjamin Fink holds Tige, the Coolidge's cat, at the White 
House on March 25, 1924.

Calvin Coolidge

Vermont's own President Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace practically ran a zoo! Among their many cats were Mud, Bounder, Smokey, Blackie, Timmy and Tige. Timmy and Coolidge's canary actually napped together! Tige traveled the White House around the President's neck and when he went missing, Coolidge appealed to the people by calling for their help on a radio address. After being found he was fitted with a special collar that contained his White House address, but after going missing a second time he was never found.

Woodrow Wilson

The 28th President’s two cats were named Mittens and Puffins. Both enjoyed jumping on the dining room table during family meals. 

Teddy Roosevelt’s youngest son Quentin Roosevelt with the six-toed Slippers

Teddy Roosevelt

President Roosevelt's six-toed cat named Slippers loved to nap in the White House hallways, requiring the guests at a state banquet to detour around her on their way to the dining room! Their second cat Tom Quartz was named after the cat in Roughing It by Mark Twain. 

Photo: National Archives

John F Kennedy

President Kennedy's daughter Caroline had to find a new home for her cat Tom Kitten (named after the beloved Beatrix Potter character) when it was discovered the President was allergic. He died at a very young age and was given an obituary in a local newspaper.

Gerald Ford

Sealpoint Siamese Shan Shein (named after a city in China) was owned by President Ford’s daughter Susan. When Susan was in school Shan would often hide under the bed in the Lincoln bedroom. Unfortunately the Fords had Shan declawed to prevent furniture scratching. 

Photo: National Archives

Jimmy Carter

The Carter family also had a sealpoint Siamese named Misty Malarky Ying Yang. In spite of the female name that inspired a musical composition by Gabor Szabo, Misty was a male cat! He was particularly devoted to daughter Amy, and could often be found curled up in her favorite spot-Amy’s indoor doll house. 

Photo: National Archives

Ronald Reagan

Although technically not White House cats (these two kitties lived at their California ranch), Ronald and Nancy had a pair of torties, Cleo and Sara! Apparently many cats lived at the Reagan ranch but they were only photographed with the torties, so they must have been extra special!

President George W Bush

Three cats resided in the Bush White House. India was named after baseball player Ruben “El Indio” Sierra of the Texas Rangers, the baseball team Bush owned at the time. India, nicknamed Willie, was very reclusive and preferred spending her time in the library. She died just before the Bush family left the White House. Ernie, named after Ernest Hemingway, became “too wild” to live in the White House and was sent to live with friends, and Cowboy died of kidney disease shortly after Bush took office.

Rumor has it there will soon be a new First Cat in the White House. One thing is certain, she will have her paws full keeping the DC rats (both four-legged and otherwise) in line!

Do you have a favorite Presidential Pet?


Mark's Mews (Marley, Lori, Loki, and Binq) said...

That was SOGREAT! We dint know of anny but Socks. We thought it was "all dogs" before Socks. Really, we and even Dad thought only the Clintons were "cool" enough ta have a cat in the White House...

Summer at said...

Okay, confession: my favorite is Socks, the one you didn't mention. MOL! Even though he WAS a Clinton, you have to admit he was pretty awesome, and was on a level beyond political parties.

Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat said...

So many sad ends for Presidential cats!

Patricia T said...

Paw-some! said...

love this post! It really humanizes presidents to know they were cat lovers!

Brian's Home Blog said...

That was really interesting but sadly the cats were never in charge.

Catscue Cat Mom said...

Only 12? Hopefully we will have 100% 1st cat participation going forward!

Timmy Tomcat said...

This is a lot of fun! Thanks my friends for the really fun post and link

Sandee said...

I had no idea. Cats rock.

Have a fabulous day. ♥

Marvelous Marv said...

We did not know about all these cats. WOW! |Thanks for reposting we enjoyed it! Have a marvellously Happy Day!

Eastside Cats said...

What I like the most about the Biden's pets, is that they are rescued!
Sends a great message.

M Dawson said...

How cool there are so many cats. I hear a rumour there will be a new cat on the Preisdential block soon too!

catladymac said...

I'm with Mark - where was any mention of Socks, the Clinton cat ? (and the most recent resident of the WH )

The Florida Furkids said...

Cool info! Boo on the declawing.

The Florida Furkids

pilch92 said...

Great post. I hope President Biden follows through to get one.

Athena Cat Goddess Wise Kitty said...

Great post!

We knew about Abraham Lincoln's love of cats but we didn't know about all the others. We hope there are more and more cats at the White House now!

World of Animals, Inc said...

Thank you so much for sharing this very interesting post with us. It was wonderful to read about all the kitties that lived in the White House since Lincoln. Have a great day and loved seeing the photos.
World of Animals Bensalem

Three Chatty Cats said...

What a fun post! I'm glad you reposted it here.

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