State Dinner at the Hoover White House for the King and Queen of Siam

 

On April 29, 1931 several precedents were set at a State Dinner at the White House.  The Hoovers hosted King Prajadhipok and Queen Rambai, monarchs of Siam.  This was the first State Dinner where an ‘Oriental monarch’ met with the President.  It was also the first time that the ruling monarch sat at the right hand of the President. Generally the guest of honor sat opposite the President.  Finally, this was the first time that Dolly Gann, sister of Vice­-President Charles Curtis, was granted official recognition as second ranking lady in the nation.

Visits from heads of states are driven by page after page of protocols established by the State Department, the nation of the visiting dignitary, and the White House.  Details have to be ironed out weeks in advance, inconsistencies have to be reconciled and procedures have to be clearly articulate so that the visit runs smoothly.  For example, the visit of the King and Queen of Siam led Lou Henry Hoover’s staff to issue a 14-page manifesto describing activities from the minute the royal family debarked from the train on April 29th until the moment they left town on May 1st.  Even at 14 pages, the protocol explanation fell short, thrice resorting to ‘see State Department memo’ for further details.  Every contingency was accounted for, and redundancies were built into the plan to ensure the safety of the guests.

King Paradhipok and Queen Rambai Barni of Siam in the living room of Suite 31-A in the Waldorf Astoria hotel – having a luncheon. 04/05 – 1931 ca.

The King and Queen arrived at 8:00 p.m. and were received by the Hoovers in the Red Room.  Before the arrival of the royals, members of the Siamese party joined nearly fifty American guests in the East Room.  The Hoovers and the royals briefly exchanged courtesies before joining the others in the East Room where the Hoovers presented their majesties to the assembly.  Adopting the American custom, the King and Queen then shook hands with the guests before repairing to the banquet table.

Contemporary press coverage gave considerable attention to décor of the room, the names of the guests, the couture of the ladies and the elaborate menu.  The table ‘had about it the airy atmosphere of Spring’ containing vases filled with pink tulips, red tea roses, bridal wreath of pink and white flowers, and California grapes cascading nearly to the Belgian lace tablecloth.  The guest list was strictly dictated by State Department protocol.  Queen Rambai wore a regal gown of gold brocade cut simply to fit her figure. This gown set off her necklace of emeralds and diamonds, the gems being of unusual size and beauty. Mrs. Hoover wore a gown of heavy ivory faille taffeta with a long train.  She wore no jewels.  Mrs. Hoover held with her custom of serving only American food to visitors from abroad.  The dinner included fish, cold lobster, cunningly devised baskets of beets stacked with cucumbers, chicken breast and endives.  Dessert consisted of ices, fruits and candies.

Queen Rambai Barni of Siam visiting Washington DC. ca. April 1931

After dinner the men retired upstairs for coffee and cigars.  The ladies repaired to the Blue Room for coffee.  Here Mrs. Hoover took pains to introduce the Queen to small groups, thus enabling each little group of Washington women to have a few minutes’ conversation with her majesty.  The men and women then reconvened in the East Room for a short musicale by harpist Mildred Dilling.  They were joined by an additional hundred guests eager to see royalty.  Dilling played an abbreviated program so that the King could retire early, as he had an appointment the next day with an eye specialist at Johns Hopkins to discuss surgery for his cataract.

Lou Hoover, ever the gracious hostess, followed up with hand-written letters to the Queen in May. In the first she asks Queen Rambai to send a photograph of herself to match excellent likeness that the King sent in memory of their delightful visit.  In the second letter, Lou writes: ‘Again with the hope of both the President and myself for his Majesty’s speedy recovery, I am, with many happy memories, yours most sincerely.’

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