A 1930 White House Christmas Recollection

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Margaret Hoover, First Lady Lou Hoover,  and nurse (holding Joan) arrive at Union Station in Washington, 12/8/1930. The nurse is unidentified.
Margaret Hoover, First Lady Lou Hoover, and nurse (holding Joan) arrive at Union Station in Washington. The nurse is unidentified. 12/8/1930

Marion Redman is not a familiar name in the Hoover presidency, although she had a front row seat from December 1930 until the end of May 1931 as the governess for baby Joan, Peggy Ann, and Herbert “Pete” Hoover III.  Tuberculosis was widespread during the Hoover presidency, affecting his eldest son, Herbert Hoover II.  The standard treatment for infected individuals was to rest in a sanitarium or a warm, healthful climate for many months as the infected lungs cleared.  A decision was made for Herbert Hoover II and his wife Margaret, to live in Asheville, North Carolina while their three children stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Hoover in the White House.  Redman was the director of the Clay school kindergarten in Minneapolis, Minnesota from 1922 until 1930 when she assumed the position of governess for President and Mrs. Hoover’s grandchildren.  Redman kept a diary for most of her time in the White House, providing first-hand accounts of family activity.  Her descendants provided the Hoover Library with a typescript and scans of newspaper clippings and photographs contained in the diary.  The following is an extract from Wednesday, December 24, 1930:

“The day before Christmas, Peter and Peggy Ann made calendars and blotters and note pads for their granddaddy and grandmummy and mummy and daddy.  These were wrapped and sealed with Christmas stickers.

That evening there was a dinner party for the President’s secretaries and the White House physicians and families.  The tables were set in the State Dining Room—one for the grown-ups in the shape of a U and another in the center for the children (about12).  The centerpiece on the children’s table was a sleigh drawn by eight brown reindeer (names Dasher, Dancer etc.) Santa was in the sleigh.  All this was on a long strip of mirror with a gold fence-like frame.  The mirror represented ice, and there was cotton here and there for snow.  On the big table there were bouquets of poinsettias.  At the corners there were big green wreaths.  Lying in the center of these stood tall brass candle sticks with red candles in them.  At each place were crackers.

After the dinner each woman guest was given a brass candle holder with a lighted red candle in it, and the men were given brass bells.  All the lights were turned out and the Marine Band played marches, and the guests marched through the corridors up stairs and down, carrying the candles and ringing their bells.  They ended their march in the East Room.  Peggy Ann was President Hoover’s partner, and Peter was Mrs. Hoover’s.

In the East Room was a gorgeous big Christmas tree with gifts underneath for the children.  There were red candles in the candelabras and there were balloons floating around up near the ceiling.  The Girl Scouts sang Christmas Carols.  Florence and I helped Mrs. McMullen give out the toys under the tree.  Later on the guests all went out to the lobby where they listened to a group of about 50 school children sing Christmas Carols.  They each carried a hymn book and a lighted candle.

The long corridor was very pretty that evening with several untrimmed Christmas trees standing in the corners and between the door ways.  The two big marble fern boxes were filled with poinsettias, and there were two gorgeous green wreaths tied with big red bows hanging in the lobby.  Outside, in the portico, stood two lighted trees, and in the windows hung more green wreaths tied with red bows.

Mrs. Hoover wished us a Merry Christmas when we went upstairs.  She made a charming hostess in her blue and silver gown and her hair so beautifully done up.

One thought on “A 1930 White House Christmas Recollection

  1. Thanks for this lovely look at Christmas in the White House, even amidst the similar frightening times of tuberculosis.

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