Presidential dads

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George Washington, the nation's first president and first presidential dad (Raphael Tuck & Sons Series No. 156, "Washington's Home Life at Mount Vernon") about 1908.

He may be “Mr. President” to the rest of the nation and a feared and respected world leader abroad, but at home around the White House, he’s just plain old “Dad,” “Pop” or “Daddy,” to his kids. Father’s Day has often been a holiday celebrated at the nation’s executive mansion. Most of our 43 presidents were contented family men.

In all, America’s presidents have been the proud fathers of 152 children, not counting the child Grover Cleveland admitted to fathering out of wedlock. Many happy childhoods and a couple of unhappy ones, were spend frolicking and romping throughout the White House and all over the grounds, often with an assortment of pets.

Sometimes their exploits as dads made more headlines than did their running the country. “Give ’em hell, Harry” Truman, on more than one occasion, threatened bodily harm to critics of daughter Margaret’s musical talents. And Teddy Roosevelt’s freewheeling eldest daughter, Alice, provided much amusement for the American public.

Eighty-nine boys and 63 girls have had presidential dads, one of the latest being Chelsea Clinton, Bill and Hillary’s only child, whose privacy during adolescence was exceptionally well protected. Jenna and Barbara Bush, daughters of the current president, are the only twins.

Since Father’s Day was first celebrated on June 19, 1910, in Spokane, Wash., the White House has been home to a president without children only once, from 1921 to 1923, during the Warren G. Harding administration. Of course, many times the children were grown up and had families of their own. But still, as during the tenure of Ronald Reagan, they often came to visit or to stay for a while.

Of the 42 men who have led our nation over the last two centuries, only five were childless: Madison, Jackson, Polk, Buchanan and Harding. Of the 36 proud papas, though, 12 had no daughter and 12 could boast of no sons.

George Washington, the “Father of His Country,” was father to no children of his own, but was a fond and loving stepfather to wife Martha’s two children from a previous marriage. He also adopted and raised some nephews and nieces. So we can also add “First Presidential Dad” to his giant list of accomplishments.

The most prolific dad of all was our 10th president, John Tyler. He fathered 15 children, 14 of whom survived infancy. Seven of them lived beyond age 60, including four who made it to their 80s. Tyler was 70 when the last child, Pearl, was born. It took two wives to give birth to and nurture all of his children.

Tyler’s first brood of seven (one died as an infant) ranged in age from 10 to 25 when he took office on April 6, 1841. His second wife, Julia Gardner, 30 years his junior, bore him seven children, all after his presidency ended. Small wonder then, that Tyler returned to his law practice after leaving the White House – he had all those mouths to feed!

William Henry Harrison, however, is the president who deserves the title of the greatest patriarch of all. While Tyler, his vice president and successor upon his death after only one month in office had the most children, Harrison, in addition to being the father of 10 and taking second place honors on that account, sired a family that in time grew to include 48 grandchildren and 106 great grandchildren.

To Harrison goes another honor of fatherhood – the only president to have a grandson (Benjamin Harrison) also serve as Chief Executive (1889-1893). John Adams, our second president, himself a father of four and founder of one of America’s most distinguished and famous families, had the distinction for nearly two centuries of being the only father of a president. John Quincy Adams, his eldest son, became our nation’s sixth leader in 1825 for four years, after a long and honorable political career.

Other presidential dads could boast of children who grew up to be politicians, including two senators, seven congressmen, four members of presidential cabinets, and several who were touted for the nation’s highest office.

And some sons served their country as members of the military. Two sons – Frederick Dent Grant on June 12, 1871, and John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower on June 6, 1944 – graduated from West Point and went on to military careers in the U.S. Army. A number of other children served during wartime, including all four of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s living sons.

Teddy Roosevelt, whose presidential family was so well portrayed on souvenir postcards in the early years of the 20th century, lost three sons in the defense of America. Quentin, at age 20 was shot down over France in World War I; Kermit and Theodore, Jr. – a brigadier general and Medal of Honor recipient – died during World War II.

Many postcards depict presidential dads and their children. Some even come from the political category. After all, most candidates like to project a family image to voters, and pictures of them and their children are quite common, including some used for campaign postcards. At least one from the 1948 Truman vs. Dewey election shows the losing Republican ticket and their two families walking down the street. Titled “Two American Families,” it sought to make Dewey and running mate Earl Warren seem like “down home folks.”

Modern postcards of the last 60 years have pictured most presidents and their children, such cards always being good sellers off store racks. Franklin D. Roosevelt and his granddaughter appear on one card by British publisher Raphael Tuck & Sons, part of that firm’s World War II set of Allied leaders.

Older, “Golden Age” postcards of the 1900-1920 era abound with scenes of Teddy Roosevelt and his large family. Without a doubt, no presidential family was so well represented on postcards as well as T.R.’s. Every son and every daughter can be found, mostly in family portrait shots. But Alice had several in her own right and there are some of T.R. with just his sons. Probably no family had more fun growing up in the White House than did Teddy’s.

William Howard Taft, Roosevelt’s handpicked successor, also brought in a young family – two sons and a daughter. Only a few photographic style postcards were published of the Tafts.

Presidential dads of the 18th and 19th centuries are not well represented on postcards. George Washington, though, is an exception. Several cards show him happy at home in Mt. Vernon in the bosom of his family. Abe Lincoln and his sons are found on an occasional postcard, particularly modern issues of the 1950-1977 era.

Since George W. Bush is our latest presidential dad, we can assume that this year, as it has so often in the past, there will be a Father’s Day celebration in the White House. And, since he is also the son of a living past president, that’s even more incentive for such a celebration.

For close to century now, Father’s Day has been celebrated in millions of homes across the land – including the White House in Washington, D.C.

Happy Father’s Day in yours.


More presidential facts

– George W. Bush is our 43rd president, but there actually have only been 42 presidents: Cleveland was elected for two nonconsecutive terms and is counted twice, as our 22nd and 24th president.

– The most common religious affiliation among presidents has been Episcopalian, followed by Presbyterian.

– The oldest president was Reagan (age 69); the youngest was Kennedy (age 43). Theodore Roosevelt, however, was the youngest man to become president;  he was 42 when he succeeded McKinley, who had been assassinated.

– The longest-living former president was Gerald Ford, who was born on July 14, 1913, and died on Dec. 27, 2006, at age 93.

– The tallest president was Lincoln at 6 feet 4 inches; at 5 feet 4 inches, Madison was the shortest.

– For two years, the nation was run by a president and a vice president who were not elected by the people. After Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in 1973, President Nixon appointed Gerald Ford as vice president. Nixon resigned the following year, which left Ford as president, and Ford’s appointed vice president Nelson Rockefeller, as second in line.

– The term first lady was first used in 1877 in reference to Lucy Ware Webb Hayes. Most first ladies, including Jackie Kennedy, are said to have hated the label.

– James Buchanan was the only president never to marry. Five presidents remarried after the death of their first wives – two of whom, Tyler and Wilson, remarried while in the White House. Reagan was the only divorced president.

– Presidents Adams, Jefferson and Monroe all died on the 4th of July; Coolidge was born on that day.

– Kennedy and Taft are the only presidents buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

– Grover Cleveland once served as a hangman. During his term as sheriff of Erie County, N.Y., the county had to execute two convicted murderers. Cleveland insisted on springing the trap personally, because under the law this was the duty of the sheriff. Sheriffs usually assigned the unpleasant task to an assistant, but Cleveland said that we would not ask anyone else to do what he was unwilling to do himself.

– When Rutherford B. Hayes became president, the first family tried to serve as a model for the nation. Smoking was forbidden. No alcoholic beverages were served, even at social functions. No dances, lawn parties or card parties were allowed. Daily prayers and hymn singing were the rule of the household.

– States providing the most presidents are Virginia (8), Ohio (7), New York (4) and Massachusetts (4). Herbert Hoover from Iowa was the first president born west of the Mississippi.

More Images:

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A 1960 campaign postcard of Nixon's unsuccessful run for the White House emphasizing him as a happy, loving family man, complete with daughter Julie's fiancée, Dwight David Eisenhower II.
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Lyndon Johnson's family shown on 1960s postcard (Mike Roberts Co. No. C17351), "The First Family."
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The Teddy Roosevelt family who made the White House into a combination play land and theme park. One of the many black-and-white photographic style of Teddy and family by Illustrated Post Card Co. (pictured) and Rotograph Co. (circa 1904).
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President Taft and Family. Published and copyrighted 1908 by SB Co.
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Abe Lincoln and favorite son Tad (black-and-white photo style postcard by Illustrated Post Card Co.). Picture used was "taken November 16, '63 (at) Soldier's Home, Washington, D.C."

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