A History of Cats in The White House

A History of Cats in The White House

It could be a better place if cats were in charge. More sleeping. More treats. Cat nip for all. While that's probably not going to happen any time soon, many presidents have had faithful feline companions ready to consult on the nation's most pressing issues. Here's a history of such presidents... and the members of their cat-binets that they brought to The White House.

Abraham Lincoln

The first president to welcome felines into The White House was Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president was known to have a fondness for cats, and Secretary of State William Seward took this into account when he gifted Lincoln two kittens, who were later named Tabby and Dixie.

According to the Presidential Pet Museum, Lincoln liked his furry friends so much that on one occasion, he even fed Tabby from the table during a formal dinner at The White House. The museum says his love for cats wasn’t limited to just his own. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln referred to cats as the president’s "hobby," and he was once distracted by three kittens while in General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters in Virginia during the siege of Petersburg. He proceeded to pet them tenderly and before he left, said he hoped that they would be given milk and treated kindly.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Felines’ second foray into The White House came during President Rutherford B. Hayes’ time in office. His wife, First Lady Lucy Hayes, was a bit of a cat lover. As such, she was gifted a Siamese cat by a U.S. diplomat working in Thailand. The cat, which was named Siam, was one of the first known Siamese pet cats in the United States. Siam joined another cat in the family, Piccolomini.  

Theodore Roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt was a bit of a character, so it may not be surprising that he had a cat with an equally large personality. One Roosevelt family cat, called Tom Quartz after a Mark Twain character, was a little pesky. First, he enjoyed terrorizing one of the family’s terriers, Jack, who was afraid of cats. According to the Presidential Pet Museum, Roosevelt told a friend that Tom liked to pull pranks on his furry sibling and irritate him a little. Tom also enjoyed bugging politicians.

The Roosevelts had another cat, too, named Slippers. The bluish-gray tabby was polydactyl, with six toes on each foot. Once during a formal dinner, Slippers pulled a cat favorite: plopping down in the path guests had to take to reach the dining room. 

Woodrow Wilson

The next 20th century president with cats in the family was Woodrow Wilson, who had two cats named Mittens and Puffins. Not much is known about these purr-sonal assistants to the Commander in Chief, but there was a rumor that they enjoyed jumping on the dining room table and may have had some water spritzed on them as a result.

Calvin Coolidge

There wasn’t a big break between White House cats, as Calvin Coolidge brought two of his own just a few years after Wilson left office. The most notable was a tabby named Tige, who Coolidge sometimes wore around his neck. Tige was a bit of a roamer, often leaving The White House, which resulted in the media reporting on his disappearance.

His furry sibling Blacky could often be found trying to guilt the kitchen staff into bringing him food.

John F. Kennedy

Several decades later, another cat briefly arrived and then left The White House. President John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline was gifted Tom Kitten by her mother’s parents. Unfortunately, the president had pretty serious allergies to the feline, who then went to live with staffer Mary Gallagher. Caroline still got to see her kitten, though, when Gallagher invited her over to play with her children and the cat. When the president was out of town, Tom was also sometimes brought to The White House while Gallagher worked.

Gerald Ford

Another first daughter with a cat was Susan Ford, the daughter of President Gerald Ford. The cat, a Siamese named Shan, drew a bit of attention from the media, as the press often inquired about her and there were book proposals about her life at the White House. According to the Ford Presidential Library, though, she mostly slept with Susan at night and spent time with her mother, Betty, while Susan was at school.

Apparently Shan didn’t much enjoy being left behind when the family was gone, though, once reportedly meowing disconsolately while they were away on a skiing trip, and biting Susan and her mother on their legs upon their return.

Jimmy Carter

Back-to-back presidents had a Siamese cat in The White House. Misty Malarky Ying Yang belonged to President Jimmy Carter’s daughter Amy. The feline-girl duo were pretty close, with Misty even sitting on Amy’s lap during an interview in her post-White House life after Amy had been arrested for civil disobedience.

Much like other cats on this list, Misty also crashed an important dinner: He was spotted wandering down the Grand Staircase at The White House during a State Dinner. He was quickly ushered back up as President Carter and Mexican President Jose Portillo made their entrance.

Bill Clinton

A little over a decade after Misty left, one of the most famous White House cats, Socks, arrived with President Bill Clinton’s family. Socks was a tuxedo cat that had been adopted by first daughter Chelsea Clinton before the family moved into The White House. He was popular with the press, often being photographed around The White House, including behind the podium of the press room. He even had his own fan club!

Like many cats, Socks was also not so fond of dogs, actively despising a chocolate lab named Buddy later adopted by the family.

George W. Bush

There was another case of a two president feline streak when President George W. Bush took office. The Bush family had adopted a black cat named India in 1991. She was named after Texas Rangers star Ruben Sierra, who had the nickname “El Indio.” Bush owned the Rangers at the time. This intellectual feline named for an athlete reportedly most enjoyed The White House library.

While not given as much attention as her canine brothers, India was once photographed dressed as a wizard on The White House lawn on Halloween.

Joe Biden

After a two-president drought, President Joe Biden’s family brought the feline presence back to The White House. A gray tabby named Willow, after First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s hometown of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, got the family’s attention at a campaign stop. Dr. Biden had been interrupted during her speech by the purr-sistent kitty, and the owner of the farm where the event was held later agreed to let the family adopt Willow, on account of their bond.

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

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