My Father, the President: 'First Kids' of the U.S.

Happy 11th birthday to "first son" Barron Trump! Here's a look at presidents' children throughout history and the fun and games they've had in the White House.
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Greg Timmons
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Happy 11th birthday to "first son" Barron Trump! Here's a look at presidents' children throughout history and the fun and games they've had in the White House.
Barron and Donald Trump in 2017

President Donald Trump and his son Barron at the inaugural parade in front of the White House on January 20, 2017. 

Happy birthday, Barron Trump! Eleven years old and embarking on a new phase in your life as one of the “First Children” of the United States. Though it’s unclear at this point whether you’ll be celebrating your birthday at the White House or at your home in Trump Tower in New York City, what is known is that you will be in the good company of past children of presidents. And if the White House does become your new home, even part time, you will be the “first son” to reside there since John F. Kennedy, Jr. back in 1961. 

President John F. Kennedy and John Kennedy Jr.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy works in the Oval Office, while his "first son" John Kennedy Jr. is busy at covert play under his desk.

When you arrive at the White House you’ll be “downsizing” a bit from your entire floor at Trump Tower. There are 132 rooms in the White House, but you and your family will have your own private quarters of anywhere between 10 and 13 rooms. Still, the place has plenty of space for a young, curious and imaginative mind to explore. According to several other first children, there are many unique places to hide and seek adventure. Amy Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, had a treehouse on the grounds and Chelsea Clinton had her own breakfast nook in the private quarters. The roof of the White House was also a favorite for some presidents’ kids. President George W. Bush’s daughter, Jenna Bush Hagar, confessed to being kissed by her future husband there. And Gerald Ford’s son, Steve, revealed that he dragged a stereo system to the roof and played Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven” at high decibel range. 

Barron, are you planning on having any pets at the White House? Animals of all kinds have served as companions for many first children. Abraham Lincoln’s younger sons, Tad and Willie, had pet goats and a pony. One of the goats slept beside Tad in his bed and the pony was allowed to roam the mansion freely. All of Theodore Roosevelt’s children enjoyed their father’s fascination with animals and had a menagerie of pets. Dogs, cats, a one-legged rooster, a pig, a small bear (yes, a small bear named after the New England theologian Jonathan Edwards) and a pony named Algonquin. When one of Roosevelt’s sons, Archie, had taken ill at the White House, his brother, Quinton, took Algonquin up the elevator to Archie’s bedroom to comfort him. 

Archie Roosevelt with his pony Algonquin

Archie Roosevelt with his pony, Algonquin, on the White House lawn in 1902.

One of the things you’ll notice when you’re a first child is you won’t have a lot of privacy while staying at the White House. In addition to being the official home of the president and his family, it is also considered “the people’s house” and there are public tours almost daily. The White House also plays host to many state dinners, ceremonies, and events. You will have your own bedroom that you can decorate anyway you’d like. But, of course, there will be a Secret Service agent right outside your door at all times you’re there. 

Because your father is a very important person, there will be a lot of attention paid to you. Many people will expect you to be on your best behavior at all times as the child of the president. It’s important to remember that first children are just kids trying to grow up under a very intense spotlight. President Lincoln’s two younger boys were reputed to be very spoiled and had complete run of the White House. During the Civil War, Mrs. Lincoln was at wits end trying to keep the boys from bothering their father during one of the most stressful periods in our nation’s history. Lincoln welcomed the distraction and often times stopped whatever he was doing to play with the boys.

President Abraham Lincoln and Tad Lincoln, circa 1860-65.

President Abraham Lincoln and Tad Lincoln, circa 1860-65.

President James A. Garfield’s children were reputed to be “holy terrors” playing practical jokes on staff and house servants. At times, Garfield would join in the fun. Alice Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest daughter, was considered a “wild child” by standards of the day. The press often reported she smoked in public, chewed gum, gambled, and went on shopping sprees. When a reporter asked him about his daughter’s behavior, Roosevelt is said to have remarked, “I can be president of the United States — or — I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!” More recently, President George W. Bush’s twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, were charged with under-age drinking when they used fake identification to get into bars in their home state of Texas. President Barack Obama’s eldest daughter, Malia, was reportedly photographed smoking a marijuana joint at a music festival, according to tabloid news outlets. 

President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and family

President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, surrounded by their family, in 1903. From left to right: Quentin, Theodore Sr., Theodore Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

For decades, presidents and their wives have struggled to give their children as normal a life as possible and protect them from unwanted attention. Past presidents have told the media that their children are not to be approached by reporters for a comment or interview and that their children are not to be photographed without their parents’ permission. Still, there will be those who feel that the children of presidents are also public figures and there should be no restrictions on reporting their activities. 

Margaret Truman, the only child of President Harry Truman and his wife Bess, was a trained operatic singer. After a performance in 1950, music critic Paul Hume published a not very complimentary review. Her father was none too pleased and wrote a letter to the critic rebuking him for his comments and suggesting if he saw him he’d punch him in the nose. Amy Carter and Chelsea Clinton were both insulted by talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. He called Amy “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.” Later, in 1993, Limbaugh compared Chelsea to the family dog. Recently, President Barack Obama’s two girls, Malia and Sasha, were publicly chastised by former congressional staffer, Elizabeth Lauten, who harshly criticized their behavior during a White House Thanksgiving ceremony. 

So, Barron, the legacy of first children is a colorful one with interesting twists and turns and now you will become part of that history. Enjoy the time you have in the spotlight. Don’t let the critics get you down. Take each day with enthusiasm and enjoy your stay. Most importantly, remember that you are young with many years ahead of you. You will gain much from the experience and it will serve you well for the rest of your life. Good luck!