But Roosevelt’s youngest child was 16 when her husband took office. When the Obamas enter the White House in January, on the other hand, it will be the first time since the Carters—and before that, the Kennedys—that a family with young children has occupied the premises.
Amy Carter, who was swarmed with press attention, was 9 when her parents entered the White House. Chelsea Clinton, who, at her parents’ insistence, was largely off-limits to the media, was just shy of 13. The Obama girls, Malia and Sasha, are 10 and 7.
“And somehow having two of them makes them seem even younger,” said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “It creates an image of youthful energy and vigor. Americans really took to that idea with the Kennedy family.”
Obama has said that serving as “mom-in-chief” to her daughters, looking after their welfare and helping them adjust to the dramatic change in their lives and to their new status as first kids—with all the intensity of attention that status entails—will be her top priority.
Ann Stock, White House social secretary during the Clinton administration said that it is key to remember that the White House is first and foremost a house. That must be hard. After all, it is a house with six stories, 55,000 square feet of floor space, 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 147 windows, eight staircases, three elevators, five full-time chefs, and a tennis court, bowling alley, movie theater and putting green.
Nancy Reagan said the best thing about leaving the White House was being able to go out to dinner at a restaurant again. Bill Clinton—maybe quoting Harry Truman, maybe not—called the White House the crown jewel of the American penal system.
In trying to get a sense of what Michelle’s new life might be like, I called Ann Walker Marchant, who was a communications adviser in the Clinton administration. She recalled for me a moment when she and her roommate, Capricia Marshall, the White House social secretary, received an urgent 4 a.m. call from the White House usher’s office. Mrs. Clinton, it seemed, had risen early and gone to the kitchen to make some eggs.
“Everybody was freaking out,” Marchant said. “‘She’s in the kitchen! She’s in her bathrobe. Should we go in? What should we do?’ One minute you’re out there campaigning and then, all of a sudden, you’re there and you want to make some eggs and people are making phone calls about it.”
I love this story. Thinking of Michelle Obama as the center of it—the one making the eggs—makes me giddy.
Michelle Obama, the first first lady of African descent.