Jill Biden Honors One of America’s Most Iconic First Ladies

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“On these cool afternoons, I love going to the Jackie Kennedy Garden,” Biden said Thursday night at a gala honoring the 60th anniversary of the White House Historical Association.

Her nod to one of the most iconic first ladies was a fitting tribute to the founder of the association, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in the green corner of which the current first lady likes to admire “the oaks and the burgundy maples blazing on the ground, ”she said. . The dinner was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a venue that is also a tribute to Kennedy, White House Historical Association president Stewart McLaurin told CNN.
“She helped get the Temple of Dendur given as a gift (to the Met) from Egypt after the United States helped save it from flooding by the Aswan Dam,” he said, referring to a famous ancient artifact housed at the Met. which was drowned every year by the floods created by an Egyptian dam built at the beginning of the 20th century. “And she also facilitated the presence (of Leonardo da Vinci) of the Mona Lisa of Paris.”

It was Kennedy’s dream for the White House to reflect America’s own icons, and in 1961 she created the association – a privately-funded, nonprofit organization that is not politically affiliated. At the gala dinner, Kennedy’s daughter Caroline Kennedy delivered remarks, recounting a letter her mother sent to her close friend Bunny Mellon – who would later become the designer of the White House rose garden – the next day. of the presidential election.

“The most terrible thing has happened,” Kennedy wrote to Mellon. “Jack won. We have to move to the White House. How sad. All these curtains.”

In time, Kennedy would become a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue champion – perhaps her most important legacy being the Association That Preserves America’s Home.

Keep the Executive Mansion

The White House Historical Association remains the custodian of the White House, its artifacts and objects, symbols of greatness and its ability to house both the leader of the free world and a museum of American history open to the public. The association also supports a myriad of educational and informational programs and has supervised several books on topics ranging from Chinese White House services to building architecture.

Since Kennedy’s founding, the White House Historical Association has worked with 12 First Ladies, many of whom carry over the banner of preservation from its predecessor. The White House Historical Association not only protects and preserves the older artefacts already in the collection, it also strives to purchase items that have either historical value or a more modern necessity.

“Most of the projects we undertake, especially major acquisitions, require the support or ideas of every first lady,” says McLaurin, who worked during her tenure with Biden, Melania Trump and Michelle Obama. “We are just starting our work with the Bidens and I am sure they will take on important projects like everyone else.”

When asked which first lady most often worked “in the trenches” with the White House Historical Association, McLaurin singled out Pat Nixon, “perhaps the most unrecognized,” he said.

“We have acquired more for the White House collection during this presidency than for any other,” he added.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the White House has not been open to the public as much as it was before the virus took hold, but McLaurin says the association has always affirmed its support for $ 1 million in non-taxpayer funding for the annual maintenance of the White House collection and upkeep of public rooms to museum standards. A million dollars a year is average for this stuff, he says, but the funding would be increased if there was a big acquisition for the collection or the completion of a major refurbishment or renovation project. renovation.

In 2020, for example, during Melania Trump’s tenure, the White House Historical Association purchased a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi – titled “Floor Frame” – which was installed at the eastern end of the rose garden. A representative of the association confirmed to CNN at the time that Noguchi’s sculpture was purchased at auction for $ 125,000.

“We are starting to feel at home”

The history of the building hangs heavy within its walls, Biden said Thursday.

“Piece by piece, in marble mantles and timeless portraits, we can retrace the footsteps of the women and men who walked the floors of the White House – whose decisions reverberated around the world,” said the first lady in her remarks on Thursday to donors and supporters. at the gala.

“And yet, in the shadows and obliques of the light, we imagine those intimate moments that only affected those who felt them. The letters written in the corners of the living room. South lawn. The sweet sounds of bedtime stories, floating down the hall. ”

Biden noted that his family took advantage of life in the White House to celebrate private moments, including the college graduation of his granddaughters in the Blue Room and the 40th birthday in June of his daughter, Ashley Biden, in the rose garden. There are rumors there will also be a White House wedding for the Biden family at some point next year – Naomi Biden, 27, got engaged in September.

The first lady added that she had chosen a swing to place on the ground for her youngest grandson, who was not yet two years old.

“We’re starting to feel at home – like so many families before us,” said Biden, who noted how crucial it is that what’s inside the White House is more than furniture and paints. Biden said she is always overwhelmed every day with the idea that she lives in such an important place and sometimes contemplates the balance between where she resides and history.

“I think of all the women who came before me – and all the women and, yes, the men who will take my place. I think of how we shape this American symbol – this museum, this house.”


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