Pets in the White House has been a long tradition, dating all the way back to the first president. George Washington had numerous dogs, horses, an Andalusian donkey gifted by King Charles III of Spain, and even a parrot during his tenure as president.
First Presidential Cats
Almost all presidents have brought with them various animals as pets. It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln (in office March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865) was gifted two kittens by Secretary of State William Seward that cats made their debut as First Pets. Lincoln named those cats Tabby and Dixie.
An animal lover with a managerie of pets in the White House, Lincoln loved his cats. Once, when his wife Mary, objected to him feeding his cat from the table and embarassing her in front of their guests, Lincoln replied, ” “If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.”
Wild Cats in the White House
After Lincoln, the next president to have cats in the White House was Martin Van Buren (in office March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1841) who was gifted two tiger cubs by Said bin Sultan, Sultan of Muscat and Oman.
Being wild cats, van Buren didn’t own these pets for very long. Not long after receiving the cubs, Congress forced the president to donate them to a zoo, declaring that the cats belonged “to the people.”
First Purebred Cat in the White House
First Lady Lucy Hayes was gifted a Siamese cat from the from the American Consul in Bangkok, Thailand. Named “Siam”, this was the first purebred cat in the White House and the first Siamese cat to enter the United States in 1878.
In all, President Rutherford B. Hayes (in office March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881) and his family had three cats during his tenure in the White House. In addition to Siam, also had another Siamese called Miss Pussy and a third cat named Piccolomini.
The Cats or Non-Cats of William McKinley
Some intrigue and unproven events swirls around whether or not William McKinley (in office March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901) had a pair of Angola kittens named Valeriano Weyler and Enrique DeLome. The cats were named after Spanish general Valeriano Weyler and Spanish ambassador Enrique Dupuy de Lôme and were allegedly selected from a litter produced by his wife, Ida McKinley’s Angora cat.
The tale goes on to claim that Ida McKinley, in response to the recently broken out Spanish American war, ordered the kittens to be drowned as a political statement. No proof has been found to reliability support this version of events or even if the McKinleys ever owned these two kittens. Carl Anthony, a biographer of Ida McKinley, found no proof that the McKinleys ever kept any cats in the White House.
First Polydactyl Cat in the White House
Theodore Roosevelt’s (in office September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909) family owned a menagerie of pets that included dogs, ponies, chickens, various reptiles, and two cats named Tom Quartz and Slippers, who was a polydactyl cat.
Tom Quartz was named after a character in Mark Twain’s semi-autobiographical book, “Roughing It.” Slippers was a grey polydactyl cat with six toes.
A Cat Named Puffins
Woodrow Wilson (in office March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921) and his family enjoined the company of a cat named Puffins.
House Cats and Wild Cats
The amount of both domesticated and wild animals that Calvin Coolidge (in office August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929) and his family housed at the White House had is a very long list. In addition to four domestic cats, the Coolidges also had twin lion cubs from Johannesburg, Africa named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.
The Kennedy Cat
John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, had one cat named Tom Kitten.
The Return of a Siamese Cat to the White House
Gerald Ford (in office August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977) presidency marked the second time that a Siamese cat was one of the presidential pets. Susan Ford, the daughter of the president, owned a miniature sealpoint Siamese cat named Shan that she bought with her when the family moved in to the White House.
Siamese Cat in the White House Continues
Jimmy Carter’s (in office January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981) daughter Amy also had a male Siamese cat named Misty Malarky Ying Yang.
Socks the Cat
The next cat to live in the White House was Chelsea Clinton’s cat. Named Socks, this tuxedo cat moved to the White House with the Clintons in 1993. Socks was the only White House pet until 1997 when William Clinton (in office January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001) adopted Buddy, a chocolate Labrador retriever. The two pets never got along, with President Clinton saying, “I did better with the Palestinians and the Israelis than I’ve done with Socks and Buddy.”
When the Clintons left the White House in 2001, Socks was adopted by Bill Clinton’s secretary, Betty Currie. Socks died less than a year late ran 2002 after being hit by a car.
India, the Bush Cat
The twin daughters of George W. Bush owned a black cat named India. Born in 1991/1992, India lived with the Bushes in the White House until her death on January 4, 2009, at the age of 18. Named after the former Texas Ranger baseball player, Ruben Sierra, who was called “El Indio”, India also went by the nicknames “Willie” and “Kitty.”
Willow, the Biden Cat
Back in November of 2020, then President-elect Joseph Biden and his wife, Jill, had announced that in addition to their two dogs, two German shepherds named Major and Champ, they planned to adopt a cat sometime in January of 2021. (Since then, Champ passed away in June of 2021 and Major, unable to adjust to the White House, was rehomed with friends of the Bidens. In December of 2021, a six-month old German Sheppard named Commander was adopted by the Bidens.)
On January 28, 2021, the Bidens announced the arrival of Willow, a two-year old gray tabby cat. The cat was named after the first lady’s hometown of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Willow came to the attention of Jill Biden after the former farm cat interrupted a speech she was giving in 2020. Willow spent some time with a foster family before finally arriving at the White House to join the Bidens as their pet.
This article was originally published on November 28, 2020 and has since been updated with additional information.