U.S. Presidents and Their Cats

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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.

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 pictorial of Theodore Roosevelt's cat Slippers.  From St. Nicholas (serial), Volume 25, 1908.  Captioned: "WITH AN AMUSED BOW, THE PRESIDENT ESCORTED THE AMBASSADRESS AROUNDSLIPPERS, AND KEPT ON HIS WAY TOWARD THE EAST ROOM."
A pictorial of Theodore Roosevelt’s cat Slippers. From St. Nicholas (serial), Volume 25, 1908. Captioned: “WITH AN AMUSED BOW, THE PRESIDENT ESCORTED THE AMBASSADRESS AROUND ‘SLIPPERS’, AND KEPT ON HIS WAY TOWARD THE EAST ROOM.”

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.

Blackie and Tiger, two of the cats owned by President Calvin Coolidge.  Photo: Library of Congress, 1923.
Blackie and Tiger, two of the cats owned by President Calvin Coolidge. Photo: Library of Congress, 1923.

The Kennedy Cat

John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, had one cat named Tom Kitten.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's Press Secretary Pamela Turnure sits in an office holding Caroline Kennedy's cat, Tom Kitten, 24 January, 1961.  Photo: Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, public domain.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s Press Secretary Pamela Turnure sits in an office holding Caroline Kennedy’s cat, Tom Kitten, 24 January, 1961. Photo: Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, public domain.

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.

Susan Ford with her Siamese cat, Shan, October 4, 1974. Image: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.
Susan Ford with her Siamese cat, Shan, October 4, 1974. Image: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

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.

Amy Carter with her cat, Misty Malarky Yin Yang.
Amy Carter with her cat, Misty Malarky Yin 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.

Socks the cat sitting behind the Resolute Desk at the White House.  Image: White House Photograph Office, 01/07/1994.
Socks the cat sitting behind the Resolute Desk at the White House. Image: White House Photograph Office, 01/07/1994.

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.”

India, the White House cat.  Photo: White House Kids, Bush Presidency
India, the White House cat. Photo: Paul Morse, White House Kids, Bush Presidency archives

The Next Presidential Cat?

January 2021 might bring the next feline resident of the White House. President-elect Joseph Biden and his wife, Jill, have announced that in addition to their two dogs, two German shepherds named Major and Champ, they plan to adopt a cat.

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