Tales of Presidential Cats at the White House
Why should the dogs in the White House get all the press coverage when there have been plenty of Presidential Cats slinking around the Oval Office?
That’s what all the cats in our office asked when the team got together to brainstorm the blog post for Presidents' Weekend 2022. Suffice it to say there was a cacophony of meowing as we debated the cats that would be featured. There’s a much longer list of Presidential cats than we all thought!
Famous Presidential Cats
Before we introduce these famous presidential cats, you should know that long before there were pet cats in the White House, there were unnamed cats trolling the presidential estate. According to historians at Smithsonian, cats were almost certainly “on the grounds to take care of rodent problems, particularly in food storage areas.” That’s just the way pests were handled back in the mid-19th century.
Abe Lincoln: First Cat Owner in the White House
President Abraham Lincoln had a legendary love for cats as pets. The first two presidential cats were named Tabby and Dixie. Though this cat duo had the privilege of lounging on sunlit ledges throughout the White House, President Lincoln was known to bring in stray cats, too. (That’s a fact according to records at the Presidential Pet Museum.) So great was Lincoln’s love of cats that his wife Mary reportedly told the press of the day that his primary hobby was cuddling with cats! (photo credit Presidential Pet Museum)
Siam the Cat: First Siamese Cat in the White House
In 1878, President Hayes and the First Lady had the first Siamese cat in residence at the White House. According to historical records, Siam was a gift sent from David B. Sickels of the U.S. consulate in Bangkok. So great was this president’s love for his cat, when Siam died President Hayes had her corpse preserved. Sadly, the cat’s corpse was misplaced and never recovered (but you can buy a plush replica of Siam at the Hayes Presidential Museum).
Cats of the Presidency: Which President had a Bobcat?
President Theodore Roosevelt was an animal lover, said to have had over 20 different animals at the White House. One of the most remarkable was a six-toed cat named Slippers. Another of his cats was named for the character Tom Quartz from the novel Roughing It written by Mark Twain.
Woodrow Wilson owned two cats, Mittens and Puffins, during his presidency. Though these two kitties had the run of the Oval Office (and the White House dining room table), they were overshadowed by Wilson’s pet ram that grazed the front lawn!
President Calvin Coolidge has one of the longest lists and the greatest variety of pets owned by a president. Blacky and Tiger are of the many housecats documented by historians. Coolidge also owned a bobcat named Smoky -- which did reside at the White House! Smoky was a gift from the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Also among the “zoo of pets” Coolidge owned are two lion cubs, gifts from the dignitaries of South Africa. President Coolidge wittily named the pair Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.
President John F. Kennedy had a family cat named Tom Kitten, which was introduced to the press in 1961. A silky grey cat with yellow eyes, Tom Kitten officially belonged to President Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy. President Kennedy was quite allergic to Tom Kitten as well as his many other pets, yet he loved them all. Tom Kitten, however, couldn’t stay in the White House after a few weeks; the President sent the cat to live with a staff member who had young children. Caroline would visit the cat there, and the cat would visit Caroline at the White House when JKF was not around. Sadly, Tom Kitten only lived about two years past his introduction in 1961. (Image from JFK Library.org)
Cats in the White House: Ford, Carter, Clinton, and Bush
Shan was a miniature seal-point Siamese owned by President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan. Shan has two claims to fame: First, Shan liked to hide in Lincoln’s bedroom. Second, Shan was supposed to sit with the First Lady for her portrait, but wasn’t in the mood that day and left Betty Ford with such a deep scratch that she required surgery on her hand.
President Jimmy Carter also owned a Siamese Cat by the name of Misty Malarky Ying Yang. Misty belonged to Carter’s daughter and was said to be a typical Siamese: smart, affectionate, and curious but not one for the limelight. Misty was known to run from the paparazzi when they attempted to photograph her.
Perhaps the most famous modern-day White House cat is Socks, who belonged to President Bill Clinton and his family. Not only was Socks frequently seen with the Clintons, but he also had numerous TV appearances (Murphy Brown, Larry King Live, The Muppets) as well as many “on-air” mentions on various media channels. Socks biggest claim to fame is that he is a typical stray cat… that’s right, legend has it that Socks jumped in daughter Chelsea Clinton’s arms as she left a piano practice--and the rest is history.
President George W. Bush and his family owned a black cat named India. She was adopted by the Busch family when the President’s daughters were very young. India lived a long quiet life at the White House, living nearly 20 years. She passed over the Rainbow Bridge shortly before the Obama’s moved into the White House.
Barn Cat Posh: President Joseph Biden’s Cat, Willow
The most recent Presidential cat to occupy the White House belongs to President Joseph Biden and his family. Willow arrived on January 28, 2022, even though she first met the Bidens two years prior at a campaign event. A former barn cat, Willow made an impression upon First Lady Jill Biden during a 2020 speaking engagement. There was an “immediate bond” and the owners of the cat decided to gift the cat to the Bidens.
Willow is a two-year-old, gray-and-white short-haired tabby cat with striking jade eyes. She is named for Jill Biden’s hometown--Willow Grove, PA. Willow had to be fostered before she could be released to the First Family, something which, according to news reports, the President himself wasn’t sure would happen because the “foster was quite fond of Willow.”
Which tale of presidential cats did you like best?
Tell us in the comments! And, if you know of a presidential cat or cat tale, that we missed, share the story!