Wedding planning comes with many important decisions, but the one that dominates them all is location, location, location. If, like Naomi Biden, you’re lucky enough to have an “in” with the first ruling family, that place could be the White House. In April 2022, Naomi, granddaughter of President Joe Biden, announced that she would be hosting her November wedding reception at the White House. (The wedding ceremony would take place elsewhere.)
Better than even the fanciest private club, a White House wedding comes with an unrivaled sense of elegance and exclusivity, not to mention historical significance. Originally built in 1792, the structure was burnt down by the British during the War of 1812 and then rebuilt. It has undergone multiple renovations since. Today, the six-story residence has 132 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms. With this type of square footage, there are plenty of on-site options for engaged couples.
“When you look at White House weddings, each one is so unique,” says Sarah Fling, a historian at the White House Historical Association. “[It] really depends on the desires, personalities and wishes of the bride and groom.”
As desirable as a White House wedding may be, such an event is rare. To date, only 18 weddings and four receptions have taken place on the property. “There’s certainly historical precedent for just having a reception at the White House,” Fling says.
Naomi Biden’s nuptials will mark the fifth such reception. More recently, Jenna Bush (daughter of President George Bush) did the same in 2008, with a reception there about a month after marrying Henry Hager in her hometown of Crawford, Texas.
White House wedding rules? There are not any
The process for planning a wedding at the White House is surprisingly relaxed, considering that its residents are constantly under scrutiny. “Really, the only protocol is security,” says Fling. Other than that, the couple in question is free to decorate and celebrate as they see fit. They don’t have to pay a penny for the venue, although the couple covers all other costs, such as food, flowers, etc. “Because the White House is the first family’s temporary residence, they can use it for events,” says Fling. However, she adds, “No taxpayer money goes into a White House wedding.”
You don’t even have to be a First Family member to score such an amazing location! The courtesy “extends to people who are particularly close to members of the first family,” says Fling, noting that these non-family members are often White House staffers. For example, in 2013 Pete Souza, chief White House photographer during the Obama administration, was married in the Rose Garden, and in 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s adviser Harry Hopkins held his ceremony. in the yellow oval room.
“There’s no rule that says who can or can’t get married in the White House,” Fling said. “Their close relationship is really their ‘in’. That said, the vast majority of the remaining ceremonies and receptions were held for people who were somehow related to the first family, whether it was nieces, nephews, children or grandchildren. So far, only one marriage has belonged to a sitting president. That honor goes to President Grover Cleveland, 49, who married Frances Folsom, 21 years, in 1886, making her the youngest first lady ever.
Unique White House Weddings
A ceremony not included in the official White House nuptials list may have been the very first. Apparently, first lady Abigail Adams may have authorized the marriage of her lady’s maid, Betsy Howard, to her lover in 1801. Adams merely alludes to the event in a letter to her sister, so it doesn’t has never been confirmed, and probably never. will be.
The White House’s “first truly grand wedding” was that of Nellie Grant, daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant. She was married in the East Room (the largest room in the Executive Residence) in 1874. The East Room was specially decorated for the nuptials, with decor like gold leaf accents and new chandeliers. Hordes of flowers, streamers and luxury food offerings totally transformed the space to celebrate the start of an unhappy marriage. Unfortunately, Nellie’s husband and father of their four children became a serious alcoholic.
Once Grant set the lavish precedent, others really started to pick up the ball and run with it. According to Fling, arguably the “most iconic” White House wedding was the one honoring first daughter Alice Roosevelt in 1906. “Probably the grandest [wedding] because Alice was extremely popular,” she says, noting that the wedding was widely covered in international newspapers. “People were really asking for information.”
Alice was already a hit with the press and public for her escapades and free spirit and this wedding did not disappoint. With over 1,000 guests in attendance, Roosevelt’s event eclipsed Grant’s, which included only 250 guests. President Theodore Roosevelt also spared no expense when it came to decorating. “The White House was absolutely covered in flowers, greenery, and palm trees, and there was a hearty breakfast buffet afterwards,” says Fling. Thousands of well-wishers gathered outside the White House to celebrate her union with Ohio Rep. Nicholas Longworth, who later became Speaker of the House. After the reception was over, the couple had to secretly escape the White House by climbing through the Red Room window.
Between 1918 and 1967, there were no documented marriages at the White House, other than that of Hopkins. But over the next four years, two first daughters were married there. Lynda Bird, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson, married Navy Captain Charles Robb (later Governor and Senator of Virginia) in the East Room in 1967. (President Johnson’s other daughter, Luci, had her reception from wedding at the White House in 1966.)
And Tricia Nixon (President Richard Nixon’s daughter) married Edward Cox in the Rose Garden, which was the first outdoor wedding ceremony at the White House. The wedding was widely covered by the press. Among the details: The 6-foot-10-inch (2-meter) tall wedding cake had an upper tier with a miniature gazebo inspired by the gazebo where the couple would exchange vows in the rose garden. Tricia was so far the last child of a president to marry in the White House.