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History of Cats in the White House (1861-2024)

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

palm of hands on cats cheek

Americans have a thing for cats! We love to feed, pet, and play with our furry buds 24/7. And who could blame us? Even commanders-in-chief can’t resist their charm! Throughout history, there were quite a few “First Cats” in the White House, starting with Abraham Lincoln’s adorable felines up to Joe Biden’s green-eyed Tabby cat.

So, let’s take a quick dive down memory lane and talk about each COTUS in detail. We’ll start from the very beginning and mention every single furball to ever step feet (or paws) into the Oval House. To this day, there have been 46 presidents in the United States, and 11 of them owned a cat. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover!

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1861–1865: Tabby and Dixie, the Very-First POTUS Cats

Tabby & Dixie
Image Credit: drloihjourna. All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

Abraham Lincoln, the man that led the Union to victory in the Civil War and brought an end to slavery, owned two beautiful cats. The 16th president had two kitties, Tabby and Dixie, and they’re officially recognized as the first cats in the White House. The felines were a gift from Lincoln’s Secretary of State and quickly became the president’s best buds.

When Lincoln was stressed, he liked to play with his furry friends to take his mind off things. One day, he famously said that Dixie was smarter than all the men and women in his cabinet. He also rescued three kittens that had lost their mother to the war. His collection of pets included goats, dogs, and a horse.


1877–1881: The First Siamese Cat in the White House

Just like Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes was a Republican, but that wasn’t the only thing they had in common. Hayes was the proud parent to a Siamese cat named…Siam. As the first cat of this breed in the Oval Office, it sure did turn many heads. However, Siam wasn’t the only purring citizen of the White House. The Hayes family had two more cats, and their names were even more intriguing.

Meet Miss Pussy and Piccolomini (often called Pickles)! These cats were just as charming but were a bit overshadowed by Siam.


1901–1909: Roosevelt’s Six-Toed Kitty

Theodore Roosevelt served as the 26th president of the States and was also a big fan of pets. During his presidency, the White House became home to two lovely cats, Tom Quartz (named after a Mark Twain character) and Slippers. Now, according to numerous reports, Slippers was quite the snoozer.

The bluish-gray feline had six toes yet lacked a bit in the good manners department. Often, he would fall asleep right in the middle of a corridor, making it harder for folks to pass through. But who could complain about the SCOTUS, right? Roosevelt was quite fond of this cat and was never against him being present at important meetings.


1913–1921: Mittens & Puffins

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, led the United States into World War I. Thanks to the country’s strong contribution to the victory, Wilson turned the States into a big player on the geopolitical map. His economic reforms were also very successful. He was a busy man, but the president did find time to play with his cats, Mittens and Puffins.

Both kitties were notoriously known for creating havoc in the White House (like jumping up and down the dinner table). They were loved and cherished, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Wilson family wasn’t quick to “reward” this non-presidential behavior with a quick spritz of water! Wilson also had a ram, Old Ike, and it was more famous than the felines.


1923–1929: Five Cats at the Executive Mansion

President Calvin Coolidge's cats Blackie and Tiger
Image Credit: Library of Congress.  All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

When Calvin Coolidge was elected back in 1923, he brought his whole family into the President’s Palace, including five cats. True, the fifth one was a bobcat/lynx, but it was still a feline! Timmie, Tiger, Blacky, and Bounder served alongside the POTUS for eight years while Coolidge was trying to sort through the Harding administration scandals. Blacky was a big fan of elevators and cream. Timmie, in turn, was best friends with the family’s canaries (they had two of those). As for Tiger, he was a curious cat and once, he got lost while wandering in the outdoors. Thankfully, the White House managed to find him using a radio announcement. At that time, it was a brand-new invention.


1961–1963: Tom Kitten, the Kennedy Cat

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's Press Secretary Pamela Turnure sits in an office holding Caroline Kennedy's cat, Tom Kitten
Image Credit: Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

JFK was the youngest man to ever be elected as the President of the United States. Unfortunately, he only got to serve the country for less than three years before the assassination. But Kennedy still managed to improve America thanks to brave political and social action. And, just like many American presidents, John F. Kennedy had an adorable cat, Tom Kitten.

It was his daughter’s pet, to be precise. POTUS was allergic to cats, which is why it spent most of its time with Mary Gallagher, a staffer at the White House. That’s one of the reasons why Tom Kitten didn’t get enough media coverage compared to some of the other First Cats.


1974–1981: A Big Comeback for Siamese Cats

Susan Ford with Shan, the Ford Family's Siamese Cat
Susan Ford with Shan (Image Credit: White House Photographic Office Collection (Ford Administration), Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

Gerald Ford’s daughter loved kittens as well. So, when her father was elected, Susan made her cat (Shan Shein) a part of the First Family. It was a Siamese cat, a strong and independent feline that liked to spend most of its day in the Lincoln bedroom enjoying a bowl of cream. Fun fact: Liberty, Ford’s Golden Retriever (another one of Susan’s pets), wasn’t getting along with the feline.

Jimmy Carter took over the White House in 1977, right after Ford left, and his daughter, Amy, also had a Siamese cat. That’s quite a coincidence! So, what made this one stand out? The name, of course! The cat was called “Misty Malarky Ying Yang”. It had an ear for music, and Gabor Szabo, a musician, named a song after it.


1981–1989: The Humblest Presidential Cats

Did you know that Ronald Reagan and his spouse had two Tortoiseshell cats? That’s right: their names were Sara and Cleo. These felines were brought up on the family’s ranch in Santa Barbara. Interestingly enough, when the American people elected Reagan as their next president, his pets didn’t move into the Executive Mansion. So, technically, they can’t be classified as “White House cats”!


1993–2001: Socks, a Big Crowd-Pleaser

Clinton with Socks
Clinton with Socks (Image Credit: The U.S. National Archives, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

In contrast to Sara and Cleo, Socks the Cat, Bill Clinton’s favorite furball, was a very famous pet. The president was often pictured outside playing with it and posing for the cameras. And, just like Carter’s cat with the peculiar name, Socks had a song written about him (yes, it was a male cat). There’s even a book written about his life, not to mention a personal website!

But much like Shan, Socks was always fighting with another presidential pet, Buddy. So, at one point, it was decided to move the cat out of the dog’s way (Socks ended up living with the president’s secretary, Betty Currie. That’s why Clinton once said that he did a better job trying to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than he did with his pets!


2001–2009: George Bush & Willie

George Bush - India (Willie)
Willie (Image Credit: Paul Morse, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

When George Bush became the new leader of America in 2001, Willie/Indie, his family’s cat, joined the president-elect in the White House. It was a black American Shorthair cat with a charming personality. Following in the footsteps of Socks, this girl had her own website as well. More importantly, Willie didn’t have a “beef” with Barney, Bush’s dog. In fact, the two were often caught on camera.


2021–Present Time: Willow, the Biden Family Cat

Willow_the_First_Cat
Willow (Image Credit: Jill Biden, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

Joe Biden has been the 46th president of the States since January 2021, and we already know about the Biden family’s cat, Willow. Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady, is from a Pennsylvanian town called Willow Grove—that’s where the tabby cat’s name comes from. Before the feline met the president, she was a farm cat.

It all changed when Willow interrupted a campaign speech by Dr. Biden. She jumped onto the stage, and that’s when the green-eyed beauty won the doctor’s heart! These days, it’s described by the POTUS as a cat with “no limits”. He even confirmed that sometimes, the pet sleeps on top of his head!hepper-cat-paw-divider

Conclusion

If you own a cat, we bet you can’t imagine your life without it. Well, you’re not the only person that feels deeply about kitties! As it turns out, presidents have a soft spot for cats as well. The list includes Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden, the current president of the United States.

Yes, even if you’re a POTUS, you can still be best friends with a cat. Now, the best thing about the First Cats from today’s list is that they’re not the most exotic or expensive breeds—far from it. And that only means one thing: your cat deserves royal treatment just as much as the felines in the White House!


Featured Image Credit: Ekaterina Kuzovkova, Shutterstock

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