LISTEN LIVE KPR - On Air: Listen Live to classical, jazz and NPR news Schedule LATEST
NEWSCAST
KPR 2 - On Air: Listen live to KPR's all talk-radio service, KPR2 Recordings

Share this page              

Naomi Biden joins a unique club: brides who say 'I do' at the White House

Listen to the Story

This hand-colored wooden engraving by illustrator Henry Ogden depicts the wedding of Ellen Wrenshall Grant to Algernon Sartoris on May 21, 1874 in the East Room of the White House. The engraving was published in <em>Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper</em> on June 6, 1874.

Naomi Biden, the eldest granddaughter of President Biden, is about to join a rare club: people who tie the knot at perhaps the most exclusive address in the nation.

Naomi Biden, 28, is the daughter of Hunter Biden and Kathleen Buhle. She and fiancé Peter Neal, 25, announced their engagement in September of last year.

"Peter and I are endlessly grateful to my Nana and Pop for the opportunity to celebrate our wedding at the White House," Biden wrote on Twitter. "We can't wait to make our commitment to one another official and for what lies ahead."

Details of the wedding have been kept under wraps, but the White House has said the festivities will be paid for by the Biden family, as is customary for private events held by first families at the residence.

There have been only 18 weddings at "the People's House," along with four receptions for couples who had their ceremonies elsewhere but celebrated at the White House later on.

"It is a rare, unique, very special occurrence that takes place in the life of the White House," said Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association. (Want more White House wedding history? Click here to jump to a deeper look at past White House weddings and wedding receptions.)

Some White House weddings became national events

Many of the White House weddings and receptions have been private family events. But others became big national headlines, like those held for President Lyndon Johnson's daughters.

In 1966, when Luci Johnson was married, labor organizers threatened to protest the wedding after she selected a wedding gown that was made in a nonunion factory. The designer is said to have had a union label stitched into the wedding dress to mend the drama.

Both Johnson sisters released their wedding cake recipes to newspapers so that the public could join in on the fun and make their own elaborately decorated summer fruit cakes.

In 1967, Lynda Johnson married Capt. Charles "Chuck" Robb at the White House in a televised ceremony. Decades later, she recalled how nervous she was in an interview with the White House Historical Association.

"I took a lot of deep breaths first, and I had practiced walking up and down the steps in that long gown, because you didn't want to trip and you didn't want to be looking at your feet all the time," she said.

The president, who had a reputation for being rather brusque, spoke tenderly about his first-born daughter at a reception the night before the wedding — and poked fun at the newlyweds-to-be.

"I suppose that all fathers worry a little bit about the man who will go out with their daughters. Of course, I'm no exception. But the job that I hold does has certain advantages — they're temporary, I realize," he said to laughter.

Johnson pulled out Secret Service reports of the groom's comings and goings from the White House. "The first report starts out Saturday, 2 p.m. — completed Sunday, 3 a.m.," the president read. He smiled, then tore the sheets up.

"Chuck, here's all of your bachelor past reduced to a bunch of wedding confetti," he said.

Tricia Nixon's 1971 wedding was grand

One of the grandest weddings to grace Pennsylvania Avenue was that of President Richard Nixon's daughter, Tricia, who married Edward Cox in the Rose Garden in 1971.

The press spent months covering every detail of the wedding: the gown, the guest list. There was even drama surrounding the nearly 7-foot-tall wedding cake that had been dubbed Washington's newest monument.

A scaled-down recipe of the six-tier, 350-pound lemon cake was shared to the public — but kitchens across the country called it a sloppy mess. Coverage was so intense, the White House had to release an updated recipe.

Nixon had hoped to use the story of his daughter's wedding to help him connect with younger voters in the 1972 election, according to memos unearthed by the Washington Post.

Vietnam War protesters with bullhorns posed a wedding planning challenge

Tricia Nixon faced a wedding planning hurdle that most brides can avoid: protesters. It was during the Vietnam War, and dissenters gathered daily outside the White House gates with bullhorns.

Lucy Breathitt, who served as the White House social secretary during the Nixon administration, remembers being worried the noise would ruin the wedding.

"John Ehrlichman will always be a hero of mine," she told NPR, recalling how he struck a deal with the demonstrators to get them to stay quiet for the duration of the ceremony.

(Erlichman, a top adviser to President Nixon, became better known for his role in the Watergate scandal. He was convicted in 1975 of obstruction of justice, conspiracy and perjury, and served 18 months in prison.)

Breathitt described the moment Tricia Nixon told her she was engaged. "We all squealed and yelled and jumped up and down and were so happy," Breathitt recalled. A fan of outdoor weddings, Breathitt suggested the Rose Garden.

"'Bingo,''' Breathitt remembered Nixon replying. "'That's what we'll do.'" Breathitt then went to inspect the venue.

"Can you guess what I did not see any of in the Rose Garden?" she chuckled. There was not a rose in sight, so she quickly called the gardeners to move "heaven and earth" to get the garden ready.

News of the wedding dominated the airwaves, including on NPR, which said it was as if the event "were a coronation, a moon shot and a Holy Day all wrapped up into one!"

The wedding day itself brought the thing every wedding planner fears: pouring rain. But unlike most couples, the Nixons had a special tool at their disposal.

"We stayed in radio contact with the Air Force weather bureau — open telephone line!" Breathitt said.

"Finally [they radioed] and said, 'In 15 minutes, you will have a 35-minute break in the weather,'" she said. "As soon as the last drop fell out of the sky, I ran around and put the cushions on all the chairs that had been in place."

The public would later watch footage of the bride and her father waltzing in the White House — a feel-good moment in a troubled time, said White House historian McLaurin.

"Those were very difficult times, not dissimilar to some of the things that we're experiencing now," he told NPR. "And to have a moment of living vicariously through this young bride and groom — I think that was just a moment of happiness on the part of the American people."


Want more White House wedding history? Here you go.

Here's a look at other past White House weddings and wedding receptions, with data and photographs provided from The White House Quarterly.

1812: Lucy Payne Washington

The sister of First Lady Dolley Madison was first married to George Steptoe Washington, a nephew of President George Washington. Following his death, she went on to marry Supreme Court Justice Thomas Todd in the first wedding documented to have taken place at the White House.

1820: Maria Hester Monroe

The daughter of President James Monroe wed Samuel Gouverneur in a small ceremony at the White House. Gouverneur was the private secretary to the president and Maria Monroe's first cousin on her mother's side.

1828: John Adams II

The son of President John Quincy Adams married Mary Catherine Hellen, the niece of the first lady, in the Blue Room.

1831: Andrew Jackson Jr.

President Andrew Jackson's son and Sarah Yorke were married in Philadelphia. A week later, their reception was held at the White House.

1832: Mary Ann Eastin, and later, Mary Ann Lewis

The Andrew Jackson White House saw two weddings in one year. First, Mary Ann Eastin, the grand-niece of the president, married Lucius Polk, cousin of future president James Polk. Later that year, Mary Ann Lewis, the daughter of a close friend of the president's, married Alphonse Pageot, a French diplomat.

1842: Elizabeth Tyler

President John Tyler's daughter Lizzie married attorney William Waller in the East Room.

1844: President John Tyler

The president married Julia Gardiner Tyler in New York, and then held a reception at the White House later on.

1874: Nellie Grant

The daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant married Algernon Sartoris, an English singer, in the East Room. Her father requested funds from Congress to redecorate the room, most of which went to replacing the chandeliers. Poet Walt Whitman memorialized the union with a poem, that read, in part: "Yield thy red cheeks, thy lips, to-day, Unto a Nation's loving kiss."

1878: Emily Platt

The niece of President Rutherford B. Hayes married General Russell Hastings, who had served under the president during the Civil War. First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes did not allow any details of the wedding to be published, in perhaps a prescient take on the pitfalls of notoriety. "Such policy ha[s] an injurious effect, in many instances, on the parties concerned," she said.

1886: President Grover Cleveland

Cleveland married Frances Folsom, the daughter of his late law partner; Cleveland initially had been her guardian and the administrator of her estate.

1906: Alice Roosevelt

The daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt married Ohio Rep. Nicholas Longworth with nearly 1,000 guests in attendance. Newspapers at the time heralded her as the "daughter of all American people."

1913-18: The Wilsons

President Woodrow Wilson's daughter Jessie Woodrow Wilson married Francis Bowes Sayre in 1913. The following year, his other daughter, Eleanor Randolph Wilson, married Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo. In 1918, Alice Wilson, the president's niece, married Reverend Isaac Stuart McElroy, Jr.

1942: Harry Hopkins

A close friend and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hopkins married Louise Gill Macy in the Second Floor Oval Room, which was then Roosevelt's private study. The couple lived for a year at the White House.

1994: Anthony Rodham

The brother of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton married Nicole Boxer, daughter of former Sen. Barbara Boxer, in the Rose Garden. The event was very private. The Washington Post reported at the time that White House staff erected large red screens across glass doors to prevent anyone from watching the proceedings.

2008: Jenna Bush

The daughter of President George W. Bush married Henry Hager at her family's ranch in Crawford, Texas. The following month, her parents hosted a reception at the White House.

2013: Pete Souza

President Barack Obama's official White House photographer was the last person to get married at the White House, in a very private ceremony.

NPR researcher Will Chase contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tower Frequencies

91.5 FM KANU Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
96.1 FM K241AR Lawrence (KPR2)
89.7 FM KANH Emporia
99.5 FM K258BT Manhattan
97.9 FM K250AY Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM  KANV Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM K210CR Atchison
90.3 FM KANQ Chanute

See the Coverage Map for more details

Contact Us

Kansas Public Radio
1120 West 11th Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Download Map
785-864-4530 (Main Line)
888-577-5268 (Toll Free)
contact@kansaspublicradio.org