Misadventures of White House Kids

From George Washington On, Presidents Have Had to Deal With Kids' Wild Antics

By Buck Wolf

June 5, 2001 — If President Bush now has his hands full with daughters Jenna and Barbara, he should be happy he's not Chester A. Arthur — his son got caught skinny-dipping in a White House fountain with the prince of Siam.

Having a dad for president has a few advantages. Police let Alan Arthur off the hook when they found out who he was. But if White House history has taught us anything, it's that being leader of the free world doesn't exactly make you all-powerful in controlling your kids.

"My children give me more pain than all my enemies," lamented John Adams, the nation's second president.

Theodore Roosevelt — who took office with six children under 17 — put it even more bluntly. He said he could either be president or control his kids, but "couldn't do both."

"First families are under fantastic scrutiny," says historian Carl Anthony, author of America's First Families (Touchstone). "It's amazing that anyone can grow up under those conditions. The whole world is watching."

Still, only 10 presidents and first ladies had no living children while in the White House — and many of them had to raise children while trying to keep world peace.

That 'Indolent' Little Wash

Roosevelt's eldest, Alice, had quite a reputation, dancing on cars in Newport, jumping into the White House pool fully clothed, screaming when the staff refused to serve champagne.

When she left home, her stepmother Edith snapped, "I want you to know that I'm glad to see you leave," adding, "You have been nothing but trouble."

Even the first president had problems with a step-grandson, a party-hardy Princeton University student known as "Little Wash."

President Washington noted that his namesake had "an almost unconquerable disposition to indolence in everything that did not tend to his amusements."

Princeton eventually gave the boy the boot for "having endeavored in various ways to lessen the authority and influence of the faculty."

Everyone knows that Adams had a son, John Quincy Adams, who also became president. But no one talks much about his son Charles, an alcoholic who died while his father was in office.