Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The story of some controversial White House china

C-SPAN has been airing a series about the First Ladies, and I tuned in one night just in time to learn about Lucy Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes. All the First Ladies are fascinating subjects, and I was not surprised to learn some new things about Lucy Hayes. She was supportive of veterans and the temperance movement, and as First Lady she oversaw the completion of the Washington Monument. She was also the first First Lady to graduate from college and the first to host a White House Easter Egg Roll. But I must confess that what most fascinated me about Lucy Hayes was the fact she is known for her controversial White House china!

According to Christie Weininger, executive director of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Ohio, “It’s controversial. It was controversial at the time. It remains controversial to this day because of the pattern of the china.” Lucy Hayes loved nature, Weininger said, and she wanted to choose a china pattern with ferns on it. Theodore Davis had been chosen as the artist, and he suggested the china also depict fish, ducks, and other subjects—subjects, it turned out, which weren't considered appropriate for formal china of the day. The First Lady, however, thought the china would be a fine way to familiarize visiting dignitaries with the floral and fauna of the U.S. Apparently, her china selection created quite the ruckus!

Fortunately, that clip from the program is available for viewing online, and if you would like to watch the brief video and see the china for yourself, click here!


  1. Yeah, it's a little too much for formal china. Great for appetizers and such. Some of the pieces are quite beautiful- perfect for hanging as art, don't you think?
    Shari in Houston

  2. Very interesting Angela. The china is beautiful art work to display. As for eating, not sure.

  3. I love it, doesn't have to be for every occasion but for some, ring the changes. I think would be very nice interspersed with a quite plain pattern ie white with gold edging

  4. I can understand why the china would so controversial. It wouldn't be my choice for sure but they are wonderful works of art and being the nature lover that I am, I think they would be splendid displayed in a den. Interesting post and thanks for sharing.


  5. That's very interesting! Funny, I grew up about 40 minutes away from RBH Museum and never went there.
    Once thing I know about him - if you go back a few of my posts ago to where I showed my map on the lake where I'm from, at the very tip of that peninsula - there is an itty bitty teeny tiny island called Mouse Island. When I was little we row boated there all the time, and there were cottage ruins there - only a stone (local limestone) chiminey was left.....that was all that remained of a summer cottage RBH had back in the day. You may even remember my sharing we used to walk across the ice in winter to Mouse Island too. (Lord, how dangerous, no one can survive swimming there due to really strong currents there, so one would die for sure if one should fall through the ice.) AND I USED TO GO WITH MY AUNT AND HER BFF! So one cannot blame that dangerous craziness on youth, haha.

    Now days the island is privately owned and I think they built on it again. I'll have to ask my brother, he would know. He and his cronies in high school always would camp there and do fireworks and have a ruckus.

    But, back to the china. It is kind of hideous, isn't it? LOL, learn something every time I visit your wonderful blog. Hugs.

  6. The china is pretty but in a work of art way. Not something you would think to eat dinner from. But good for her for choosing something original.

  7. hello Angela, great post! About a week ago, I happened to catch C SPAN`S "First Ladies" program on Mrs. Harrison, Benjamin's wife - it was so interesting!

    I did not see the whole program but what I did see was really neat: Mrs. Harrison was an accomplished "china painter" when she and her husband moved to the White House (Mrs. Harrison even made arrangements for her art instructor to move to D-C and continue the china painting lessons).

    Mrs. Harrison is credited with getting the (existing china) catalogued and organized and at the time, America did not have an established company to produce new china, so Mrs. Harrison had a French company produce sets of "blank white china" and Mrs. Harrison came up with the designs to be painted on it - I just thought that was so interesting.*

    * The program hosts mentioned that the Governor's mansion in Indiana has some of Mrs. Harrison's china on display and there is an artist's group that is keeping Mrs. Harrison's china painting legacy "alive."

    This is a fascinating series and I'm so glad that you saw it too! Back in 1988, I spent three months at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis and enjoyed this Army post - I was taking some classes in military communication. I would love to go back to Indianapolis and tour the Governor's mansion. Wouldn't that be fun? Thanks for sharing the history in such an interesting way. Joanie

  8. That was interesting! Thanks for sharing. I can certainly understand why it was considered controversial!


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