Any American can get a note from the White House congratulating them on getting married, but for most people, getting married at the White House isn't a reality.
There have been White House weddings before, but they've mostly been confined to members of the president's family or, in two cases, people close to the president. This Saturday, when Naomi Biden, granddaughter of President Joe Biden, celebrates her marriage to Peter Neal, it will mark the 19th time the presidential home has served as a wedding venue.
First Daughter Nellie Grant had “the first really grand White House wedding,” writes the association, on May 21, 1874. President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife redecorated the East Room especially for the wedding ceremony, adding gold leaf accents and replacing chandeliers from the Andrew Jackson years. Big sections of the estate were turned over to preparations for the wedding, and decorations ranged from a big wedding bell made of pink roses to red, white and blue bunting.
At Nellie’s wedding breakfast, held in the State Dining Room, the impressive menu included such delicacies as “aspic of beef tongue” and “wedding cake iced with doves, roses and wedding bells,” according to another association article. “The wedding breakfast menu was printed in gold on white satin and given to guests as souvenirs of the occasion,” notes the post.
By all accounts, it was a beautiful day, but though the bride carried a bouquet with the word “love” on a flag in it, the marriage didn’t last. Grant’s controversial husband, whom she’d fallen in love with while sailing the ocean, “became an alcoholic,” writes the association, “and Nellie left him, taking their four children with her.”
“It was the first wedding to be held in the White House in thirty years, since President Tyler married Julia Gardiner,” wrote Edwin S. Grosvenor for American Heritage in 2017. Grant’s famous nuptials were “perhaps the most celebrated nuptials of the 19th century.” The White House weddings of later first children, like President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice, were big news.
But it isn’t just the daughters or sons of presidents who have gotten married at the White House.
The first White House wedding was the wedding of Lucy Payne Washington, sister of First Lady Dolley Madison. In the 1812 ceremony, which was probably held in the Blue Room, according to the association, Washington married Thomas Todd, a Supreme Court justice.
The most recent White House wedding took place in 2013, when White House photographer Pete Souza married Patti Lease in the Rose Garden. Before that, the presidential seat of power hosted the 1994 wedding of Anthony Rodham, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brother. He married Nicole Boxer in the Rose Garden before a black-tie wedding dinner that was held in the State Dining Room. The ceremony was the first since Tricia Nixon, daughter of President Richard Nixon, wedin the Rose Garden in 1971. Nixon's wedding to Edward Finch Cox was highly publicized, and she appeared in her wedding dress in Time magazine not once, but twice.
White House weddings in general became rarer occasions in the second half of the 20th century: After three happened in the 1910s, the next wedding was that of Harry Hopkins—President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s assistant and one of only two non-presidential family members to get married at the White House. He held his ceremony in FDR’s study in 1942.
There are many reasons to have a wedding at the White House if you can, Letitia Baldridge, former social secretary to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, told the New York Times’ Sheryl Stolberg in 2008. World-class catering and staff are at your fingertips, along with the White House’s own florist and social secretary to handle all the decorating and invitations.
Still, there's at least one good reason not to host a wedding at the White House: privacy. "Historically," Stolberg wrote, "such affairs have been feel-good occasions for the country and the commander in chief, casting presidents in the sympathetic role of father." But there are times when the first family and their relatives just want to fly under the radar.
Editor’s Note, November 18, 2022: This article was updated ahead of Naomi Biden’s wedding to Peter Neal on November 19.