A peek into the daily lives of the McKinleys
Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.
William and Ida McKinley moved into the White House on March 4, 1897, and they quickly adapted to a daily routine. Here is a snapshot of how the McKinleys lived on a typical day:.
President McKinley arose in the morning in the spacious northwest bedroom on the second floor of the White House. The McKinleys slept in twin brass beds. Ida McKinley decorated the bedroom with their souvenirs, knickknacks, ruffled pillows and family photographs. A portrait of the McKinley’s beloved deceased daughter, Katy, was placed above the mantle for both of them to view daily.
The president then began to prepare for the day ahead. He bathed and shaved every day. McKinley enjoyed shaving himself, but there was also a White House barber available to do this on occasion. The president’s personal valet assisted him with his clothing. Newspaper accounts of the day state that McKinley was a “sharp dresser.” He then joined Ida for breakfast.
A cook was hired to prepare the McKinley’s personal meals. The couple preferred plain foods with plenty of starch. Both of the McKinleys were prodigious breakfast eaters, each of them enjoying large portions. A typical breakfast for the couple would consist of eggs, hot breads, potatoes, steak, chops, fish on occasion, fresh fruit and coffee.
Lunch and dinner featured the same foods that were served for breakfast, with the addition of dessert.
A breakfast favorite was the “McKinley Omelet,” which has been described as more akin to a casserole. Often on the menu was “red flannel hash,” which consisted of potatoes and beets fried together with onions and butter. A “hot lobster salad” was a dinner favorite. It was lobster placed on a bed of greens.
McKinley would read six major U.S. newspapers and the Canton Repository every day while eating breakfast. Both he and Ida would share their upcoming plans for the day.
The president would then go across the hall to his office by 10 every morning, and work till 5. He would go across the hallway to the private residence at least three or four times a day to check on Ida. If possible, they would lunch together. He would sometimes bring guests to join them for the that meal.
Ida McKinley had a daily routine that she followed. The White House staff would take Ida for a drive around Washington, D.C., in the morning. She would then return to the White House and plan her afternoon activities. Sometimes she would spend time crocheting slippers for friends, children and charitable organizations. Jennie Hobart, Vice President Garret Hobart’s wife, would occasionally come to the White House and play cribbage.
Once the president finished for the day, he would then take Ida out for a ride around Washington in his horse and carriage.
The McKinleys cherished their evenings alone together on the nights without official events or banquets planned. After a nice dinner and a glass of wine, they adjourned to the sitting room for a conversation about the day’s events and family news. The president would read an afternoon newspaper or glance through a book. Ida loved to play euchre but hated to lose. The president would lose on purpose to please her.
Sundays were a day of rest, when the president would arise and attend services alone at the Metropolitan Methodist Church in Washington. Ida did not attend the services because she disliked leaving the White House on Sunday. McKinley returned from church and took his ease for the remainder of the day unless there was a crisis that needed his attention.
Patrick Finan of Cortland is the retired former library director of the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles.