The White House has seen its fair share of colorful people. It also has seen its fair share of colorful and odd non-people (animals). Presidents and their families opened up their homes to animals since the beginning. One of the oddest White House animals is perhaps Rebecca the raccoon that First Lady Grace Coolidge kept in the White House.
Grace Coolidge always loved animals and when she became First Lady (from 1923-1929) that did not change. They had dogs, cats and canary birds. One of their dogs, a white collie named Rob Roy was often photographed with both the First Lady and President Coolidge. Her love of animals applied not only to traditional house pets but wildlife too. When it came to the traditional turkey shoot in 1928, Grace confessed that “Hunting never appealed to me any more than fishing.” She was reportedly relieved when no turkeys were killed that day.
For a few months from 1926-1927, the Coolidges also housed a raccoon. Initially they were sent the animal from Mississippi to be included in their 1926 Thanksgiving. Grace found that the animal was relatively calm and friendly. Instead of adding it to the dinner, they kept her and named her Rebecca. President Coolidge even talked about the raccoon in one of his press conferences, however he did get the gender wrong. “I don’t think he is quite grown yet. He is very playful, very interest, and seems very well trained and well behaved.”
They constructed a house for Rebecca in one of the trees and protected it with a wire fence. She also popped up at various events (and photographed with the First Lady at the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll). Grace always kept Rebecca on a chain when in public. When it came to the White House though, Rebecca was allowed to run free to the dismay of staff and housekeeping. The Coolidges talk about Rebecca fondly. Grace even said that the raccoon was quite “inquisitive” and enjoyed being in the bathtub with a little water. The White House staff, however, thought Rebecca was a nuisance who constantly ripped up expensive furniture and clothing with her sharp claws.
Rebecca, being the “inquisitive” animal she was, escaped from the grounds a few times. The President and First Lady thought it would be best for Rebecca to have a safer environment to roam and gave her to the Rock Creek Zoo (later became the Washington Zoo).