The White House Egg Roll has been a Easter tradition since the 1870s. According to The White House: “[It] is one of the oldest and most unique traditions in presidential history.” Some historians have attributed Dolley Madison with suggesting the idea of an egg roll. Reportedly, the first egg rolls occurred earlier during President Andrew Johnson’s administration (in office from 1865 to 1869), although that was thought to have involved mainly family members. Years later, a small group of egg rollers were seen on the grounds while President Ulysses S. Grant was president (1869–1877).
The difference between the egg rolls then and now is not just the increase in participation but in its location. It originally took place on the west grounds of the U.S. Captiol not at The White House. In 1876, Congress passed the Turf Protection Law in part because of the damage the egg rolls had on the grounds. The law stated that it became the “duty of the Capitol police hereafter to prevent any portion of the Capitol grounds and terraces from being used as playgrounds or otherwise.” It was signed into law by President Grant. When children and their parents came to roll eggs in 1878, they were swiftly kicked off by Capitol Hill police.
The exact details of how the festivities ended up at the White House are not known. However, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) was the first President to officially allow the egg roll to take place on White House grounds. Stories have been told of informal egg rolling gatherings at the White House during President Lincoln’s presidency. From then on, with only a few interruptions, the Easter egg roll took place on the South Lawn of the White House. The interruptions occurred during World War I when the egg roll was canceled (from 1917-1920) because of the national campaign to end food waste. Additionally, President Truman (1945-1953) canceled it during his administration due to post-World War II issues. President Eisenhower revived the tradition when he took office in 1953. It has been an annual event ever since.
Some fun facts about the White House Easter egg roll from the National Archives:
- Lou Hoover dyed a large number of eggs herself to give to the children.
- Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1933, organized games to be included with the egg roll. She also greeted the public by radio so that people around the country to listen in on the event.
- Pat Nixon and her staff introduced the White House Easter Bunny in 1969. Additionally, she initiated certifications of participation. Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter followed suit with the latter including a printed note from herself folded inside ten thousand plastic eggs in 1980.
- An organized egg-rolling races were introduced in 1874.
- The Carters included a three-ring circus and petting zoo into the event.
- Nancy Reagan was at the helm of the 1981 festivities and, as a girl, she attended President Coolidge’s egg roll.
- In 1998, the Clintons opened the fun up to children around the world by broadcasting it over the Internet.
“An Egg-centric White House Tradition,” National Archives, April 25, 2011.
“History of the Easter Egg Roll,” Bush Administration White House website.
“The White House Easter Egg Roll,” The White House Historical Association.
C. L. Arbelbide, “With Easter Monday You Get Egg Roll at the White House,” Prologue Magazine 32, No. 1 (Spring 2000).