A Look at the White House's Most Memorable Weddings

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
Tricia Nixon, Ed Cox
Edward Cox escorts his bride Tricia Nixon (daughter of President Richard Nixon) down the aisle following their wedding in the White House Rose Garden in 1971. Bettman/Getty Images

Wedding planning comes with a lot of important decisions, but the one that tops them all is location, location, location. If, like Naomi Biden, you're lucky enough to have an "in" with the reigning first family, that location could be the White House. Naomi, granddaughter of President Joe Biden, is having her Nov. 19 wedding at the White House. The ceremony will take place on the South Lawn, a first, followed by a family-only luncheon and a dessert and dancing reception in the evening. (Naomi's fiance Peter Neal shared an Instagram of the couple getting their marriage license.)

Better than even the swankiest private club, a White House wedding comes with an unrivaled sense of elegance and exclusivity, not to mention historic significance. Originally built in 1792, the structure was torched by the British during the War of 1812, then rebuilt. It has undergone multiple renovations since. Today, the six-story residence boasts 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. With that sort of square footage, there are many on-site options for betrothed couples to choose from.


"When you look at White House weddings, each of them is so unique," says Sarah Fling, historian with The White House Historical Association. "[It] really depends on the desires, personalities and wishes of the bride and groom."

However desirable a White House wedding might be, such an event is rare. To date, only 18 weddings and four receptions have been held on the property. "There's certainly a historic precedent of having just a reception at the White House," Fling says. Most recently, Jenna Bush (daughter of President George Bush) did this in 2008, with a reception on-site about a month after she wed Henry Hager in her hometown of Crawford, Texas. Naomi Biden's nuptials will mark the 19th wedding at the White House.


Rules of a White House Wedding? There Are None

The process for having a wedding at the White House is surprisingly relaxed, considering the fact that its residents are perpetually the subject of scrutiny. "Really, the only protocol is the security," says Fling. Other than that, the couple in question is free to decorate and celebrate as they see fit. They don't have to pay a dime for the venue, although the couple does shoulder any other costs, like food and flowers. "Because the White House is the temporary residence of the first family, they're able to use it for events," Fling says. However, she adds, "No taxpayer money goes into a White House wedding."

Charles Robb, Lynda Johnson wedding
Lynda Johnson (daughter of President Lyndon Johnson) and Capt. Charles Robb walk through an arch of drawn swords as they leave the East Room of the White House following their wedding ceremony in 1967.
Bettman/Getty Images

You don't even have to be a member of the first family to score such an amazing location, either! The courtesy "extends to individuals who are particularly close with members of the first family," Fling explains, noting that these non-family members are often White House staffers. For example, in 2013 Pete Souza, chief White House photographer during the Obama administration, was married in the White House Rose Garden, and in 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt's adviser Harry Hopkins held his ceremony in the Yellow Oval Room.


"There's no rule saying who can or can't be married at the White House," Fling says. "Their close relationship is really their 'in.'" That said, the vast majority of the remaining ceremonies and receptions were held for people who were in some way related to the first family, be they nieces, nephews, children or grandchildren. Only one wedding so far has belonged to a sitting president. That honor goes to President Grover Cleveland, 49, who wed Frances Folsom, 21, back in 1886, making her the youngest first lady ever.


Unique White House Weddings

One ceremony not included in the official list of White House nuptials may have been the very first. Allegedly, first lady Abigail Adams may have allowed the wedding of her lady's maid, Betsy Howard, to her lover in 1801. Adams merely hints at the event in a letter to her sister, however, so it has never been confirmed, and likely never will be.

The "first really grand" White House wedding was that of Nellie Grant, daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant. She was married in the East Room (the largest room in the executive residence) back in 1874. The East Room was specifically decorated for the nuptials, with decor like gold leaf accents and new chandeliers. Droves of flowers, bunting and luxe food offerings totally transformed the space to celebrate the beginning of an ill-fated marriage. Sadly, Nellie's husband and father of their four children devolved into a serious alcoholic.


Alice Roosevelt, Nicholas Longworth
President Theodore Roosevelt (right), with his daughter Alice and his son-in-law Nicholas Longworth on the occasion of their marriage in 1906. Illustration from "The Story of the White House," by Esther Singleton (1908).
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Once Grant set the lavish precedent, others really started to take the ball and run with it. Arguably, the "most iconic" White House wedding, according to Fling, was that in honor of first daughter Alice Roosevelt in 1906. "Probably the grandest [wedding] because Alice was extremely popular," she says, noting that the wedding was covered extensively in international newspapers. "People were really clamoring to get information."

Alice was already a hit with the press and public for her escapades and free spirit, and this wedding didn't disappoint. With more than 1,000 guests in attendance, Roosevelt's event dwarfed that of Grant, which only included 250 guests. President Theodore Roosevelt spared no expense in regard to decor, either. "The White House was absolutely covered in flowers, greenery and palms, and there was a large breakfast buffet after," Fling says. Thousands of well-wishers gathered outside the White House to celebrate her union with Ohio representative Nicholas Longworth, who later became Speaker of the House. After the reception was over, the couple had to make a secret escape from the White House by climbing out of the Red Room window.

Between 1918 and 1967, there were no documented White House weddings, apart from that of Hopkins. But over the next four years, two first daughters married there. Lynda Bird, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson, married Marine Captain Charles Robb (later a governor and senator of Virginia) in the East Room in 1967. (President Johnson's other daughter Luci had her wedding reception at the White House in 1966.)

Edward Cox and Tricia Nixon cut wedding cake
Edward Cox and Tricia Nixon, the bride and groom, cut the wedding cake at their White House wedding.
Bettman/Getty Images

And Tricia Nixon (President Richard Nixon's daughter) married Edward Cox in the Rose Garden, which was the first outdoor wedding ceremony at the White House. The wedding was widely covered in the press. Among the details: the wedding cake was an astounding 6-feet, 10-inches (2-meters) tall and had a top tier featuring a miniature gazebo modeled after the gazebo where the couple would exchange vows in the Rose Garden. Tricia was the last child of a president to be married in the White House, so far.


Originally Published: Apr 27, 2022