Yellow Oval Room

The Obamas meet with the Crown Prince and Princess of the Netherlands in 2009 (White House - Samantha Appleton)

The Oval Parlor & Library

The Yellow Oval Room is often used for formal private receptions for important guests. Laura Bush uses it often to entertain female dignitaries. The room has three doors, which lead to the Central Hall, the Truman Balcony, and the Living Room. The room is traditionally decorated with yellow. The furnishing are in the Louis XVI style, assembled during the Jacqueline Kennedy renovation. Like the Blue Room below it, this room is not quite 40 feet by 30 feet.

 

Benjamin Harrison's library-turned-living-room in 1890 (Library of Congress - Frances Benjamin Johnston)

On 1801 January 1, and before it was even complete, John Adams held the first presidential reception in this room, known then only as "the upstairs oval parlor." Dolley Madison first decorated the room in yellow damask in 1809. In 1851, Abigail Fillmore got an allocation from Congress for books to make the room into the first White House library. Abraham Lincoln added a door to the south end of the east wall to a private passage that let him bypass the hubbub of the hall and people waiting in today's Treaty Room. The Harrisons continued to use the room as a library and family parlor and, in 1889, put the first White House Christmas tree here.

Franklin D Roosevelt converted the room into his study, and it was in this room on December 7, 1941, that he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. According to White House historian William Seale, this was "the most important room of Roosevelt's presidency. There he worked, relaxed and there he conducted most of the important business of State." Frances Perkins watched the room quickly fill up "with everything that came his way—a Jefferson chair, another bookcase, another bench, another table, ship models and books and papers piled on the floor. Any room he used invariably got that lived-in and overcrowded look which indicated the complexity and variety of his interests and intentions."

Harry Truman continued to use the room as a study and opened access to a new balcony he added to the South Portico in 1948. Later presidents reserved the room as a parlor for formal receptions and used the Treaty Room nearby as a private study instead.

Adapted from America's First Families: Chapter 3, A Home Within a Symbol:

Across the Center Hall from the two north bedrooms is what became the Yellow Oval Room, decorated in green as a ladies' parlor by Andrew Jackson's niece, Emily Donelson. William Henry Harrison's family clustered here as he lay dying and officials predominated in his bedroom. It remained, however, largely a gathering place for women guests until Sarah Polk outfitted a downstairs room for the same purposes, thus making the family rooms finally off-limits to mere guests.

It was the Fillmores who gave purpose to the room when, in 1850, Congress made a special appropriation of $4,000 to purchase the first multiple volumes of books. This became the first permanent White House library, and here their daughter, Mary Abigail, played her harp for guests. After a long day of telegraphing messages on Union troop movements during the Civil War, Lincoln would join his wife here. Presidents from Hayes to Theodore Roosevelt used it for private meetings. Chester Arthur put his lounge chair here, but Frances Cleveland formalized it with Louis XIII furniture. Nellie Taft dramatically altered the room's look with tapestries and other items she had purchased in Asia.

Despite Prohibition, Harding served alcoholic drinks to his cronies as they played poker in the Oval Room. Draped in "Harding blue," it housed clipping books, a pink doll that shook and winked, and the First Lady's collection of miniature elephants on shelves. The Hoovers created an oddly glamorous look with Chippendale couches upholstered in gold-and-black brocade and green curtains.

Under FDR, the oval study took on a nautical look, displaying the president's collection of naval prints and ship models. Truman used it as a study and met nightly with his wife in closed-door sessions here, during which they reviewed his speeches and political agenda. Eisenhower's military decorations and awards were displayed in cases here, and it was called the "Trophy Room." Jackie Kennedy created a sitting room, reminiscent of the Jefferson-Madison era, with bright yellow furniture. Since 1961, it has been the most formal room on the family floor, where world leaders are brought before a state dinner, for the exchange of official gifts.

Chief Usher Ike Hoover wrote of this room in the Herbert Hoover period:

The oval room next to [the old study] was stripped of its furniture and used for moving pictures in the evening and as a sort of catch-all for furniture that had no other place to rest.

Mrs. Hoover wrote of this room in her tenure:

The six long shining curtains at the bay windows were new, - lettuce green taffeta, looking high on gold leaf-shaped tie-backs. The oval rug - once a dull French blue, dating back to the Wilson era - was dyed the color of the floor, - the black of old wood.

The Hoovers created the open shelf niches flanking the north door. Mrs. Hoover wrote:

They held tall glass doors, necessarily curtained since behind them were rows of shelves, too shallow and irregular to hold books or any collection of displayable treasures. None knew why they could not be full-depth shelves; but someone soon explored and discovered. Behind the cupboards were brick flues, empty and idle and relics of a day of far-past ventilation. They were easily adapted to the setting in of proper shelves, and the result was the two present charming Georgian corner cupboards in the Oval Room, curving as gracefully as the walls themselves, and crowned with a fluted shell that might have come straight from the Hoban pencil itself. The glass doors and their shielding curtains are no more, but rows of warm-colored books give life to the oval room walls, more harmoniously than in the Library days.

More Images

The first lady with Queen Rania of Jordan in 2009 (White House - Samantha Appleton)

The Yellow Oval Room in 2008 (C-SPAN)

Laura Bush with guests in the Yellow Oval Room in 2007 (White House - Sheelah Craighead)

The Yellow Oval Room during the holidays in 2007 (Joshua Feltman)

Laura Bush hosts Xiomora Zelaya, first lady of Honduras, in the Yellow Oval Room in 2006 (White House - Sheelah Craighead)

Laura Bush hosts a guest in the Yellow Oval Room, circa 2004, looking southwest (White House)

The Yellow Oval Room in 1992, looking north (HABS)

The Yellow Oval Room, circa 1991, looking southeast (White House Historical Association)

The Reagans in the Yellow Oval Room, circa 1986, looking east (Reagan Library)

The Yellow Oval Room, circa 1985, looking east (Architectural Digest)

The Reagans with the Waleses in the Yellow Oval Room in 1985, looking south (Reagan Library)

The Carters with the (Senator) Hollingses and (Senator) Bumperses, looking west (NARA - Carter Library)

The room in 1977, looking south (White House Historical Association)

Betty Ford with the queen of Spain in the Yellow Oval Room in 1976, looking south (NARA)

The Fords with the king and queen of Spain in the Yellow Oval Room in 1975, looking west (NARA)

The room in 1970, during Tricia Nixon's televised tour (White House Historical Association)

The Johnson family at Christmastime in 1968 (Johnson Library)

Lynda Bird Johnson and Charles Robb in 1967

Ladybird Johnson hosts a chat about the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden in the Yellow Oval Room in 1964

The Yellow Oval Room in 1964 (White House Historical Association)

The Kennedys in the Yellow Oval Room in 1963, looking south (NARA - Cecil Stoughton)

The Yellow Oval Room when it was first converted to a sitting room, circa 1962, looking south (White House Historical Association)

The Yellow Oval Room in 1962, looking northeast (Kennedy Library - Robert Knudsen)

The Yellow Oval Room in 1961 (Kennedy Library - Robert Knudsen)

The room as Dwight Eisenhower's study and trophy room, circa 1957 (Upstairs at the White House)

The room as Dwight Eisenhower's trophy room, circa 1955

The Yellow Oval Room as Harry Truman's study in 1952,
with a new desk so the Resolute desk could be moved to the Broadcast Room (Truman Library)

The Yellow Oval Room as Harry Truman's study in 1952 (Truman Library)

The Resolute desk in Truman's study in 1948 (Truman Library black and white)

The Yellow Oval Room as Harry Truman's study in 1948, with the Resolute desk, looking southeast (Truman Library)

The Yellow Oval Room as Harry Truman's study in 1947 (Truman Library)

The Roosevelts with their grandchildren in 1945, looking northeast (NARA)

Franklin Roosevelt's naval-theme study, circa 1939

FDR in his study, circa 1935, looking east (NARA)

FDR and Eleanor in his study in 1933, looking east (NARA)

FDR's nautical-themed oval study in 1940, looking south (Getty Images - Dmitri Kessel)
(in black and white: White House Historical Association - mislabeled as the Oval Office)

FDR's study, circa 1934, looking southwest

View from the Yellow Oval Room around 1930, before the Truman Balcony was built (NARA)

The Yellow Oval Room, circa 1930, looking south (NARA)

The Yellow Oval Room as Taft sitting room, circa 1912, looking northeast (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

The Yellow Oval Room as Taft sitting room, circa 1912, looking northwest (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

The Yellow Oval Room as Taft sitting room, circa 1909, looking east (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

The Yellow Oval Room as Taft sitting room, circa 1909, looking east, into the Treaty Room (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

The Yellow Oval Room as Roosevelt sitting room in 1909, looking northwest

The Yellow Oval Room before the Roosevelt renovation, circa 1901, looking northeast

The Yellow Oval Room around 1898 (Library of Congress)

Cleveland family Christmas tree around 1896 (White House Historical Association - Frank M. Boteler)

The Yellow Oval Room as Benjamin Harrison's library-turned-living-room in 1890, looking northeast
(Library of Congress - Frances Benjamin Johnston)

The Yellow Oval Room as Benjamin Harrison's library-turned-living-room in 1890, looking northwst (White House Historical Association)

The Yellow Oval Room as library and study, circa 1886, looking northwest

The Yellow Oval Room as Grover Cleveland's library and study in 1886, looking northeast
(White House Historical Association [Library of Congress])

The Yellow Oval Room as library, circa 1885 [stereo] (New York Public Library)

The Yellow Oval Room as library, circa 1882 [stereo] (New York Public Library)

Etching of the room as Andrew Johnson's library, circa 1868; note the stuffed bear made into a chair