History of the White House Easter Egg Roll
The original site of the Easter Monday Egg Roll was the grounds of the United States Capitol. By the mid 1870s, the egg rolling activities on the West Terraces had gained notoriety as the children turned the Capitol grounds into their Easter Monday playground. The first egg rolls, largely family affairs, seem to have been held during the administration of President Andrew Johnson. Youngsters of the President's family dyed eggs on Sunday for the Monday rolling, which the First Lady would watch from the South Portico. A family member has attested to hearing the stories of such activity from Andrew Johnson Patterson, the President's grandson, who lived at the White House while his mother served as White House hostess on behalf of her invalid mother, First Lady Eliza Johnson. Although small groups of egg rollers were reported on the White House grounds under the presidency of General Ulysses S. Grant, the majority of egg rolling activity and all day picnics took place at the Capitol. The workers and tourists watched in fascination as the children rolled both their hard boiled eggs and themselves down the lush green hills.
The egg roll activity of 1876 took its toll on the grounds, a fact that did not go unnoticed by members of Congress. With an already inadequate budget to complete the landscaping and maintenance of the grounds, Congress passed a law forbidding the Capitol grounds to be used as a children's playground. The law was to be enforced in 1877. But that Easter Monday rain poured down, canceling any outdoor activities sending the egg rollers indoors to play.
On Easter Saturday of 1878, a small announcement in the local press informed the egg rollers the new law would be enforced. President Rutherford B. Hayes, taking his daily walk, was approached by a number of young egg rollers who inquired about the possibilities of egg rolling on the South Lawn of the White House. Unfamiliar with the activity [his first Easter Monday as President had been rained out the proceeding year] President Hayes, upon his return to the White House, inquired amongst his staff who briefed the attentive Chief Executive. The smiling President issued an official order that should any children arrive to egg roll on Easter Monday, they were to be allowed to do so. That Monday, as children were being turned away from the Capitol grounds, word quickly spread to go to the White House!
President Hayes and his wife, Lucy, officially opened the White House grounds to the children of the area for egg rolling that Easter Monday. Successive Presidents continued the tradition, and the event has been held on the South Lawn ever since. The event has been canceled on occasion only because of poor weather conditions and during World War I and World War II. During the war years egg rollers were spotted on the grounds surrounding the Washington Monument, at the National Zoo, and even returning to the grounds surrounding the Capitol!
By the late 1800s such games as "Egg Picking," "Egg Ball," "Toss and Catch," and "Egg Croquet" were popular Easter Monday activities. The children attending the event take part in many newer activities, but rolling a hard-boiled egg across the lawn is still a highlight of the day. Presidents and First Ladies have personally greeted the egg rollers as have members of the Cabinet, athletes, musicians, celebrities from film, television, and theater and the official White House Easter Bunny. At the end of the day as egg rollers say goodbye, each receives a special presidential wooden egg complete with the signatures of the President and the First Lady and departs with fond memories of this happy tradition at the White House.