Jenna Bush, the 26-year-old twin daughter of President and Mrs. Bush, is planning to be married on May 10. VOA’s Susan Logue takes a look at how the Bush wedding measures up to the nuptials of some other presidential children.
First Lady Laura Bush has described the upcoming wedding of her daughter Jenna as a “small and private” affair. Two hundred guests will attend the ceremony, which will be held at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas.
That will be considerably different from the wedding of President Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia in 1971. "That was, as it was called at the time, a minor national pageant," says Ohio University historian Katherine Jellison, author of It’s Our Day: America’s Love Affair With the White Wedding.
Jellison says Tricia’s wedding, which was staged in the picturesque White House Rose Garden, was a media event. The bride appeared on the cover of news magazines, and the ceremony, which was attended by 400 invited guests, was broadcast live on national television.
The event was also used by President Nixon to his political advantage, since he was campaigning at the time for re-election. "We know from the infamous Nixon tapes that there were Oval Office conversations about where it would be best to place the cameras," says Jellison, who adds the emphasis was to make “Nixon come across as a family man and show his ‘warm and fuzzy’ side.”
Since President Bush isn’t running for re-election, there’s no need for that kind of media attention. But historian Doug Wead, author of All the Presidents’ Children notes, "The president in general has wanted to keep his daughters out of the limelight."
Wead says that was true of the Clintons as well, who saw to it that daughter Chelsea was able to keep her life private. “Presidential parents are learning more about how that is important for the children. And they are doing a better job than earlier presidents.”
Twenty-two presidential children have been married while their fathers were in office. Wead says most of their weddings were big events.
Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice had one of the biggest in 1906, when she married then Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth at the White House. ”It was crammed full of people, delegations from all over the world, magnificent gifts,” Wead says. When Alice Roosevelt died in 1980, The Washington Post reported hundreds of those gifts remained in the archives, unopened.
On the day of the wedding in 1906, Wead says, “Her wedding covered every square inch of The Washington Post.”
The event captured the attention of the American public in other ways, as well, he says. “The number one song in the country was about her. And a color (‘Alice blue’) was named after her.”
By comparison, author Katherine Jellison says, many Americans aren’t even aware that Jenna Bush is getting married this month. "It just doesn’t seem to be on the radar screen for a lot of Americans," she says.
“I think probably it would be controversial at this point if the Bush family did try to stage a national pageant at the White House,” the historian says. “In the midst of a very troubled economy [and] an unpopular war, a White House pull-out-all-the-stops wedding might be seen as inappropriate.”
Jenna Bush has said she chose to have her wedding in Texas because it is home.
She is not the first presidential child to choose a private wedding. Several have, including Jenna’s aunt. Dorothy Bush, the current president’s sister, was married at the secluded presidential retreat at Camp David in 1992, while the first President Bush was still in office. It was her second marriage.