A pair of strange White House guests

In an interesting photo dated Sep. 26, 1924, president and Mrs. Coolidge are standing in front of the Executive Office Building with two somewhat incongruous guests – Mary Harris “Mother” Jones and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

The Coolidges with Mother Jones and Teddy Roosevelt, Jr.

The junior Roosevelt had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Harding administration. Both he and his brother Archibald were to some extent embroiled in the Teapot Dome scandal that centered around the transfer of Navy oil leases to private interests. Both Roosevelts were cleared, but needless to say, their reputations were tarnished. At the time the photo was taken, Teddy Jr. was running for Governor of New York and was in need for some Coolidge magic to rub off on him. The New York race, which pitted Roosevelt against incumbent Democrat Alfred E. Smith, also highlighted the political and personal split between the Oyster Bay/Teddy Roosevelt and Hyde Park/FDR wings of the Roosevelt family, as both his cousin FDR and FDR’s wife Eleanor campaigned hard against him on the Teapot Dome theme. In the end, Roosevelt lost the race while Coolidge handily carried New York in the simultaneous presidential election. President Hoover later appointed TR jr. Governor of The Philippines, a post he resigned after his cousin FDR ascended to the Presidency. A gallant participant in WWII, Roosevelt died in 1944 at the age of 56, having taken part in the Utah Beach landing.

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was 87 at the time of her White House visit (although she claimed to be 94). A labor organizer and member of the Knights of Labor (later Industrial Workers of the World  or “Wobblies”), she also was affiliated with the Socialist Party of America and the United Mine Workers. In 1903, she organized the famous “Children’s Crusade” that took a group of children who worked in the mills and mines of Pennsylvania to the home of president Theodore Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, where they demanded (but never got the chance) to speak to the president. Mother Jones kept organizing and supporting strikes well into her 80s but also had to spend a lot of time in courts and she may have actually been a defendant around the time the photo was taken, having been accused of libel, slander and sedition by the publisher of the Chicago Times. It is unclear what her purpose in visiting the White House was, although I have seen the photo accompanied by text stating that she endorsed Calvin Coolidge for re-election. Mother Jones died in 1930, aged 93 (having celebrated what she claimed was her 100th birthday three years earlier).

Another picture taken at the same occasion.

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