In February 1861, shortly after selecting Davis as president, the Provisional Confederate Congress, meeting in Montgomery, authorized the leasing of an executive mansion. An offer came from Colonel Edmund S. Harrison of nearby Prattville, Alabama, who had recently purchased a newly renovated house in Montgomery that had previously been owned by a series of prominent citizens of the city. He offered to rent the house fully furnished and staffed for $5,000 per year.
The house served as the first White House of the Confederacy from February 1861 until late May 1861, when the Confederate capital moved to Richmond, Virginia. During that time, the White House was the setting for many lavish parties and receptions hosted by Mrs. Davis.