Secretary to the President of the United States

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The Secretary to the President (sometimes dubbed the president's Private Secretary or Personal Secretary) was a 19th- and early 20th-century White House position that carried out all the tasks now spread throughout the modern White House Office. The Secretary would act as a buffer between the president and the public, keeping the president's schedules and appointments, managing his correspondence, managing the staff, communicating to the press as well as being a close aide and advisor to the president in a manner that often required great skill and discretion. In terms of rank it is a precursor to the modern White House Chief of Staff.


Every American president had a private secretary, but the position was not an official one until the McKinley administration. At the time of its peak the Secretary to the President was a much admired government office held by men of high ability and considered as worthy as a cabinet rank;[1] it even merited an oath of office.[2] Three private secretaries were later appointed to the Cabinet: George B. Cortelyou, John Hay and Daniel S. Lamont.


During the nineteenth century, presidents had few staff resources. Thomas Jefferson had one messenger and one secretary (referred to as an amanuensis in the common parlance of the time) at his disposal, both of whose salaries were paid by the president personally. In fact, all presidents up to James Buchanan paid the salaries of their private secretaries out of their own pockets; these roles were usually fulfilled by their relatives, most often their sons or nephews. James K. Polk notably had his wife take the role.

It was during Buchanan's term at the White House in 1857 that the United States Congress created a definite office named the "Private Secretary at the White House" and appropriated for its incumbent a salary of $2,500. The first man to hold such office officially and to be paid by the government instead of by the president, was Buchanan's nephew J. B. Henry.[3] By Ulysses S. Grant's presidency, the White House staff had grown to three.[4]

By 1900, the office had grown in such stature that Congress elevated the position to "Secretary to the President", in addition to including on the White House staff two assistant secretaries, two executive clerks, a stenographer, and seven other office personnel. The first man to hold the office of Secretary to the President was John Addison Porter whose failing health meant he was soon succeeded by George B. Cortelyou.[3] Radio and the advent of media coverage soon meant that Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson too expanded the duties of their respective secretaries to dealing with reporters and giving daily press briefings.[5]

Under Warren G. Harding, the size of the staff expanded to thirty-one, although most were clerical positions. During Herbert Hoover's presidency however, he tripled the staff adding two additional private secretaries (at a salary of $10,000[6] each – increased from $7,200[7]) added by Congress. The first Hoover designated his Legislative Secretary (the senior Secretary now informally referred to by the press as the president's "No.1 Secretary"[8] ), the second his Confidential Secretary, and the third his Appointments and Press Secretary.[9]

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt converted Hoover's two extra secretaries into the permanent White House Press Secretary and Appointments Secretary, but from 1933 to 1939, as he greatly expanded the scope of the federal government's policies and powers in response to the Great Depression, Roosevelt relied on his "Brain Trust" of top advisers. Although working directly for the president, they were often appointed to vacant positions in agencies and departments, from whence they drew their salaries since the White House lacked statutory or budgetary authority to create new staff positions. It wasn't until 1939, during Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term in office, that the foundations of the modern White House staff were created using a formal structure. Roosevelt was able to get Congress to approve the creation of the Executive Office of the President reporting directly to the president, which included the White House Office. As a consequence, the office of Secretary to the President was greatly diminished in stature (mostly due to the lack of a sufficient replacement to Roosevelt's confidant Louis McHenry Howe who had died in 1936) and had many of its duties supplanted by the Appointments Secretary.

In 1946, in response to the rapid growth of the U.S. government's executive branch, the position of Assistant to the President of the United States was established, and charged with the affairs of the White House. Together with the Appointments Secretary the two took responsibility of most of the president's affairs and at this point the Secretary to the President was charged with nothing other than managing the president's official correspondence before the office was discontinued at the close of the Truman administration.

In 1961, under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the president's pre-eminent assistant was designated the White House Chief of Staff. Assistant to the President became a rank generally shared by the Chief of Staff with such senior aides as Deputy Chiefs of Staff, the White House Counsel, the White House Press Secretary, and others. This new system didn't catch on straight away. Democrats Kennedy and Johnson still relied on their appointments secretaries instead and it was not until the Nixon administration that the Chief of Staff became a permanent fixture in the White House, and the appointments secretary was reduced to only functional importance. In the 1980s the job was re-designated to the White House Office of Appointments and Scheduling.

List of presidential secretaries[edit]

Private Secretary[edit]

Year(s) Secretary President
Tobias Lear[a] George Washington
1789–1791 Maj. William Jackson[b]
1797–1801 William Smith Shaw John Adams
1801–1803 Cpt. Meriwether Lewis Thomas Jefferson
1803–1804 Lewis Harvie
1804–1805 William A. Burwell
1805–1809 Isaac Coles
James Madison
1810–1815 Edward Coles
1816–1817 James Payne Todd
1817–1820 Joseph Jones Monroe James Monroe
1820–1825 Samuel L. Gouverneur
1825–1829 John Adams II John Quincy Adams
1829–1831 Andrew Jackson Donelson Andrew Jackson
1831 Nicholas Trist
1831–1837 Andrew Jackson Donelson
1837–1841 Abraham Van Buren Martin Van Buren
1841 Henry Huntington Harrison William Henry Harrison
1841–1845 John Tyler Jr. John Tyler
1845–1849 Joseph Knox Walker

Sarah Childress Polk[c]

James K. Polk
1849–1850 Cpt. William Wallace Smith Bliss Zachary Taylor
1850–1853 Millard Powers Fillmore Millard Fillmore
1853–1857 Sidney Webster Franklin Pierce
  1. ^ Washington had several young assistant secretaries who made copies of his correspondence. Among these were
    Robert "Bob" Lewis, Howell Lewis, Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., and George Washington Craik.
  2. ^ As aide-de-camp.
  3. ^ His wife, it is said, too was his personal secretary.

Private Secretary to the White House[edit]

Year(s) Secretary President
1857–1859 James Buchanan Henry James Buchanan
1859–1861 James Buchanan II
1861–1865 John G. Nicolay Abraham Lincoln
1861–1865 Maj. John Hay[a]
1865–66 Col. William A. Browning Andrew Johnson
1865 Col. Reuben D. Mussey Jr.[a]
1866 Edmund Cooper
1866–1869 Brig. Gen. Robert Johnson
1866–1869 Col. William G. Moore[a]
1869–1873 Robert M. Douglas[b] Ulysses S. Grant
1873–1876 Col. Levi P. Luckey[b]
1876–1877 Ulysses S. Grant Jr.[b]
1869–1872 Col. Horace Porter[a]
1869–1873 Brig. Gen. Frederick Tracy Dent[a]
1869–1876 Col. Orville E. Babcock[a]
1877–1881 William King Rogers

Webb C. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes
1881–1882 Joseph Stanley Brown James A. Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
1882–1885 Fred J. Phillips
1885–1889 Col. Daniel Scott Lamont Grover Cleveland
1889–1893 Maj. Elijah W. Halford Benjamin Harrison
1893–1896 Henry T. Thurber Grover Cleveland
  1. ^ a b c d e f As Military Secretary.
  2. ^ a b c Grant was closer to his military secretaries who did most of the work normally associated with the Private Secretary.

Secretary to the President[edit]

Year(s) Secretary President
1897–1900 John Addison Porter William McKinley
1900–1903 George B. Cortelyou
Theodore Roosevelt
1903–1909 William Loeb Jr.
1909–1910 Fred W. Carpenter William Howard Taft
1910–1911 Charles D. Norton
1911–1912 Charles D. Hilles
1912–1913 Carmi Thompson
1913–1921 Joseph Tumulty Woodrow Wilson
1922–1923 George B. Christian Jr. Warren G. Harding
1923–1924 C. Bascom Slemp Calvin Coolidge
1925–1929 Everett Sanders
1929–1933 Walter H. Newton[a]

Lawrence Richey[a]

Herbert Hoover
1929–1931 George Edward Akerson[a]
1931–1933 Ted Joslin
1933–1936 Col. Louis McHenry Howe Franklin D. Roosevelt
1937–1938 James Roosevelt
1941–1943 Col. Marvin H. McIntyre
1944–1952 William D. Hassett[b]
Harry S. Truman
1952–1953 Beth Campbell Short[b]
  1. ^ a b c President Hoover had three private secretaries. The additional two were later "Appointments Secretary" and "Press Secretary".
  2. ^ a b As "Correspondence Secretary to the President"

Appointments Secretary[edit]

The appointments secretary was the guardian of the president's time. He had the responsibility of acting as "gatekeeper" and decided who got to meet with him.

Eisenhower appointed Arthur H. Vandenberg Jr. to the position, but he took a leave of absence before Eisenhower's inauguration and later withdrew without ever having served.

Year(s) Secretary President
1929–1931 George Edward Akerson[a] Herbert Hoover
1931–1933 Ted Joslin[a]
1933–1938 Col. Marvin H. McIntyre[b] Franklin D. Roosevelt
1938–1945 Maj. Gen. Edwin "Pa" Watson
1945–1953 Matthew J. Connelly
Harry S. Truman
1953–1955 Thomas Stephens Dwight D. Eisenhower
1955–1957 Bernard M. Shanley
1957–1958 Bob Gray
1958–1961 Thomas Stephens
1961–1963 Kenneth O'Donnell[c] John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson
1965–1968 W. Marvin Watson[c] Lyndon B. Johnson
1968–1969 James R. Jones[c]
1969–1973 Dwight Chapin Richard Nixon
1974–1976 Warren S. Rustand Gerald Ford
1977–1978 Timothy Kraft Jimmy Carter
1978–1981 Phil J. Wise
  1. ^ a b As Appointments and Press Secretary.
  2. ^ Before 1937 the title was only "Assistant Secretary to Appointments".
  3. ^ a b c De facto White House Chief of Staff.

Press Secretary[edit]

Personal secretary to the president[edit]

The prior role of Secretary to the President should not be confused with the modern president's personal secretary who is officially an administrative assistant in the Executive Office of the President. The role of personal secretary to the president should also not be confused with the personal aide to the president (commonly known as the "body man" or "body woman").

Year(s) Secretary President
1933–1941 Missy LeHand Franklin D. Roosevelt
1941–1945 Grace Tully
1945–1953 Rose Conway Harry S. Truman
1953–1961 Ann C. Whitman Dwight D. Eisenhower
1961–1963 Evelyn Lincoln John F. Kennedy
1963–1969 Gerri Whittington Lyndon B. Johnson
1969–1974 Rose Mary Woods Richard Nixon
1974–1977 Dorothy E. Downton Gerald Ford
1977–1981 Susan Clough Jimmy Carter
1981–1989 Kathleen Osborne Ronald Reagan
1989–1993 Linda Casey George H. W. Bush
1993–2001 Betty Currie Bill Clinton
2001–2005 Ashley Estes Kavanaugh George W. Bush
2005–2009 Karen E. Keller
2009–2011 Katie Johnson Barack Obama
2011–2014 Anita Decker Breckenridge
2014–2017 Ferial Govashiri
2017–2019 Madeleine Westerhout Donald Trump
2019–2021 Vacant
2021–present Vacant Joe Biden


  1. ^ Herring, Pendleton (2006). "5". Presidential Leadership. Transaction Publishers. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-4128-0556-8. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  2. ^ "The Presidency: Ted for Ted". Time. 1932-05-09. Archived from the original on October 27, 2010. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  3. ^ a b "White House – Secretaries To The Presidents". Old and Sold Antiques Digest. 1908. Archived from the original on October 26, 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  4. ^ Burke, John P. "Administration of the White House". Miller Center of Public Affairs. Archived from the original on 2010-11-17. Retrieved 2008-11-06.
  5. ^ Watson, Robert P. (2004). "4". Life in the White House. SUNY Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-7914-6098-6. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  6. ^ "Big Job". Time. 1929-02-11. Archived from the original on October 27, 2010. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
  7. ^ "$7,500 Pay for Tumulty". The New York Times. 1913-02-03. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  8. ^ "Description". Time. 1929-03-04. Retrieved 2009-05-09.[dead link]
  9. ^ "Big Job". Time. 1929-02-11. Archived from the original on October 27, 2010. Retrieved 2009-05-09.