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Secretary to the President of the United States

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Abraham Lincoln and his secretaries John G. Nicolay and John Hay photographed by Alexander Gardner on November 8, 1863 in Washington, D.C.

The Secretary to the President is a long-standing position in the United States government, known by many different titles during its history.

In the 19th- and early 20th-century it was a 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 was a precursor to the modern White House Chief of Staff until the creation of that position in 1946.

During the mid 20th century, the position became known as the "appointments secretary", the person who was the guardian of the president's time. He had the responsibility of acting as "gatekeeper" and decided who got to meet with him.

The modern-day position of the president's secretary is fulfilled by a administrative assistant or personal assistant in the White House Office Oval Office Operations department who has a desk directly outside the Oval Office.



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.[1] By Ulysses S. Grant's presidency, the White House staff had grown to three.[2]

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.[1] 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.[3]

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;[4] it even merited an oath of office.[5] Three private secretaries were later appointed to the Cabinet: George B. Cortelyou, John Hay and Daniel S. Lamont.

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.

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.

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. The Appointments Secretary position was eliminated in 1981, with the responsibilities transferred to the recently created White House Deputy Chief of Staff position.

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").

List of presidential secretaries


Private Secretary

Year(s) Image Secretary President
Tobias Lear[a] George Washington
Maj. William Jackson[b]
William Smith Shaw John Adams
Cpt. Meriwether Lewis Thomas Jefferson
1803–1804 Lewis Harvie
William A. Burwell
Isaac Coles
Edward Coles James Madison
1816–1817 James Payne Todd
1817–1820 Joseph Jones Monroe James Monroe
1820–1825 Samuel L. Gouverneur
John Adams II John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson Donelson Andrew Jackson
Nicholas Trist
Andrew Jackson Donelson
Abraham Van Buren II Martin Van Buren
1841 Henry Huntington Harrison William Henry Harrison
John Tyler Jr. John Tyler
1845–1849 Joseph Knox Walker[c] James K. Polk
Cpt. William Wallace Smith Bliss Zachary Taylor
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 Sarah Childress Polk, it is said, too was his personal secretary.

Private Secretary to the White House

Year(s) Image Secretary President
1857–1859 James Buchanan Henry James Buchanan
1859–1861 James Buchanan II
John G. Nicolay Abraham Lincoln
Maj. John Hay[a]
1865 Col. William A. Browning Andrew Johnson
1865 Col. Reuben D. Mussey Jr.[a]
Brig. Gen. Robert Johnson[b]
1867 Edmund Cooper
1866–1869 Col. William G. Moore[a]
Robert M. Douglas[c] Ulysses S. Grant
Col. Horace Porter[a]
Brig. Gen. Frederick Tracy Dent[a]
Col. Orville E. Babcock[a]
1873–1876 Col. Levi P. Luckey[c]
Ulysses S. Grant Jr.[c]
Webb C. Hayes Rutherford B. Hayes
1881 Joseph Stanley Brown James A. Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
1881–1885 Fred J. Phillips
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. ^ "Bob," as he was called, was an alcoholic and was in asylums for treatment during several periods of his father's presidency.[10]
  3. ^ 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

Year(s) Image Secretary President
John Addison Porter William McKinley
George B. Cortelyou
Theodore Roosevelt
William Loeb Jr.
Fred W. Carpenter William Howard Taft
Charles D. Norton
Charles D. Hilles
Carmi Thompson
Joseph Tumulty Woodrow Wilson
George B. Christian Jr. Warren G. Harding
C. Bascom Slemp Calvin Coolidge
Everett Sanders
Walter H. Newton Herbert Hoover
Col. Louis McHenry Howe Franklin D. Roosevelt
James Roosevelt
Col. Marvin H. McIntyre[a]
1944–1952 William D. Hassett[a]
Harry S. Truman
1952–1953 Beth Campbell Short[a]
  1. ^ a b c As "Correspondence Secretary to the President"

Appointments Secretary

Year(s) Image Secretary President
George E. Akerson[a] Herbert Hoover
Ted Joslin[a]
Marvin H. McIntyre[b] Franklin D. Roosevelt
Edwin "Pa" Watson
Matthew J. Connelly
Harry S. Truman
1953 Arthur H. Vandenberg Jr.
On leave
Dwight D. Eisenhower
1953–1955 Thomas Stephens
Acting during Vandenberg's term
1955–1957 Bernard M. Shanley
Bob Gray
1958–1961 Thomas Stephens
Kenneth O'Donnell[c] John F. Kennedy
Jack Valenti[c] Lyndon B. Johnson
W. Marvin Watson[c]
James R. Jones[c]
Dwight Chapin Richard Nixon
1973–1974 Stephen B. Bull[11]
Warren S. Rustand Gerald Ford
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 d De facto White House Chief of Staff.

Personal secretary to the president

Year(s) Image 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 Molly Michael[12][13]
2021–2022 Ashley Williams[a][14] Joe Biden
2022–present Julia Reed[b][15]
  1. ^ As Deputy Director of Oval Office Operations
  2. ^ As Confidential Aide to the President


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Watson, Robert P. (2004). "4". Life in the White House. SUNY Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-7914-6098-6. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  4. ^ Herring, Pendleton (2006). "5". Presidential Leadership. Transaction Publishers. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-4128-0556-8. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  5. ^ "The Presidency: Ted for Ted". Time. 1932-05-09. Archived from the original on October 27, 2010. 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.
  10. ^ Bergeron, Paul H. (2001). "Robert Johnson: The President's Troubled and Troubling Son". Journal of East Tennessee History. 73. Knoxville, TN: East Tennessee Historical Society: 1–22. ISSN 1058-2126. OCLC 760067571.
  11. ^ "Stephen B. Bull (White House Special Files: Staff Member and Office Files) | Richard Nixon Museum and Library". www.nixonlibrary.gov. Archived from the original on 2019-02-13. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  12. ^ https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/July-1-2019-Report-FINAL.pdf
  13. ^ https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/July-1-2020-Report-FINAL.pdf
  14. ^ Kumar, Anita (3 February 2021). "In Biden's White House, surprise visits with staff replace late-night tweets". POLITICO. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  15. ^ https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/July-1-2023-Report-Final-Version.pdf