"Introduction" from The Kennedy White House Parties by Anne H. Lincoln, Viking Press: New York, 1967
Since President John Adams first occupied the unfinished mansion in 1800, each successive Presidential family has made its own contribution to the personality of the White House. The President and Mrs. Kennedy were no exception; in fact, when they moved into it in 1961 it was evident that a great many changes would be made, if the atmosphere was to reflect their tastes, ideas, and fresh approach to entertaining.
The most extensive project undertaken by Mrs. Kennedy was the refurbishing of the mansion and its preservation for posterity. First to be restored were the State Rooms, which hitherto had been almost entirely furnished with reproductions. Inferior pieces were replaced by fine examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century American furniture and paintings.
To achieve her goal, Mrs. Kennedy formed the Fine Arts Committee, a group of experts whose assignment was to advise, seek out suitable furnishings, and encourage and receive contributions for their purchase. The post of White House Curator was established, and the White House Historical Association was formed to prepare an official guidebook and publish other historical material.
The guidebook was an instant success, and the proceeds from this "best seller" helped speed the restoration and refurbishing, which at the beginning had been entirely dependent on the generosity of private donors. Early in 1962 the entire nation was given the opportunity of viewing the impressive transformation in an hour-long CBS television program entitled "A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy." She acted not only as a guide but as a scholarly commentator.
Mrs. Kennedy knew that only by giving her personal attention to every detail of the running of the White House would she be able to create the warm yet dignified informality she wished it to project. Rarely did a day pass on which each member of her staff did not receive a flurry of handwritten memoranda, often in a humorous vein, praising work that had been well done or suggesting improvements that could be made in the future. One such note, written in October 1961, concerned the flower arrangements: "Please tell flower room Blue Room flowers were superb today for Finnish lunch (as were all others). Let's keep it yellow or white and pink-but never put blue flowers in Blue Room again."
To be certain that her points were clearly made and understood, Mrs. Kennedy often illustrated her memos, to show, for example, the exact size she thought the canapes should be, or the type of frame she envisioned for a specific picture.
As the food served at official parties was of particular concern to Mrs. Kennedy, the next major household change occurred with the appointment of Chef Rene Verdon in the spring of 1961. In a house which had rarely received any genuine compliments on its kitchen, M. Verdon soon established a reputation for haute cuisine with his superb dinners, luncheons, and buffets.
But M. Verdon's presence in the kitchen created a new problem which was never resolved to anyone's entire satisfaction: this concerned the way in which the menus should be written. At one point it was thought that they should be entirely in French, then the menus became bilingual, partly in French and partly in English. Finally it was decided that the most appropriate solution was to write them entirely in English, except where a French word had no English equivalent.
Menus for dinners were cut from seven to four, or at most five, courses. This was quite a change from President Grant's day, when dinners consisting of as many as twenty-nine courses were served at the White House. Mrs. Kennedy felt that even five courses were more than most people wanted. Furthermore, a shorter dinner allowed more time for after-dinner entertainment.