White House Sheep, a History

In 1918, President Wilson wanted sheep. But trouble lurked.

National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Oct. 17, 2014, 7:27 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Woo­drow Wilson wanted sheep. 

It was 1918, and “while rid­ing in one of the White House auto­mo­biles through the coun­try with Dr. Grayson [a per­son­al friend] the pres­id­ent re­marked that he would like to see some sheep at the White House, and that Mrs. Wilson would like to see them, too,” ac­cord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Post re­port from April of that year. 

It was settled. “Pres­id­ent Wilson in­tends to raise some sheep on the White House lawn,” the story sur­mised. And it was a nice enough idea. Wilson and his wife, ac­cord­ing to the White House his­tory web­site, wanted to be the mod­el fam­ily for sup­port­ing the war ef­fort. Over the next two years, auc­tions of the White House wool would yield $52,000 for the Red Cross.

But trouble lurked.

“Pres­id­ent Wilson is hav­ing no end of trouble with the flock of sheep he pur­chased re­cently to graze on the White House lawn,” a May 12, 1918, Wash­ing­ton Post art­icle re­por­ted. The prob­lem: The sheep were scared of the cars that had star­ted to ap­pear across the Dis­trict of Columbia in in­creas­ing num­bers.

“Two of the sheep de­veloped ser­i­ous ill­ness yes­ter­day and are un­der the care of spe­cial­ists from the De­part­ment of Ag­ri­cul­ture,” the Post’s re­port­ing con­tin­ued.

The an­im­als had been get­ting along nicely, un­til yes­ter­day. The fact that one of the sheep has the “dips” is said to be due to the fact that it be­came frightened by passing auto­mo­biles and sim­il­ar noises to which it was not ac­cus­tomed.

By 1920, the flock had grown to 48 and had “eaten up nearly all the grass in the rear” of the White House. See­ing the de­struc­tion of the White House back­yard, Wilson ordered the flock to graze in the front, prompt­ing frantic pre­par­a­tions to fence in “the nu­mer­ous flower beds and the more del­ic­ate trees which ad­orn the front lawn to save them from the flock,” a Post story from that May states.

But by Au­gust of that year, Wilson had had enough of the sheep. “Pres­id­ent Wilson has de­cided to re­tire from the sheep busi­ness,” the Post de­clared.

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