Working at the White House

A blanket of silence lied over the White House. The silence seemed almost unnatural, as the House usually bustled with activity, especially on Wednesdays. In all honesty, I enjoyed the lack of work. Not to say I didn’t like my job in the kitchens, I do like my job, but I don’t think of it as a permanent profession. Even still, there should have been something to do. I was quick to ask one of the staff why everyone was acting like somebody had died. “No preparations to be made today.” She informed me.

This staff member went by Ms. Castle. She was the only one who ever told me anything. She was also quick to tell me that I ask too many questions. I couldn’t help it, working in the White House was as close as I would ever get to political influence. Although, Ms. Castle says that keeping the yellow drawing room free of dust does not count as political influence.

Even from the kitchens I could hear a rush of noise from the front of the house as soon as President Madison arrived home. The President had been out of state for two days, meaning no parties, no meetings, and no important guests. Now he had returned. “What do you think he was doing downstate?” I asked Ms. Castle, looking up from a plate I’d already washed. I set down the plate and began to pump fresh water into the basin.

“I do not know. Presidential business I suppose.”

“Do you think it had anything to do with the war?”

“Anne, you know that is none of your business.” she scolded.

But it was my business. The war was everyone’s businesses. Any war with the British gave people something to worry about. Not to mention Mrs. Madison had been acting strange since her husband had left, and as far as I was aware, she had not scheduled an soirée this evening because of his absence. Or maybe the war. In all my time working here, which wasn’t actually that long, she had never missed a Wednesday.


There was so much to do. Nearly an hour after arriving, the President sent the word out that the British was practically at the White House’s doorstep, meaning we needed to evacuate. While there had been quite a bit of panic at first, everyone soon realized there was no time to panic. How on earth were we supposed to get everything out before they arrived? Especially when Mrs. Madison seemed quite confused about what items counted as “essentials”. Along with several very old documents, she was determined to take the portrait of George Washington with us.

I watched as three of the maintenance workers tried to pry the painting from the wall. It wouldn’t budge. I was merely feet away from the First Lady. I had never spoken to her directly, but right now I wanted more than anything to help. “Mrs. Madison, is there any way I could be of assistance?” I asked.

Her eyes were fixed on the portrait. She didn’t even look at me before waving a dismissive hand. I nodded respectfully and left. That was fine. Of course I couldn’t expect her to think much of me. I couldn’t dwell much on that either, for there was still so much to be done.

The men were unsuccessful in prying the frame from the wall. Nevertheless, the painting was pulled out of its broken frame and packed along with everything else. President Madison, his wife, and their belongings were loaded into a horsedrawn buggy that quickly disappeared down the road. The rest of the staff was trying our best to gather up anything else that needed to be saved and get out but we ran out of time. I could hear heavy footsteps of British troops not far. Ms. Castle grabbed my arm. “Time to go.” she said, hurrying me into one of the wagons. I thought to protest for a moment but I couldn’t think why. For the longest time I had wanted nothing more than to get out of the White House and into a good school. Yet now I didn’t want to leave. Though, what I wanted did not matter. Ms. Castle joined me in the wagon without another word.


We didn’t get far before we could smell the smoke. I suppose the whole state could smell it. The sight was much worse; bright orange flames lit up the night. The British had taken the capital. “What now?” I whispered to Ms. Castle. I hadn’t known the war was going to hit this close.

She looked back at the smoke-filled sky. “I don’t know.”



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“Benjamin Latrobe Expresses Indignation About Dolley Madison’s Servants.” WHHA (En-US),

“British Troops Set Fire to the White House.”, A&E Television Networks, 16 Nov. 2009,

Dolley Madison Flees the White House, 1814,

“Dolley Madison’s Wednesday Squeezes.” Presidential History Blog, 24 Feb. 2018,

Goldberg, Vicki, and Michael D. McCurry. The White House: the Presidents Home in Photographs and History. Little, Brown and Co., 2011.

Rutland, Robert A. “James Madison.” American Presidents, edited by Robert P. Watson, Salem, 2015. Salem Online,

“Treasures of the White House: George Washington.” WHHA (En-US),