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Babcock, Orville Elias (25 December 1835–02 June 1884), soldier, engineer, and presidential secretary, was born in Franklin, Vermont, the son of Elias Babcock, Jr., and Clara Olmstead. Graduating third in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1861, he was commissioned a second lieutenant of engineers. During the first year of the Civil War he gained promotion to first lieutenant, serving successively in the Department of Pennsylvania and the Department of the Shenandoah. He was then transferred to the Army of the Potomac, where he served on the staff of ...

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Ehrlichman, John D. (20 March 1925–14 February 1999), a prominent figure in the Watergate scandals and assistant to President Richard Nixon, a prominent figure in the Watergate scandals and assistant to President Richard Nixon, was born in Tacoma, Washington, to Rudolph I. Ehrlichman, a pilot, and Lillian C. Danielson Ehrlichman. His parents had emigrated from Austria to America; originally Orthodox Jews, they became adherents of Christian Science. In 1941 John's father died while flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Two years later Ehrlichman enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, flew twenty-six bombing missions over Germany, and won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with clusters....

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Alexander Haig. Gouache on illustration board, 1984, by Eraldo Carugati. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Haig, Alexander Meigs, Jr. (02 December 1924–20 February 2010), general, White House chief of staff, and secretary of state, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Alexander M. Haig, Sr., a lawyer, and Regina Anne (Murphy) Haig. His father died when he was young, and he was raised in the Roman Catholic faith by his mother. After graduating from Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School in 1943, Haig enrolled at the University of Notre Dame. Two years later he transferred to West Point Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1947....

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Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1820?–26 May 1907), White House dressmaker during the Lincoln administration and author, was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, the daughter of George Pleasant and Agnes Hobbs, slaves. Her birth date is variously given from 1818 to 1824 based on different documents that report her age. The identity of her father is also uncertain; in later life Keckley reportedly claimed that her father was her master, Colonel A. Burwell. George Pleasant, who was owned by a different master, was allowed to visit only twice a year and was eventually taken west....

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Evelyn Lincoln Photograph by the Associated Press, c. 1962. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Lincoln, Evelyn (25 June 1904–11 May 1995), secretary and author, was born Evelyn Maurine Norton in Polk County, Nebraska, the daughter of John N. Norton, a farmer and congressman, and Selma Josephine Floodman Norton. She moved with her family to Washington, D.C., when her father was elected as a Democrat to the seventieth Congress in 1927. She graduated from the University of Nebraska with a Bachelor of Arts in 1926. She attended George Washington University from 1933 to 1940; she took law courses but left before she received a degree. While in college, she met Harold W. “Abe” Lincoln, a fellow student at the university, whom she married. There is disagreement among sources as to the year of their marriage, but it appears to have been 1930, based on references in her obituaries to her husband of sixty-four years; they had no children. After they married, the couple moved to Albuquerque, where Harold Lincoln taught at the University of New Mexico. They then went to New York City when he was offered a teaching position at New York University. When he accepted a staff position with one of the committees of the U.S. House of Representatives, they returned to Washington....

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Nicolay, John George (26 February 1832–26 September 1901), journalist and private secretary and biographer of Abraham Lincoln, journalist and private secretary and biographer of Abraham Lincoln, was born in Essingen, Bavaria, the son of John Jacob Nicolay, a farmer and barrelmaker, and Helena (maiden name unknown). The Nicolay family emigrated to the United States when John was a small boy, arriving in New Orleans in 1838. From there the family moved frequently, living in Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri, before settling in Pike County, Illinois, where John’s father and brothers operated a flour mill. Nicolay clerked for a year in a store in White Hall, Illinois, before going to work as a typesetter at the ...

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Lillian Parks. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Parks, Lillian Rogers (01 February 1897–06 November 1997), White House seamstress and author, was born Lillian Adele Rogers, the daughter of Emmett E. Rogers, Sr., a waiter, and Margaret “Maggie” Williams Rogers. Source information is sketchy regarding her early years, but her godchild, Peggy Holly, believes that Lillian Parks was born in the District of Columbia and as a child spent summers with relatives in Virginia. Her father—by Parks's account an alcoholic unable to hold a job—left his family when she was a child; in 1909 her mother took a job at the White House at the beginning of ...

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Regan, Donald Thomas (21 December 1918–10 June 2003), financier, U.S. Treasury secretary, and White House chief of staff, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of William Francis Regan, a railroad worker, and Kathleen Ahearn Regan. After attending the Cambridge Latin School, a public high school, he won a scholarship to Harvard University, where he majored in English and graduated in 1940. He enrolled in Harvard Law School, but with Europe embroiled in World War II, Regan abandoned his studies to join the U.S. Marine Corps. Deployed in the Pacific theater, he saw action in five campaigns, including in the Battles of Guadalcanal and Okinawa. When he left the marines in 1946, he had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel....

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Shaw, William Smith (12 August 1778–25 April 1826), bibliophile, lawyer, and presidential secretary, was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, the son of the Reverend John Shaw, a minister, and Elizabeth Smith. Accident-prone in youth, Shaw also suffered his entire life from chronic febrile and rheumatic complaints. He was, however, bookish at an early age, having acquired a classical taste from his father, who supplemented his income by preparing young men for college....

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C. Bascom Slemp [left to right]C. Bascom Slemp, Calvin Coolidge, and Everett Sanders, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111405).

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Slemp, Campbell Bascom (04 September 1870–07 August 1943), congressman and presidential secretary, was born in Turkey Cove, Lee County, Virginia, the son of Campbell Slemp, a businessman and congressman, and Nannie Cawood. He attended local public schools. After graduating from the Virginia Military Institute in 1891, he studied law at the University of Virginia. Slemp helped with his family’s business interests and, beginning in 1900, taught mathematics as an adjunct professor at the Virginia Military Institute, resigning when he was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1901. His law practice at Big Stone Gap, Virginia, was connected principally with coal lands in Virginia and Kentucky....

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Tully, Grace George (09 August 1900–15 June 1984), private secretary, was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, the daughter of James F. Tully, whose family ran a prosperous wholesaling business on Staten Island, and Alice Lee Galligan, a former actress. Beginning at the age of three, Tully was educated at a succession of Catholic boarding schools in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Her father died when Tully was small, and money was tight. In midadolescence, Tully decided to pursue a business career and enrolled at the Grace Institute in New York City for secretarial training. Upon graduation in 1918 she went to work for Bishop ...

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Vaughan, Harry Hawkins (26 November 1893–20 May 1981), military aide and friend to President Harry S. Truman, military aide and friend to President Harry S. Truman, was born in Glasgow, Missouri, the son of Robert Randolph Vaughan, a dentist, and Betty Lewis Grove. Vaughan graduated from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1916. He met Truman at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when they were in training as artillery officers. Both men served overseas during World War I. In the years after the war their friendship grew as they attended summer training programs at Fort Riley, Kansas....

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The White House Chief of Staff controls access to the president and the White House, helps to promote the president’s agenda to the public and to Congress, and supervises White House staff. The position has evolved over time as the executive branch of the federal government has grown more complex. Presidents before 1900 had personal secretaries who handled many of these roles. The position of Secretary of the President was formalized in the administration of William McKinley. In 1946, Congress created the role of Assistant to the President. The Assistant to the President first became known as the White House Chief of Staff at the end of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency in 1961, and that title took hold for good in 1968....

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Ziegler, Ronald Lewis (12 May 1939–10 February 2003), press secretary to Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal, press secretary to Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal, was born in Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, to Louis Daniel Ziegler, a metal company production manager, and Ruby Parsons Ziegler, a public health nurse. At six feet, 190 pounds, “Zig” was a solidly built fullback at Dixie Heights High School, and he received a football scholarship to Xavier University in Cincinnati....