Puppies in the Lincoln White House?

(Not the White House puppies)

Did Abraham Lincoln have another dog—besides Jip—as a pet at the White House?

A brief historical reference dated January 1863 in the Northern Illinois University Digital Library’s collection suggests that Lincoln had a female dog at that time. The unnamed dog appears in a single sentence describing a visit with the President by several prominent Boston abolitionists who came to discuss the effects of his emancipation policy.

Moncure D. Conway’s reference to the dog appears in an entry that is part of the University’s Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project. Conway wrote, “The President met us laughing like a boy, saying that in the morning one of his children had come to inform him that the cat had kittens, and now another had just announced that the dog had puppies, and the White House was in a decidedly sensational state.”

If the First Family had taken in another dog, it should be no surprise. The Lincolns had often cared for stray dogs and cats while living in Springfield. And the tale of a doctor’s dog following the Lincoln carriage home to the White House–where the President sheepishly suggested to the dog’s owner that perhaps the pet should stay–suggests Lincoln would have readily welcomed any dog who was looking for a home.

The companionship of dogs had appealed to Lincoln from boyhood, and it’s likely their soothing presence meant the most to him during the war years and times of personal loss. Rebecca Pomroy, a nurse who had cared for Mary Lincoln and Tad following Willie’s death in 1862, saw first-hand how Jip’s presence buoyed the President’s spirits. An account of her service as an army nurse, including her time at the White House, notes that Jip “was instrumental in relieving his master of some portion of the burden, for the little fellow was never absent from the Presidential lunch. He was always in Mr. Lincoln’s lap to claim his portion first, and was caressed and petted by him through the whole meal.”*

Conway had himself observed the profound effect of dogs on Lincoln’s emotions that January day in 1863. He describes an abrupt change in Lincoln’s demeanor after his remark about the puppies and kittens gave way to his visitors’ business: “Some of our party looked a little glum at this hilarity; but it was pathetic to see the change in the President’s face when he presently resumed his burden of care.”

We know from many soldiers’ letters, diaries, and memoirs how dogs helped them withstand the worst of times during the war. It’s fitting that their Commander in Chief, as well, benefitted from the presence of dogs—and maybe more than one of his own–during his most trying times.

*From “War Reminiscences or Echoes from Hospital and White House, A Record of Mrs. Rebecca R. Pomroy’s Experience in War-Times,” by Anna L. Boyden, 1884.

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