Frances Cleveland was an avid knitter and led the national organization, The Needlework Guild, as its president for nearly twenty years. When her son, Richard, defended Whitaker Chambers in court, Frances sat in the visitors’ section and knit during the trial.
Ida McKinley, who tragically lost both of her children before they reached adulthood, spent hours knitting booties and children’s clothing items to be given to her friends’ children.
Edith Roosevelt, a close friend of Frances’s, was also a member of the Guild, but she was not quite as ambitious as her predecessor. Edith was only president of her local chapter.
Florence Harding, as a senator’s wife, joined with the army of knitters who made socks, pajamas, and caps for the soldiers fighting in World War I.
Grace Coolidge was an avid knitter, and even contributed patterns to women’s magazines.
Lou Henry Hoover, likewise, was a dedicated knitter. She created a complex pattern for a baby blanket that was double-knitted on each side.
Eleanor Roosevelt was frequently photographed with her knitting on her lap.
In most cases, these women knit not for themselves, but to create gifts and or to donate work to charity. (The mission of the Needlework Guild was to create one new garment each year and then provide it to other organizations, such as the American Red Cross, when the need arose.)
We haven’t seen any recent first ladies with knitting in their laps, which is surprising, considering its renewed popularity. And it’s not just an “old lady’s” pursuit. Many young women have found joy in getting together to knit and talk. Perhaps knitting will eventually make a comeback at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and revive what once was a tradition among our presidential spouses.