Sheepish Business: World War One and Sheep on the White House Lawn

WWPL1897

 

A flock of sheep grazed on the White House lawn for several years, beginning in the spring of 1918. With the American entry into World War I, the sheep saved manpower by keeping the grass trimmed, but their most valuable contribution to the country’s war effort was their wool.

Wool from the flock was sheared and two pounds given to each state. With governor’s acting as auctioneers, the wool was sold to the highest bidders and the proceeds donated to the Red Cross War Fund.

Dr. Cary T. Grayson, Woodrow Wilson’s physician and friend, wrote a letter to Mr. William Woodward on June 5, 1918 which states, “I feel quite guilty for not writing to you long before this to tell you how much pleasure the sheep from Belair Farm have given the President and Mrs. Wilson.”

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Courtesy of the WWPL

While the final figures from the state auctions were not yet available when Grayson wrote, he continued, “From what I heard was bid, the cheapest was $100 per pound and the highest was $5,000 per pound. At any rate, I think it is safe to predict that Belair Farm sheep lead the world in the production of the most pricely wool.” According to the White House history website, the total raised for the Red Cross by the state wool auctions was $52,823. See full scan of letter here: D00754.

A partial list of bidders (also from the Grayson Collection) and the amount they contributed can be seen below.

 

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Courtesy of the WWPL

Another document in the Grayson Collection donated to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in 2005 by the Grayson family is a certificate presented with blankets made with wool from the White House flock after they “retired” from the White House grounds in 1920 and went to live on a farm in Olney, Maryland.

D00756
Courtesy of the WWPL

Written by WWPL volunteer Danna Faulds

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Sheepish Business: World War One and Sheep on the White House Lawn

    • Hi Diane! The photograph is part of our archival photograph collection, but it is not attributed to a particular photographer or studio. We think it was probably taken by the Harris & Ewing studio in 1919. The Library of Congress has a large collection of their photographs including one very similar to this.

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