The WHCA is turning 100. And as we begin to celebrate this milestone, we are looking for anecdotes, pictures or memorabilia from past dinners and past Association events. If you have something you'd like to share, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org
History of the WHCA℠
UNFOUNDED LEAK LEADS TO MODERN WHCA by George Condon, former president of the WHCA
The White House Correspondents' Association℠ was born on Feb. 25, 1914, after the White House let it be known that President Woodrow Wilson was interested in having an unprecedented series of regularly scheduled press conferences but was unsure how to pick the reporters to invite to these sessions. To the horror of regular White House reporters, a rumor leaked that the Congressional Standing Committee of Correspondents would be asked to do the picking.
Aghast at this intrusion on their turf, eleven reporters formed the WHCA, decreeing that its "primary object shall be the promotion of the interests of those reporters and correspondents assigned to cover the White House."
The leak proved unfounded, so the reporters dropped their guard. The WHCA℠ lay dormant until 1920 when the organization held its first dinner. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge became the first of 14 presidents to attend the dinner.
Until World War II, the annual dinner was an entertainment extravaganza, featuring singing between courses, a homemade movie and an hour-long, post-dinner show with big-name performers. During the War years the dinner tradition continued, but the event was more subdued. A 1944 article in the Charlotte Observe reported: "The most complete turnout of the Nation's war leaders since Pearl Harbor ate unrationed duck and traded off-the-record political wisecracks with the Capital's press last night at the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Association. President Roosevelt, attending the only party outside the White House that he allows himself in wartime, sang loud when the entertainers called for audience participation, and laughed louder at some of the fourth term jokes which flew thick all evening." [READ THE FULL ARTICLE]
Until 1962, the dinner was open only to men even though the membership included women. That changed when, at the prodding of Helen Thomas of UPI, President John F. Kennedy said he would not attend the dinner unless the ban on women was dropped.
President Obama and Michelle Obama dancing at the 2013 inaugural ball. Photo/Doug Mills, New York Times
What didn't change for awhile was that the dinner was at the heart of what the Association did. But then came the 1990s. White House reporters faced a new set of challenges, new restrictions on access, new increases in travel costs, new scrutiny of reporters and new forms of media. In response, the association became more democratic and made sure the focus was on more than just putting on a good dinner. Since then, top priority has gone to coverage-related issues affecting regular White House correspondents, including access to the president and efforts to reduce the costs that news organizations incur covering the president on the road.
Doug Mills, New York Times
Over the years, the WHCA's role in credentialing also changed. Today, the Association operates completely independently of the White House and the White House credentialing process. In its early days, the WHCA℠ did play a role in the credentialing. But that ended with Pearl Harbor in 1941. Its more modern role in the process simply is to champion inclusiveness in credentialing.
As a new century dawned, the Association also increased its efforts to mentor future generations of journalists, primarily through scholarships made possible by proceeds from the annual dinner. The names and biographies of the SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS can be found on our website, along with information about the ANNUAL DINNER, WHCA℠ activities, and the JOURNALISM AWARDS, including links to the winning entries. To meet the demands of a 24/7 news cycle, many of our members are now involved in BLOGGING and other contemporary journalistic enterprises that have transformed traditional print and television news coverage in the 21st century.
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Unidentified members of the White House press corps on the south lawn, c. 1950s
Photos/WHCA℠ and the National Archives
Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
February 25, 1961: President John F. Kennedy poses with a group at the White House Correspondents' Association℠ Dinner at the Sheraton Park Hotel, Washington, D.C. (L-R) Columnist Holmes Alexander; Orchestra Leader Eddie Pierce; Teddy Piero and Hector Piero (jugglers known as "The Peiro Brothers"); actress and singer Julie London; President Kennedy; actress Dorothy Provine; violinist Mischa Elman; actor Ralph Bellamy (behind Elman); actor Joey Bishop; opera singer Jerome Hines (behind Bishop); pianist Joseph Seiger; Bishop's manager Joe Merman (behind Seiger), producer of the White House Correspondents' Show Joel Margolis.
President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore at the WHCA℠ dinner
Chief of Staff, Andy Card, informs the President that a second aircraft has hit the World Trade Center. Photo/Doug Mills, AP
Members of the press travel pool, including ABC's Ann Compton, watch in horror as images of the World Trade Center are seen on live TV aboard
Air Force One when it was unable to return to Washington on September 11, 2001. Photo/Doug Mills, AP
President Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office aboard Air Force One, Love Field, Dallas, Texas, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. LBJ Library, Photo/Cecil Stoughton, 11/22/1963
President Clinton receives an enthusiastic welcome from thousands of Nigerian children. He is wearing a garment reserved for royalty, given to him by the local chief. Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, AP
Ronald Reagan at a 1982 political rally. Photo/ National Archives
Richard Nixon press conference. Photo/ National Archives
Jimmy Carter press conference. Photo/ National Archives