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My 21 Years in the White House The Chief Butler and Maitre d'Hotel for Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower tells what he Heard and Saw by Alonzo Fields.
I started looking for this book after a friend saw the play and really enjoyed it. The book was the last memoir written before it was prohibited to write about personal experiences in the White House. This is a very tame memoir, nothing like what might be written today. It is an interesting story about how the White House ran during the 50's and 60's.
White House Staff: Then & Now Alonzo Fields ALONZO FIELDS White House Chief Butler 1931-53
Alonzo Fields was born in Lyles Station, Indiana, a small, all-black community about 120 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri. His father owned the local general store, directed a brass band (all black) that played for local events, and eventually worked in Washington, D. C. as a janitor for the Post Office DepaWhite House Staff: Then & Now Alonzo Fields ALONZO FIELDS White House Chief Butler 1931-53
Alonzo Fields was born in Lyles Station, Indiana, a small, all-black community about 120 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri. His father owned the local general store, directed a brass band (all black) that played for local events, and eventually worked in Washington, D. C. as a janitor for the Post Office Department. Alonzo's mother contributed to the family income by running a boarding house for railroad workers. From his dad, Alonzo learned much about what would become a life-long passion -- music. Like his father, Alonzo played in a brass band and taught others to play brass instruments. Alonzo had a beautiful singing voice that was praised by his teachers. His goal of achieving success as a concert singer seemed certain until money for continuing his education ran out. With a wife and child to support, he took a position as a butler at the White House in 1931. Instead of the job being a temporary as he planned, Alonzo found White House employment suited him. He eventually would be promoted to the position of Chief Butler.
He wrote a book, My 21 Years in the White House, detailing his experiences of working for four presidents and their families. Alonzo knew that his job gave him the chance to see history being made every day, so he kept a journal. He did not want to forget the events he worked and the people he met. He also saved some souvenirs from important functions he planned or was invited to attend. In his journal he recorded his personal observations of the presidents and their families, and the important visitors he served, and in some cases, conversed with. His position brought him into close contact with important people like Winston Churchill, Princess Elizabeth of England, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, not to mention the presidential cabinet members, senators, representatives, and Supreme Court Justices. He was witness to presidential decision-making at critical times in our history -- the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the desegregation of the military, and the outbreak of hostilities in Korea.
The job of Chief Butler meant that Fields was responsible for keeping track of all White House tablecloths, napkins, silverware, glassware, and china. Also, he made menu suggestions for important state dinners, receptions, teas, and family dinners to be approved by the First Lady. He supervised the chefs and servers. He had to be prepared to serve many people with little advance notice. He had to learn what would and would not please each president and his family.
Alonzo appreciated that he was seeing America's history up-close and firsthand. As he often told his staff, "... remember that we are helping to make history. We have a small part, ... but they can't do much here without us. They've got to eat, you know."
Alonzo Fields left White House service in February 1953. He lived to be 94 years of age.
Reference: Fields, Alonzo. My 21 years in the White House. New York: Coward-McCann, 1960.
[Food budget] Alonzo Fields Papers, Courtesy of the Truman Presidential Museum and Library.
[Menus] Alonzo Fields Papers, Courtesy of the Truman Presidential Museum and Library.