Remarks by the First Lady at a Welcome Reception for the White House Historical Association 2023 Presidential Sites Summit

September 25, 2023

THE FIRST LADY: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Oh, thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you.

Please, really, thank you. Please sit, really. Thank you.

Thank you, John. You know, I've really enjoyed getting to know you, Stewart, and the entire, you know, WHHA -- WHHA board better. (Laughter.)

And your dedication to preserving our history and sharing the White House with the nation is a special service that is really not recognized as it should be. So, with all of my heart, thank you.

And with the new 1700 Penn Project, you will bring this house to so many more people, which I'm so excited about. And it's going to be amazing. And I hope all of you have learned about it. Have you? Yes?


THE FIRST LADY: Oh, not yet? Oh, my gosh. (Laughter.) It's the best part of your summit, I bet. (Laughter.)

Anyway, and, Anita, you know, thank you for your leadership in bringing all of us together today and for your work to shine a light on the stories of first ladies. Congratulations on the publication of your textbook –- the first ever on first ladies. And she told me it came out today. Correct? Yes. (Applause.)

But I have to tell you, Anita, you know, as I was going over remarks and I saw how exciting it was that your textbook was coming out, I thought, "Hmm, maybe I should write, you know, 'The First Ladies: The Real Story.'" (Laughter.)

So, anyway -- no, I'm just kidding. (Laughter.)

Anyway, my husband, President Biden, and I are humbled to live here in the People's House and to be entrusted with upholding its legacy. And it's something that we take very seriously.

Our gathering here today is a testament to the bonds that connect us as caretakers of the past. Just as this house belongs to all Americans, so too does the history of the presidency. It transcends party lines and political ideologies, reminding us of the shared values and the strength of our democracy.

We can and should look to historic sites, organizations, and institutions to provide common ground that unites us all as a nation.

As we celebrate the legacy of the White House and the remarkable presidents who have lived and worked within these walls, let us also remember the importance of preserving our history and passing it on to future generations. It's our duty to ensure that this house continues to stand as a symbol of freedom, democracy, and our commitment to creating a more perfect union.

Earlier this month, just a few blocks away at the National Archives, I had the opportunity to attend the swearing in of the 11th archivist of the United States, Colleen Shogan -- (applause) -- the first woman -- Colleen, are you here? Colleen. Amen. (Applause.)

And I'm going to repeat that: She's the first woman archivist. (Applause and laughter.)

And as I sat under the building's towering rotunda, surrounded by the founding documents that have so profoundly shaped the arc of our country and the world's along with it, I was reminded of the immense power of history and the importance of its preservation. Because, in a democracy, history belongs to the people, and we must preserve it with care for future generations.

And during that ceremony, Dr. Shogan -- I wish you could have heard her speech; she wrote it herself, she told me -- (laughter) -- talked about the Declaration of Independence and its bold statements that all men and women are created equal.

And she said, "Although this truth is self-evident, we know from our almost 250 years of American history that it is not self-executing. It's our job, collectively, to uphold these principles and protect them." Well done. Thank you. (Applause.)

Each of you in this room is on the frontlines of that effort. Each of you is a caretaker of this exquisite and extraordinary history. With every tour, with every exhibit, with every new library addition, you are cultivating an engaged and informed citiz- -- citizenry, the bedrock of this grand experiment in democracy, as John alluded to.

The presidents who have occupied the Oval Office have each bent our universe in profound and lasting ways.

Your work to study them, to interpret them, and to catalogue their influences and evolutions, their setbacks, their triumphs, you know, and their exceptionalism help us understand our own history a little better and helps us learn from it.

As an educator, I know this well, that our present and our future are inextricably linked to our past.

And we -- when we learn from that past, you know, we come away changed, not just better informed, but with a deeper understanding of the responsibility we hold as citizens of this country -- a responsibility to democracy, to upholding our freedoms, and to imperfectly march toward a more perfect union.

I think that's needed now more than ever.

The President and I are so grateful for your commitment to that mission.

And together, we can continue to open the doors of the President's house wider and wider so more people can feel the invisible threads that connect us to -- to one another so we may understand our past and use it to help guide our present and inspire us to build an even brighter future together.

So, thank you for being here. Welcome to the White House. I hope you enjoyed the reception and the summit. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

Jill Biden, Remarks by the First Lady at a Welcome Reception for the White House Historical Association 2023 Presidential Sites Summit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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