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Posted February 12, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Program shows a lighter side of the White House


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By Stacey Keenen -- Daily Correspondent

WINCHESTER -- When people hear the words "the White House," visions of stately furniture, secret meetings and men in black suits may come to mind.

But an upcoming afternoon tea at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will reveal the lighter, more romantic side of some of the famous -- and infamous -- tenants of the nation's most famed residence.

MSV Tea: Love and Scandal in the White House, which takes place Tuesday in the museum's reception room, brings together the spirit of Valentine's Day and Presidents Day in a lighthearted discussion about some notable presidential marriages and romances from administrations past.

"Usually discussions center on either presidents or first ladies. This is a wonderful opportunity to look at both," says Babs Funkhouser, director of Wayside Foundation Museums in Strasburg. "Some [presidents] have been bad boys, with extracurricular activities. We take a tongue-in-cheek look at them. There are also some really exceptional marriages we'll look at. Some true partnerships."

The discussion will focus on six well-known presidents -- John Adams, James Garfield, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson -- and their wives.

"Harding, and Garfield to a great extent, were bad boys and had marriages full of conflict," says Funkhouser. "The others had pretty solid marriages and true partnerships. We'll also talk about a few other couples in passing."

Some of the conversation will center on the changing role of first ladies.

"Many first ladies were doing more than just relieving her very busy husband from domestic chores, taking care of the home, raising children. They were right next to substantive issues in government. In the 1800s, you wouldn't have dared breathe a word of that," says Funkhouser. "I'd say, from the Kennedys on, the only way it worked was because of the special relationship the husband and wife had."

Funkhouser continued about the political partnerships that existed within the marriages of the couples.

"The [president's] effectiveness stemmed from the support and steady bedrock that was his marriage."

The concept for the tea is nothing new, says Julie Armel, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley's director of marketing and public relations.

"We've offered a holiday tea in December for four years, and it's been very popular. We wanted to offer the tea not only during Christmas, but also during the year," she says. "This one has more to do with Valentine's Day and Presidents Day, but the renewed interest in politics with the inauguration helps."

Two types of hot tea will be offered during the discussion. Guests can choose from either the Shenandoah Blend, which is flavored with apple and cinnamon, or Earl Grey, which is a decaffeinated tea. Light fare will also be served, including assorted tea sandwiches, mini cheese and spinach pies, scones, butter cookies and chocolates.

"We'll be looking at their marriages and enjoying the romance theme. Presidents are not just icons. They have love lives. We have a tendency to make them into marble statues. People need heroes. Sometimes in this quest, we forget they are people with lives, with wives and sweethearts outside their marriages," says Funkhouser.

The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley's Tea: Love and Scandal in the White House begins at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. Seating is limited, and registration is required by Friday. The cost is $20 for museum members, $25 for nonmembers, and includes admission to the museum's galleries. For more information or to make a reservation, call (888) 556-5799, ext. 222, or e-mail registration@ShenandoahMuseum.org.

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