In-laws in White House may add new meaning to domestic policy

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The [Obama] family says they expect Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, to leave her native Chicago early next year and move to Washington to help care for their two daughters — a job she held throughout the presidential campaign.

"If somebody's going to be with these kids other than their parents, it better be me," she told The Boston Globe.

It isn't clear whether Robinson will move into the White House; neither she nor Michelle Obama would comment....

If Robinson moves in this January, she won't be the first. Several mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law have hauled their steamer trunks up the stairs of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. over the past 200 years or so. But if Robinson aspires to be the Most Outrageous White House In-Law, she had better take a number.

The in-laws through history

It turns out that the Kennedyesque notion of a small, attractive nuclear family living in the White House is so late-20th-century. Before that, presidents routinely invited extended family members to stay at the White House for a month or two or longer, says William Bushong, staff historian for the non-profit White House Historical Association.

Andrew Jackson "brought just about everybody in his family with him from Tennessee to Washington," he says.

In his more than 12 years in office, Franklin D. Roosevelt practically used the White House as a hotel, Bushong says. "He just loved company." To accommodate their 13 grandchildren, Eleanor Roosevelt had slides, swings and sandboxes built on the South Lawn.

Historians likely would dub Frederick Dent the first extended-stay in-law. Dent, father of Julia Grant and father-in-law of Ulysses S. Grant, was a former planter and was for several years "a fixture at the White House," Bushong says, where he was mostly known for "promising people things he couldn't deliver," such as government contracts.

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