Social Secretary
First Lady's Office


Summary Description | Biographical Information | Introduction | Series Descriptions | Container List


Material accumulated by the Social Secretary during the planning, coordination, and direction of all official and private social events hosted by the President and his family. Included are all breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, receptions and state dinners held in the Residence and occasionally, during trips abroad.

12 linear feet (ca. 9,600 pages)

Gerald R. Ford (accession number 77-48)

Open. Some items are temporarily restricted under terms of the donor's deed of gift, a copy of which is available on request, or under National Archives and Records Administration general restrictions (36 CFR 1256).

Gerald Ford donated to the United States of America his copyrights in all of his unpublished writings in National Archives collections. The copyrights to materials written by other individuals or organizations are presumed to remain with them. Works prepared by U.S. Government employees as part of their official duties are in the public domain.

Prepared by Leesa Tobin, April 1989
[s:\bin\findaid\downs, maria - files.doc]


Maria A. Downs

1931 - Born, Chicago, IL

1956 - 63 - Professional Model in Chicago

1956 - Attended the Art Institute of Chicago

1958 - Attended DePaul University

1961 - Married John Edward Downs

1964 - Staff assistant for the Goldwater for President Committee

1964 - 69 - Various positions at the Republican National Committee including Director of Women's Programs

1970 - 71 - Executive director of the Women's National Press Club

1971 - 73 - Special assistant to Anne Armstrong, co - chairman of the Republican National Committee

1973 - 74 - Special assistant to Anne Armstrong, Counsellor to the President

Feb. - Oct. 1975 - Executive assistant in the White House Bicentennial Liaison Office

Oct. 1975 - Jan. 1977 - White House Social Secretary


Maria Downs joined Mrs. Ford's staff as Social Secretary in October 1975, replacing Nancy Lammerding Ruwe who had held the position for one year. Lucy Winchester, formerly Mrs. Nixon's Social Secretary had remained in the White House as assistant to Mrs. Ford until October 1975. Most of the material in the Downs Files was generated during her own tenure as Social Secretary but portions document Social Office activities under Winchester's and Ruwe's leadership.

Prior to becoming White House Social Secretary, Downs worked in the White House Office of Bicentennial Liaison and earlier as staff assistant to Anne Armstrong, Counsellor to the President. She was involved for many years in Republican politics and had been on the staff of the Republican National Committee.

The file documents nearly three hundred social events held in the White House during the Ford administration. Documentation on planning and preparation is particularly complete for state dinners held to honor visiting heads of state and special dinners honoring Congress, the Judiciary, state governors, and the Medal of Freedom recipients. The record is less complete for the more numerous and routine breakfasts, brunches, luncheons, and receptions hosted by the President or the First Lady. The file for a small portion of these events occasionally includes only a guest list.

The White House Social Secretary worked closely with the First Lady and the West Wing Staff in the overall planning, arrangements, coordination and direction of all official and private social events hosted by the President and his family. Downs supervised a staff of nine which included the Social Entertainments Office and the White House calligraphers and illustrators. Additionally, she oversaw dozens of volunteers who assisted with preparations for many of the more elaborate affairs.

After the form and date of a White House function were determined, the White House Social Secretary coordinated all arrangements. Guest lists were compiled in consultation with various White House offices and the State Department when planning for a state dinner. President Ford and the First Lady were more actively involved in overseeing this procedure than many of their predecessors had been. The Social Secretary worked closely with the State Department Chief of Protocol to determine proper procedure in forms of address, religious and societal prohibitions, dress and seating arrangements.

The Social Secretary planned the menu in consultation with the White House chef and Mrs. Ford, briefed military aides and music support, made arrangements for entertainment, coordinated staff and volunteers for set - up and decoration of the Residence, and made arrangements with lending institutions and individuals for objects used as dinner table centerpieces. Following an event, the Social Secretary coordinated letters of thanks to those involved.

Downs worked most closely with three assistants: Pat Howard, Linda Baker, and Ann Watwood, a full - time volunteer. Documents created by all three appear in Downs' files.

This collection documents all of the Social Secretary's activities and responsibilities listed above. Many of the materials also illustrate how the First Lady worked closely with the Secretary when planning for particularly important events, especially state dinners. Mrs. Ford's attitudes about White House entertaining developed over many years while attending events at the Residence as the wife of a congressman. As First Lady she paid careful attention to the interests and preferences of the visiting dignitary or honored guest. Menus, entertainment, and decor were then selected in line with an appropriate theme and often highlighted some aspect of American culture. For example, knowing of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's interest in the American West, centerpieces were created around Remington and Russell bronzes, and country music was selected for after dinner entertainment.

Related Materials (April 1989)
A closely related collection is the files of Sheila Weidenfeld, the First Lady's Press Secretary, which include considerable information on White House social events, particularly press coverage. The Betty Ford Papers' Events File also includes material on social affairs; much of this is duplicated in the Downs Files, but there are unique memoranda between the Social Secretary and the First Lady. Additionally, the White House Central Files Subject File PP 5 - 1 (Betty Ford) and SO (Social Affairs) include related material.

Audiovisual holdings about White House social events are plentiful and include thousands of still photographs and video tapes of state dinners and other selected events.


Social Events File, 1974-77.  (Boxes 1 - 12, 4.8 linear feet)
Memoranda, correspondence, briefing papers, talking points, and guest lists concerning most social events hosted by the President and his family. Events include public and selected private breakfasts, brunches, luncheons, dinners and receptions. Also included are diplomatic affairs, holiday balls, Susan Ford's high school prom and special dinners held to honor individuals, outstanding events and achievements.

Arranged chronologically by date of the event.

View container list for this series

State Dinners File, 1974-77.  (Boxes 13 - 18, 2.4 linear feet)
Memoranda, correspondence, briefing papers, guest lists, menus and press releases for state dinners at the residence and elsewhere. Included are dinners that the Fords hosted for heads of state during trips abroad, at Camp David, and aboard the U.S.S. Sequoia.

Arranged chronologically by date of the event.

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Entertainment File, 1974-77.  (Boxes 19 - 24, 2.4 linear feet)
Memoranda, correspondence, photographs, biographies, press releases, news clippings, and printed programs concerning entertainment at White House events. In addition to folders for each event there is an extensive performer index arranged by agent and a compilation of offers and suggestions for acts willing to perform at the White House.

Arranged alphabetically with a subseries arranged chronologically by date of event.

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Decor File, 1974-77.  (Boxes 25 - 27, 1.2 linear feet)
Memoranda, correspondence, press releases, photographs, clippings and printed material concerning decor used for state dinners and selected events where more elaborate decorations were deemed appropriate. Included are detailed descriptions of artifacts and works of art borrowed from various public and private collections to be used as centerpieces. Descriptions are also included of flowers, fabrics and other materials used to decorate the Residence. At the end of the file is a compilation of ideas considered but not used.

Arranged alphabetically with a subseries of events arranged chronologically.

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Administrative Subject File, 1974-77.  (Boxes 28 - 30, 1.2 linear feet)
Memoranda, correspondence, press releases, personnel material, and clippings concerning miscellaneous responsibilities of the Social Secretary's office. Subjects include Christmas activities and decorations, procedures for head of state dinners and gift selection, presidential acknowledgments for services rendered at White House events and inquiries concerning jobs in the Social Secretary's office.

Arranged alphabetically by subject.

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Photographs, 1974-77. 
photographs related to Downs' role as First Lady Betty Ford's Social Secretary. Subjects include White House entertainment, state dinners, and Christmas decorations.

Arranged in parallel to the textual materials.

View container list for this series


Box 1 - Social Events File

Box 2 - Social Events File

Box 3 - Social Events File

Box 4 - Social Events File

Box 5 - Social Events File

Box 6 - Social Events File

Box 7 - Social Events File

Box 8 - Social Events File

Box 9 - Social Events File

Box 10 - Social Events File

Box 11 - Social Events File

Box 12 - Social Events File

Box 13 - State Dinners File

Box 14 - State Dinners File

Box 15 - State Dinners File

Box 16 - State Dinners File

Box 17 - State Dinners File

Box 18 - State Dinners File

Box 19 - Entertainment File

Box 20 - Entertainment File

Box 21 - Entertainment File

Box 22 - Entertainment File

Box 23 - Entertainment File

Box 24 - Entertainment File

Box 25 - Decor File

Box 26 - Decor File

Box 27 - Decor File

Box 28 - Administrative Subject File

Box 29 - Administrative Subject File

Box 30 - Administrative Subject File