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The White House Historical Association (WHHA) offers many different resources for students working on National History Day projects.

This is an engraving of King Kalakaua of Hawaii visiting President Ulysses S. Grant on December 15, 1874. Both men greet each other with a small bow in the Blue Room.

White House Collection/White House Historical Association

Project Starters

The 2020 NHD Theme is Breaking Barriers in History. Trying to decide on a topic? Check out a few White House history topic ideas:

  • Roles of the First Lady: It wasn’t until around 40 years after the death of Martha Washington that the term “First Lady” came into use. The role and influence of first ladies has evolved from being a supporting spouse of the president to a high-profile, organized office with staff and responsibilities as we see it today. Many first ladies have broken barriers and left their own transformational marks on the office, the White House, and the nation itself.
  • African Americans and the White House: From the laying of the foundations of the White House itself, African Americans have had a tremendous impact on the White House and the Office of the President. Enslaved and free African Americans were involved in the construction of the White House and served as personal staff to the earliest first families. In time, African Americans broke barriers and moved from roles of servitude and became trusted advisors, friends of the president and first family, cabinet members, and eventually occupying the Office of the President itself.
  • Diplomacy and the White House: The President isn’t just Commander-in-Chief, but also the United States’ Chief Diplomat. President Grant held the first State Dinner in 1874; in the years since the State Dinner has become a hallmark of peaceful relations between the United States and foreign leaders. Other Presidents have acted as global peacemakers, breaking barriers and bringing warring factions together in search of peaceful resolutions.
  • Space Exploration and the White House: The Space Race that emerged from the end of the Second World War and the dawning of the Cold War put the United States and the Soviet Union on a path to the stars. With strong leadership and inspiration from the White House, Americans broke barriers and set foot on the moon as John F. Kennedy promised and pushed even further, bringing many scientific and technological advancements and enhancing the understanding of the universe for all mankind.
  • Technology and the White House: Presidents and the White House have made use of barrier-breaking technology since the first Aquia Creek sandstones were cut for the building itself. From Thomas Jefferson bringing the first bathrooms to the White House to Richard Nixon making a phone call to astronauts on the moon, many technological innovations we take for granted in our daily lives were pioneered by presidents and their respective administrations.
  • The 19th Amendment: For decades, American women lobbied, advocated, and marched outside the White House for their right to vote. In 1920 women broke these barriers and the states ratified the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote.


There are many more NHD topics to research with connection to White House history. Explore these within our online resources.

  • Classroom Resource Packets – covering 30 different topics including:
    • Designing the White House
    • African Americans in the White House
    • Roles of the First Lady
    • Space Exploration and the White House
    • Technology and the White House
    • Protest at the White House
    • Security and the White House
    • Diplomacy and the White House
    • Lost Features of the White House
  • Short Resource Videos – quick and compelling visual narratives of White House history.
  • The 1600 Sessions Podcast – contains interviews and stories from historians and former White House staff.
  • WHHA Digital Library- provides a wealth of primary source images from many different presidential administrations.

View a project from one of the 2018 White House History Prize winners — Tyler Kaus from Chadron Middle School in Nebraska. He created “Raze or Renovate” — a junior division, individual documentary about the President Harry S. Truman renovations to the White House.

Courtesy of Tyler Kaus

White House History Prize

The White House Historical Association also sponsors a prize at the National Contest.

The prize is given for an outstanding project that documents and analyzes White House history through such subjects as individual presidents, first ladies, residence staff, White House art and architecture, or important events that took place in the White House.

Two awards are given each year – one for each division (Junior and Senior). These winners can be in any category and come from either a group or individual project.

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