Children have always come to the Mall to play, work, sightsee, learn, and join celebrations and demonstrations. During the 1800s, the Mall was a park, playground, and sports field, and even a place where some children worked. During the 1900s, children still played and worked on the Mall, but they participated more and more in its expanding political and educational life. Museums promoted youth education. Children were part of some of the nation's most important political and social protests. Children are even celebrated on the Mall with a special memorial.
Were kids always welcome on the Mall?
The Congressional Page program began in 1827, employing local poverty-stricken and orphaned boys to carry documents, messages, and letters between congressional offices for $2 per day. In the 1900s, the program became competitive and expanded to boys from around the nation. The first African American page was appointed in 1965, and the first girl in 1973. Although the House Page program ended in 2011, pages still serve in the US Senate while attending school and living in supervised dormitories. In this photo, early Congressional pages take time to blow off steam during the first snow of the season during the early 1900's.
The Easter Egg Roll began at the US Capitol in the 1800s, welcoming children of all races to the Mall. Children dressed in their best clothes and rolled hardboiled eggs on the Capitol lawn. Disturbed by the damage to their grass, Congress passed a law forbidding use of the Capitol as a children's playground. As a result, President Rutherford Hayes officially opened the South Lawn of the White House for the Easter Egg Roll in 1878, where it has remained an annual tradition, accompanied by games, celebrities, and even visits from the President and First Lady.
Children joined the politics and protests of the National Mall by the mid-1900s. August 28, 1963 was an important day for Edith Lee. It was her twelfth birthday and the day of the historic Civil Rights March on Washington when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have A Dream Speech." Her mother brought her to the march on the Mall so she could understand the meaning of racial justice. A freelance photographer took Edith's photo that day and the picture became one of the iconic photos of the March.
Children explore and learn by playing on the Mall. During the 1980s and 1990s, Uncle Beazley, a large Triceratops statue in front of the Museum of Natural History, inspired children to learn about dinosaurs at the museum. For children who live in Washington, the Mall has always been an after-school place for pickup games of football and softball and a schoolroom as well. One Washington student remembers going to the Museum of Natural History on his way from home from school every day and sometimes sneaking into the Army Medical Museum, forbidden to children, to look at bloody pictures of Civil War casualties.
The Boy Scout Memorial, located on the White House Ellipse, is the only memorial to children on the National Mall. It stands on the site of the first Boy Scout Jamboree, held in 1937. Tent cities for 25,000 Scouts from around the world spread across 350 acres of the Mall. The Scouts cooked, went sightseeing, paraded, and lit campfires. President Franklin Roosevelt reviewed the troops in formation. The Boy Scouts raised all of the money for their own Memorial, unveiled in 1964, 54 years after their establishment in America.