February 02, 2009 12:00 PM

AMY CARTER 1977

After skipping alongside her parents in the Inaugural parade, the 9-year-old was thrilled to discover an elevator at her new home. She cruised up and down the six stories of the White House, keeping her dad waiting.

BARBARA & JENNA BUSH 2005

Jenna Bush (center, with twin Barbara and mom Laura): Her advice to the Obama girls? “Take advantage of the great travel that you can do. If they’re on summer break, travel with their dad to Africa and any of these international trips, because it really does show you a different world perspective than you would have as an average third grader. It goes by fast, even though four years or eight years can seem like a daunting period of time. It seems like it was yesterday. Really take advantage of all the great opportunities and just have fun.”

LUCI BAINES JOHNSON 1965

PRIVILEGE OF A LIFETIME

“I remember Inauguration Day as cold. I don’t remember who made my dress—but I was enough of a girlie girl that it was incredibly important to me. I was in the White House at a different time in our country. I was an eyewitness to history, but there were funny moments too. I had two hamsters who got loose the weekend before Princess Margaret was coming. I was sure they would show up when my father danced with her, and it would be an international incident. The trauma was more than I could bear! [I would tell Sasha and Malia] this is a very finite time—and the privilege of a lifetime. Their smiles, their kisses are going to be priceless to their daddy.”

PATTI DAVIS, 1981

A NIGHT TO FORGET

One First Daughter hopes Sasha and Malia have a better time than she did

Tues., Jan. 20, 1981. My father, Ronald Reagan, had just been sworn in as President, and as First Daughter, I was “assigned” an Inaugural Ball for the evening. If only someone had auditioned me beforehand, they might have discovered what a bad idea this was.

Among the many problems with my new role was the uncomfortable (for the party planners) fact that I had no suitable wardrobe. I was a 28-year-old Topanga Canyon hippie. So it was arranged that designers would loan me clothes, including an evening dress. I tried to protest the long red ruffled loaner to no avail. I was convinced it made me look like a cross between a salsa dancer and a wind-up toy you’d find in a tourist shop.

I’d also been loaned a man for the evening—the son of my parents’ friends. My parents swore I’d met him once when we were toddlers. I could have taken a guy I’d dated who worked at the Topanga gas station. He would have looked nice in a tux—as long as he didn’t smile: He was missing a front tooth. I guess the blond stranger was a better choice.

With my hair pinned up (apparently long hair was illegal in Washington), my date and I were led onto a stage in a huge ballroom, seated in metal chairs and told to stay there until my parents arrived. The crowd pressed forward. The women had big hair and taffeta ball gowns; the men gulped liquor from plastic cups. We sat. They stared. I ruminated on the merits of committing hara-kari.

But that was then. It’s a new era, and change has come. The Obama girls are too young to be sent off on their own, so I trust they’ll have a fun night. I also have faith that the tribal leaders who once designed these ritualistic affairs have now been replaced by normal people. And I checked on the local laws. Long hair is now permitted in the nation’s capital.

CHELSEA CLINTON 1993

After watching her dad be sworn in as the 42nd President, the 12-year-old celebrated with a slumber party at the White House. Newly uprooted from Arkansas, Chelsea invited eight friends from back home in Little Rock. Among the activities initiated by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton: a viewing of Aladdin in the presidential theater and a historical scavenger hunt. The girls stayed up until 2 a.m. chatting not about the day’s events but about friends and school.

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