According to the White House website, some historians note that Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll while others tell stories of informal egg-rolling parties at the White House dating back to Abraham Lincoln's administration. Beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all social levels celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol where children rolled brilliantly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the terraced lawn.
This practice ended in 1876, however, when lawmakers complained that eggs shells were destroying the grass. To resolve this problem, Congress passed the Turf Protection Act which banned egg rolls from Capital grounds, and President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law later that year. But First Lady Lucy Hayes revived the tradition in 1878 by inviting children to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, a tradition that has continued ever since.
According to an article in Time Magazine:
Some 53,000 people attended the egg roll in 1941...though in modern times the number is generally under 20,000. Calvin Coolidge's wife mingled through crowds while holding a pet raccoon named Rebecca, while Mrs. Warren G. Harding put on the uniform of her beloved Girl Scouts for the event.
Showcasing modern technology, Eleanor Roosevelt welcomed crowds and addressed listeners across the country via radio in 1933, while the Clinton administration proudly announced that 1998's egg roll would be the first broadcast on the Internet.
This year, the First Family will host the 137th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 6th. According to the White House, this year’s theme is “#GimmeFive,” and more than 35,000 people will gather on the South Lawn to join in the celebrations. Keeping history alive, the event will feature sports and fitness zones, cooking demonstrations, and Easter classics such as the egg roll and egg hunt, live music and storytelling. In addition to all of the fun, the day’s activities will encourage children to lead healthy, active lives in support of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative.
FAST FACT: The Easter Egg Roll has been held at the White House every year except during World War I, World War II, and the Truman Renovation of the White House when it was moved to nearby locations or cancelled. Ronald Reagan was the first president to hide autographed eggs for children to find in the Egg Hunt and President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon were the first to include the White House Easter Bunny in the festivities." Years earlier, First Lady Grace Coolidge made an appearance at the Easter Egg Roll in the 1920s with her famous pet racooon Rebecca!