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 festivities will be held on Monday, April 9th, when more than 35,000 people will gather on the South Lawn for games, stories, and, of course, the traditional Easter egg roll! In addition to all the fun and games, the day's activities, which will include sports courts and cooking demonstrations, will "help educate families on smart ways to incorporate healthy eating and exercise choices into their daily routines, which are key pillars of First Lady Michelle Obama’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!