Mary Jane McCaffree Monroe, who as social secretary to Mamie Eisenhower helped organize countless White House functions, then went on to set down the protocols for reception lines, state dinners and more as co-author of a pivotal reference book, died on July 23 in Juno Beach, Fla. She was 106.
Her death was announced on Dignity Memorial, an obituary website.
Ms. Monroe had served as personal secretary to Mrs. Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential campaign, and when Dwight D. Eisenhower won the election, she went to the White House, a Washington outsider in a job that was the height of insider-ness.
She soon wore down whatever skepticism had greeted her, however, so much so that by April 1954 The Boston Globe ran an article on the two women that carried the headline “Mamie and Jane: Capital’s Smoothest Team.”
She served throughout President Eisenhower’s two terms, acting as White House social secretary and the first lady’s personal and press secretary. From 1971 to 1975, she was a protocol specialist in the Office of the Chief of Protocol, part of the State Department.
In 1977 she put much of what she had learned and developed down on paper in “Protocol: The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage,” written with Pauline Innes. Her time in the White House and Office of Protocol, she wrote in the introduction, “revealed how badly a book such as this is needed.”
The volume, which received a 35th-anniversary update several years ago, had sections on state dinners and dances, flag etiquette, the proper form of address to use on envelopes and place settings, among other precepts.
No tidbit of social interaction was too minor or unusual for the authors’ attention. The person being toasted at a formal function, they advised, should not sip after the toast when everyone else does. A foreign dignitary from a country where multiple wives are acceptable should bring only one to a White House function and leave the others at home. If alcohol or another beverage being offered is not wanted, “a motion of the hand is a sufficient signal to servants not to fill the glass” — a refusal being less inconsiderate than leaving a full glass untouched.
“One rule remains unchanged and should not be broken,” the book advised in typically earnest language. “One should not receive guests nor go through a receiving line holding a drink or cigarette.”
As minute as such niceties might seem, they were, to the authors, not at all trivial.
“Any organization or society must, if it is to thrive, operate under certain rules,” they wrote, “if for no other reason than to prevent chaos.”
Mary Jane Fleming was born on Oct. 28, 1911, in New York City. She did secretarial work related to the 1939-’40 New York World’s Fair and was a secretary at a steel company and a distillery before going to work for the Eisenhowers.
During her time at the White House she was known as Mary Jane McCaffree as a result of her marriage to Floyd McCaffree, a history and political science professor; he died in 1963. Her second husband, Harry Monroe Jr., an auto dealer, died in 2004. She leaves no immediate survivors.
Although previous first ladies had social secretaries or clerks, the Eisenhower administration was the first to recognize the job as part of the institutionalized presidency, according to the website of the White House Historical Association.
“Social Secretary Mary Jane McCaffree was listed in the Congressional Directory’s top White House personnel as ‘Acting Secretary to the President’s Wife,’ ” the website says.
Her duties at the White House included helping Mrs. Eisenhower, a very popular first lady, deal with the requests — 75 a day, according to one account — that she received for appointments. This was delicate territory, as the first lady had adopted a policy of trying to give priority to groups that had not previously visited the White House, which ruffled the feathers of regulars like the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Ms. Monroe also responded to the news media on matters significant (like Mrs. Eisenhower’s health) and trivial. It was her duty to strongly deny a report that Mrs. Eisenhower had ordered a Suzy Perette trapeze dress. No, she said on another occasion, the White House was not accepting an offer of cats from feline groups eager “to quash a purported superstition that cats in the house cause the death of Presidents,” as The New York Times reported.
Her main role, it seemed to reporters trying to cover the first lady, was to keep them away from her.
“Mrs. Eisenhower was pleasant enough when she was accessible, which was hardly ever,” one reporter who covered the first lady in that period recalled in 1966. “Mary Jane would’ve made a wonderful press agent for the C.I.A. or the Secret Service. Zero times zero equals zero.”
In the “Protocol” book, the authors addressed the subject of press coverage in a section labeled “Unpleasant Circumstances.”
“If you or a member of your family are or have been involved in a difficult situation such as threatened divorce, alcoholism, traffic arrest, etc.,” they wrote, “and rumors have led to inquiries by the press, it is better to issue some kind of statement than to refuse to answer.”
“Of course,” they added, “if the situation is so bad that anything is better than the truth, that is another matter.”
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