Imagine Michelle Obama cradling a raccoon in her buff arms. Grace Coolidge’s pet raccoon, Rebecca, was a celebrated resident of the White House, dragged out for Easter egg rolls and held like a cat while the First Lady posed for the camera.
While Rebecca may seem like a bizarre object of love for a first lady, this picture wouldn’t have seemed nearly as strange to people living in the 1920s. In her book Pets in America, historian Katherine Grier writes about families in the nineteenth century who kept crows, woodchucks, foxes, deer, and squirrels as household pets.
After the menagerie tended to by the six young Theodore Roosevelts, who paraded a variety of snakes, a baby bear, and a badger named Josiah through the White House halls, Grace’s Rebecca may have seemed tame by comparison. Also, rabies in raccoons wasn’t nearly as common before the 1950s.