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Manuscript Division



Women's Suffrage
Health and Medicine
Papers of Presidents and First Ladies
Dolley Madison, Lucretia Garfield, and Edith Wilson
arrow graphicChronological Highlights
White House Observers
Congressional Collections
Legal Collections
Military and Diplomatic Affairs
Literature and Journalism
Artists, Architects, and Designers
Actresses and Actors




Papers of Presidents and First Ladies: Chronological Highlights

Although only three first ladies, Dolley Madison, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, and Edith Bolling Wilson, are represented by their own collections in the Manuscript Division, the papers of other presidential wives and of women who served as White House hostesses for unmarried presidents may be found among those of their husbands, children, and other relatives and associates beginning in the late eighteenth century and continuing through the late twentieth century.

Eighteenth Century

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Elizabeth Foote Washington. Journal, 1779-1796, spring 1789 entry.Washington Family Papers (container 2). Manuscript Division. LC-MS-56408-3.

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Letters from Martha Washington (1731-1802) are rare, but about forty pieces of original correspondence may be found in the papers of her husband George Washington (77,000 items; 1592-1943; bulk 1748-99) [catalog record], and numerous other reproductions are contained in the Washington Family Papers (800 items; 1582-1965; bulk 1700-1900) [catalog record], which also include letters and journals of other women relatives. The nation's first president counted among his correspondents numerous women, including Sarah Franklin Bache, Sarah Fairfax Carlyle, Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson, Judith Sargent Murray, and Mercy Otis Warren. (See The George Washington Papers, 1741-1799 on the Library's American Memory Web site.)

The Adams Family Papers are held in the Massachusetts Historical Society (a microfilm copy is available in the division), but a significant number of original letters from Abigail Adams (1744-1818) are contained in the Shaw Family Papers (650 items; 1636-1892; bulk 1770-1870) [catalog record]— mostly letters to her sister Elizabeth Shaw Peabody—and in the papers of President Thomas Jefferson (25,000 items; 1606-1902; bulk 1775-1826) [catalog record]. To identify other women with whom Jefferson corresponded, browse the printed name index in the Manuscript Reading Room or search the online version of The Thomas Jefferson Papers available on the Library's American Memory Web site.

Nineteenth Century

Journal entries and correspondence of Emily Donelson (1807-1836), who acted as White House hostess for President Andrew Jackson, are found in the papers of her husband Andrew Jackson Donelson (4,000 items; 1779-1943; bulk 1813-69) [catalog record], the president's nephew, military aide, and private secretary.

A collection of Singleton Family Papers (900 items; 1758-1860; bulk 1829-55) [catalog record] contains approximately one hundred letters relating to Angelica Singleton Van Buren (1816-1877), White House hostess for her father-in-law, President Martin Van Buren. Included are letters from her mother giving advice on manners and education during her school years in Philadelphia, correspondence about the family plantation in South Carolina, and a few letters discussing life in the White House after her marriage to Abraham Van Buren.

The small collection of John Tyler Papers (1,400 items; 1691-1918) [catalog record] includes letters of his wife Julia Gardiner Tyler (1820-1889) and other family papers reflecting social life in Virginia.

The papers of President James K. Polk (20,500 items; 1775-1891; bulk 1830-49) [catalog record] include three volumes of papers of his wife, Sarah Childress Polk (1803-1891), whom he married in 1824 and who acted as his secretary and political adviser. Most of her documents pertain to the management of her plantation in Mississippi after her husband's death in 1849, but also included are approximately ninety letters she and her husband exchanged from the time he left Congress in 1839 through his presidency (1845-49).

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Mrs. Franklin Pierce. Engraved by J. C. Buttre. c1886. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-25787.
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The Franklin Pierce Papers (2,350 items; 1820-69) [catalog record] contain only two letters from Jane M. Pierce (1806-1863) to her husband and only six from her to other people, leading the president's biographer to conclude that Pierce destroyed his correspondence with his wife, who predeceased him. Fortunately, the Pierce-Aiken Family Papers (575 items; 1797-1903; bulk 1830-70) [catalog record] include not only letters from Jane Pierce but also a rich correspondence of three generations of women in the Pierce-Aiken families, including Jane's mother Elizabeth Appleton (d. 1844), her sisters Mary M. Aiken (d. 1883) and Frances Packard (d. 1839), and various aunts and nieces.

Harriet Lane Johnston (1830-1903) [catalog record] served as White House hostess for her uncle James Buchanan (1,500 items; 1825-87), and her papers form part of his collection.

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Letter, Mary Todd Lincoln to Abraham Lincoln, advising her husband to remove the hesitant Gen. George B. McClellan from command, 2 November [1862]. Manuscript Division.
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Found in the papers of their respective husbands are small collections of the following:

  • Incoming letters to Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) in the Abraham Lincoln Papers (40,550 items; 1774-1948) [catalog record]. The Lincoln Papers also include correspondence with Jessie B. Fremont, Eliza P. Gurney, and Sarah Josepha Hale.

  • Family correspondence and incoming letters of Julia Dent Grant (1826-1902) in the Ulysses S. Grant Papers (50,000 items; 1843-1969; bulk 1843-1908) [catalog record].

  • Family and personal correspondence of Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur (1837-1880) in the Chester Alan Arthur Papers (4,400 items; 1843-1960; bulk 1870-88) [catalog record]. The Arthur Papers also include correspondence of Mary S. Logan, Katherine Chase Sprague, and Frances Willard.

  • Incoming correspondence and genealogical materials of Frances Folsom Cleveland (1864-1947) in the Grover Cleveland Papers (100,300 items; 1859-1945; bulk 1885-1908) [catalog record]. The Cleveland Papers also contain printed matter on divorce and women's suffrage.

Twentieth Century

Edith Kermit Roosevelt (1861-1948), an intensely private woman, destroyed many of her personal files, but letters and other documents written by, to, and about her have survived in the papers of her husband President Theodore Roosevelt (276,000 items; 1759-1993; bulk 1889-1919) [catalog record], step-daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) (3,000 items; 1890-1946; bulk 1899-1936) [catalog record], and sons Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (25,000 items; 1780-1962; bulk 1920-44) [catalog record] and Kermit Roosevelt (56,900 items; 1885-1975) [catalog record]. Correspondence found in her husband's papers documents her social responsibilities as first lady and her interest in Anglo-American relations, especially as evidenced by her letters to diplomats Whitelaw Reid and Cecil Spring-Rice. Also of interest in President Roosevelt's papers is his correspondence with other women family members and with prominent woman suffragists and Progressive reformers. A ten-second film clip held by the Library's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division shows Edith and Theodore Roosevelt at the Panama-California Exposition in 1915 [moving image].

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William Howard Taft seated at table playing cards with his wife and two men on boat enroute to Philippines. [1900]. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-132301.
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Scattered among the papers of her husband William Howard Taft (676,000 items; 1784-1973) [catalog record] are numerous papers of Helen Herron Taft (1861-1943), including diaries kept before her marriage in 1886, during her honeymoon and subsequent travels abroad, and while serving as first lady. Helen's correspondence with her husband documents her tremendous influence in molding his career and shaping his opinions on political matters and foreign affairs. Additional Helen Taft materials may be found in the papers of her children Robert A. Taft (522,000 items; 1885-1980; bulk 1938-53) [catalog record], Charles P. Taft (185,000 items; 1816-1983; bulk 1937-79) [catalog record], and Helen Taft Manning (see “Education”). Also of note in the William Howard Taft Papers is the president's extensive correspondence with American Red Cross administrator Mabel Thorp Boardman (see “Health and Medicine”).

The lives and accomplishments of modern first ladies may also be researched in the division, even though their personal collections and those of their husbands are held elsewhere in the country. For example:
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Letter, Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White detailing the First Lady's lobbying efforts for federal action against lynchings, 19 March 1936. Manuscript Division.
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  • The division's first ladies card index reveals more than ninety-one collections containing Eleanor Roosevelt material.

  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis items may be found in collections ranging from architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (22,000 items; 1921-69; bulk 1938-69) [catalog record] to Senator Daniel P. Moynihan (164,000 items; 1786-1978; bulk 1955-75) [catalog record] to National Gallery of Art director David E. Finley (31,000 items; 1921-77) [catalog record].

  • Correspondence with Lady Bird Johnson is contained in the papers of historian and presidential adviser Eric Frederick Goldman (27,600 items; 1886-1988; bulk 1940-70) [catalog record], among others, and information on her landscape beautification projects may be found in the Katie Louchheim Papers (see “Education”).

  • Nancy Reagan scholars will undoubtedly need to consult the papers of her husband's treasury secretary and chief of staff Donald T. Regan (78,000 items; 1919-93; bulk 1981-87) [catalog record], with whom she had a sometimes contentious relationship.

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