President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt seated on lawn, surrounded by their family. c1903. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-113665. bibliographic record
The Manuscript Division's presidential collections are among its most prized holdings. As the nation's oldest and most comprehensive
presidential library, the division holds the papers of twenty-three presidents of the United States ranging in time from George
Washington to Calvin Coolidge. (Subsequent presidents have their own libraries administered by the National Archives and Records
Administration.) Included in these collections are:
Papers of many first ladies
Documents relating to public policies and programs affecting women
Correspondence with women relatives and friends
Letters from women constituents attempting to gain presidential favor for political and cultural initiatives
All twenty-three presidential collections have been microfilmed, and the microfilm editions are available in repositories
throughout the country. Published indexes list many of the documents by name of writer or recipient, together with the date,
series number, page count, and other information as appropriate. Unfortunately, distinguishing between men's and women's names
is difficult because many of the indexes list only the first initial of the first name.
Thirty-one presidents have been the fathers of girls, and correspondence between some of these daughters and their famous
fathers may be found in the Manuscript Division. In 2004, one of the division's historians, Gerard W. Gawalt, and his daughter,
attorney Ann G. Gawalt, published several of these letters in their book First Daughters: Letters Between U.S. Presidents and Their Daughters (New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2004; E176.1.F515 2004).
Two additional reference aids are helpful in identifying first ladies' materials:
A card index in the Manuscript Reading Room identifies each first lady and lists names of collections, container numbers,
and brief descriptions of the materials in those collections relating to her.
Mary M. Wolfskill's “Meeting a New Century: The Papers of Four Twentieth-Century First Ladies,” in Modern First Ladies: Their Documentary Legacy, compiled and edited by Nancy Kegan Smith and Mary C. Ryan (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989;
CD3029.82.M63 1989) describes the papers of Edith Kermit Roosevelt, Helen Herron Taft, Ellen Axson Wilson, and Edith Bolling
Although most first ladies have been the subject of at least one biography, it has only been in the past two decades that
scholarship on presidential wives and on the role and function of first ladies has emerged as a separate area of inquiry within
the field of women's history. Recent books have examined the “office” of first lady and have focused attention on the influence
these women exerted not only on their husbands but also in the larger arenas of politics and public opinion.