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Manuscript Division



Women's Suffrage
Health and Medicine
arrow graphicPapers of Presidents and First Ladies
Dolley Madison, Lucretia Garfield, and Edith Wilson
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Literature and Journalism
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Actresses and Actors




Papers of Presidents and First Ladies
see caption below

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 Wilson.

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.

As explored in subsequent sections, information on first ladies can be found in the division's presidential collections and in the papers of numerous cabinet officials, legislators, and White House observers with whom they had a social or political connection. In addition, three first ladies—Dolley Madison (1768-1849), Lucretia Rudolph Garfield (1832-1918), and Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (1872-1961)—are represented by their own collections of papers, which are arranged and described separately from their husband's presidential collections.

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