The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

"The Letters of the Presidents" Lunch Talk Recap

On 4 November, Assistant Reference Librarian Tracy Potter and intern Sarah Desmond (Endicott College), gave a progress report on their project to survey the presidential papers held at the MHS. This project, funded by a generous donation from MHS trustee Dennis Shapiro (in attendence), has as its goal the preparation of a web-accessible subject guide to letters written by U.S. Presidents within the collections of the MHS. The finished guide will document all known correspondence, located through bibliographic research and a survey of staff members, and list the MHS holdings by president and then collection and subject matter. The only type of correspondence omitted will be straight-up autographs (i.e. signed commissions), which contain no substantive writing by the individual themselves. There will be a particular emphasis on documents from the presidential years, although other items will also be included as known. Sections on "other materials" and "related material" (items not held at the MHS which may be of interest) will add further value to the finding guide.

Hundreds of letters have so far been identified and itemized, including a twenty-eight page list of letters from Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-seven pages of letters from George Washington (including 173 letters to Timothy Pickering alone), and forty-nine letters from John F. Kennedy, mostly located in the Leverett Saltonstall autograph collection. Letters from every single President have been found in our collections, with the exception of the two most recent individuals to hold the office: George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Tracy and Sarah shared some of their favorite finds, including a letter from Richard Nixon in the Leverett Saltonstall papers in which Nixon relates his enthusiasm over a Fig Festival in California.

Conversation during the audience question and comment period focused on the methodology for locating the correspondence, questions about the intended audience for the finding guide, and suggestions for future uses of the information that will come out of this project, (such as a web-based exhibition highlighting the presidential papers held here at the Society).  Peter Drummey shared one of his own favorite items from a U.S. President: a preserved bird found in a letter from Theodore Roosevelt to a bird-watching friend during Roosevelt's college days. 

We congratulate Sarah and Tracy on the work they have already put in and wish them luck as they forge ahead.

permalink | Published: Tuesday, 10 November, 2009, 8:40 AM


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