Press contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221

April 20, 2010

Symposium Celebrates New Book on the First White House Library

One of America’s least-known presidents, Millard Fillmore, and his wife, Abigail, were responsible for an innovation in their new home that has grown and prospered to this day: the White House library.

"A family of book-lovers, they created a national collection for an in-home library that they left to the nation," said Caroline F. Sloat, director of book publication for the American Antiquarian Society. She said the Fillmores, especially Abigail, applied the values of education and family life to the president’s house "in the full knowledge that it is the people’s house."

The publication of "The First White House Library: A History and Annotated Catalogue" (Penn State University Press, 2010) is being celebrated at the Library of Congress on Friday, May 7, from 8:45 a.m. until 6 p.m. with a symposium and other events. Speakers for the day include the noted historian Sean Wilentz; the curator of the White House, William G. Allman; and Lincoln expert Douglas L. Wilson, among others. The event is free and open to the public but those planning to attend should RSVP to Staceya Sistare-Anderson at (202) 707-5221; stsi@loc.gov. The Center for the Book and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress are co-sponsoring this event with the National First Ladies Library, Penn State University Press and the Bibliographical Society of America.

"While the libraries of Washington, Adams and Jefferson offer insight into the intellectual habits of extraordinary men, the first White House Library contained many of the titles that would have been found on the shelves of most home libraries of its period," said Catherine Parisian, the book’s editor. As a result it "provides a more representative picture of the collective mind of its age."

Although many early presidents were avid readers and book collectors – George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, to name a few – they usually brought their own books to the White House and removed them at the end of their terms. It was not until 1850 that Millard and Abigail Fillmore established the first official White House collection. The catalog of the library that they assembled not only reveals much about their own preoccupations and interests and those of the age they lived in, but also provides insight into American library history, reading history, and book trade and distribution networks.

"The First White House Library" is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The new Books & Beyond Book Club is available at www.facebook.com/booksandbeyond/. Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard in those webcasts.

The Center for the Book (www.loc.gov/cfbook/) was established by Congress in 1977 "to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to promote books, reading, literacy and libraries." With its many educational programs that reach readers of all ages, through its support of the National Book Festival and through its dynamic state centers in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Center for the Book has developed a nationwide network of organizational partners dedicated to promoting the wonders and benefits of reading. The Center also oversees the new Read.gov website, with its exclusive "Exquisite Corpse Adventure" serialized story.

Schedule of Events
Reading in the White House
May 7, 2010
Symposium celebrating the publication of "The First White House Library: A History & Annotated Catalogue"

8:45 a.m. – 10 a.m.
Tours

Option 1: The Thomas Jefferson Library exhibition, led by Mark Dimunation, Chief, Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Option 2: "The Writing on These Walls," led by John Y. Cole, Director of the Center for the Book

Tours will begin at the Information desk, ground floor of the Libary of Congress Jefferson Building, which is on the corner of First Street and Independence Ave. S.E. and will end at the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the Madison Building.

9:30–10 a.m.
Coffee in Mumford Room

Sixth floor, Madison Building, Library of Congress

10–10:15 a.m.
Welcome
, John Y. Cole, Center for the Book, Library of Congress

10:15–11 a.m.
Catherine Parisian, University of North Carolina Pembroke, "The First White House Library: Reading the Mind of an Age"

11–11:15 a.m.
John Bidwell, The Morgan Library and Museum, Presentation of copies of The First White House Library to the National First Ladies’ Library and the White House.

11:15–11:30 a.m.
Coffee Break

11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m.
Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, Books and Culture

Chair: Clark Evans, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
Douglas L. Wilson, co-director, Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College, "Lincoln’s Presidential Reading"
Jean Baker, Goucher College, "An Educated First Lady: Reading, Writing, and Schooling in the White House"

12:45–2 p.m.
Lunch Break

2–3:45 p.m.
First Ladies, Reading and Culture in the White House

Chair: Pat Krider, National First Ladies’ Library
William G. Allman, White House, "More Than Just Books: The Decor of the White House Library"
Carl Anthony, National First Ladies’ Library, "Reading, Writing and First Ladies"
Nancy Beck Young, University of Houston, "Literary Lives, Political Wives: The Importance of Reading to the Idea of the First Lady"
Elizabeth Thacker-Estrada, San Francisco Public Library, "Abigail Powers Fillmore and the Creation of the White House Library"

3:45–4 p.m.
Coffee Break

4–5 p.m.
Plenary Address

Chair: Mark Dimunation, Chief, Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Sean Wilentz, Princeton University, "Mr. and Mrs. Fillmore and their Library"

5–6 p.m.
Closing Reception
, sponsored by Penn State Series in the History of the Book, edited by James L.W. West III, and by The Pennsylvania State University Press

The program is sponsored by the Bibliographical Society of America, the National First Ladies’ Library and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

The First White House Library: A History and Annotated Catalogue is published by Penn State University Press, the Bibliographical Society of America, and the National First Ladies’ Library and may be obtained from Penn State University Press online at www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-03713-4.html (external link), or by calling (800) 326–9180. This project was supported in part by funds from an anonymous donor and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

# # #

PR 10-085
04/20/10
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top