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Remembering the Real Fifties

8 hours 14 min ago

(The following is a guest post by Tom Wiener of the Library’s Publishing Office and editor of “The Forgotten Fifties: America’s Decade from the Archives of Look Magazine.)

“The Forgotten Fifties: America’s Decade from the Archives of Look Magazine” (Skira/Rizzoli and the Library of Congress, 2014).

Look Magazine was a large format, glossy-paged publication that emphasized photography as much as words. Published between 1937 and 1971, it is recalled now as the poor sister of the more heavily financed and successful Life. The magazine was owned by the Cowles family, which also owned newspapers in Des Moines, Iowa, before branching out with Look. After the magazine closed its doors, the family donated the entire Look photo archive to the Library of Congress. It comprises the largest single collection within the Prints and Photographs Division, with an estimated 5 million individual images.

Look was a late bloomer, struggling for respectability in its early years when it published pictures of female movie stars accompanied by simplistic stories. It became known as a barber shop magazine, and Look’s principal owner, Gardner “Mike” Cowles, admitted, “Not until 1950 did Look begin to reach that level of quality for which I had hoped.” In that watershed year, Look began running stories on foreign affairs, on the political scene in Washington and on American communities they dubbed “All American Cities.” 1950 saw the outbreak of war in Korea and the arrival on the American scene of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican who insisted that the United States government, and in particular the State Department, was riddled with members of the Communist party. Look reported on both of these stories and the anxieties they raised among their readers.

In March 1950, Look ran a story titled “Southern Catholics Fight Race Hatred,” about efforts in Alabama by the church to reach out to black citizens living in an officially segregated society, often in fear for their safety. It was a bold move by the magazine, and reader reaction was strong – both in praise and in condemnation – with many of the latter letters originating from the South. Thus began a decade-long fascination with racial issues in Look’s pages, which reflected the early days of the Civil Rights era.

Look also displayed a fascination with women, but not like in its early days with the plethora of features on starlets. Mike Cowles’ wife, Fleur, became an associate editor at the magazine in 1947, and her hand on the editorial content was evident until the Cowles marriage broke up in 1955. Yes, there were still pieces on female entertainers, from Marilyn Monroe to Lucille Ball, but there were also examinations of the lives of ordinary women, many of them working for a living. In 1950, Look featured a single mother living in New York who worked as an assistant to cartoonist Al Capp, creator of the popular comic strip “Lil Abner”; and on a middle-aged traveling saleslady specializing in lingerie.

Newly published by the Library of Congress, “The Forgotten Fifties: America’s Decade from the Archives of Look Magazine” (Skira/Rizzoli and the Library of Congress, 2014) by James Conaway brings the 1950s to life through images from the collection selected by photo editor Amy Pastan.

In preparing to assemble “The Forgotten Fifties,” Jim, Amy and I were guided by an outline of topics, including the Cold War, the rise of television and rock music, and the shifting dynamics of race and gender. We indexed all the relevant features on these topics, and Amy dove into the Look Collection in search of the most evocative photographs. Jim Conaway wrote his text to the photos in each of the 10 chapters, representing one year of the decade. Our book traces the story of how America evolved from its preoccupations with Communism to the dawn of a different era. The photo that opens the 1950 chapter is from the Korean War, and the last photo in the 1959 chapter is of Jacqueline Kennedy. (The author and editors will be on hand today at the Library to discuss the book. A webcast from the event will be forthcoming.)

The unexpected rewards of dealing with a collection so large was that Amy found many photos that never appeared in the magazine. Either they weren’t used for the article for which they were shot, or the article never ran. For example, in 1954, Look staffer Bob Lerner photographed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson for a feature marking her debut recording for Columbia Records. We found no article corresponding to Lerner’s photos of Jackson at the Columbia microphones, and only after we completed the book did we learn that most of the film Lerner shot for the story was stolen and Look chose not to run an article. A strip of pictures of Mahalia at the microphone appear on page 126 of “The Forgotten Fifties.”

Researching the Look Collection was both exhilarating and exhausting. No book before ours had made such extensive use of the collection, and Amy immediately found that, as a working archive for a publication, Look rarely made prints of its photos. She was faced with poring over contact sheets, slides and color transparencies–all requiring the use of a magnifying loupe. Look wasn’t stingy; on most assignments, their photographers shot dozens, even hundreds of exposures.

Look’s vision of the 50s offers a nuanced view of a decade thought to be prosperous, simple and innocent. Though there are plenty of pictures in “The Forgotten Fifties” of well-groomed kids and smiling suburban housewives, there are also shots of tattoed beatniks and the Little Rock “mob” of angry white people that greeted the nine black teenagers trying to integrate Central High School. Perry Como appears on our pages, as do Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Doris Day is here, as is “Peyton Place” “bad girl” author Grace Metalious. Look took it all in, and we’re happy to share their view of a decade that’s richer and more complex than is remembered.

The 224-page hardcover book, with 200 color and black-and-white photographs, is available for $45 in bookstores nationwide and in the Library of Congress Shop, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., 20540-4985. Credit-card orders are taken at (888) 682-3557 or

Mathew Carey (1760-1839), Philadelphia Publisher and Provocateur

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 7:30am

(The following is a guest post by Julie Miller, early American specialist in the Manuscript Division.)

Through the winter and spring of 1825, the Philadelphia publisher Mathew Carey sat for the painter John Neagle. On Feb. 1 he recorded in his diary: “His portrait appears a flattering one. If true, I am a better looking man than I ever supposed.” The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress recently acquired two manuscript diaries by Carey, including the one containing this entry. Like the painting (now at the Library Company of Philadelphia), the diaries are a portrait of a man who was at once boastful and self-doubting, sociable and cranky, driven and depressed.

John Neagle (1796-1865).
Portrait of Mathew Carey, 1825.
Oil on canvas.
Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Mary Hudson, 1991.

Carey was born in Dublin in 1760, emigrated to the United States in 1784 after several times tangling with the British parliament over his writings in favor of Irish nationalism and Catholic emancipation and settled in Philadelphia. After an early career as a printer, journalist and newspaper publisher, he became one of the most successful book publishers in the U.S. He prospered publishing bibles, schoolbooks, maps and atlases, almanacs and novels. The absence of an international copyright law made it possible for him to republish British books, including the popular novels of Sir Walter Scott, and “Charlotte Temple,” by Susanna Haswell Rowson, which attracted a wide and enthusiastic readership. His American publications included the “Life of Washington,” by Mason Locke “Parson” Weems. In 1801 he organized an annual book fair, to be held alternately in Philadelphia and New York, following the example of the book fairs of Frankfurt and Leipzig. It lasted only a few years, but it fortified Carey’s reputation as a leader in the American book business.

Carey was also an impressively active participant in Philadelphia civic life. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Franklin Institute; a director of the Bank of Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal company; and a founder of the Hibernian Society, which aided Irish immigrants. More ephemeral bodies he belonged to included the health committee organized during Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic of 1793; a “committee of 24″ that promoted canal-building in the 1820s; and a “friends of Clay” group that supported Henry Clay’s presidential candidacy in 1824.

During the period these diaries cover, Nov. 11, 1821-Jan. 3, 1823 Nov. 12, 1821 – Jan. 13, 1823, and Sept. 2, 1824 – Nov. 1, 1825, Carey was easing out of the publishing business and into a new career as an author of essays on political economy and a promoter of what Americans then called “internal improvements.” Like Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay, both of whom he admired, Carey believed that government ought to play an active role in promoting and protecting the American economy. For Carey, this meant federal government protection of American manufacturing through tariffs on foreign imports and the construction of canals in order to speed communication and trade. As early as the 1780s Carey was leading organizations that promoted American manufacturing and the “useful arts.” After the Panic of 1819, an economic collapse whose effects lasted into the early 1820s, he helped found several more, including the Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Internal Improvements.

Carey’s economic views are preserved in his writings and in correspondence with friends and political leaders. On Oct. 3, 1822, he wrote retired president James Madison “on the policy that prevails in our intercourse with foreign nations – a policy which renders us hewers of wood and drawers of water to the manufacturing nations of Europe.” Today Carey’s letter is in the Manuscript Division’s James Madison papers. On Nov. 2, 1822, Carey wrote in his diary: “Rec’d a flattering letter from Mr. Madison.” A draft of that reply, dated Oct. 25, 1822, also in the Madison papers, is more flattering than Carey knew. Lengthy and heavily corrected, it is evidence of Madison’s engagement with Carey and his ideas.

Carey’s diaries are also a storehouse of his emotions at a time when the practice of diary-writing was shifting from terse and factual to emotive and soul-searching. An incident in the diary that shows Carey’s emotions from the inside out involves the Marquis de Lafayette. In 1784, Lafayette, in a gesture of life-transforming generosity, gave Carey $400 to start his first American enterprise, a newspaper. In 1824 Lafayette was visiting the U.S. again and Carey wanted to pay him back. In his autobiography, Carey writes that as soon as Lafayette arrived, he sent him a check that Lafayette cashed “only at my earnest insistence” (Autobiography, Letter II, Vol. 5, December, 1833, “New England Magazine,” p.491, “Making of America,” Cornell University). But here is what Carey wrote in his diary on Oct. 2, 1824: “The Marquis de Lafayette’s check paid – so that I was overdrawn about $20. Gloomy and desponding today.”

Carey’s moods appear everywhere in the diaries as the private backdrop to his public life of constant activity and prolific writing. The reputation for irritability he acquired in his lifetime is demonstrated in an entry for Nov. 24, 1824, when he wrote: “Almost determined to cease writing, disgusted with the apathy, worthlessness, & sordid meanness of those with whom I have to deal.” Sometimes his annoyance burst into rage, as on April 4, 1825, when after an incident with his horses he wrote of his coachman: “Outrageously angry with George.”

Especially striking are Carey’s descriptions of his depression and self-doubt. The gloom he experienced when he was unable to repay Lafayette without overdrawing his account is one example. There are more: on Jan. 18, 1822, he wrote: “Rode out to the Robin Hood [a Philadelphia green space] in the gig. Atmosphere hushed. My faculties in good measure benumbed. Fear they are fast decaying. Think I ought to write no more.” He added: “In the evening recovered.” But two days later he was down again: “My mind low spirits. Cannot cheer up my spirits.” He sounds panicked. And on Oct. 13, 1825: “Awoke a prey to the blue devils. Could not regain my spirits all day. Determined to cease writing on public subjects.” That day he went for a ride “to try to raise my spirits – but in vain.” Despite his struggle with the “blue devils,” Carey led an active and productive public life. The diaries show how he struggled to do that.

They also show how he enjoyed himself, or tried to. He went to many parties and gave a few, mingling with Philadelphia’s elite, including Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank of the United States and Pennsylvania supreme court justice William Tilghman. He loved the theater, except once when three women in front of him “behaved with boundless indecorum. Talked & giggled & laughed aloud even during the performance. Inexpressibly disgusted at such conduct” (Dec. 18, 1821). A week later he had a better time at St. Augustine’s church, recording this observation about the sermon: “style elegant. Some inconsistency” (Dec. 23, 1821). In 1824 he went to see a painting, “The Resignation of Washington” by the Connecticut-born artist John Trumbull, in Philadelphia as it toured American cities before being installed in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington D.C. “Likeness of Washington most miserable,” he complained on Dec. 4, 1824.

Carey’s deepest pleasure seems to have been reading. Every day he ravenously consumed many pages of books, pamphlets, reports, magazines and newspapers for information, business and pleasure. On Nov. 25, 1821, he “examined a large part of the first album of Macpherson’s annals. Found much matter admirably calculated for my purpose” (David Macpherson, “Annals of Commerce, Manufactures, Fisheries and Navigation,” London, 1805). On Feb. 4, 1822, he “finished reading the Pirate” by Sir Walter Scott, which he was in the process of republishing. On Sept. 20, 1822, he “staid up till 12:30 reading Ennui,” a novel by the Irish writer Maria Edgeworth. On Dec. 26, 1822, he “read 90 pages of the History of an Opium Eater in the carriage & the remainder at night.” This is Thomas de Quincey’s popular “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” (1821). On Sept. 8, 1824, he reports reading the “second number” of Washington Irving’s “Tales of a Traveler,” which was “much better than the first.”

The diaries show Carey at work as a publisher. His entry for June 17, 1822: “Rose at 5. Wrote, corrected & read proofs” is typical, and he frequently reports getting bank loans for his son Henry Charles Carey and son-in-law Isaac Lea (husband of his daughter Frances and a scientist), who joined him in the business and then took it over when he retired. As he eased out of publishing, they show him writing on the subjects that possessed him during these years. Starting in 1822 and continuing through and beyond the period the diaries cover, Carey published more than 60 essays on economic subjects for which he used the pseudonym “Hamilton.” He notes the composition and publication of these in his diary entries, as on Oct. 28, 1822, when he “completed Hamilton No. 5 & sent it to the press.” His working methods are revealed in this entry showing how he spent the evening of Jan. 9, 1825: “After 7 began an essay on Canals, which I finished before one, although it required considerable research in Niles Register. To bed at one.” The diaries may help identify essays Carey published anonymously. For example, his entry for April 22, 1822, reveals that he was the author of an address signed “a Pennsylvanian.”

Carey’s life was packed with incident. Even during the four years these diaries cover, there is more than can fit in a blog post. Had blogs existed during Carey’s lifetime (imagine quills and candlelight mixed with digital clicks and flashes), he would certainly have been a blogger. He would have described the dinners he attended during Lafayette’s visits to Philadelphia in 1824 and 1825, the observations of Philadelphia and its hinterlands he made during his daily carriage rides, and much more. Carey had more to say and a lot more can be said about him with the help of these two diaries, now at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.


We the People

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 7:00am

Today we celebrate the 227th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia, Penn., which was ratified at the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787.

“The Constitution,” one of six new Student Discovery Sets for the iPad, now available from the Library of Congress.

The Library recently released a series of interactive eBooks for tablets, including a set on the Constitution, which can be downloaded for free on iBooks. The new Library of Congress Student Discovery Sets bring together historical artifacts and one-of-a-kind primary source documents and objects on a wide range of topics, from history to science to literature. Interactive tools let students zoom in for close examination, draw to highlight interesting details and make notes about what they discover.

The set on the Constitution follows many of the drafts and debates that brought the historical document into being. With a swipe of a finger, students can scrutinize George Washington’s notes on the Constitution, read newspaper articles about the document or use prompts to help analyze such things as maps and letters.

Detail with drawing palette from “The Constitution.”

Other sets available cover the Symbols of the United States, Immigration, the Dust Bowl, the Harlem Renaissance and Understanding the Cosmos.

The sets are designed for students, providing easy access to open-ended exploration. A Teacher’s Guide for each set, with background information, teaching ideas` and additional resources, can be found on the Library’s website for teachers.

The Library of Congress has excellent Constitution Day resources, including this page that pulls together a variety of materials from across the institution’s collections.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Feliz Cumpleaños, Hispanic Division

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 8:00am

(Today is the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated annually Sept. 15-Oct. 15. This year, the Library’s Hispanic Division marks its 75th anniversary. The following is an article from the July-August 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine .)

“Entry into the Forest” is one of four murals by Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari in the Hispanic Reading Room. Carol Highsmith

Dating back to the middle ages, the Library’s Hispanic world collections are the largest in the world.

An original 1605 copy of Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Qixote.” A 16th-century Native American legal document protesting Spanish colonialism. Films of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders after the Spanish American War in 1898.

These are just a few of the Library’s Hispanic treasures. Comprising nearly 14 million items in various formats, the Library’s Iberian, Latin American and Caribbean collections are the largest and most complete in the world.

The point of entry for these collections is the Library’s Hispanic Reading Room, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. The reading room opened its doors in the Thomas Jefferson Building on Oct. 12, 1939, Columbus Day. The Hispanic Division was established three months earlier with an endowment from Archer M. Huntington (founder of the Hispanic Society of America), a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and a congressional appropriation.

The Library holds this 1605 first edition of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic “Don Quixote.” Amanda Reynolds

Huntington began donating funds to build the Library’s Hispanic collection in the 1920s. But the Library’s collections from the broad Hispanic world–which date to the Middle Ages–began more than a century earlier. Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, which the Library of Congress purchased in 1815, contained about 200 books about the Hispanic world. Jefferson believed in the basic unity of the Americas–North and South. In 1820 he declared, “I should rejoice to see the fleets of Brazil and the United States riding together as brethren of the same family and pursuing the same objects.”

The Hispanic Division’s first chief, Lewis Hanke, was the founding editor of the “Handbook of Latin American Studies.” Considered to be the father of the field of Latin American Studies in the United States, Hanke became the first Latin Americanist to be elected president of the American Historical Association. In remembrance of their father, Hanke’s children donated funds to the Hispanic Division to offer online access to the Handbook.

In addition to books, journals and manuscripts, the Hispanic Division holds an original collection of sound recordings. The division has been recording selected readings by poets and writers for more than 70 years. Today the “Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape” holds nearly 700 recordings from more than 32 countries in some 10 languages. Among the authors are nine Nobel laureates, including Gabriela Mistral, Octavio Paz and Gabriel García Márquez. Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, who read his poem “One Today” at Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration, was recently recorded and added to the collection. Using cutting-edge technology at its Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, the Library is transferring the retrospective recordings from magnetic tape reels to a digital format.

Hispanic Division Chief Georgette Dorn contributed to this story. 

Conservation Corner: A Persian Manuscript

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 9:00am

(The following is a guest post written by Yasmeen Khan, senior book conservator in the Conservation Division.)

Opening page showing tears and grime. The opening illumination on the right and the calligraphy are of poorer quality than the rest of the text. A chapter heading can be seen in the gold cartouche on the left.

Conservation staff recently treated a rare Persian manuscript in preparation for display in the Library of Congress exhibition, “A Thousand Years of the Persian Book.” The bound 103-leaf manuscript, dated 1583 and attributed to Central Asia, forms the fifth tale in a seven-part work of poetry by Nasiruddin Jami (d. 1492) called the “Haft Aurang” (“Seven Thrones”). Titled “Yusuf wa Zulaykha,” the story follows Joseph and Potiphar’s wife based on the tale told in the holy Qurʼān.

The Library’s 1583 copy came to the Book Conservation Section with both covers missing and many tears and losses in the paper of the first and last few leaves of the manuscript. On the other hand, the calligraphy of Jami’s poetry was in a beautiful nasta’liq hand – a predominant style of Persian calligraphy in the 15th and 16th centuries – and the fine polished leaves of the book were painted in various styles and colors.

An opening from the text showing two types of decoration: the sinuous stenciled decoration on the left, with a stenciled inner column; and gold painted decoration on the right which consists of a stenciled layer finished with a gold painted lines.

While documenting the manuscript, however, the inconsistencies of the decorative program immediately caught the eye.

Stencils of flora and fauna were used to decorate the margins with watercolors, while the text was framed with multiple lines of black, red, gold and blue. A blank column dividing the text area into two was also spattered with color using the same technique as the stenciled margins. Chapter headings were written in white, red and blue inks, respectively, on gold cartouches set into the text area. Occasional pages were more richly decorated with gold within the text and in the margins.

Upon further inspection, the first six leaves of the manuscript were of a much lower quality than the rest: the calligraphy was bad, the ink used was less opaque, the details of the multicolored illumination above the opening lines were badly executed, and subsequent leaves used large stencils that seemed more akin to Matisse’s collages than the delicate forms in the rest of the book. The sinuous and delicate stenciled margin decorations in the greater part of the manuscript were found in two configurations: with either the same color on both pages of an opening or with a different color on each page.

The difference in the crispness of the ink and the calligraphy on the cartouche is clear. In addition, the blue used to outline the cartouche show that they are lapis lazuli of different quality.

Disassembling the manuscript revealed more design inconsistences: some opening pages were decorated with the same stencil and color, others had different stenciled designs or colors and old catchwords under the margin paint had been crossed out over the paint and new catchwords had been inscribed. In addition, paper stubs along the spine showed that someone had removed a few leaves. It was clear that the book was not in its original order.

A crossed out catchword with the new catchword written next to it that show the new order of the pages after some pages had been removed. The blurred blue line by the text is evidence that the green paint from the stenciled design was applied later.

Understanding the original order of the pages was essential to gaining insight into the decorative inconsistency, the damage visible and the use that the manuscript had received. The Library’s manuscript was compared to another edition of “Yusuf and Zulaykha” printed in Bombay, India in 1884. It was discovered that approximately 50 leaves constituting 1,130 lines of rhyming couplets had been removed, mainly from the second half of the manuscript. The comparison also revealed that the graphite Persian numbering of the pages in the last half of the book was done in order to maintain the same color in the margin decorations for facing pages of the manuscript and not on maintaining the integrity of the text. For example, the leaf I had numbered 101 based on its order in the bound manuscript carried the earlier graphite Persian page number 83. After disassembly and review of the text, the page was found to follow the leaf I had numbered 89. There were many such instances that illustrate how complicated and puzzling a process this was.

Two designs for the colored stencils are found in the manuscript: the animal design shown above and the one shown here. Birds predominate in this image, though fish are shown in the rocky pond along the lower margin, as well as ducks and squirrels.

Finally, after putting the manuscript back into the order of the text and looking at the evidence of the stenciled decoration, catchwords and Persian page numbers, a possible history of the use of the manuscript began to take shape.

The manuscript was written and illuminated in a delicate style (a few of those pages are still extant), and it may have been bound. Over the course of its history it was likely rebound several times and edited and redesigned to include stenciling, trimming, adding and removal of the leaves. New catchwords were written along the lower inner margin of the leaves, the pages were numbered in graphite and the leaves were put in order based on the color of the opening leaves.

All the extant sections or gatherings of the “Yusuf wa Zulaykha” laid to collate the text.

Though more scholarly work needs to be done on the manuscript in terms of its relationship to other copies of 16th century “Yusuf and Zulaykha” manuscripts from the Persian world, I had enough information to treat and prepare the leaves of the manuscript in their correct order for display in the exhibition on “A Thousand Years of the Persian Book.” In late September when the show ends, the leaves of the manuscript will be rebound with goatskin leather in a Persian-style binding appropriate to the time when it was written.

“A Thousand Years of the Persian Book” closes Sept. 20 in the South Gallery of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building. The exhibition is available online.

Songs of a Movement

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 7:38am

Music is a powerful tool. It can create an emotional response, a feeling, a certain attitude. Music can unite people, and give a voice when simple words fail. During the Civil Rights Movement, music played a vital role. Freedom songs drew from spirituals, gospel, rhythm and blues, football chants, blues and calypso and were sung by protesters, activists, civil rights leaders and music legends to spread the message of the movement.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called these songs ”the soul of the movement” in his 1964 book “Why We Can’t Wait.” Civil rights activists ”sing the freedom songs today for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that ‘We shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday.”’

In the new Library of Congress exhibition, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom,” which opens today, 25 songs from the era are highlighted.

Making up a large group of music in the exhibition is a selection of songs from Smithsonian Folkway’s “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960-1966.” Many of the songs were recorded live during mass meetings. Several of the songs feature the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Singers, a performance group arm of one of the key organizations in the civil rights movement. The singers performed throughout the country to raise money and awareness for SNCC.

Whether sung in churches or in jails, such freedom songs as “Oh Freedom (Over Me)” and “This Little Light of Mine” helped to shape the movement and sustain it in moments of crisis. Most freedom songs were common hymns or spirituals familiar to the southern black community; the lyrics were often modified to reflect the political aims of the civil rights movement rather than the spiritual aims of a congregation. The songs not only reflected the views and values of the movement’s participants but also, in the case of the Freedom Singers, helped to share them with a national audience. (Hatfield, Edward A. “Freedom Singers.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 11 July 2014. Web. 08 September 2014.)

Considered the unofficial anthem for the movement, “We Shall Overcome,” popularized by folk singer Pete Seeger, has its roots in African-American hymns from the early 20th century, and was first used as a protest song in 1945, when striking tobacco workers in Charleston, S.C., sang it on their picket line. A few years later, activists in the civil rights movement discovered the song and quickly made use of it during protests, marches and sit-ins. You can read more about the song in this blog post from the American Folklife Center.

Often referred to as the African American National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was a poem written by James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother John for a special celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, 1900, in Jacksonville, Fla. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) later adopted the work as its official song.

Featured on a listening station is Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue?” Known as the first American popular song of racial protest, the jazz standard was written in 1929 by African American songwriters Thomas “Fatts” Waller and Andy Razaf for an all-black-cast Broadway musical revue. Originally conceived as a romantic lament, Armstrong transformed it into a protest song against racial discrimination. The song inspired Ralph Ellison to write in his book “Invisible Man” that Armstrong “made poetry out of being invisible.”

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom” is made possible by a generous grant from Newman’s Own Foundation and with additional support from HISTORY®.

Library in the News: August 2014 Edition

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 9:01am

In August, the Library of Congress was busy with exhibitions and expositions, opening “American Ballet Theatre: Touring the Globe for 75 Years” on Aug. 14 and hosting the 14th annual National Book Festival on Aug. 30.

“At the company’s heart was ballet theater, a physical way of creating a new world onstage,” wrote Sarah Kaufman for The Washington Post. “If the scope of that effort has narrowed in recent years, with a reliance on old favorites and warhorses, at least the evidence of its flourishing is preserved under glass.”

The Washington Post Express also ran a photo essay on two images on display in the exhibition.

The opening of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) exhibition also celebrated the Library’s acquisition of the dance company’s archives.

“[The Library of Congress] seemed like a natural fit, as we are a national company,” said Rachel Moore, ABT’s chief executive, who spoke with Roslyn Sulcas of the New York Times.

The National Book Festival received much press preceding the event, including advance announcements in DCist, Roll Call, Fine Books Blog and by Fox 5.

Stories on festival coverage continue to trickle in, but the Washington Post reported immediately following the event. Because the festival was moved to a new, indoor venue this year, its change in location received media attention.

“As thousands upon thousands of readers of all ages filled the cavernous conference halls at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center — and lined up to buy books signed by their favorite authors — organizers let out a collective sigh,” wrote Post reporter Brigid Schulte. “It worked.”

While the Library’s Civil War exhibition closed earlier this year, its resources continue to make news. One of the highlights on display included the diary of LeRoy Gresham, an invalid teenager who chronicled the war. The Library in August posted a letter online by his mother written following his death, along with LeRoy’s full seven-volume, five-year journal.

“The diary, which the Library thinks has never been published, is a fascinating look at the war through the eyes of a precocious Southern youngster who was largely housebound by illness,” wrote Michael Ruane for The Washington Post. ”Mary Gresham’s letter, which the Library thinks has never before appeared in a public forum, is a voice from outside the journal. She is the offstage presence but has been watching her son’s deteriorating health and approaching death.”

In other news on the Library’s Civil War resources, the institution recently acquired a new 150-year old tintype to ad to its vast collection of wartime images. The photograph, donated by longtime Library supporter Tom Liljenquist, features a young Confederate soldier with his servant, who is also dressed for battle.

“The photograph is a tiny window into the past, but it also presents modern Americans with an enduring image of the role of race in the United States,” wrote Ruane for the Post. “It portrays two men who are bound, willingly or unwillingly, in a common story.”

And, perhaps because of its exhibitions and collections, the Library of Congress was named a 2014 Travelers’ Choice, Top 25 Landmarks in the United States by TripAdvisor.

Lastly, the Library’s preservation work continues to make headlines. Recently, the institution began efforts to study the longevity of compact discs.

Preservationists are worried that a lot of key information stored on CDs — from sound recordings to public records — is going to disappear. Some of those little silver discs are degrading, and researchers at the Library of Congress are trying to figure out why,” wrote Sarah Tilotta for NPR. “In a basement lab at the library, Fenella France opens up the door to what looks like a large wine cooler. Instead, it’s filled with CDs. France, head of the Preservation, Research and Testing Division here, says the box is a place where, using temperature controls, a CD’s aging process can be sped up.”

“France says part of what they are trying to do here is determine the minimal conditions needed for libraries and archives everywhere to preserve CDs.”

CBS News also featured a story on the Library’s research. “As for preserving the library’s collection, France and her team plan to test the CDs every three to five years to make sure as little as possible is lost to history.”


Pics of the Week: 2014 National Book Festival

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 7:46am

Now in its 14th year, the Library of Congress National Book Festival welcomed book lovers to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center — a new venue for this year — on Saturday. More than 100 authors, poets and illustrators were featured throughout the day and evening, packing crowds into pavilions such as History & Biography, Poetry & Prose, Contemporary Life, Science, Fiction & Mystery, Children’s, Teen’s and Culinary Arts.

Throughout the day and after, festival-goers tweeted #NatBookFest their thoughts on the event:

“Great venue and incredible authors”

“Thanks @librarycongress for an excellent festival. Incredible experiences with so many authors. #NatBookFest is a national treasure”

“Was excellent yesterday. especially all the young readers, engaged and excited – the authors i saw were poised, clear, funny”

In the coming weeks, the Library will be posting videos from the festival presentations. In the meantime, here is a sampling of photos from the event to enjoy.

Crowds attend the National Book Festival, held for the first time at the Washington Convention Center. Photo by Colena Turner

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin is interviewed by by National Book Festival Co-Chairman David M. Rubenstein. Photo by Shealah Craighead         









Chef Daniel Thomas demonstrates a recipe from his book, “Recipes for a New You: Healthy Eating at Its Best” in the new Culinary Demonstration pavilion. Photo by Ralphael Small

Great Books to Great Movies panel, featuring (from left) E.L. Doctorow, Alice McDermott, Lisa See and Paul Aster. Photo by Shealah Craighead










Festival attendee Hanna Fisher of Fairfax, Va., asks a question of Fiction and Mystery author Ismael Beah. Photo by David Rice

Evangeline Mackey, Library staff, reads to children at the 2014 National Book Festival. Photo by Ralphael Small

Civil Rights Act Exhibition Features Historical Documentary Footage

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 12:16pm

Considered the most significant piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It banned discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters and retail stores. It outlawed segregation in public education. It banned discrimination in employment, and it ended unequal application of voter-registration requirements. The act was a landmark piece of legislation that opened the doors to further progress in the acquisition and protection of civil rights.

Next Wednesday, the Library of Congress opens the exhibition “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom,” highlighting the legal and legislative struggles and victories leading to its passage, shedding light on the individuals – both prominent leaders and private citizens – who participated in the decades-long campaign for equality.

Six thematic sections in the exhibition – Prologue, Segregation Era, World War II and the Post-War Years, Civil Rights Era, Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Impact – help patrons navigate through the exhibition.

Among the more than 200 items on display are several audio-visual stations featuring more than 70 clips showing dramatic events such as protests, sit-ins, boycotts and other public actions against segregation and discrimination, as well as eyewitness testimony of activists and from participants who helped craft the law. These materials are drawn from the Library’s American Folklife Center’s Civil Rights History Project and from the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth discusses the violence he suffered in 1955 and 1957.

Here are a few highlights:

The only known sound recording made by Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) features the African American leader and educator reading an excerpt of the famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech that he delivered at the Atlanta Exposition on Sept. 18, 1895. The recording was made on Dec. 5, 1908, for private purposes and was made available commercially by Washington’s son in 1920. In his speech, Washington suggested African Americans should remain socially and politically segregated in return for basic education and improved social and economic relations between the races.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and leading civil rights activist in Birmingham, Ala., discusses the bombings and beatings he suffered during a May 18, 1961 interview with CBS News. Shuttlesworth’s home was bombed Dec. 25, 1956, and he was later attacked by a mob in 1957 when he and his wife attempted to enroll their children in a former all-white public school.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, in a nationally televised ceremony in the White House before Congressional and civil rights leaders instrumental in the bill’s passage.

The thematic section focusing on the legislation itself features several pieces of documentary footage, including film footage of Oval Office deliberations prior to Kennedy’s national television address on civil rights; a debate about Kennedy’s speech among black leaders, including Malcolm X; and an NBC News clip of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964 in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom” is made possible by a generous grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, with additional support from History for both audio-visual and educational outreach.

The Last Word: E.L. Doctorow

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 12:51pm

(The following is an article in the July-August 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. Award-winning novelist E.L. Doctorow discusses the role of fiction and storytelling. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) 

E.L. Doctorow. Photo by Gasper Tringale.

The story is the most ancient way of knowing. It preceded writing. It is the world’s first system for collecting and transmitting knowledge. It antedates all the empirical disciplines of a modern society. For millennia, it was the only thing people had.

In the Bronze and Iron ages purely factual discourse did not exist. There was no learned observation of the natural world that was not religious belief, no history that was not legend, no practical information that did not resound as heightened language. Science, poetry, the law and daily speech were fused. The world was a story.

From their first telling, stories were a means of survival; they were as essential as a spear or a club; they instructed the young, they connected the present to the past, and the visible to the invisible. They distributed the suffering so that it could be borne.

Stories are still a means of survival. As the channels of communication round the world fall into fewer and fewer corporate or government hands, the unaffiliated young writer’s witness is a trustworthy form of knowledge.

The publication of measured aesthetically worked fictions from the configured voices of writers is one way a nation composes its identity. Every story, every poem, if created honestly, with regard for a felt truth, contributes to a consensual reality, so that with each generation we may know who we are and what we’re up to.

Writers appear unbidden out of nowhere. Society does not give them credentials as it does doctors or lawyers or engineers. A writer may choose to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree, but that is more of a salute and wish of good luck than a license to practice. The writer’s only credential is self-conferred.

The writer of fiction stands outside the assemblage of experts that organizes the intellectual life of a society. Expert in nothing, the writer is not ruled by any one vocabulary and so is free to utilize any of them. He can write as a scientist, a theologian. He can be a philosopher or a pornographer. She can write as a journalist, a psychiatrist, an historian. She can, if she chooses, render the drugged hallucinations of poor mad souls in the streets. All of it counts, every vocabulary has equal value in the writer’s eyes, nothing is excluded.

In biblical times the writer’s inspiration was attributed to God. The modern writer understands that the writing of stories is itself empowering, that a sentence spun from the imagination confers
a heightened awareness, or degree of perception or acuity; that a sentence composed with the strictest attention to fact, does not. And so the knowledge we glean from a story may be unlike any other. The modern fictive voice continues to sound the world and find its meanings.

E.L. Doctorow will receive the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction at the Library’s 2014 National Book Festival this Saturday, Aug. 30.

Out of the Ashes

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 7:00am

(The following is an article written by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer for the Center for the Book, featured in the September-October 2012 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine. Aug. 24 was the 200th anniversary of the burning of the Capitol building and the Library.)

The story of the phoenix that rises triumphantly from its own ashes to live life anew is the story of how the Library of Congress survived its destruction during the War of 1812 to become the nation’s–and the world’s–pre-eminent source of knowledge and information.

An 1814 drawing shows the U.S. Capitol after its burning by the British. Print | George Munger, Prints and Photographs Division

On Aug. 24, 1814, the British occupied Washington, D.C., and burned the Capitol building. Inside, the congressional library went up in flames.

Two years before the conflagration, on June 18, 1812, President James Madison proclaimed that the Congress of the United States had declared war on the United Kingdom for “the wrongs which have forced on them the last resort of injured nations.”

When the Library of Congress burned, it was less than two decades old. In 1800, the year of the Library’s founding, as the new nation prepared to move its capital from Philadelphia to Washington, President John Adams signed into law a bill that appropriated $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.” The money was used to acquire 740 books and three maps, ordered, ironically, from London. On the eve of the British attack on U.S. soil, Congress’s library had more than quadrupled to just over 3,000 books, maps, charts and plans, according to an 1812 catalog. Little would survive the conflagration.

From his home in Monticello, Va., retired President Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend and political ally Samuel H. Smith, “I learn from the newspapers that the vandalism of our enemy has triumphed at Washington over science as well as the arts, by the destruction of the public library with the noble edifice in which it was deposited.”

Jefferson subsequently offered to sell his personal library–the largest and finest in the country–to Congress to “recommence” its library. After some political wrangling and arguments in Congress over why its members would need such a wide-ranging library as Jefferson’s–much of it in foreign languages–the United States purchased the 6,487 volumes for $23,950 in 1815.

To the doubters Jefferson replied, “There is, in fact, no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”The ideal of a knowledge-based democracy was a cornerstone of the new republic and has remained so for more than two centuries. The far-ranging nature of the collections Jefferson assembled and his belief in the importance of a “universal” collection have ever since guided the Library’s collecting policies and are the key to the institution’s stature as a national–and world– library.

With the purchase of Jefferson’s books–collected over a period of 50 years–the Library effectively more than doubled in size. The new Library of Congress now contained volumes devoted to the arts and sciences as well as those that pertained to lawmaking.

On Dec, 31, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ainsworth Rand Spofford to the post of Librarian of Congress. Located in the west front of the U.S. Capitol, the Library housed more than 82,000 volumes.

Spofford obtained congressional support for several legislative acts between 1865 and 1870 that ensured the growth of the collections and made the Library of Congress the largest library in the nation. The most important new measure was the copyright law of 1870, which centralized all U.S. copyright registration and deposit activities at the Library. The new law brought books, pamphlets, maps, prints, photographs and music into the institution without cost, thus assuring the future growth of the Americana collections and providing the Library with an essential and unique national function.

Published in Harper’s Weekly on Feb. 27, 1897, this print shows the congressional library in its overcrowded quarters in the U.S. Capitol. Librarian of Congress Ainsworth R. Spofford appears at far right. Print | W. Bengough, Prints and Photographs Division

In 1874, for the first time, the copyright law brought in more books than were obtained through purchase. The rapid growth of the collection necessitated a new home for the congressional library. The new structure, now called the Thomas Jefferson Building, was authorized by Congress in 1886 and completed more than a decade later. When it opened across the east plaza from the Capitol on Nov. 1, 1897, Librarian Spofford called it “the book palace of the American people.”

The Library of Congress began its expansion into a national and international institution under the leadership of Herbert Putnam, who served as Librarian of Congress from 1899 until 1939. The Library’s annex–later known as the John Adams Building–opened in 1939. The Library’s third Capitol Hill structure, the James Madison Memorial Building, opened to the public in 1980.

By 1992, the Library was the largest in the world and that year celebrated the acquisition of its 100 millionth item. For its burgeoning physical collections, the Library opened a high-density storage facility at Fort Meade, Md., in 2002. And in 2007, the Library opened a state- of-the-art audiovisual conservation facility at its new Packard Campus in Culpeper, Va.

On the eve of the 21st century, the institution was acquiring materials in all media, including digital. In 1994, the Library began to offer its collections online as part of its mission to make its materials as widely available as possible. Digitization efforts focused on rare and unique items such as the Gettysburg Address, the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, the papers of Frederick Douglass, early maps and the first films of Thomas Edison. Since then, the Library has continued to add materials to its vast website, which now offers more than 31.4 million items. The World Digital Library website, which launched in 2008, offers content from 151 partner institutions in 75 countries, with metadata and expert commentary provided in seven languages.

By embracing technology and exploiting its potential, the Library has transformed itself into an essential–and readily accessible–resource for the nation as well as the world. And the institution has worked to extend its reach, not only making its collections more accessible on its own site, but also appearing on other content sites such as Flickr, YouTube and iTunes.

The Library of Congress– risen from the war’s ashes–continues to inform the national legislature and the world with its unparalleled collections.

John Y. Cole, Center for the Book Director and Library of Congress historian, also contributed to this article. 

Abraham Lincoln’s “Blind Memorandum”

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 8:00am

(The following is a guest post by Michelle Krowl, a historian in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.)

Could George B. McClellan have become the seventeenth President of the United States? It certainly appeared to be a possibility as Abraham Lincoln assessed the military and political landscape of the United States in the summer of 1864.

President Lincoln understood that his chances of reelection in November hinged on military success in a war now in its fourth year. By the summer of 1864, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had settled in for a prolonged siege against the Confederates near Petersburg, Va., and Gen. William T. Sherman made slow progress toward Atlanta. Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early, meanwhile, had led his troops to the very gates of Washington, D.C. in July. The war effort seemed to have stalled for the Union, and the public blamed President Lincoln.

The political news for Lincoln was no brighter. Republican insider Thurlow Weed told Lincoln in mid-August 1864 that “his re-election was an impossibility.” Republican party chairman Henry J. Raymond expressed much the same sentiment to Lincoln on Aug. 22, urging him to consider sending a commission to meet with Confederate President Jefferson Davis to offer peace terms “on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution,” leaving the question of slavery to be resolved later.

“Everything is darkness and doubt and discouragement,” wrote Lincoln’s secretary, John G. Nicolay, in August 1864. “Our men see giants in the airy and unsubstantial shadows of the opposition, and are about to surrender without a fight.”

Abraham Lincoln, text of “Blind Memorandum,” August 23, 1864, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

It was in this context that Abraham Lincoln wrote the following memorandum on Aug. 23, 1864:

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.  – A. Lincoln

Lincoln folded the memorandum and pasted it closed, so that the text inside could not be read. He took it to a cabinet meeting and instructed his cabinet members to sign the outside of the memo, sight unseen, which they did. Historians now refer to this document variously as the “Blind Memo” or “Blind Memorandum” because the cabinet signed it “blind.” In so doing the Lincoln administration pledged itself to accept the verdict of the people in November and to help save the Union should Lincoln not be re-elected.

As if on cue, Lincoln’s fortunes began to change. As expected, the Democrats nominated George B. McClellan for president on August 30 but saddled him with a “Copperhead” peace Democrat, Representative George H. Pendleton, as a running mate. The Democratic platform declared the war a failure and urged that “immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities,” which even McClellan could not fully support. Then General Sherman scored a tremendous victory when Atlanta fell to the Union on Sept. 2.

Signatures of Lincoln’s cabinet members on the reverse of the “Blind Memorandum.” Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

The brighter military outlook, expert political maneuvering by Lincoln and his reinvigorated party (running in 1864 as the National Union Party), and the negatives associated with McClellan and the Democrats spelled victory at the polls for the Republicans. Safely re-elected, Lincoln brought the memorandum with him to the next cabinet meeting on November 11. He finally read its contents to the cabinet, reminding them it was written “when as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no friends.”

On its 150th anniversary, the “blind memorandum” reminds us that historical outcomes we may take for granted in hindsight (like Lincoln’s re-election in 1864) do not always appear so certain at the time.

Sources: Abraham Lincoln Papers and John G. Nicolay Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, eds., “Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay”; John C. Waugh, “Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency.”

Pic of the Week: En Pointe

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 10:52am

Former American Ballet Theatre dancer Sue Knapp-Steen takes in the new Library of Congress exhibition about the professional dance company. 20104. Photo by Ashley Jones.

Last week, the Library of Congress opened the exhibition “American Ballet Theatre: Touring the Globe for 75 Years,” which highlights the dance company’s distinguished history and its collection here at the Library. Shortly after the opening, ABT alum Sue Knapp-Steen (1969-1974) stopped by to view the exhibition and reminisce on her time as a professional dancer with the company during the 1970s.

While with the ballet company, Knapp-Steen toured throughout the United States and Europe, performing the works of choreographers Agnes De Mille, George Balanchine,  Michel Fokine, Leonide Massine, Antony Tudor and Kenneth MacMillan in ballets such as “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” “Giselle” and “Rodeo.”

Knapp-Steen is actually “featured” in the exhibition itself, in a photograph for a 1960 production of De Mille’s “Rodeo.”

Sue Knapp-Steen. October 1971. Photograph by Ken Duncan. Photo courtesy of Sue Knapp-Steen.

“With time’s passage since dancing with ABT, I now realize that the 1960-70s in the world of dance included memorable dancers and ballet companies that flourished, given the burgeoning interest and support for dance in the U.S.,” Knapp-Steen said. “ABT’s international largess of repertoire, choreographers and dancers was a primal force at this time of cross-cultural sharing on all levels. The mix of ABT’s very American-spirited, theatrical works combined with its presentation of timeless story ballets such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ afforded dancers with ABT its most unique artistic allure.

“Now with ABT’s 75th anniversary, the company continues its dedication to this same spirit of communication and understanding amongst its peers and audiences.”

Trending: Happy 100th Birthday, Panama Canal

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 7:33am

The seagoing tug, “Gatun” made the first trip through the Panama Canal’s Gatun Locks on Sept. 26, 1913. Prints and Photographs Division

Aug. 15, 2014, marked the centennial of the completion of the Panama Canal, a 48- mile waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal is a key conduit for international maritime trade.

Plans by the Panamanian government to celebrate the historic event began more than a year ago. A Panama Canal mobile app was launched to communicate about Panama around the world. Educational and cultural institutions in U.S. cities such as Miami and Gainesville, Fla., will also mark the occasion with exhibits. Nearly every cruise line to Panama has one trip scheduled through the canal this year to mark the centennial.

The Library of Congress has a free, 134-page reference guide to Panama materials in its collections. The guide, which is available as a downloadable pdf on the Hispanic Reading Room website, references the wealth of materials available about Panama in the Library’s General and Special Collections (such as maps, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs and legal material). Subjects include civilization and culture, foreign relations, history, literature, politics and government and the Panama Canal. Housed in the Library, the papers of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson contain a wealth of material about the Panama Canal–its construction having spanned their administrations. The papers of Roosevelt’s Secretary of State John Hay and the canal’s chief engineer George W. Goethals, along with the Panama Collection of the Canal Zone Library-Museum (1804-1977), are just a few of the Library’s most significant resources for the study of the canal’s construction.

Following the attempt by the French to construct the canal, the U.S. took over the project in 1904, during Roosevelt’s administration. Panama had become independent of Colombia the previous year, with the help of the U.S. The decade-long project cost the U.S. nearly $375 million to complete, with the aid of more than 45,000 workers, many of whom lost their lives. The majority of workers came from the West Indies and Spain. All told, workers from about 40 countries participated in the construction.

After a period of joint American-Panamanian control, the canal was returned to the Panamanian government in 1999 under the terms of a treaty negotiated by President Jimmy Carter and approved by Congress. The canal is now managed and operated by the Panama Canal Authority, a Panamanian government agency.

This article is featured in the July-August 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, now available for download here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011.

But Did The Author Like the Movie?

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 4:12pm

Poster from the film “Ragtime”

Ever wonder, while watching a film made from a novel you’ve known and loved, what the author of the book thought about that movie? Whether they thought it was true to their vision? Whether they were annoyed at what landed on the cutting-room floor?

Four great modern novelists will share a dialogue on just that topic with Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday in a session at this year’s Library of Congress National Book Festival on Saturday, Aug. 30 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Titled “Great Books to Great Movies,” the session will feature E.L. Doctorow (recipient of the 2014 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction), Paul Auster, Alice McDermott and Lisa See and run from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.  It will be one of the evening events being offered for the first time ever in the 14-year run of the festival.

In addition to the familiar author talks (by 110 authors for readers of all ages and tastes) and literacy-based activities for kids during the daytime hours of the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., other nighttime offerings include a poetry slam from 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., a dialogue on the centennials of three towering figures in Mexican literature (Octavio Paz, Efraín Huerta and José Revueltas) from 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. and a “Graphic Novels Super-Session” from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

There’s more breaking news on the NBF front – the addition of authors Doris Kearns Goodwin to the lineup in History & Biography and Alan Greenspan in Special Programs.

Doors will open to the public at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 30 for this fresh new take on a beloved event.  The convention center is accessible by subway from the Green and Yellow Lines (Mount Vernon Square/7th Street/Convention Center) and the Red Line (Gallery Place/Chinatown).  Don’t miss it!

Letters About Literature: Dear Jhumpa Lahiri

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 10:06am

In this final installment of our Letters About Literature spotlight, we feature the Level 3 National Honor-winning letter of  Riddhi Sangam of Saratoga, Calif., who wrote to Jhumpa Lahiri, author of “The Namesake.”

Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives, announced its 2014 winners in June. More than 50,000 young readers from across the country participated in this year’s initiative, a reading-promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

National and honor winners were chosen from three competition levels: Level 1 (grades 4-6), Level 2 (grades 7-8) and Level 3 (grades 9-12). You can read all this year’s winning letters here. In addition, winning letters from previous years are available to read online.

Dear Ms. Jhumpa Lahiri,

                  As an Indian girl growing up in America, in a culture that is predominantly Caucasian, I always felt like I was slightly apart from my peers, as if there was a barrier between myself and everyone else. I remember a time when I was six years old, in the first grade, when I was eating lunch with my classmates.  My mother had packed Indian bread, chapathi, and cubes of cottage cheese cooked in creamed spinach, palak paneer. The other children looked at the food and said, “Ew!  That’s gross!” I still remember putting the lid on my Tupperware container and closing my lunch box, determined not to cry.

                  After that, I begged my mother to send me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — American food, food that everyone else ate — for lunch. My mother readily agreed, but I can see now that my rejection of Indian food symbolized something more to her; a wish not to be associated with Indian culture.

                  I wanted to be American. I wanted sandwiches and pasta and food that did not provoke disgusted looks from my classmates. I wanted to have blue eyes and a name that was easy to pronounce, a name not vulnerable to a gamut of creative mispronunciations. When people tried to pronounce my name for the first time, I would apologize embarrassedly for my culture, saying, “My name is Indian. Sorry.” I did not realize, however, that in wishing all of these things, I was rejecting my heritage and all of the sacrifices my family members had made so I could live a happy life.

                  Because I felt alienated from my peers for most of my childhood, I believed a happy life was one where I was not an outlier, a life where I was simply the same as all of my classmates. I reasoned that although I could not change my name to make myself fit in with the rest of my peers, I could mimic my classmates in dress. I did not want clothes that could provoke my peers to say, “That shirt’s so … interesting,” and I did not want clothes that were too “Indian-looking” — anything paisley-patterned or anything that was excessively embroidered was put into this category. I wanted specific shirts, the shirts everyone wore, the ones that were emblazoned proudly with logos, logos that seemed to proclaim that I was jut like the rest of the children. I remember shopping for these shirts, hearing my parents say, “Why do you even want these shirts? You know, when I came to America, I never would have spent so much money on such frivolous items. You know what I did instead? I cut coupons. I walked miles in the snow from the grocery store to my tiny apartment because I didn’t have a car. I had permanent welts on my fingers from the plastic grocery bags straining against my hands. Do you ever think of that, Riddhi?”

                  I was extremely conscious about my heritage until the tenth grade, when a group of students in my English class, including me, was assigned to read ‘The Namesake.’ Although I love to read, I did not think that I would enjoy the book — I normally do not enjoy books that come with assignments and reports due for school. This preconception changed as soon as I read the first few pages and immediately saw my parents in Ashima and Ashoke, and later, myself in Gogol and Moushumi.

                  Reading the book was like reading an echo of myself. I empathized with Gogol’s struggles to find an identity with which he could be content; Moushumi’s struggles to please her parents; and finally I realized what my parents had given up so they could create a good life in America.

                  As I read about Gogol and how he detested his name, the way his peers, meaning well but not understanding, mispronounced the letters, I felt a kinship. I saw myself in the way he strived not to be associated with Indian culture, the way he fought so hard to break the bonds between himself and his roots.

                  I identified with Moushumi’s decision to pursue a degree in French — my forte has always been languages and the humanities, and in a family composed of doctors, engineers, and businesspeople, my strengths have been treated like a hobby, something to do on the side, not to be taken seriously. “Riddhi?” She’s good at French. But what can you do with a degree in French?  Nothing, that’s what!”

                  But I was most enlightened by reading about Ashima’s and Ashoke’s lives and the sacrifices they made. My parents told me about the life they had when they immigrated to America — cutting coupons; walking for miles in the snow because a car was too expensive; and living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment — but when I heard these stories, I dismissed them.  When I read about Ashima trying to recreate chaat in her kitchen in America, I envisioned my parents when they arrived in America, trying but failing to recreate the lives they had had in India, failing because, “[...] as usual, there [was] something missing” (Lahiri 1). As I read about Ashima’s efforts to assimilate into American culture, I imagined my parents, lost and confused in American after sacrificing the comforts of Indian for a life of cutting coupons and walking in the snow.

                  I no longer desire blue eyes; I no longer desire a different name. As Gogol realizes and as I realized, “The name he had so detested [...] that was the first thing his father had given him” (289). As I read these words, I understood, just as Gogol understands, that my name is the most important thing I have ever received, for my name is the embodiment of my parents’ sacrifices, my parents’ cooking, my parents’ sotires, my culture; my identity. I understood that my name and subsequently, my culture, is not something just to be rejected; instead, it is something to embrace, because my name stands for all of the past generations in my family, and all of the sacrifices they have made — such as immigrating to American when Indian held the comforts of home — so that I could have the best life possible.            

                  Now, I bring Indian food to school for lunch. Now, I wear clothes I previously deemed “too Indian-looking” to school. Now, when people have difficulty pronouncing my name, I say proudly, “My name is Indian.”

                  Thank you, Ms. Lahiri, for making me finally realize that my heritage is my identity. Thank you for making me realize that my culture and my heritage are the most important parts of me.

Riddhi Sangam

Library in the News: July 2014 Edition

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 8:45am

The Library of Congress had two major announcements in July, featuring well-known public figures, that garnered several headlines.

Billy Joel was named the next recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Stories ran in Rolling Stone, the Dallas Morning NewsThe Washington PostThe New York Times and The Today Show.

Joel was also featured as ABC World News Tonight “Person of the Week.”

In addition, on July 29, the Library opened to the public a collection of letters between President Warren G. Harding and his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips.

“Every so often, we get a poignant reminder of what has been lost now that letter-writing has been replaced by texting, emoticons or nothing at all, if you’re a politician afraid to commit anything to paper for fear it will show up on page one or be read aloud by a committee chairman on a tear,” wrote Margaret Carlson for Bloomberg. “This makes the trove of love letters written by Warren Harding, to be unsealed at the Library of Congress and published online this month, all the more appealing.”

“The roughly 900 pages illuminate an extraordinary and intimate chapter in the life of a seemingly drab president who was dogged by political scandal, died in office and had campaigned on a platform of ‘a return to normalcy,’” wrote Washington Post reporter Michael E. Ruane.

ABC News covered a panel discussion a week before the public opening that featured historians and Harding’s grandnephew discussing the letters.

Also running stories were Slate, the New York Times Magazine and the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Several news outlets turned their headlines to the Library itself, taking a look at its buildings and services.

“I can’t leave Capitol Hill without fulfilling a dream to get a library card at the Library of Congress,” wrote Robert Reid for National Geographic. “After a look at the Jefferson Building’s exhibits (an early U.S. map shows Connecticut as a long rectangle extending toward the Mississippi), I make a tunnel walk or two between neighboring wings and find myself with a new Library of Congress Reader Card.”

PBS Newshour ran a piece on the Library’s efforts to restore Thomas Jefferson’s library.

“Sixteen years ago, Mark Dimunation and his team set out to restore Jefferson’s collection, replacing the lost books with copies from the same publisher, date, and edition,” reported Jeffrey Brown. “Green ribbons denote books from the original library. Gold are copies that serve as replacements. The white or ghost boxes are placeholders for the 250 books still being sought.”

And, finally, local ABC affiliate WJLA captured a remarkable photograph of what appeared to be a lightning bolt striking the Library’s Jefferson Building dome. There were no reports of damage or injury from the alleged strike.

Clocking In

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 7:27am

John Flanagan’s clock. Photo by Carol Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building opened to the public in 1897. Hailed by a guidebook as a “gorgeous and palatial monument to its [America’s] national sympathy and appreciation of literature, science and art,” the construction of the edifice was a feat in and of itself – more than 15 years of postponements, major architectural changes and an assortment of hang-ups marked its debut to the nation.

In fact, Superintendent of Construction Bernard Green wouldn’t consider the building finally complete until Aug. 9, 1902, with the placement of the ornate clock in the Main Reading Room, according to an entry in his journal.

A focal point of the symbolic epicenter of the Library, the clock was designed and crafted by American sculptor and medalist John Flanagan (1865-1952). Flanagan accepted the commission on October 1, 1894, and Green proposed the “Flight of Time” as the subject. Neither could have imagined the clock would take more than seven years to complete.

Flanagan’s original design in May 1895 contained exact notes on materials and placement of the clock’s elements. For example, the rosettes surrounding the clock face were to be pink or purple marble with a lapis lazuli center. The hands of the clock were to be serpentine and set with precious stones. (The snake design of the hands did not, in fact, make it into the final piece.)

Flanagan’s original design contained exacting notes on materials and placement. Not included in the final piece were the snake hands shown in this drawing. Manuscript Division.

Aside from the dial structure, Flanagan was committed to incorporating mostly sculptural elements to the clock, emphasizing not only time but also its relation to knowledge. Symbolic elements included seated bronze figures on each side of the dial representing study (“Sitting Students”), the “Flight of Time” above the dial featuring Father Time and attendant seasons, a mosaic back piece with signs of the zodiac and a circular panel below the dial with a bas-relief of the “Swift Runners” who “keep the light of knowledge circulating.”

Flanagan continued to revise his sketches and his work dragged on – so much so that Green threatened to cancel the commission if the clock was not complete and in place by Jan. 1, 1897. Flanagan wrote to Green saying he was working as fast as he and his assistants could “push it.” He assured the superintendent that the mosaic with zodiac signs and dial structure would be ready but the larger bronze sculptural elements would take more time.

John Flanagan. Prints and Photographs Division.

By April 20, 1897, the clock’s mosaic background and dial structure were put in place in the Main Reading Room. It would take another year for the “Sitting Students” and “Swift Runners” to arrive and another two-and-a-half years for the “Flight of Time” to be finished and delivered.

In late July 1902, Green wrote in his Journal of Operations, “Having been made very wide with spreading eagle wings and so high as to overlap the architrave, and being about 1600 lbs. weight the job is an extremely difficult one,” documenting the placement of the “Flight of Time” sculptural element. Over the next few weeks, Flanagan was on hand to supervise the installation, and, according to Green, was “nosing about” and fussing over various details regarding his creation.

Flanagan also designed the statue of Commerce, which can be found in the Main Reading Room as well.

For more information on the history of the Library of Congress and its buildings, see “Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress” and “On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Buildings of the Library of Congress.”

Searching the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for “Library of Congress” brings forth numerous images of the construction of the Jefferson Building and its architectural drawings, as well as vivid color photographs of the Library’s Capitol Hill campus and buildings interiors.

Global Gathering

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 11:56am

(The following is a story written by Mark Hartsell, editor of the Library’s staff newsletter, The Gazette, for the July-August 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.)

The sun truly never sets on collecting at the Library of Congress. At any given hour, somewhere on the planet, an employee is acquiring material to add to the world’s largest library.

Scattered across 11 time zones, from Brazil to Indonesia, the Library’s six field offices acquire hard- to-get publications from developing nations for its own collections and those of other U.S. and global research institutions. It’s a vast undertaking that requires knowledgeable people at the source. Wherever material is published—be it Syria, Pakistan, Cambodia, Rwanda, Nepal or Suriname—the Library of Congress is, in some fashion, there.

“Really, for much of what we collect, no other libraries do so on this scale,” said William Kopycki, director of the Cairo field office. “We’re the only library in the world that has this concept of overseas offices.”

Librarians in Rio de Janerio work at the Rio Book Fair at a booth constructed from recycled paper. Overseas Operations Division.

In the years following World War II, the Library and U.S. academic institutions recognized the importance developing regions would play in a changing world—and the need to better understand the history, politics, religion and culture of these far-flung places. So, the Library, beginning in the early 1960s, established nearly two-dozen field offices around the globe. Today, six remain, in Cairo; Islamabad; Jakarta, Indonesia; Nairobi, Kenya; New Delhi and Rio de Janeiro. Their mission: supply the Library and other research institutions with tough-to-acquire primary materials from developing regions to ensure Congress, analysts and scholars get critical information.


Carrying out that mission in developing countries presents serious challenges. War, terrorism, political unrest, censorship, poverty, huge geographic distances, scores of languages, underdeveloped infrastructure, unreliable power grids and a lack of publishing standards all pose difficulties.

In 2011 and again in 2013, massive, violent political protests forced the temporary closure of the Cairo office and the evacuation of its director, Kopycki, from Egypt. The U.S. State Department at times denied approval for acquisition trips for fear that an airport would close and leave Cairo employees stranded – decisions, Kopycki said, “made to keep us safe.”

Islamabad is risky enough that the director oversees that office from 430 miles away in New Delhi, flying back to Pakistan’s capital city several times a year. The Library’s office in Nairobi is located in the U.S. embassy complex built after the 1998 bombing of the old embassy. Last year, terrorists attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, killing nearly 70 people.

“Just coming into work can be challenging, given the critical threat faced by this country with terrorism,” said Pamela Howard-Reguindin, former director of the Nairobi office, who now heads the Islamabad office.


Ismail Soliman, former head of monograph acquisitions in the Library’s Cairo office, searches for library materials in a bookshop in Mauritania. Overseas Operations Division.

Despite the difficulties, the overseas offices collect a huge range and volume of material: government documents, newspapers, magazines, academic journals, monographs, books, maps, DVDs, CDs and, in recent years, websites—in all, more than 663,000 items in fiscal year 2013.

The offices also cover a vast geographic and linguistic range. In the last fiscal year, they acquired and cataloged material from 79 countries in about 120 languages. Such an effort requires knowledgeable people at the source, wherever on the globe it may be.

“The only way to get some of these materials is to be there and pick them up as they come hot off the press, so to speak,” said Beacher Wiggins, who directs the overseas offices for the Library of Congress. “Particularly in areas where there may be dissident views or dissident groups that challenge the government or espouse a different view, you wouldn’t get these through normal publishing channels. By the time you got that kind of information, it would be two or three years later. Firsthand scholarship would suffer. Congress wouldn’t necessarily get firsthand accounts of what’s going on.”


Each office is led by an American director and staffed by locals—about 240 in total—who serve as librarians, catalogers, accountants, information technology specialists, shipping clerks and drivers. Most of the catalogers and librarians have library science degrees or advanced degrees.

The local employees’ knowledge and linguistic skills are invaluable in navigating the myriad cultures and languages, the huge geographic spaces and the sometimes-tricky political terrain. They also possess another important skill: They know what to get and where and how to get it.

“Because the staffers are local, they know the language, they know the culture,” Wiggins said. “They know when it might be imprudent to advertise that they are collecting as a U.S. government employee.”

Students listen to a story being read aloud at the Somali-English family literacy story hour at the USAID-sponsored Garissa Youth Summit in Northeastern Kenya. Photo by Nancy Meaker.

Each overseas office covers a group of countries in its region. The Jakarta office, for example, collects from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. The Nairobi office covers 29 countries over a gigantic swath of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Material is gathered through a blend of methods—relationships with commercial vendors, bibliographic representatives who collect on the offices’ behalf and acquisitions trips made by field office staff.

“We do know the sources, where to get things,” Kopycki said. “It’s how to engage to get the things that are really unique and special.”

The materials they choose—in collaboration with the collections divisions in the Library’s Capitol Hill offices— are selected for the quality of scholarship, the importance of subject and the extent to which it adds to the knowledge of a topic. Sometimes they represent new cultural trends, such as graphic novels produced in North Africa and drawn in Japanese anime style. Other material frequently is controversial and from underground sources.

“We spent the last couple of years in particular since the Egyptian revolution gathering ephemera and pamphlets,” Kopycki said. “This culture of publishing ephemeral materials with heavy political tones was really unknown in Cairo the past 30 years.”


Many institutions benefit from the hunting and gathering done by the Library’s local employees.

The offices provide material—some 375,000 items in the last fiscal year—to 80 other U.S. institutions and 24 foreign institutions through the Cooperative Acquisitions Program. Those institutions could acquire major commercial publications from some developing nations on their own. The Library field offices do what they can’t: acquire less-accessible material and items from harder-to-cover countries.

“That’s really a unique service, not just for our parent institution but for our participant libraries as well,” Kopycki said. “We’re acting as their eyes and ears to get materials that otherwise are not readily available.”

All that collecting requires a lot of other work— cataloging, accounting, processing, packing and shipping—to make sure everything arrives safely and in the right place. Shipping is a big part of what the offices do. In fiscal 2013, they collectively shipped about 180 tons of material by sea and air freight to the Library and Cooperative Acquisitions Program participants.

A lift van in New Delhi is loaded with publications for shipment to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Overseas Operations Division.

“It’s all these things that you don’t picture a traditional librarian doing that our staff does in order to make sure that book, that newspaper, that DVD arrives in the hands of a researcher in Washington,” Kopycki said.

The flow of that material, gathered at the source in countries around the globe, helps ensure that the Library of Congress, and other libraries, have the firsthand resources Congress, analysts and scholars need now, and decades in the future.

“These areas still are in turmoil and, in some instances, changing their worldview or becoming a powerhouse,” Wiggins said. “The overseas offices are critical in supplying Congress information as well as supplying research materials scholars might need 10, 50, 100 years from now.”

Download the July-August 2014 issue of the LCM in its entirety here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011.

Semper Paratus, Always Ready

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 8:00am

Setting the course to victory with the U.S. Coast Guard / L.W. Bentley, U.S.C.C.R. Prints and Photographs Division.

Most people know the United States Coast Guard as a military branch that provides local maritime safety and law enforcement, with service men and women patrolling America’s shorelines and answering distress calls after boating accidents. However, the USCG has incorporated a number of functions throughout its more than 224-year career as the “oldest, continuously serving sea service.”

Today’s Coast Guard is actually an amalgamation of five former independent Federal agencies: the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation and the Lifesaving Service.

The Coast Guard’s official history began on Aug. 4, 1790, when President George Washington signed the Tariff Act that authorized the construction of 10 vessels. The United States Revenue Cutter Service, as it became known, used these vessels, or “cutters,” to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling.

First Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton actually proposed the “system of cutters” and urged Congress to establish this service as the new nation was struggling financially following the Revolutionary War.

“A few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws,” he wrote in the essay “The Utility of the Union in Respect to Revenue,” part of The Federalist Papers.

The Library has a very significant collection of Hamilton’s papers. In fact, a few years ago, the institution received a gift of a letter written by Hamilton that concerns the per diem payments for rations issued to seamen on board the cutters.

“This is certainly not the most significant letter Alexander Hamilton ever wrote,” explained Julie Miller, early American specialist in the Library’s Manuscript Division. “It is important, however, because it shows Hamilton at work establishing the operating procedures of the Revenue Cutter Service very soon after it was founded.”

Hopley Yeaton commission signed by Washington and Jefferson. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

The Manuscript Division also holds the March 21,1791, certificate signed by President George Washington and countersigned by Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state commissioning Hopley Yeaton as the first officer of the Revenue Service.

The service expanded in size and responsibilities as the nation grew. Because the Continental Navy was disbanded in 1785, the Revenue Service was the only maritime force available to the new government. The cutters also served as warships protecting the coast. Since then, the Coast Guard has fought in almost every war since the Constitution became the law of the land in 1789.


Other responsibilities of the cutter service included protecting the country’s strategic natural resources with the Timber Act of 1822, cruising coastlines for those in distress and, after the Titanic sank in 1912, conducting international ice patrols.

Revenue Cutter Bear at Sitka, Ala. 1890-1900. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Coast Guard has helped to protect the environment for more than 180 years. With the purchase of Alaska in 1867, the ecological responsibilities of the Revenue Cutter Service were greatly increased. Sealing was a huge problem as fur seals were being hunted into extinction due to the value of their coats.

The Library’s Manuscript Division holds records from the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, including a journal and letter book detailing voyages of several cutters. In entries dated 1889-1890, mentions are made of the cutter Bear and its Alaskan patrols looking for sealers and its efforts in tamping down the illegal seal trade.

The Library’s collection of papers of Naval officer Elliot Snow includes notebooks from Horatio D. Smith, who was an officer in the Revenue Cutter Service. Smith also documented voyages of various cutters, including the cutter Golden Gate doing “good service” during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and transporting President Taft across the bay in 1909, and the cutter McCullough being the first to pass through the Suez Canal.

Notebook documenting voyages of cutter Golden Gate. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

In 1848, Congress passed an appropriation for $10,000 to allow for “the better preservation of life and property from shipwrecks.” This system eventually grew into a federal agency called the United States Life-Saving Service. Operating from small stations throughout the nation, the service saved tens of thousands of people in distress between 1878 and 1915.

In 1915, an act of Congress merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the U. S. Life-Saving Service, and thus the U.S. Coast Guard was born. The nation now had a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws.

Additional agencies were later merged into the Coast Guard.

While the cutter service was established in 1790, Congress had created the Lighthouse Establishment the year before – only the ninth law passed by the new government – and took federal jurisdiction over lighthouses then in existence. It continued to exist as a separate agency within the Treasury Department until 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered its transfer to the Coast Guard. With this executive order, the Coast Guard began to maintain the nation’s lighthouses and all maritime aids to navigation.

The Steamboat Inspection Service and the Bureau of Navigation existed separately before being combined in 1932 and reorganized and renamed in 1936 as the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation. Essentially both provided for safety inspections and the safeguarding of life and property while at sea.

During World War II President Roosevelt transferred the bureau to the Coast Guard and in 1946 the shift was made permanent, thereby placing merchant marine licensing and merchant vessel safety under the service’s purview.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHITE SUMAC. Prints and Photographs Division

In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Coast Guard transferred from the Department of Treasury, where it had been since the Revenue Cutter Service was founded, to the newly created Department of Transportation. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Coast Guard was again transferred by executive authority when President George W. Bush moved the military branch to the newly established Department of Homeland Security.

Other Coast Guard-related resources at the Library include the USCG Historian’s Office Collection,; the papers of Charles Frederick Shoemaker, who was chief of the Revenue Cutter Service in the early 1900s; and the diary of William Cooke Pease, service officer, written while in command of the cutter Jefferson Davis on voyage from Charleston, S.C., to San Francisco, Calif.

In addition, searching the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for “coast guard” will deliver a variety of photographs. As part of the Veterans History Project’s “Experiencing War” series, read and listen to first-person accounts of men and women who served in the USCG.