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About This Exhibit

The year 2008 marked the 150th anniversary of John Milton Hay’s graduation from Brown University, and a celebration of Brown’s most renowned alumnus seemed particularly fitting for the library named in his honor. In addition, 2008 denoted the commencement of a two-year national celebration of Abraham Lincoln and his presidency on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Creating an exhibit that wove these two significant themes together seemed natural for the Hay Library, which is renowned for its extensive collection of materials on Abraham Lincoln, including many items retained for posterity by John Hay and contributed to the Library’s collections, along with Hay’s own personal papers, after his death.

The exhibit brings new attention to John Hay’s life as a student before, as well as at, Brown, and to his post-Brown career in the White House and beyond. This well-known portion of Hay’s life has received close attention from Lincoln scholars over the years because of Hay’s first hand observations of Lincoln. However, it has received little scrutiny for what it reveals about John Hay and his evolution as a writer, as a public servant, and as a man. Our intention was to redress this imbalance. Hay’s close encounter with Lincoln proved to be the critical factor in the development of his career in public life, as it did for his friend John George Nicolay. Hay and Nicolay together attempted to return the favor by making Abraham Lincoln: A History the definitive work on Lincoln’s career. We hope that the exhibition reflects a little of the respect, affection and political passion that infused the relationships Lincoln had with these two young men, and brings the viewer to an understanding of the deep commitment on the part of Hay and Nicolay to a project that took more than 10 years of work and 10 bound volumes to bring to completion.

The items shown in this exhibit were drawn from a number of collections within the John Hay Library, including not only the papers and personal library of John Hay, but also the McLellan Lincoln Collection, the Brown University Archives, the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays and the Hay Library’s general collection of rare books (informally known as the Starred Books collection). Many of the items displayed were donated to the Hay Library by John Hay’s descendants. The bulk of Hay’s papers came to the Library in 1906, the year following his death, as the gift of his widow, Clara Stone Hay. Hay’s White House diaries, however, were the later gift of Hay’s daughter, Alice Hay Wadsworth, in 1954. A significant number of Hay’s books and manuscripts were given to the Hay Library in the 1950s by W. Easton Louttit, Jr., an important collector of John Hay books and manuscripts and for many years a member of the staff at the Brown University Library. A number of the Lincoln prints included in the display came to the Hay Library in 2006 as part of a bequest of Lincoln materials from Maury A. Bromsen.

The exhibition was curated jointly by Holly Snyder, North American History Librarian at the John Hay Library, and Ann K. Johnson, M.A., then a degree candidate in the Public Humanities Program at Brown University.


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