Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies: About the Collection

Prints and Photographs Division staff selected this set of 156 portraits of presidents and first ladies from those items in the division's file of popular demand images for which no copyright restrictions are known. In addition to posing for formal portraits, several of the forty-one presidents also appear in military settings or informal surroundings. Popular subjects, such as images of inaugurations and the White House, are included, as are such perennial favorites as Abraham Lincoln with Sojourner Truth, Calvin Coolidge at a baseball game, Warren G. Harding with his lively dog Laddie, and Dwight D. Eisenhower with American paratroopers in England.

The first ladies' portraits depict thirty-six wives of thirty-five presidents. The women's portraits often focus on their faces and are details from larger prints and photographs. One elaborate scene depicts the wedding of Frances Folsom and Grover Cleveland. All twentieth-century wives are included, but some of the early nineteenth-century first ladies are not represented because few of their portraits exist. The division does not have an original print or photograph of Abigail Powers Fillmore, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, Julia Gardiner Tyler, or Letitia Christian Tyler. No authentic portrait is known of Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor. James Buchanan never married. The list of first ladies in the special presentation time line comes from the book titled The First Ladies, by Margaret B. Klapthor (Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association, 1994)

This illustrated reference aid shows both the patriotic and commercial roles of presidential portraiture through a broad range of pictorial styles and creators. Formal studio prints and news agency photographs predominate. The artists and publishers include nineteenth-century masters of portraiture, among them engraver John Sartain and photographer Mathew Brady; the well- known lithography firm of N. Currier; official White House staff photographers; and twentieth- century news gathering organizations such as the National Photo Company, Harris & Ewing, and Underwood & Underwood.

All portraits are reproduced in black-and-white and were digitized from large-format copy negatives. Original pictorial formats and media vary widely and include small engraved illustrations, prints based on paintings and daguerreotypes, large woodcut campaign banners, elegants mezzotints, and color lithographs. Original photographs range from vintage cabinet cards and stereographs to modern gelatin silver and color prints.

The Prints and Photographs Division has offered printed illustrated reference aids for at least twenty-five years. The newer online versions contain expanded image sets and provide introductory samplers for the thousands of additional pictures in the Prints and Photographs Division. A few additional sources of presidential images are already available online. For example, the Selected Civil War Photographs site contains several portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and the Theodor Horydczak Photographs include many images of the White House and presidential memorials. The Library's other online resources about presidents are summarized under Related Holdings. Other pictorial sources can be seen by consulting the heavily illustrated books listed in the Selected Bibliography .

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