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Frederick Douglass Papers: About the Collection

In 1972 the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior began transferring its Frederick Douglass Papers to the Library of Congress's Manuscript Division at the request of the Librarian of Congress. The papers had been in Frederick Douglass’s library at Cedar Hill, the estate in Anacostia, Washington, D.C., that was his home from 1878 until his death in 1895. It was hoped that placing the papers in a larger research facility would make them more accessible to scholars and researchers

Before 1972 both Cedar Hill and the Douglass Papers had been kept by two associations. Helen Pitts Douglass, Frederick Douglass's second wife, established the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association at Cedar Hill in 1900. She hoped to have the estate and its contents preserved after her death, which occurred in 1903. In 1916 that association joined with the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs; these associations helped to insure that the Cedar Hill estate and the Douglass library remained open to the public. In 1962 Congress declared Cedar Hill and the Douglass library a national historic property and transferred custody to the National Park Service.

In 1975 additional Douglass materials were acquired by the Library of Congress and added to the Frederick Douglass Papers as the Addition I Series. The papers were microfilmed and made available to the public. The online Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress has been digitally scanned from a thirty-four-reel microfilm set. Since the microfilming was performed, additional materials have been received; they are currently contained in the Addition II Series. These new materials have not been microfilmed and are not included in this online collection.

The Frederick Douglass Papers in the Manuscript Division contain approximately 7,400 items dating from 1841 to 1967, although most come from the period from 1862 to 1895. Many of Douglass's earlier writings were lost when his Rochester, New York, house was destroyed in a fire in 1872.

The archival collection is organized into the following Series:

Family Papers
General Correspondence
Subject File
Speech, Article and Book File
Financial Papers
Legal File
Addition I
Addition II (not microfilmed, not available online)
Oversize (not microfilmed, not available online)

Creating the Online Collection

The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress is an online presentation of approximately 7,400 items (38,000 images) related to all aspects ofDouglas’s life. These items are presented in nine series. The Diary Series consists of a single diary that Douglass kept of his 1886-87 tour of Europe and Africa. A highlight of the Family Papers Series is the full text biography of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass's wife of forty-four years, written by their daughter, Rosetta Douglass Sprague. The General Correspondence Series contains letters received by Douglass from prominent reformers such as Susan B. Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, Gerrit Smith, Ida B. Wells, and Russell Lant, as well as politicians such as Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. The bulk of the Subject File reveals Douglass's interest in diverse subjects such as politics, emancipation, racial prejudice, women's suffrage, and prison reform. The Speech, Article, and Book Series includes not only autographed copies of editorials and opinion pieces from Douglass’ anti-slavery weekly, North Star, but also pieces by many of his contemporaries in the abolitionist and early women's rights movement, including speeches and articles by Henry Ward Beecher, Ida B. Wells, Gerrit Smith, Horace Greeley, and others. There is also a partial handwritten draft of Douglass's third autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. The Financial Papers and Legal Files Series holds filed receipts, checks, bankbooks, wills, mortgages, deeds, etc., that document the daily business of a nineteenth-century life. The Miscellany Series includes newspaper clippings and photographs. The Addition Series contains the complete Addition I Series, made up mostly of items, such as printed speeches, programs, and invitations, dating from the 1850s to the 1890s but also including some materials from the twentieth century.Furthermore, there are scrapbooks of newspaper clippings documenting Douglass's role as minister to Haiti and the controversy surrounding his second marriage to Helen Pitts.

Frederick Douglass documented many instances of racial prejudice and violence in his papers. Therefore, some of the materials in this online historical collection contain language or negative stereotypes that may be offensive to some readers.

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