The 156 portraits of presidents and first ladies selected by the Prints and Photographs Division in Chronological List of Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents of the United States - Selected Images From the Collections of the Library of Congress include both formal and informal pictures. Popular subjects, such as images of inaugurations and the White House, are included, as are perennial favorites such as Abraham Lincoln with Sojourner Truth, Calvin Coolidge at a baseball game, and Dwight D. Eisenhower with American paratroopers in England.
These online presentations provide context and additional information about this collection.
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.
- The American Revolution, 1763-1783
- The New Nation, 1780-1815
- Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
- The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
- Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
- The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
- Postwar United States, 1945-early 1970s
- Contemporary United States, 1968-present
Related Collections and Exhibits
- American Leaders Speak, 1918-1920
- American Treasures of the Library of Congress
- A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, 1774-1873
- Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
- Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789
- Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents
- Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920
- The George Washington Papers, 1741-1799
- The Gettysburg Address
- Last Days of a President: McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901
- Revelations from the Russian Archives
- The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures
- Temple of Liberty: Building the Capitol for a New Nation
- Words and Deeds in American History
Recommended additional sources of information.
Specific guidance for searching this collection.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
This collection of 157 images includes portraits of all 41 presidents of the United States. It also includes portraits of 37 of the first ladies. There are both formal portraits and popular images of the presidents either performing duties or in less formal settings.
The collection provides a glimpse of the election procedure for the office of president. Most of the images are official portraits taken after presidential inaugurations. However, there are images of Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, and William Henry Harrison while they were still candidates for office. (Fillmore had served as president earlier and was running again.)
Search on Fillmore, Buchanan and Harrison to see candidates' pictures and this campaign poster. The bibliographic notes give this description:
A large woodcut proof for a campaign banner or poster for the Native American party's 1856 presidential candidate. A bust portrait of Millard Fillmore appears in a roundel, flanked by allegorical figures of Justice (left) and Liberty (right). Both figures wear classical gowns and tiaras. Justice holds a large sword and scales, Liberty a staff and Phrygian cap and the Constitution. Atop the roundel perches an eagle, with American flags on either side. Below are a document "The Union" (left) and bundled fasces (right).
Search on James Buchanan for this campaign poster. The bibliographic description of it is as follows:
Proof for a large woodcut campaign poster or banner for Democratic presidential nominee James Buchanan. A bust-length portrait of Buchanan (apparently taken from Mathew Brady's 1854 daguerreotype portrait) is flanked by American flags and laurel branches.
Students can study more about elections by reviewing the Feature Presentation: Elections in American Memory.
There are representations of inaugurations in the collection. Two of the inaugurations pictured (of Andrew Jackson in 1829 and of William McKinley in 1897) are in the capitol city of Washington, D.C. There is also a portrait of Woodrow Wilson and his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, riding to the inauguration.
Search on Arthur, Jackson, McKinley, and Wilson for images of inaugurations. Students will find this illustration of Vice President Chester Arthur being given the oath of office in New York after the assassination of James Garfield.
Students can learn more about inaugurations by studying the Feature Presentation: Inaugurations in American Memory.
a) Sadly, four United States presidents have been assassinated -- Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James A. Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901, and John F. Kennedy in 1963. There are images relating to the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley in the collection. Students might use these images as springboards to find out the circumstances of each assassination including; the location of the tragic event, presumed causes, effects of the assassination, and presidential successors.
Search on assassination for images dealing with assassinations. Students will find this quote from a reward poster distributed after the murder of President Abraham Lincoln:
LIBERAL REWARD will be paid for any information that shall conduce to the arrest of either of the above-named criminals or their accomplices. All persons harboring or secreting the said persons, or either of them, or aiding or assisting their concealment or escape will be treated as accomplices in the murder of the President and the attempted assassination of the Secretary of State, and shall be subject to trial before a Military Commission and the punishment of DEATH. Let the stain of innocent blood be removed from the land by the arrest and punishment of the murderers. All good citizens are exhorted to aid public justice on this occasion. Every man should consider his own conscience charged with this solemn duty, and rest neither night nor day until it be accomplished. EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
b) By viewing the following image, students will find that President William McKinley was assassinated at the 1901 Pan American Exposition (held in Buffalo, New York). With further research, they will discover that the day before McKinley was shot, he delivered an important speech modifying his high-tariff policy.
At a reception the next day, the assassin pretended to extend his hand in congratulations, but instead shot the president twice. Discuss the precautions that are designed to prevent assassinations today.
4) National and International Events
The collection shows a number of national and international events, such as battles, that contributed to the appeal of certain presidential candidates.
Search on Taylor for this painting of General Zachary Taylor in the Battle of Buena Vista, Mexico, during the Mexican War. Taylor's victories contributed greatly to his later success as a presidential candidate.
Search on Harrison for this 1840 campaign banner showing General William Henry Harrison. In 1811, Harrison was general of troops at a battle near the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers (in what is now Indiana) during the Indian Wars. Harrison's victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe helped him win the presidency in 1840 when he and John Tyler ran with the campaign slogan of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too."
5) Declarations and Proclamations
The collection shows several declarations and proclamations that mark key events in our nation's history, such as declaring independence, proclaiming freedom for slaves, and declaring war.
Search on Declaration of Independence for this engraving depicting the group who created and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Search on declaration of war to see this photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan in 1941, which marked the United States' entry into World War II.
1) Chronological Thinking
a) By using the Special Presentation: Time Line of Presidents and First Ladies, students can review a list of all the presidents and their terms in office. They will also be able to view a listing of all the first ladies. (The time line notes which first ladies are pictured in the collection.)
Students might choose images from the collection to illustrate a time line of presidents and first ladies from a particular period. Students can use other sources to identify historic and personal events during presidential terms.
Students will find, for example, that Woodrow Wilson was married twice. After his first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, died, he married Edith Bolling Galt. Search on Edith Wilson for this portrait of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.
b) Students can develop a visual sense of changes through time by paying particular attention to clothing and transportation pictured in this collection. Students might compare the enlarged image of the crowd (or "all Creation," as the caption says) going to Andrew Jackson's first inauguration with the image of President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson in a convertible going to Wilson's second inauguration.
Search on inauguration to find this image of the crowd attending Andrew Jackson's second inauguration in 1833.
Search on Woodrow Wilson to view the attire of President and Mrs. Wilson going to Wilson's second inauguration in 1917.
2) Historical Comprehension
a) There are images of presidential inaugurations in the collection. Most inaugurations take place in Washington, DC, on very festive occasions. A few have taken place in much sadder situations upon the death of a president. In the Feature Presentation: Inaugurations in American Memory, students will find supporting information about inaugurations as documented throughout American Memory collections. Students can use this collection, the feature presentation, and other sources to report on inaugurations. Students might research the text of the oath of office and how it is administered to the president.
b) Students can study moments and people our country considers important by viewing images of presidents signing important documents and participating in events commemorated by the nation.
Search on anniversary, battles, campaigns, centennial celebrations, international relations, and political posters for images of important events. For example, this image shows President Herbert Hoover commemorating the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth.
Search on Emancipation Proclamation to see an image of the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
3) Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Using this collection, students can study the intended message in several of the images. Ask students to imagine that they are public relations agents for the president in each portrait below and answer these questions. What message is conveyed by the picture? Was the message deliberate? Does the message reflect well on those pictured?
4) Historical Research Capabilities
There are many possibilities for research in this collection, since it encompasses the history of the United States from the first president through the present. Students might choose a president, research significant events during his administration, then report on how much influence the president had on the events. Some interesting possibilities would include the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, or wars during presidential terms. Another topic might be the role of first ladies, particularly Dolley Madison, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Search on Andrew Johnson for this sketch of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.
Search on Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt for this portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt.
5) Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making
a) Some men became president in part because war made them popular candidates. Students might use the collection as a springboard for research on the role of war in the election of Presidents. Students can consider how election of the following presidents was affected by war:
George Washington: Revolutionary War, 1775-1783
William Henry Harrison: War of 1812, 1812-1815
Zachary Taylor: Mexican War, 1846-1848
Ulysses S. Grant: Civil War, 1861-1865
Theodore Roosevelt: Spanish-American War, 1898
Dwight D. Eisenhower: World War II, 1941-1945
Search on George Washington and other presidents by name to see war-related images such as this painting of General Washington at prayer at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.
b) Other presidents are well-remembered because they served during the crisis of a war. Students might find out how the Civil War assured a place in history for Abraham Lincoln and how World War II assured a place for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
c) The Great Depression (beginning with the stock market crash in 1929 and ending in 1942) was a crisis that marked Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt. Hoover was remembered because he was president when the depression began, and Roosevelt because he was president during the battle against it. Students might analyze whether the men themselves had major responsibility for either beginning or ending the depression.
Search on Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt for these portraits.
1) News Writing: Society Page Report
Grover Cleveland was the only president to be married in the White House. Ask students to find out about this event and to write a newspaper account from the point of view of a society news reporter of the time.
Search on Cleveland for this image of the wedding of President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom.
2) Journal: A Child's View of the White House
Suggest that students find out about one of the children who lived in the White House and write a journal account from the child's point of view. They might choose Thomas "Tad" Lincoln, one of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt's children, or Amy Carter.
Search on Thomas Lincoln for this photograph of the young Thomas with his father, President Abraham Lincoln.
3) Dramatic Dialogue
Have students choose one of the images showing a president with another person and write a conversation the two might be having. They might use images of Abraham Lincoln with Sojourner Truth, the assassin approaching President McKinley, or Woodrow Wilson and Edith Galt Wilson on their way to his second inauguration.
4) Interview: A First Lady's View
Invite pairs of students to pick one of the first ladies to research. Remind students to find details in their research that give a clear picture of the period. If they choose a first lady from earlier U.S. history, students might read some literature of the time to learn about the role of women in politics of the day. Students might investigate visitors to the White House, names of first family children and pets, and political or social causes adopted by the first lady. Have students write and role play interview questions and answers with the first lady. One student can be the First Lady and another can interview her.
Search on Martha Washington and Hillary Rodham Clinton for these portraits.
5) Literary Theme: Leadership
The collection lends itself to the literary theme of leadership. Students might consider this quote from the play Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare:
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."
Ask students to consider which presidents exemplify each part of this statement.