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Collection Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States, 1926

About this Collection

Digitization of this collection was made possible by the Polish Library in Washington, D.C.

The Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States are a collection of 111 volumes of signatures and greetings presented in 1926 to President Calvin Coolidge to commemorate the 150th anniversary of U.S. independence and to acknowledge American participation and aid to Poland during World War I. Richly illustrated with original works by prominent Polish graphic artists, the volumes were assembled over an eight-month period with submissions from nearly one-sixth of the population of Poland as it then existed, including the signatures of national, provincial, and local government officials, representatives of religious, social, business, academic, and military institutions, and approximately 5.5 million school children.

The collected signatures are bound in 109 volumes and in one portfolio of unbound sheets. The last volume is a bound guide to the collection. The volumes were compiled under the auspices of the American-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Poland and the Polish-American Society. At President Coolidge’s behest, this unique gift was transferred to the Library of Congress.

Poland in 1926 was a much more ethnically diverse country than it would become after World War II, as the many Jewish, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Lithuanian, Russian, and German names on the signature sheets testify. Approximately one-quarter of the institutions represented in this collection were located in eastern borderlands that Poland subsequently lost to the Soviet Union after World War II. Further, much of postwar western Poland was not included in the collection because, at that time, those areas were part of Germany. Of the more than 5.5 million signatures collected, many came from villages so small that they are not even listed in Filip Sulimierski’s exhaustive 15-volume Slownik geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego i innych krajow slowianskich [Geographic Dictionary of the Polish Kingdom and Other Slavic Lands].

Essentially a census of school-age children in 1926 Poland, volumes 7-110 of the Polish Declarations constitute a rich genealogical resource. Researchers will discover that certain districts and regions—such as Upper Silesia—are more comprehensively represented than others—most notably, secondary schools in Krakow (Cracow) and elementary schools in Lwow (Lviv).

In addition to artwork by prominent Polish artists, the volumes are adorned with official seals, coats of arms, calligraphy, photographs, and decorative bindings. Many of the sheets are decorated with works of art by students or faculty. Often the signatures are arranged in clever designs, and a brief poem or congratulatory message frequently appears at the top of the sheet. Group photographs of students and faculty accompany about 1 percent of the more than 21,000 elementary and secondary school rosters. The majority of these remarkably clear photographs were collected in the formerly Prussian-ruled areas of the country.

The richly illustrated Volume 1 contains the signatures of central government officials including President Ignacy Moscicki; Jozef Pilsudski (who, although holding the title of minister of military affairs, exercised actual executive authority and, notably, signed the sheet without indicating his position); members of the Senate and Sejm, the Council of Ministers, the General Staff, and the Supreme Court; religious dignitaries, including the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Aleksander Kakowski; and officers and rank-and-file members of a wide range of national professional associations, institutes, and social organizations based in the capital city, Warsaw. Many of the signed sheets have finely drawn illustrations of buildings, coats of arms, historical monuments, rural and city scenes, and portraits of famous historical figures. The signatures are often accompanied by official seals.

Volume 2 presents the signatures of dignitaries on the provincial, district, and local levels. Preceding each provincial section are poster-size original works by prominent artists, including Zofia Stryjenska, Wladyslaw Skoczylas, Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Stanislaw Czajkowski, Wladyslaw Jarocki, and Ludomir Slendzinski. The final quarter of this volume is devoted to institutions of higher learning and includes signatures of administrators, faculty, and students.

Volumes 3 through 5 have signatures from three separate institutions of higher learning. The signatures of faculty and students at Jagiellonian University in Cracow take up the entirety of Volume 3, a 16-page folio bound in blue leather with the university wax seal in a brass container attached. Similarly, Volume 4 presents signatures from faculty and students of the Mining Academy of Cracow and consists of 14 pages bound in brown leather. Volume 5 is a 10-page folio bound in gray leather with signatures from the professors and assistants of the State Dental Institute in Warsaw.

Volume 6 is the only part of the collection that represents the Polish émigré community. It was signed by an interesting cross-section of the Polish population of Austria, including members of the Austrian-Polish Chamber of Commerce in Vienna, the “Hearth ” Academic Association in Vienna, the Union of Polish Legionnaires, Polish church congregations, and random individuals who came to the Polish Embassy in Vienna to inscribe their names.

Volumes 7 through 13 contain the signatures of the students and faculty of 1,170 mostly secondary schools. Although it may have been intended to present only secondary schools in this subset of the 111-volume collection, many elementary schools also are included. The signature sheets for these volumes were bound in random order.

Volumes 14 through 110 contain signature sheets from some 20,000 elementary schools representing 235 school districts. Entries are organized alphabetically by administrative district (powiat) through Volume 93, but Volumes 94-109 are in random sequence. Volume 110 is a portfolio of unbound sheets of various sizes, including standard forms for elementary school signatures, broadsides with signatures and stamps of local and regional officials, posters with elaborate ornamentation, and photographs of school buildings and classes. Volume 111, in handsome calligraphy, is a general description of the gift.

An index to Volumes 14-110, prepared previously by staff in the Library of Congress European Division, served as the source for geographic place names associated with the digital files.  Stored in a captions.txt file, the names of cities, towns, or villages in which elementary schools were located may be searched.  Also searchable are the names of the administrative districts (powiaty).

In December 2015, the Polish Library in Washington partnered with the Library of Congress to digitize Volumes 14 to 111.  Samuel Ponczak and Grazyna Zebrowska managed the Polish Library’s side of the project and were the principal liaisons to Library of Congress staff.  The Polish Library in Washington and its supporters and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MSZ) of the Republic of Poland provided essential financial support for digitization.