Letters, diaries and other documents—from both the recent and the distant past—speak of a nation's hopes, disappointments and accomplishments. They transport the reader to a time and place that is both different from today yet all-too-familiar. Although interesting as artifacts, the real value of the manuscripts is in the evidence they provide—they are the proof of history.
The stars of the Manuscript Division’s collections are the papers of 23 presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison and George Washington.
In addition, the division holds the papers of several other prominent government officials, including approximately half of the nation’s secretaries of state. Other political collections include the papers of the National Woman’s Party and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to name a few.
Don’t think, though, that the division’s holdings are purely civic. The beauty of the Library’s mission to collect and preserve knowledge is that includes a wealth of knowledge in a variety of categories, including cultural and scientific. Major collections exist for such writers as Zora Neal Hurston, Walt Whitman Edna St. Vincent Millay and former Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish. Scientists and inventors are represented by such figures as Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers and Alexander Graham Bell. Theater and motion picture figures such as Groucho Marx, Lillian Gish, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn have their papers here. Artists and architects such as Samuel F. B. Morse and Frederick Law Olmsted are also represented in the collections.