National Museum of American History Presidency and Inauguration-Related Exhibitions

December 31, 2008
The First Ladies at the Smithsonian
Second Floor, West Wing

“The First Ladies at the Smithsonian” will showcase premier objects from the nearly century-old collection, including 14 dresses ranging from Martha Washington to Laura Bush. An introductory section explores the evolution of the collection and how it has been displayed at the Smithsonian. The centerpiece of the gallery is a large exhibit case that will feature selected gowns, portraits, White House china, personal possessions and associative objects from the Smithsonian’s unique collection of first ladies material. The display is designed to encourage visitors to think about how museums interpret individuals and document their lives through objects. A section discussing the tradition of the first lady’s inaugural gown coming to the Smithsonian will answer some of the public’s most frequently asked questions. It highlights the gown worn by Helen Taft (the first inaugural gown presented by the first lady herself in 1912) and the 2001 inaugural gown worn by Laura Bush. The final section focuses on the contributions of America’s first ladies and the ways in which they have influenced the most powerful office in the country—through their shaping of the first ladies role, the country’s expectations of public women and the needs of the presidential administration. This exhibition was conceived as a bridge to the museum’s plans for an expanded exhibition on first ladies history set to open in a few years.

The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden
Third Floor, Center

This exhibition explores the personal, public, ceremonial and executive actions of the 43 men who have had a huge impact on the course of history in the past 200 years. More than 900 objects, including national treasures from the Smithsonian’s vast presidential collections, bring to life the role of the presidency in American culture. The visitor discovers the nation’s highest office through multiple sections, a timeline and media presentations.

Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life
Third Floor, Center
Jan. 16, 2009 – January 2011

As part of the Smithsonian-wide celebration of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the museum will bring together—for the first time—its unique and unparalleled Lincoln collection. Through a focused selection of nationally important Lincoln artifacts, visitors will explore the life and times of this extraordinary figure. Each highlighted object will be augmented with personal stories told by Lincoln and the people who knew him best. The exhibition will showcase more than 60 historical treasures associated with Lincoln’s life from an iron wedge he used to split wood in the early 1830s in New Salem, Ill., to his iconic top hat he wore the night he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. The exhibition will tell a new and very intimate story of the life and legacy of this remarkable individual.

America’s New Birth of Freedom: Documents from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Albert Small Documents Gallery
Second Floor, East Wing
Jan. 16, 2009 – March 22, 2009

The museum, as part of its Abraham Lincoln commemoration, is hosting an exhibition of 10 rare and important documents from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. The display will include a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and letters expressing Lincoln’s views toward emancipation and the conclusion of the Civil War. These documents have become the cornerstone of current thinking on Lincoln and his legacy. Included in the exhibition are Lincoln’s letter to long-time friend James C. Conkling in which he makes his forceful defense of the Emancipation Proclamation and his letter to Francis Blair, Lincoln’s unofficial conduit to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, on his unwavering demands for peace.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum shines new light on American history after having been dramatically transformed by a two-year renovation. To learn more about the museum and its renovation, check where visitors can sign up for an electronic newsletter. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).