Smithsonian Updates “Presidency” and “First Ladies” Exhibits for Inauguration

National Museum of American History Sets 2017 Theme: “The Nation We Build Together”

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is updating its permanent exhibitions “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” and “The First Ladies” to coincide with the Jan. 20 transition from President Barack Obama to President Donald J. Trump.

In addition, the museum is focusing its 2017 exhibitions and public programming around the theme, “The Nation We Build Together.” New exhibitions centered on the ideals and ideas of America—democracy, opportunity and freedom—will open June 28 in a newly renovated 30,000-square-foot second-floor wing.

Among the changes to the “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” exhibition is the addition of Trump’s official portrait in the timeline of U.S. Presidents. Curators are also adding a brocade dress and jacket worn by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961 and designed by Oleg Cassini to the exhibit’s White House section. The History channel film Hollywood and the Presidency has been updated to include clips from shows such as Veep and House of Cards.

In “The First Ladies” exhibition, a portrait of Melania Trump has been installed in the first ladies timeline, and the center display case has been reserved for the future donation of Melania Trump’s inaugural gown. Meanwhile, the museum will feature a gown from the first First Lady, Martha Washington. The silk taffeta gown, painted with a design of flowers, butterflies and other insects, was worn by Martha Washington in the early 1780s. Michelle Obama’s Jason Wu-designed white gown from the 2009 inauguration is now displayed alongside Laura Bush’s red gown in a case displaying recent inaugural gowns, including those worn by Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush.

The current exhibition opened in 2011 and builds on a collection off first ladies gowns, White House china and other historic clothes, accessories and other objects established more than a century ago. The exhibition explores the unofficial but important position of First Lady and the ways in which different women have shaped the role to make their own contributions to presidential administrations and the nation. The exhibition features more than two dozen gowns, including those worn by Frances Cleveland, Lou Hoover and Jacqueline Kennedy. A section titled “Changing Times, Changing First Ladies” highlights the roles played by Dolley Madison, Mary Lincoln, Edith Roosevelt and Lady Bird Johnson and their contributions to their husband’s administrations.

“The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” opened in 2000 and explores the personal, public, ceremonial and executive actions of the individuals who have led the nation. 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. Highlights include Abraham Lincoln’s hat, a Washington’s farewell address lamp and the carriage Ulysses S. Grant rode to his second inauguration.

This summer, the museum’s wing devoted to “The Nation We Build Together” will feature three keystone exhibitions: “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith,” which explores the development of our democracy principles of democracy through Smithsonian treasures such as Thomas Jefferson’s portable writing desk on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence; “Many Voices, One Nation,” a look at the peopling of America; and “Religion in Early America,” which examines the themes of diversity, freedom and growth in America’s religious traditions from the colonial era through the 1840s.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy and culture. The museum is located on Constitution Ave. NW, between 12th and 14th Streets and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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Valeska Hilbig     

Rebecca Seel