Presidential Photographs

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

Did you know that the Massachusetts Historical Society’s collection contains something from almost every president of the United States—a signature, letter, photograph, lock of hair, or other form of memorabilia? I did not know that before I started working at the MHS, but I find it fascinating and often look through the collection guide of Presidential Letters. I especially love the photographs of the presidents.

Starting with two of my personal favorites, and the oldest one in the MHS collection, this photograph of John Quincy Adams was printed after 1860, but the original photograph, a daguerreotype, was taken in 1847, when JQA was 80 years old. My second favorite photograph is also the second oldest in the collection. It’s of Abraham Lincoln, whose photograph is represented in the collection several times, but this one is the most iconic.

Color photograph of two photographs side by side. Both are of older white men. On the left, the man has white hair, bald on top, and he wears a black suit jacket, black cravat, and white shirt. On the right the man has salt and pepper hair, and he wears a black suit jacket, black bow tie, and white high-collared shirt. Both men are looking at the viewer.
Left: Carte de visite of daguerreotype by Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, after 1860. Right: Photomechanical after photograph by Alexander Gardner, Washington DC, 8 November 1863.

The next two photographs interest me because they were taken outdoors. On the left is Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia, with Orville E. Babcock, Grant’s secretary, and Babcock’s wife Annie, Miss Cambell, her sister, and Miss Barnes all on Martha’s Vineyard. On the right is Theodore Roosevelt taking a jump on his horse.

Color photograph of two black and white photographs side by side. On the left are 6 figures, 2 white men and 4 white women, standing in front of a building, some on a porch. The women are in black 19th century dresses and hats with styled hair, and several are wearing necklaces. The men are in dark suits and vests with white shirts. There is a large railing between some of the figures, some in front, some behind. On the right is a middle-aged man on horseback while his horse jumps over a crude wooden fence. He is dressed in leather boots, light colored pants, dark jacket, and a white shirt with a tie. He wears a hat and glasses. His face is serene despite the action he is taking, and he looks at the viewer. The horse is dark and behind the man and horse are some trees in the background far away.
Left: Photograph, stereograph by R. G. Shute. Right: Photograph, May 1902.

The last two photographs are more about family and our Massachusetts senator Leverett Saltonstall (1892–1979). On the left are Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy, shaking hands with Leverett Saltonstall just off camera, and on the right is Dwight Eisenhower and his family—David, Barbara Ann, Susan, and Mamie—with Leverett Saltonstall.

Left: Black and white photograph by Charles McCormick/Boston Globe. Right: Black and white photograph, March 1954.