Tuesday, June 14, 2011
George Washington's Library
On a recent trip to the Washington, D.C. area I took a tour of George Washington's home Mount Vernon. On the way out of the main house I was able to view the room where Washington kept his personal library of around 900 books (see postcard above). The books that are currently in the room were not owned by Washington. After his death his collection was passed on to relatives and eventually widely dispersed. A collection of 359 volumes was sold to London bookseller Henry Stevens in 1848. All but five of the Stevens purchase were passed on to the Boston Athenaeum where they remain. The story of Washington's library and its final disposition is contained in the book The Library at Mount Vernon by Frances Laverne Carroll and Mary Meacham (Beta Phi Mu, 1977). Up until 1978 the archives and papers of a president were considered to be the personal property of the president. As a result they were often dispersed and not maintained as a single collection as they are in today's presidential libraries administered by the National Archives. Fortunately many of the early collections of American presidents have been acquired by the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress owns the most comprehensive collection of George Washington's papers. A major new library is under construction at Mount Vernon which is intended to serve as "the international headquarters for knowledge about America’s most famous founding father".