About this Collection
The papers of nineteenth-century African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), who escaped from slavery and then risked his freedom by becoming an outspoken antislavery lecturer, writer, and publisher, consist of approximately 7,400 items (38,000 images), most of which were digitized from 34 reels of previously produced microfilm. The collection spans the years 1841-1964, with the bulk of the material dating from 1862 to 1895. Many of Douglass’s earlier writings were destroyed when his house in Rochester, New York, burned in 1872.
For a fuller overview of the collection, please consult the Scope and Content Note in the collection finding aid to the Frederick Douglass Papers, which is available online (PDF and HTML) with links to the digital content on this site. Also see the essay on this site titled Provenance, Publication History, and Scope and Contents.
The collection is organized in the following series:
- Diary, 1886-1894 (Reel 1): A single diary that Douglass kept during his tour of Europe and Africa, 1886-1887, with notes made in later years.
- Family Papers, 1859-1903 (Reel 1): Diary, speeches, writings, and miscellaneous papers of Frederick Douglass's second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, but also includes a biographical sketch of Douglass’s wife of forty-four years, Anna Murray Douglass, written by their daughter, Rosetta Douglass Sprague.
- General Correspondence, 1841-1912 (Reels 1-9): General and family letters received and drafts and copies of letters sent with miscellaneous attachments. Includes letters Douglass received from prominent reformers and politicians, including Susan B. Anthony, Grover Cleveland, William Lloyd Garrison, Benjamin Harrison, Russell Lant, Gerrit Smith, and Ida B. Wells. Arranged chronologically. An index to the names in this series (PDF), created in 1974 before the original finding aid was published by the Library of Congress in 1976, is available online in PDF form.
- Subject File, 1845-1939 (Reels 9-13): Newspaper clippings, notes, prayers, plats, architectural drawings, printed and near-print material, and reports, which reveals Douglass’s interests in diverse subjects such as politics, racial prejudice, and prison reform. Arranged alphabetically by subject.
- Speech, Article, and Book File, 1846-1894 (Reels 13-27): Contains the writings of Douglass and his contemporaries in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements and includes autographed copies of editorials and opinion pieces from Douglass’ antislavery weekly, North Star, and a partial handwritten draft of Douglass’s third autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
- Speeches and Articles by Douglass, 1846-1894 (Reels 13-19): Manuscripts, typescripts, and near-print and printed copies of Douglass's speeches, articles, and related material. Arranged chronologically. Undated items organized by titled and untitled and arranged alphabetically thereunder by title or supplied title.
- Speeches, Articles, and Other Writings Attributed to Frederick or Helen Pitts Douglass, 1881-1887 (Reels 20-21): Manuscripts, typescripts, notes, photocopies, and fragments. Arranged alphabetically by topic or title when possible.
- Book File, undated (Reel 21): Fragments of various drafts of Douglass's autobiography. Arranged by page number according to Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Rev. ed. Boston: De Wolfe, Fiske. 1893.)
- Speeches and Articles by Others (Reels 21-27): Primarily printed copies. Arranged alphabetically by name of author with miscellaneous material at the end of the file.
- Financial Papers, 1847-1928 (Reels 27-30): Bank books, bills, receipts, canceled checks, contracts, insurance policies, ledger books, promissory notes, lists, stocks and bonds, and tax bills. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.
- Legal File, 1843-1900 (Reel 30): Abstracts of titles, agreements, copyrights, deeds, depositions, mortgages, suits, articles of incorporation, wills, and miscellaneous legal documents. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.
- Miscellany, 1870-1924 (Reel 31): Invitation file (includes calling cards, programs, menus, announcements, and other related material), newspaper clippings, memorabilia, maps, photographs, printed matter, and miscellany. Arranged alphabetically by type of material and chronologically therein.
- Addition I, 1851-1964 (Reels 32-34): Correspondence, speeches, account books, printed matter, and miscellaneous material. Includes scrapbooks that document Douglass’s role as minister to Haiti and the controversy surrounding his interracial second marriage. Arranged by type of material and chronologically therein.
- Addition II, 1846-1967 (Box 53; not filmed; not yet digitized): Clippings, correspondence, deeds, memorabilia, photographs, newspapers, printed matter, and speeches. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.
- Addition III, 1880-1934 (Box 53; not filmed; not yet digitized): Correspondence and programs. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.
Brief History of the Papers
The Frederick Douglass Papers were originally in the library at Cedar Hill, Douglass’s home in Anacostia, Washington, D.C., from 1878 until his death in 1895. In 1900 Helen Pitts Douglass, Douglass’s second wife, established the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association so that the home and its contents might be maintained after her death. The association held the property from 1903 until 1916, when it joined forces with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. In 1962 Congress declared Cedar Hill a national historical site, and ownership of the home and its contents was transferred to the National Park Service.
The National Park Service transferred the Frederick Douglass Papers to the Library of Congress between 1972 and 1974 to ensure their proper custodial care and to make them more readily accessible to researchers. In 1975 additional Douglass materials were acquired by the Library of Congress and added to the Frederick Douglass Papers as the Addition I Series. The papers were microfilmed and made available to the public. The online Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress has been digitally scanned from a thirty-four-reel microfilm set. Since the microfilming was performed, additional materials have been received; they are currently contained in the Addition II and Addition III series. These new materials have not been microfilmed and are not included yet in this online collection. For more history of the collection, see the essay on this site titled Provenance, Publication History, and Scope and Contents.
Frederick Douglass documented many instances of racial prejudice and violence in his papers. Therefore, some of the materials in this online historical collection contain language or negative stereotypes that may be offensive to some readers.