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Collection Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress

About this Collection

The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress presents the papers of the nineteenth-century African American abolitionist who escaped from slavery and then risked his freedom by becoming an outspoken antislavery lecturer, writer, and publisher. The online collection, containing approximately 7,400 items (38,000 images), spans the years 1841-1964, with the bulk of the material dating from 1862 to 1865.  Many of Douglass’s earlier writings were destroyed when his house in Rochester, New York, burned in 1872. 

 The collection is organized in the following series:

  • Diary. A single diary that Douglass kept during his tour of Europe and Africa, 1886-87.
  • Family Papers. A highlight is the biography of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s wife of forty-four years, written by their daughter, Rosetta Douglass Sprague.
  • General Correspondence.  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.
  • Subject File.  Reveals Douglass’s interests in diverse subjects such as politics, racial prejudice, and prison reform. 
  • Speech, Article and Book File.  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.
  • Financial Papers.  Includes bank books, receipts, checks, ledgers, contracts, stocks and bonds, and insurance policies.
  • Legal File.  Holds wills, deeds, mortgages, copyrights, lawsuits, and miscellaneous legal documents.
  • Miscellany.  Includes newspaper clippings and photographs.
  • Addition I.  Includes scrapbooks that document Douglass’s role as minister to Haiti and the controversy surrounding his interracial second marriage.

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 in1895. 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 Series.  These new materials have not been microfilmed and are not included yet in this online collection.

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.