Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore, thirteenth president of the United States, was born in Locke (now Summerhill), New York, on January 7, 1800. The second of nine children, Fillmore was raised in extreme poverty and spent most of his childhood working on the family farm. As a teenager, Fillmore’s father apprenticed him to a local cloth maker and then to a textile mill.

[Millard Fillmore, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing left]. Mathew B. Brady, photographer, [between 1850 and 1874]. Prints & Photographs Division

Despite receiving little formal education, Fillmore was ambitious and self-motivated, teaching himself to read in his spare time. When he was nineteen, Fillmore briefly attended a nearby school in New Hope where he was taught by his future wife, Abigail Power, who was only two years his senior. They eventually married in 1826 and had two children. After a brief stint teaching school, Fillmore clerked for a local judge and then opened a law practice in East Aurora, a small town near Buffalo. Fillmore’s political career began in 1828 when he was elected to the New York State Assembly as a member of the Anti-Masonic Party, the first of three one-year terms.

Fillmore then moved his family to Buffalo, where, in 1832, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He declined to run again in 1834, but subsequently was reelected to the House in 1836 as a member of the Whig Party, serving until 1843. Like most members of Congress at the time, Fillmore lived in a boardinghouse near the U.S. Capitol when Congress was in session. During his second term, Fillmore and his wife resided in Mrs. Pittman’s boardinghouse, leaving their children behind in Buffalo with relatives. Also living in the same boardinghouse was future president James Buchanan.

Illustrated letter, Amasa J. Parker to Harriet Parker describing the boardinghouse where he and two future presidents resided, 31 December 1837. Amasa J. Parker Papers. Manuscript Division

After an unsuccessful bid for New York governor in 1844, Fillmore helped found the University of Buffalo and served as its first chancellor, a position he would hold until 1874. He then went on to be elected the Comptroller of the State of New York.

In 1848, General Zachary Taylor, a hero of the Mexican War, was selected as the Whig Party’s presidential nominee. The nomination of Taylor, a slave owner from Louisiana, angered antislavery Whigs and threatened to split the party. In an effort to balance the ticket, the party searched for a vice-presidential nominee who would appeal to northern Whigs. When Daniel Webster refused the offer, Fillmore was selected as Taylor’s running mate.

Grand national Whig banner: press onward. New York: Published by N. Currier, c1848. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

The critical issue of the day was the expansion of slavery into the new territories acquired in the Mexican War. Attempting to seek a compromise between North and South, Senator Henry Clay introduced a series of resolutions in early 1850. The legislation languished in Congress until the death of President Zachary Taylor on July 9, 1850, just sixteen months into his administration. After Fillmore was sworn in as president, he replaced Taylor’s cabinet with moderate Whigs, including Daniel Webster as Secretary of State. Fillmore offered his support for the compromise legislation, which eventually passed in September 1850. The Compromise of 1850 consisted of five laws that dealt with the issue of slavery and territorial expansion, including the controversial Fugitive Slave Act, a law met with vehement opposition by abolitionists in the North.

As president, Fillmore also authorized an expedition led by Commodore Matthew Perry to open diplomatic and trade relations with Japan, which eventually led to the Treaty of Kanagawa.

The American expedition, under Commodore Perry, landing in Japan, July 14, 1853… [New York]: [George S. Appleton], [1853]. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1852, Fillmore was denied the Whig Party presidential nomination, primarily over his support and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. After leaving the presidency, he suffered twin tragedies with the death of his wife in 1853, and then his daughter, Mary, the following year.

Fillmore went on to lose the 1856 presidential election as the nominee of the American Party, or Know-Nothing Party, a nativist movement that was anti-immigration and anti-Catholic. With his political career over, Fillmore married Caroline McIntosh in 1858 and returned to Buffalo where he served in a variety of positions, including president of the Buffalo Historical Society. Fillmore died in 1874 and is interred in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

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  • The Millard Fillmore Papers contain approximately thirty-five items spanning the years 1839-1925, with the bulk dating from 1839 to 1870. The collection includes correspondence relating primarily to political issues such as slavery, Compromise of 1850, Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act, John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and congressional politics.
  • Millard Fillmore: A Resource Guide compiles links to digital materials related to Fillmore such as manuscripts, broadsides, government documents, newspaper articles, and images that are available throughout the Library of Congress website. In addition, it provides links to external websites focusing on Fillmore and a bibliography containing selected works for both general and younger readers.
  • Fillmore’s personal map collection was purchased by the Library of Congress’s Geography & Map Division in 1916. The collection consists of over 200 maps, many of which have been digitized and are available on the Library’s website.

Marian Anderson

Famed contralto Marian Anderson made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955, as Ulrica in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. She was the first African American to perform with the company.

Anderson was born in Philadelphia on February 27, 1897 and began her musical training at the age of six with the Union Baptist Church choir. Rejected by a local music school because of her race, Anderson had private voice lessons funded by her family, church, and friends. She toured the United States extensively, appearing in concerts and recitals, and, in 1925, won first prize in the New York PhilharmonicExternal voice contest. The contest yielded a number of performance dates, but it was not until she traveled to Europe that she gained major recognition.

Portrait of Marian Anderson…. Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Jan. 14, 1940. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Anderson encountered racial prejudice throughout her career, but the most famous incident of discrimination took place in 1939 when she was barred by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) from performing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Several years earlier, the DAR responded to protests over mixed seating during performances of black artists by instituting a policy banning African-American artists from performing at the hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the most prominent member to resign from the organization in protest. At the invitation of the federal government, Anderson performed before an audience of approximately 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939.

Portrait of Marian Anderson. Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Jan. 14, 1940. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

The action of the DAR reflected the racial prejudices prevalent in the period. Prior to the abolition of legalized segregation in the 1950s, African Americans were simply barred from attending cultural events in many parts of the country. In January 1939, a writer employed by the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project mentioned Anderson to Katy Brumby, an African-American woman she was interviewing in Birmingham, Alabama. “We were listening, one day, to Marian Anderson…singing over the radio,” the writer reported in “The Story of Katy Brumby”, an American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 interview. “After the rich…voice had stopped, I said I’d heard she was coming to Birmingham for a concert in the Spring.” “I don’t guess they’ll let us hear it,” Brumby replied.

Marian Anderson retired from singing in 1965 after an extended farewell tour. Among the honors and rewards she received for her incomparable voice and efforts towards breaking the color barrier for African-American performers was the U.S. National Arts Medal, awarded to her in 1986. Anderson died in 1993 at the age of ninety-six.

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Zora Neale Hurston

Novelist, folklorist, dramatist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston wrote in her memoir, Dust Tracks on a Road, that she was born on January 7, 1891, in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black town in the United States. She may have taken creative license with this fact as more recent scholarship indicates she was born in Notasulga, Alabama and probably on January 15th. Hurston did move to Eatonville when she was a toddler and the dialects, customs, and folklore of the people of Eatonville and of rural Florida informed Hurston’s work throughout her career.

[Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston]. Carl Van Vechten, photographer; Apr. 3, 1938. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people; it was important to all the world that she should find them and they find her.

Their Eyes Were Watching God: a novel, by Zora Neale Hurston. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., c1937. chapter 9.

Picking Beans in the “Muck.” Belle Glade, Florida. Arthur Rothstein, photographer. Jan., 1937. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

“We goin’ on de muck.”
“Whut’s de muck, and where is it at?”
“Oh down in de Everglades round Clewiston and Belle Glade where dey raise all dat cane and string-beans and tomatuhs. Folks don’t do nothin’ down dere but make money and fun and foolishness. We must go dere.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God: a novel, by Zora Neale Hurston. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., c1937. chapter 13.

Hurston studied at Morgan Academy, the preparatory school of Morgan College, then at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She won a scholarship to Barnard College where she studied anthropology with Franz Boas and earned her bachelor of arts degree while participating in the flourishing Harlem Renaissance. She collected folklore and made recordings in Florida and other areas of the South in the late 1920s. During the Depression, she helped Alan Lomax, the son of pioneer folksong collector John Avery Lomax, document the folk music of Georgia, Florida, and the Bahamas. Later, she worked with the Federal Writer’s Project interviewing Floridians about their lives and culture and recording and collecting the diverse folk songs of her native state—a project she described as “an opportunity to observe the wombs of folk culture still heavy with life.”

People of Eatonville, Florida, photographed during the 1935 Lomax, Hurston, Barnicle expedition. Lomax Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

[Man seated, facing right, holding hat, Eatonville, Fla., …] Prints & Photographs Division
[African American child singer for singing games, Eatonville, Florida]. Prints & Photographs Division
[Rev. Haynes, half-length portrait, Eatonville, Florida]. Prints & Photographs Division
[Woman seated in rocking chair, Eatonville, Fla., facing forward, …] Prints & Photographs Division

Her ethnographic work also took her beyond the United States. She traveled the Caribbean— to Haiti and Jamaica to study folklore and customs—and to Honduras to study black communities. Hurston assembled and published the information she gathered on Haitian and Jamaican voodoo in her book Tell My Horse (1938). Even though her pursuits led her many places, she always returned to Florida. She invoked the spirit and voice of her people by seamlessly weaving the songs, stories, and other information she collected in her studies into her fiction.

“Dat mule uh yourn, Matt. You better go see ’bout him. He’s bad off.”
“Where ’bouts? Did he wade in de lake and uh alligator ketch him?”
“Worser’n dat. De womenfolks got yo’ mule. When Ah come round de lake ’bout noontime mah wife and some ohters had ‘im flat on de ground usin’ his sides fuh uh wash board…
Yeah, Matt, dat mule so skinny till de women is usin’ his rib bones fuh uh rub-board, and hangin’ things out on his hock-bones tuh dry.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God: a novel, by Zora Neale Hurston. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., c1937. chapter 6.

Zora Neale Hurston’s wide-ranging interests as well as economic need led her to take an astounding variety of positions. She had short tenures as a manicurist, a librarian, a dramatic coach with the Federal Theatre Project 1935-1939, a story consultant at Paramount Pictures, a maid, and a teacher.

In 1959, after suffering a stroke, Hurston was forced to enter a welfare home where she died in 1960. She was buried in an unmarked grave and her work languished in relative obscurity until 1975, when Alice Walker published the article “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in Ms.External magazine. In the article, Walker recounts her experiences of searching for, finding, and marking Hurston’s grave.

Hurston is best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), but she also published folklore collections, the autobiography Dust Tracks On a Road (1942), and plays. In 1997, an historian at the Library of Congress and a former staffer/scholar discovered ten unpublished Hurston plays which Hurston had initially deposited in the Library for copyright protection. Among the plays are sketches, full-length comedies and dramas, and a libretto. The works incorporate the folk songs and dances that figure prominently in Hurston’s fiction. Though her play The Great Day had been produced on Broadway prior to this discovery, Hurston had been perceived as a novelist who had written plays; when, in fact, she clearly invested a great deal of her creativity in these works. Now scholars understand that the scope of her accomplishments is even greater than previously understood.

Photographs of people from Eatonville, Florida, taken during the 1935 Lomax, Hurston, Barnicle expedition appear in the Lomax Collection:

[African American man, sitting outdoors, Eatonville, Florida]. Prints & Photographs Division
[African American children playing singing games, Eatonville, Florida]. Prints & Photographs Division
[Woman seated in porch swing, Eatonville, Fla., …] Prints and Photographs Division
[Man seated holding guitar, Eatonville, Fla.] Prints & Photographs Division

She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes!

Their Eyes Were Watching God: a novel, by Zora Neale Hurston. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., c1937. chapter 20.

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