By Reese Dimmitt
The United States of America, the country considered to be the most powerful in the world by many countries. Let’s face it! Most, if not all, residents of the U.S consider this land to be the most powerful indeed. But, what is the driven force behind such power? Some might say the Supreme Court, the law of the land or Congress, with its many delegates. Well, I’d like to think it’s the leader of the country: The President. So, what exactly is a president? A president is a top executive role responsible for overseeing the overall operations of a company. However, the term company can also represent a country. The president of a country is often the highest-ranking officer, serving as the leader who makes key decisions, represents the country against other countries, and works closely with other executives to achieve the country’s goals. So, for the upcoming President’s Day, l decided to reflect on some of the presidents based off their Presidential libraries. Currently, there are 13 Presidential libraries and museums. They are as follows: Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, William J. Clinton and George W. Bush. While the U.S has had 46 Presidents, not everyone has a library.
Here are some interesting tidbits. America’s presidential library system is operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Its main role is to preserve the papers, letters, records, collections, and historical artifacts of every president. That information is then displayed immaculately in the presidential libraries. This started in 1933. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first to establish a presidential library. However, libraries also exist for previous presidents. They are just not monitored by NARA. Instead, they are operated by private foundations, historical societies, or universities. Those are as follows: Abraham Lincoln, James K. Polk, William McKinley, Rutherford B. Hayes, Calvin Coolidge, and Woodrow Wilson libraries. When Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, it established a system that despite those libraries being privately instituted, they would still need to be federally maintained libraries. This means that the act authorized that future libraries be built with funds from private and non-federal public sources and then turned over to NARA to maintain. One might wonder why they are called libraries when none of them have the functions of traditional libraries. They are similar to museums than libraries because they are the resource buildings for the papers, records and historical materials of each Presidential administration. The only difference is that the information cannot be lent out or taken outside the premises. One can request to do research and that would have to be done inside the archive room.
My first Presidential library visit was to George Bush’s in College Station, Texas. It is located on the campus of Texas A&M University. That was back in 2018 where 10-year-old me was mesmerized by the beauty of the museum. It was also my very first time on a college campus which encompasses more than 5,200 acres. My experience there unlocked the drive to visit as many Presidential libraries as I can. Since then, I have been to six more libraries. They are Lyndon Baines Johnson, George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential libraries.
At each library, visitors get to learn about the president’s life before, during, and after his presidency. There are the Oval Office replicas where one can see the setup of how each President had liked the office to look, including desks and personal mementos. My favorite exhibit on display are the First Lady exhibitions where we learn about the important role first ladies had in the presidency. There are displays of their clothing and jewelry as well as programs they actively led even after their husband’s presidency. A personal favorite is Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Lady Bird Johnson was an environmentalist who worked tirelessly for the preservation of wild landscapes. My favorite quote of hers is “Where flowers bloom so does hope.” I also love the Presidents’ love stories. I can’t imagine the Presidents being romantic, yet, after seeing the thousands of love letters penned to each other, I realized, regardless of who the president was, he always courted and married the right woman.
There is a lot to learn about our Presidents and my hope is to one day visit them all. Hopefully this has made you want to get out there and go check out a Presidential Library near you. There are often fun activities to do while you walk around and even immersive experiences that make you feel like you are there, history becoming alive! Sometimes, taking a step back to journey in the shoes of those who have led our country, can help guide us in selecting the next president.