University of Rochester

A Presidential Voice: New Exhibit on the History of Presidential Speechwriting

January 14, 2013

Just in time for President Barack Obama's inaugural address on Monday, Jan. 21, the University of Rochester will open an exhibit on the history of presidential speechwriting.

Comprised of more than 50 selections from public and private collections, including presidential libraries and the University's collections, A Presidential Voice includes a signed copy of John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address where he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." Also on display is a copy of Abraham Lincoln's first address.

Co-curated by Curt Smith, senior lecturer in English and former presidential speechwriter, and Lori Birrell, manuscript librarian in the University's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, the exhibit is a "bi-partisan rendering of presidential speechwriting," said Smith, who contributed many items from his personal collection for the display. "We want people to be able to relive the presidency through speeches that were written, then given."

Between 1989 and 1993, Smith wrote more speeches than anyone else for President George H.W. Bush, including the "Just War" speech, the Medal of Freedom for Margaret Thatcher address, and the 50th anniversary speech on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The exhibit features letters, speeches, photographs, and correspondence of presidents including John Quincy Adams, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton. The material references Warren G. Harding's hiring of the first White House speechwriter in 1921. Later memorabilia show how the birth of radio changed the delivery of speeches.

According to Smith, the exhibit is intended to "shed a light on the writing process, methodologies used, and the importance of delivery."

The exhibit runs from Monday, Jan. 14 through Friday, March 8, and can be viewed in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department on the second floor of Rush Rhees Library, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For additional information, call 585-275-4477.