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James A. Garfield collection

Identifier: MC-1

Scope and Contents

The James A. Garfield collection contains correspondence, cartoons, photographs and portraits, sheet music, scrapbooks, newspapers, ephemera and realia documenting the campaign, assassination, death, and memorials of President James A. Garfield (1831-1881). Some material relates to Garfield's education at Williams College.

Correspondence includes letters from Garfield to Col. Daniel Garfield and Horace Scudder, correspondence between Garfield, Mark Hopkins, and Paul A. Chadbourne, Garfield's letters from Williams College, and 1855 letters regarding college secret societies. Some letters relate to Garfield's education at Williams College.

Portraits of Garfield, his family, and his political associates are present in woodcuts, engravings, lithograph prints, photographs, and posters. Garfield's image also appears on ephemera and artifacts, including campaign ribbons, coins, and pottery.

A large group of political cartoons, many colored, document Garfield's campaign, inauguration, presidency, and assassination.

Six volumes of newspaper clippings, prints and cartoons (1862-1890), as well as another bound scrapbook, document Garfield's assassination and death.

Complete issues of daily and weekly periodicals follow the tenure, sickness and death of the President. The bulk of the material dates from the death of the president in September, 1881. Most newspapers are represented only in a small number of issues, though a longer run of the New York Tribune (Weekly Ed.) is present.

Ephemera from Garfield's nomination, campaign, and innauguration include ribbons, cards, leaflets, visual puzzles, coins, and a banner. A few items representing Garfield's running mate Chester A. Arthur, and his Democratic opponent Winfield Scott Hancock, are also present. Ephemeral material also documents the public response to Garfield's shooting and death. A small number of items, including fragments of rope used for hanging, relate to Garfield's assassin Charles Guiteau.

More than a dozen items of published sheet music are included. The music was composed in honor of, or about, the 1880 Democratic and Republican campaigns, Garfield's inauguration, assassination and funeral.

Artifacts and realia document the industry of Garfield memorabilia. Pottery, glassware, profiles and a bust, medallions, coins, and other objects are included. Most of these items are commemorative and do not have direct Garfield provenance.


  • 1853 - 2001

Language of Materials

In English.

Conditions Governing Access

The James A. Garfield collection is open for research. Researchers are encouraged to contact Special Collections staff prior to a visit.

Conditions Governing Use

In consultation with Special Collections staff, reproductions may be made upon request. Please consult with staff regarding questions about publishing materials from Williams Special Collections. The bulk of this collection is in the public domain; copyright restrictions may apply to some material.

Biographical / Historical

James A. Garfield was the 20th President of the United States. He attended Williams College, graduating with the class of 1856. After serving as a major general in Civil War, he was elected to Congress and later to the Senate. Garfield was nominated as a compromise candidate for the Republican party's presidential ticket in 1880 and narrowly won the presidency, taking office in March 1881. On July 2, 1881, he was shot at a railway station in Washington, D.C. He died of his injuries on September 19, 1881.

Biographical Chronology

November 19: Born in Orange Township, Cuyahoga County, OH
Works as a canal boat tow boy on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Canal
Attends Geauga Seminary in Chester, OH
Enters Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, OH (now Hiram College)
Graduates from the Eclectic Institute and enrolls in Williams College
Graduates from Williams College with honors
Appointed President of the Eclectic Institute
Marries Lucretia Randolph
Wins election to state senate
Serves as Colonel of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Promoted to the rank of Brigadier General
Elected to Congress
Assumes leadership of House Committee on Appropriations
Named in the Credit Mobilier scandal
Campaigns for president
November 2: Wins popular election
March 4: Inaugurated President of the United States
July 2: Shot by Charles Guiteau
September 19: Dies at Elbaron, NJ
Garfield Memorial, Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, is dedicated


13.2 Linear Feet ((22 boxes) + 2 framed items and 3 broadside folders)


The James A. Garfield collection is organized into nine series: I. Correspondence and Speeches. II. Portraits, Prints, and Posters. III. Campaign and Inauguration Ephemera. IV. Assassination and Memorial Ephemera. V. Cartoons. VI. Sheet Music. VII. Scrapbooks. VIII. Newspapers. IX. Artifacts and Realia.

Physical Location

L2 Storage F4b and Library Shelving Facility

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the collection was the gift of Alfred Clark Chapin (Williams 1869), 1923. Other material gift of Henry N. Flynt (Williams 1916), Henry Flynt, Jr., Edward M. Warren (Williams 1962), and Mrs. J. J. Zoller. Many items are from the college's historical collections, no source known. For provenance of individual items, please contact special collections staff.

Related Materials

Am Mss Garfield: James A. Garfield Collection. Chapin Library, Williams College.
MC92: Zachariah Turner Sowers (1847-1919) papers. College Archives and Special Collections, Williams College.

Processing Information

Originally processed in 1982 by Sarah Marek and Karen D. Drickamer, the collection was reprocessed in 1991. A digital finding aid was created in 2017, incorporating substantial recent additions to the collection.

Integrated into the Chapin collection in 1982 and 1990 were: letters from Miscellaneous Manuscripts and other manuscript collections; photocopies of JAG letters (1855) to George M. Guernsey donated by Barclay H. Trippe Jr. in 1990; an 1857 letter from JAG to Horace Scudder, the gift of Henry N. Flynt (Class of 1916); various programs donated by Mrs. J.J. Zoller; pages from newspapers regarding the inauguration and death of JAG received from Henry Flynt, Jr. in 1990; accessions #0-534, a scrapbook, and #0-320, 1881 newspapers, donations from unknown sources; as well as other letters, cards, etc. also of undetermined history. All material integrated into the Chapin scrapbook collection is inscribed with its original location or source.
James A. Garfield collection
Peale, Anne; Nash, Katie
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
In English

Repository Details

Part of the Williams College Archives & Special Collections Repository

Sawyer Library
26 Hopkins Hall Drive
Williamstown, MA 01267