Presidents Day, designated in 1880 and celebrated this past Monday, was originally referred to as Washington’s Birthday, and was the first federal holiday to recognize an American citizen. (Our first president’s actual birthday was today in 1732.) Previously, many individuals had found their own personal ways to honor Washington.
The Maine Memory exhibit, “Lock of George Washington’s Hair,” tells the story of Elizabeth Wadsworth’s effort to secure a lock of George Washington’s hair soon after his death, and what it meant to her and her family. She enlisted her father, Peleg Wadsworth, a Congressman in Philadelphia during that time, and formerly an officer during the Revolutionary War, to appeal to Mrs. Washington.
The lock of Washington’s hair eventually was left to Eliza’s nephew, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and is now one of the most prized items in the MHS collection.