Ohio Presidents


Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler

This exhibition features campaign posters, photographs, clothing and other historical items associated with the eight U.S. presidents with Ohio ties, telling the stories of the unique marks they left on the U.S. presidency and their roles in Ohio, U.S. and global history.

The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster displays historical items that tell the collective stories of eight U.S. Presidents with Ohio ties in an interactive exhibition for all ages.

The exhibition, The Ohio Presidents: Surprising Legacies, will go beyond the typical historical and political narratives of the lives and work of former U.S. Presidents William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft and Warren G. Harding to focus on the lesser-known aspects of their lives and contributions to U.S. and global history. The exhibition will foreground Ohio’s important role in the history of the U.S. presidency.

The Ohio Presidents: Surprising Legacies provides a rare opportunity for the state of Ohio to explore our shared history, and to discover the strength and history we bring to the nation as Ohioans,” said Elizabeth Brown, executive director of the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio.

Stephen George, senior advisor to the Chief Executive Officer of the Ohio History Connection, advised the early planning of The Ohio Presidents: Surprising Legacies, which showcases the period during which Ohio was at the fulcrum of U.S. political and cultural life.

“These Presidents range over the course of 80 years, from 1840, when Ohio kind of asserted itself as an important place on the political map of the United States, all the way to 1920, when we elected our last president, Warren Harding,” said George. “Ohio was really at the center of American culture and American politics for those 80 years. When you study each of these presidents, you get an idea as to where the country was at a given time.”

Within the broader context of U.S. political history, The Ohio Presidents: Surprising Legacies will emphasize some of the stories of Ohio’s U.S. Presidents that often don’t make it into the history books.

The exhibition will focus on not necessarily the typical stories you know about the presidents,” said exhibition curator Christine Fowler Shearer.

Some of these stories show the significant marks that Ohio’s presidents left on the U.S. Presidency and the nation. For instance, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution came into law during the presidency of Ohioan Ulysses S. Grant. Coming nearly five years after the end of the Civil War, that amendment holds that U.S. citizens will not be denied the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The amendment was ratified in February 1870, during Grant’s first term as president.

Other “surprising legacies” include the inauguration of lighter presidential traditions that continue today. Benjamin Harrison and Caroline Harrison were the first U.S. President and First Lady to have a Christmas Tree in the White House, and Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes started the tradition of the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House Lawn.

The Ohio Presidents: Surprising Legacies will tell the stories of all eight U.S presidents with Ohio ties through campaign posters, photographs, clothing from the presidents and First Ladies and other historical artifacts on loan from seven major historical collections throughout Ohio and in Indiana. A timeline from Benjamin Harrison’s birth in 1833 to William Howard Taft’s death in 1930 also will highlight U.S. and world events, along with personal events of the presidents’ lives.

“In a history exhibition, there’s a little bit of everything, which is what’s fun about it,”  said Fowler Shearer.

“Florence Harding gave a forum especially to women in our country,” said Sherry Hall, director of the Harding Presidential Sites. “Her husband was the first president elected by both men and women. She invited women artists, scientists, athletes to the White House and gave them a forum. She had press conferences, which she called chats, with just women journalists. And she really tried to show that women could be a strong voice.”

According to the Ohio History Connection’s Stephen George, “So many of these First Ladies were pretty remarkable. Mrs. Hayes certainly was one of the very first, if not the first, (First Ladies) who exhibited a great deal of influence over the political tone of the administration of her husband. And we don’t think of President Taft as an extraordinarily vibrant personality, but Mrs. Taft smoked and she enjoyed a cocktail, she was against prohibition, and she really was the driver of her husband’s career.”

Interactive touchscreens Younger visitors to The Ohio Presidents: Surprising Legacies will enjoy the exhibit’s eight (8) interactive touchscreens, chronicling the lives of each of the Ohio presidents. The screens will feature animations and sound effects that bring to life the presidents’ stories. All of the touchscreens will also be collected in a mobile application that can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play. 

Classes The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio’s Wendel Center for Art Education will also present classes in conjunction with The Ohio Presidents: Surprising Legacies. Visit www.decartsohio.org for information and registration.

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