Using historical documents and memorabilia such as letters, buttons, books, ribbons, banners, medals, cartoons, and music, curators Hal Williams and Hervey Priddy explore significant themes in presidential campaigns over the past 215 years. Though based on Bridwell's own holdings, the exhibition also features items on loan from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Museum of American Political Life at the University of Hartford, the DeGolyer Library at SMU, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, and several private collectors in the area.

All the items are grouped in chronological order. Walking through the exhibit, visitors will see that American presidential elections are organized by historians into five major party periods. In each period, campaign innovations helped make the difference between victory and defeat. Other periods were marked by high voter turnout and a great deal of political theater. Some of the rarest items include personal correspondence by American Presidents Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy. Both the serious and the trivial are represented, including Warren G. Harding beanie caps and Harry Truman comic books. Art lovers will enjoy the presidential portraits of Abraham Lincoln by Frank C. Courter and George Washington by Gilbert Stuart.

A variety of events are planned in conjunction with the exhibit, including a lecture series, a film festival, an election watch, and voter registration. The exhibit "From George to George" will run from Sept. 10, 2004 to Jan. 20, 2005. Admission is free and the hours are as follows: M-F 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.

Organizing the Exhibit

In 2001 Southern Methodist University's Bridwell Library acquired the Hervey A. Priddy Collection of American Presidential and Political Memorabilia. A private collector, Priddy has been collecting 19th- and 20th-century political memorabilia such as buttons, ribbons, pins, posters, leaflets, banners, textiles, ceramics, toys and commemoratives. Over the years his collection grew in size and value, so much so that he began looking for a museum to house it. That's when Bridwell's Director Valerie Hotchkiss approached him with the idea of giving it to Bridwell Library. Although the Bridwell Library specializes in rare books and manuscripts, it also has a wide array of American artifacts. Furthermore, SMU turned out to be a natural choice since Priddy had received his master's degree in history there.

With the acquisition of the Priddy Collection, the Library decided to mount an exhibit that would coincide with the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election. "From George to George: Presidential Elections in the United States from 1789 to the Present" was organized by James McMillin, Bridwell associate director and an American historian in his own right, who invited SMU History Professor Hal Williams, an expert on American presidents, and Priddy, a specialist in American history, to curate the exhibit. In addition to Bridwell's holdings, the exhibit showcases items on loan from the Museum of American Political Life at the University of Hartford, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, the Fondren Library at SMU, the Harlan Crow Library in Dallas, and the private collection of H. Ross Perot.