Exhibits at President Lincoln’s Cottage are self-guided and allow visitors to further customize their experience, exploring the history of this place and its impact on our lives today. Temporary exhibits at the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center engage visitors in groundbreaking scholarship and historical debates over human rights and cultural issues past and present. Four permanent galleries: Wartime Washington, Lincoln the Commander-in-Chief, Lincoln Family at the Soldiers’ Home, and History of the Soldiers’ Home provide knowledge and imagery of the history of this remarkable place and the Lincolns’ time here. Civil War prints and maps line the main corridor and an award-winning interactive exhibit gallery, Lincoln’s Toughest Decisions, allows visitors to peruse digital primary sources and ideas Lincoln and his cabinet wrestled with during the war. Visitors may also request a brochure for a self-guided LEED tour, which outlines features that led to the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, housed in a sustainably rehabilitated 1905 structure, achieving LEED Gold certification in 2009.
The exhibit galleries in the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center at President Lincoln’s Cottage are on view during our public hours, and are included in the cost of tour admission.
Current Special Exhibits
While Abraham Lincoln’s public image was defined by his signature stovepipe hat, his private, more casual nature is highlighted in the newest exhibit at President Lincoln’s Cottage. Meetings at the Cottage were often impromptu and informal, and Lincoln was known to greet guests while wearing carpet slippers. An original pair of Lincoln’s own slippers is on public display at President Lincoln’s Cottage from July 29, 2019 through January 31, 2020; the slippers are on loan from the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums in Fremont, OH.
American by Belief, a special exhibit that opened in fall 2015 at President Lincoln’s Cottage, introduces the public to Abraham Lincoln’s little known immigration policies. Lincoln believed that America offered immigrants the full realization of its founding promises and a fair chance to succeed. Some of these very principles continue to draw immigrants to the United States 150 years later.
Read the American by Belief press release
Past Special Exhibits
June 2016 through December 2016
President Lincoln’s Cottage and the National Archives are proud to collaborate in the first-ever public display of the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in November 1986. The original Immigration Act, from the National Archives, was on display at President Lincoln’s Cottage beginning June 1, 2016 and was on loan through December 1, 2016.
During its stay at President Lincoln’s Cottage, the Reagan Act resided next to President Lincoln’s Cottage’s special exhibit, American by Belief, a groundbreaking exhibit which presents American immigration policy during the Lincoln era as well as contemporary stories from recent immigrants to the United States.
Read the Reagan Immigration Act press release
May 2016 through June 2016
This May and June, enjoy the outstanding and thought-provoking outdoor art exhibit, Museum Power, Influence, and Responsibility. Commissioned by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), this art exhibition is hosted by President Lincoln’s Cottage and the Armed Forces Retirement Home and commemorates AAM’s 2016 Annual Meeting & Museum Expo in Washington, DC. The two pieces of art in the exhibit are Rotate.Shift.Repeat. by Wesley Clark & Courtney Clark and We Stand Together by Michael B. Platt and Carol A. Beane.
Download the PDF flyer for the exhibit.
January 2015 through September 2015
Abraham Lincoln risked his and his family’s safety to live at the Cottage for more than a quarter of his presidency. However, for much of this time, Lincoln rode to and from the White House alone and unguarded, making him an easy target for would-be assassins and kidnappers. Today it’s unfathomable to think of the President of the United States traveling alone without a security detail. Yet the lack of precedent for a presidential assassination created a sense of security that faded as the Civil War waged on.
“Not an American Practice’: Lincoln’s Life at Risk” investigates the various efforts to protect Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home and beyond, and encourages visitors to contemplate how Lincoln’s assassination forever changed presidential security. Prints and objects from the collection, including newspapers, maps, and the diary of Private A.N. See are on display in this exhibit.
originALs: Memorial Objects From The Collection
March 2015 through August 2015
Funeral Gloves and Arm Bands: Private Albert Nelson See served in Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Guard (Company K, 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers) at the Cottage and White House. He wore these gloves and arm bands to Lincoln’s White House funeral on April 19, 1865. A gift from Betty Kessler.
Sherry Glass: President Lincoln’s last recorded visit to the Soldiers’ Home was on April 13, 1865, one day before his assassination. The engraving on this glass states, “Used By President Lincoln On His Last Visit To The Soldiers Home.” The sherry glass is a direct match to the Lincolns’ White House crystal and remains a tangible link to President Lincoln’s time at the Soldiers’ Home. A gift from Ruff and Susan Fant.
Read the Memorial Objects from the Collection press release
July 1, 2014 through February 12, 2015
While Abraham Lincoln’s public image was defined by his signature stovepipe hat, his private, more casual nature meetings at the Cottage were often impromptu and informal, and Lincoln was known to greet guests while wearing carpet slippers. An original pair of Lincoln’s own slippers was on public display in the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center at President Lincoln’s Cottage. The slippers were on loan from the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, OH.
Read the Lincoln’s Slippers press release
January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014
While living at the Cottage with his family during the summers of 1862, 1863, and 1864, President Lincoln carried papers in the briefcase on his daily commute to the White House. The briefcase served as a repository for some of President Lincoln’s greatest work. Members of President Lincoln’s military guard regularly observed him carrying around a portfolio “containing papers relating to the business of the day” when returning home to the Cottage, where he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. An 1864 photo album made for Tad Lincoln by the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a company stationed at the Cottage during the Civil War to guard the Lincoln family. The briefcase and photo album were on loan from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL.
Read the Lincoln’s Briefcase and Tad’s Photo Album press release
September 22, 2012 through April 30, 2013
President Lincoln’s Cottage was the first public venue to display a rare, signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation purchased by David Rubenstein in 2012. This historic document was on display from September 22, the date Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, through the end of April 2013. President Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation while living at the Cottage in the summer of 1862, making it the authentic place for understanding Lincoln’s ideas on slavery and emancipation. President Lincoln’s Cottage, the “Cradle of the Emancipation Proclamation,” offered programs, special tours, and events in partnership with national organizations to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Read the Emancipation Proclamation press release
February 2012 through September 2014
To commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Cottage opened “Can You Walk Away? Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking in the United States” in February 2012. This special exhibit challenged perceptions of slavery in America today and raised awareness of a growing humanitarian crisis. By posing the question, “Can you walk away?” this exhibit inspired visitors to engage with the modern abolitionist movement and to see that slavery is an ongoing issue that requires big thinking and direct action, just as it did in Lincoln’s time.
“Can You Walk Away?” was endorsed by a former first lady, and received a Leadership in History Award from the American Association of State and Local History (2013) and the Global Design Merit Award from the Society for Experimental Design (2013). The exhibit was also a catalyst for numerous education and public programs at President Lincoln’s Cottage, including the Students Opposing Slavery (SOS) program. The U.S. Department of Education praised SOS as “the best example of youth engagement in the anti-trafficking movement.”
Read the Can You Walk Away press release
December 7, 2011 through January 15, 2012
The Civil War had arguably the greatest impact on Washington, DC of any single event in American history. Almost overnight, the seat of our nation’s government was transformed from a sleepy, southern town to the hub of the northern war effort, and was often referred to as the Seat of War. This exhibit illuminated President Lincoln’s Civil War Washington through historic prints from our collection.
Read the Seat of War press release
October 19, 2011 through November 14, 2011
More books have been written about Lincoln than any other American, yet public knowledge about our most famous president is dominated by a series of iconic images: the son of an illiterate frontier farmer who taught himself to read; the savior of the Union; the Great Emancipator; the martyred leader. On loan from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, A Man for All Times invited visitors to look beyond the myth. Our goal was to encourage a deeper understanding of the life, accomplishments and legacy of the nation’s 16th president.
August 2010 through September 2011
Link to “Lincoln Yourself” online interactive – /lincolnyourself/.
Since his presidency, Lincoln has been resurrected on stage and the silver screen. Lincoln still appears on stage and screen, but today it’s more common to find Lincoln posing for photo opportunities at private parties, waving to crowds from a parade float, or speaking to students in the classroom. While Lincoln’s iconic image makes it easy enough to look like him, being like Lincoln means something else entirely. This exhibit explored the difference between looking like Lincoln and really being like Lincoln.
Read the Being Lincoln press release
April 11, 2011 through April 17, 2011
In remembrance of the 146th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, President Lincoln’s Cottage displayed one of five American flags that were hanging in Ford’s Theatre the night of the assassination. The flag was said to have been grabbed in haste from the bunting on the presidential box and used to cushion Lincoln’s head after he was shot. Thomas Gourlay, a part-time theater manager, kept the blood-stained flag that night, after Lincoln was moved to the Peterson House across the street from Ford’s Theatre. Jeannie Gourlay, actress in “Our American Cousin”, which was playing that night, and daughter of Thomas Gourlay, kept the flag in her possession until she died in 1924. It was donated to Pike County Historical Society by her son in 1954. The flag returned to its permanent display at Pike County Historical Society after the exhibit at the Cottage.
Read the Lincoln Flag press release
February 12, 2009 through December 31, 2009
Millions across the country and throughout the world take Abraham Lincoln for their own. He ranks among the most popular and influential U.S. presidents. Everything, from his memorable speeches to his iconic top hat, captivates the public. As we celebrated the 200th anniversary of his birth, this exhibition presented compelling evidence from six private collections that 200 years after his birth, President Lincoln continues to influence our lives and inspire us to be part of the Lincoln story.
Read the My Abraham Lincoln press release
July 4, 2008 through December 19, 2008
From Lincoln’s day to ours, sculptors have attempted to capture the “something else” that the poet Walt Whitman noted as he saw Abraham Lincoln commuting from the Soldiers’ Home to the White House. This exhibit displayed works from National Trust collections from Chesterwood Estate and Museum, President Lincoln’s Cottage, Woodrow Wilson House, and Villa Finale. Each work in the four National Trust Collections that were exhibited – whether a detailed study of his hand for a colossal public memorial, or a small, mass-produced bust of Lincoln – seeks to engage and inspire viewers by conveying the soul of a great leader.
February 18, 2008 through April 30, 2008
This inaugural special exhibit was featured in preopening events and was opened to the public as part of the Grand Opening Ceremony on February 18th. It featured over a dozen manuscripts and artifacts on loan from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Highlights included the pen Lincoln used to sign the Proclamation, a rare autographed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, and one of 13 souvenir copies of the 13th Amendment, signed by Lincoln.