Signature Collection

A signed letter from President Joe Biden marking the College’s bicentennial will make the library’s collection of presidential autographs nearly complete.


Elizabeth Williams-Clymer with an autograph book that includes signatures from nearly all U.S. presidents.

A book at Chalmers Library containing documents signed by every U.S. president from George Washington to George W. Bush is about to get a distinguished addition.

Letter from Biden
Letter from President Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden, who recently signed a letter offering congratulations to the College as it celebrates its 200th year, will be the 43rd different commander-in-chief to enter the collection. Only genuine signatures from Barack Obama and Donald Trump are missing.

“We're super excited that not only are we going to get the signature, but it’s intended for Kenyon and says something about the bicentennial,” said Elizabeth Williams-Clymer, director of special collections and archives.

The plan is for the signed letter to be unveiled at a library open house on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, where the autograph book will be on display.

The collection originally belonged to William A. Leonard, the fourth Episcopal bishop of Ohio, who died in Gambier in 1930 and left it to the College. An ex-officio member of Kenyon’s board of trustees, Leonard Hall is named in tribute to him and in memory of his wife. 

Genuine autographs from subsequent presidents have been added over the years through the efforts of library staff and alumni. Making the collection complete has become a bit of a quest for Williams-Clymer, whose bachelor’s degree is in modern American history.

Biden’s letter came about thanks to the assistance of Nathalie Demirdjian-Rivest, a presidential appointee who serves as special assistant to the vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Her spouse, Assistant Professor of History Justin Rivest, told her about the efforts to add to the autograph book after learning about it from Williams-Clymer.

Demirdjian-Rivest said during a phone interview last Tuesday from Washington D.C. that she was happy to help Kenyon mark the bicentennial and knew the White House would be, too. As such, it came as little surprise when the president responded to a simple signature request with a meaningful piece of correspondence, she shared.

“It’s a very personal letter,” said Demirdjian-Rivest, who was able to read the note before it was sealed. “The president discusses the essential role that education occupies in his family and administration. Dr. Biden is a lifelong educator. … It’s been really important to President Biden to make sure that our students, teachers and schools feel supported.”

Dr. Jill Biden made the historic decision to continue teaching English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College as First Lady, and President Biden has rolled out multiple student loan forgiveness initiatives over the course of his first term.

“The success of our Nation starts in our schools,” the president wrote in the letter. “They are beacons of hope and possibility, pillars of our communities, and cornerstones of our democracy.”

Demirdjian-Rivest, who delivered the letter prior to Saturday’s open house, said the whole process has been inspirational.

“I personally find it very meaningful that the president of the United States worked with a history professor and a librarian to mark Kenyon’s bicentennial. It speaks to the value this administration places in our students and educators” she said.

The presidential signatures in the library’s collection come via a wide variety of documents.

Washington’s graces a handwritten letter from 1782 during the Revolutionary War. A presidential appointment from 1802 carries Thomas Jefferson’s signature. A check from 1832 was signed by Andrew Jackson. Kenyon’s own Rutherford B. Hayes, Class of 1842, wrote a personal note to Leonard in 1892.

A few are official correspondence with officials at the College, such as when Calvin Coolidge wrote to Kenyon President William Peirce in 1923 to decline an invitation to partake in centennial events. He wrote, “I wish that I could join with you in the celebration of the Centennial exercises, for the growth of Kenyon College has been the growth of the middle West, and you have a record of which any institution may be proud.”

Letter from Ford
Letter from Gerald Ford.

In 1979, Gerald Ford — who later visited campus in 1988 — wrote kind words to Kenyon President Philip Jordan, Jr. H’95: “Kenyon College, with its great heritage and outstanding achievements is indeed a prime example of why it is so vital that we keep our private college strong.”

George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton made their inscriptions out to the Lady Rosse Historical Society, founded in 1995 by two students to preserve and publicize the history of the College.

Williams-Clymer said the autograph book sometimes is used for academic purposes, such as when high school students in the Kenyon Academic Partnership (KAP) visit campus. It is also displayed during reunions and Family Weekend. But anyone can request to see it.

“Anybody is welcome to come in and ask — and that goes for our entire collection,” she said.

Now that President Biden’s signature will be added to the collection, Williams-Clymer is redoubling her efforts to get handmade contributions from Obama and Trump, whose offices previously sent photographs that were signed using an autopen.

Anyone who may be able to help with such an acquisition can reach out to