The Living Memorial to Lincoln

Published 4:02 pm Friday, February 15, 2019

On Monday, we will be observing Presidents Day 2019, an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February each year. Originally established in 1885 in recognition of George Washington, the holiday became known as Presidents Day in 1971. Over the years, the day also included tributes to Abraham Lincoln and other Presidents.

Instead of repeating details of the special holiday and of the lives of Washington and Lincoln, I want to share some notes about four other US Presidents whose interest and influence helped Lincoln Memorial University in the first half of the twentieth century.

One hundred years ago, a small book was published by LMU to encourage support of the institution in its very early years. Although the publication date is not shown, its contents suggest it went to press about 1916 or 1917. The book was entitled “The Living Memorial to Lincoln.”

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There is a reference to the renovation of Grant-Lee Hall, after a disastrous fire that occurred in 1909, and the statement that the restoration of the building is “…nearing completion.” Other sources verify the renovation being completed in 1917. Those references help to narrow the publication date of the book to 1916 or 1917.

The book contains excerpts from letters of three presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Here are the quotes embedded in the LMU book, aimed primarily at donors and prospective donors:

“There could be no finer memorial to Lincoln than this University placed just where you have it.” Theodore Roosevelt

“General O. O. Howard gave the last years of his life with unstinted devotion to the furtherance of the education of the mountain people of the South, through the Lincoln Memorial University at Cumberland Gap. It is a worthy object, and deserves support and encouragement.” William Howard Taft

“I have for a long time been genuinely interested in the welfare of Lincoln Memorial University. I wish I could lend something more than my mere personal approval to the fulfillment of your plans. May I not take the liberty of bidding you Godspeed in them?” Woodrow Wilson

A fourth President of the United States, Herbert Hoover, visited the LMU campus in 1939 and delivered the commencement address on June fourth. His visit brought new visibility to the university and attracted national media attention.

Each of these Presidents helped LMU during its first half-century to move ahead in fulfilling the wishes of another, Abraham Lincoln.

Now a century after the publication of the book, “The Living Memorial to Lincoln,” the institution has achieved greatness in the academic world and boasts one of the outstanding collections of Lincolniana in the world. Presidents Day 2019 seems to be an appropriate time to acknowledge those achievements.

William H. Baker, Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident, may be contacted at