(The following is a guest blog post written by Elizabeth Gettins, Library of Congress digital library specialist.)
This week, we not only celebrate the birthday of author Edgar Lee Masters (Aug. 23, 1868) but also observe the untimely death of Ann Rutledge (Aug. 25, 1835), who figured in his best-known work.
Masters spent his childhood in Lewistown, Illinois, a town near Springfield where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1837-1847. Initially, Masters practiced law for a living, but in 1898 he branched out, realizing his true life’s calling by publishing his first work, titled “A Book of Verses.” He then went on to draw from his childhood experiences of life with people in a small Illinois town for his most beloved work, “Spoon River Anthology,” published in 1915. It is a collection of monologues from the dead in an Illinois graveyard in the fictional town of Spoon River. The characters that Masters chose to draw on for his inspiration are all located in the general area that Lincoln inhabited for much of his young life, including Lincoln’s “first love,” Anne Rutledge.
Master’s entry for Ann Rutledge speaks of unrealized love between her and Lincoln. She is generally referred to as Lincoln’s first love, although many debate whether the two were actually ever a pair. The story goes that Rutledge was betrothed to John MacNamar and that Rutledge and Lincoln met and fell in love while he was away. Purportedly, she made plans to break her engagement to MacNamar upon his return. The plans never came to fruition, as a typhoid outbreak hit in 1835 killing Rutledge at age 22.
Rutledge’s actual burial site is in Petersburg, Illinos, and her gravestone features Master’s work:
Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music:
“With malice toward none, with charity toward all.”
Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Ann Rutledge who sleeps beneath these weeds,
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!
This songsheet, titled “Anne Rutledge,” is part of a larger work inspired by “Spoon River Anthology.” The music for this item was composed by Sam Raphling and was published by Musicus around 1952.
The songsheet, as well as the photograph of Rutledge’s gravesite, are items from the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana. Alfred Whital Stern of Chicago presented his collection to the Library in 1953. Begun by Stern in the 1920s, the collection documents the life of Abraham Lincoln through writings by and about Lincoln, contemporary newspapers, sheet music, broadsides, prints, stamps, coins, autograph letters and a large body of publications concerned with slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and related topics. The collection includes Lincoln’s own scrapbook of the 1858 political campaign against Stephen A. Douglas, numerous campaign biographies prepared for the 1860 presidential election, printed materials relating to the assassination and funeral, and a Lincoln life mask in bronze by Leonard Volk.
Probably the single most famous Lincoln manuscript in the collection is the letter to Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, dated Jan. 26, 1863, placing him in command of the Army of the Potomac. Since Stern’s death, the collection has continued to grow through the provisions of an endowment established by his family and it now numbers over 11,100 pieces.