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Favorite Items: Hair and History

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We are often asked which Library of Congress primary source is our favorite. We could never choose just one, but this week Stacie Moats, Education Specialist from the Library of Congress Interpretive Programs Office, highlights an especially intriguing or engaging primary source from the Library’s online collections.

The Library of Congress has the locks of many famous and not so famous people within its collections. To me, hair is so personal and individual–literally, a part of you–that you can imagine a living, breathing person attached to it rather than a distant historical figure. I find the locks of hair from the not-so-famous just as fascinating as those from notable people such as Walt Whitman.

Lock of Walt Whitman's Hair
Lock of Walt Whitman’s Hair

Walt Whitman as an old man, 1890
Walt Whitman as an old man, 1890

Before ordinary people had access to photography this was one way for them to keep a memento of someone forever. It’s a symbol of love, sentimentality and often loss and mourning. Imagine a soldier–like this child named Carl–going off to war and his mother or other family member desperately wanting to keep a part of him with her at home. It just speaks to the depths of the human experience.

Child named Carl who became a soldier; with handwritten note and lock of hair in case, 1856.
Child named Carl who became a soldier; with handwritten note and lock of hair in case, 1856.

Today, many people still keep locks of hair, for instance, when a child has a first haircut. Parents still want a tangible way to hold on to the memory of the child who sat in the barber chair for the first time and for some the best way is with a lock of hair.

What mementos do people save today that future generations might find fascinating?


Comments (5)

  1. I enjoy reading blogs from LOC, but this one is quite intriguing. Never thought HAIR locks would be part of your collection!
    Thanks for a unique look into the LOCKS of LOC!

  2. Fascinating! Who are some other people whose locks are in the LOC?

    • The staff in the Manuscript Division and Rare Books would probably be able to answer your question. Use Ask A Librarian to send your question to those divisions.

  3. Aloha, a colleague of mine was doing research on the USS Saginaw at LOC, a civil war era gunboat which wrecked in the Pacific in 1870…and he came across a folder with dozens of long black locks of hair…no explanation that I’m aware of…who did they belong to? what’s the purpose of such an artifact? any suggestion?



    • You may want to direct your question to reference staff using the Ask a Librarian service at Best wishes.

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