What? No Books in the White House?

What? No Books in the White House?
Abigail Fillmore: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One to two class periods


When Abigail and Millard Fillmore moved into the White House, they found that there were no books in the house.  Both of them were real lovers of books, and both set about to create a White House library—for themselves and for future Presidential families.


Students who participate in this activity will learn about the quest to create a library in the White House, something about the lives of the Fillmores, and something about the difficulty of getting funding from a hostile Congress.  Students will also gain experience in historical research, and in planning for a library of their own.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; books about the White House


1.  Students may be divided into working groups for this project (all groups read the article listed below). After everyone reads the article, suggested groups would be the following:

  • One group to make the timeline
  • One group to make a poster about the debate in Congress
  • One group to provide illustrations of the White House Library
  • One group to list as many titles of original books as they can find  (see website below)

2.  Using the web site listed below, as well as other materials about the White House which may feature information on the White House Library, plot out a timeline of events in Abigail and Millard Fillmore’s quest to establish a library in the White House.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by asking students to “spend” $2,500 on purchasing books for a library of their own.  Take the place of Abigail Fillmore: what books would you buy?  Would Congress approve your expenditures?
Another extension might be to have students look carefully at the historical section of the White House web site, and researching the history of the major rooms in the White House—how they’ve changed, what they’re used for now, etc.

Sources & Resources:


Parisian, Catherine M., ed., The First White House Library. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.


Abigail Fillmore Biography

Google Books edition of The First White House Library


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.