Scrapbooks Chronicling Hemingway’s Childhood Made Available by JFK Library
Boston, MA—On the 114th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s birth, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum today announced that five scrapbooks documenting the childhood of the Nobel Prize-winning author have been made available to the public for the first time in their entirety as digital images. Created and annotated by Hemingway’s mother, Grace Hall Hemingway, the scrapbooks chronicle the first eighteen years of her son’s life and include many never-before-seen photographs, letters, drawings, homework assignments and other keepsakes from his childhood.
The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library spans Hemingway’s entire career and represents ninety percent of existing Hemingway manuscript materials, making the Kennedy Library the world’s principal center for research on the life and work of Ernest Hemingway. Due to the fragile condition of the scrapbooks, they have remained in the JFK Library’s most secure storage area and are now accessible in digital format on the Library’s website. Click here to view online.
“These scrapbooks, lovingly compiled by Grace Hemingway, provide an unprecedented glimpse into the making of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century,” said Tom Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. “From the everyday minutia of childhood, to priceless early correspondence and writings, the scrapbooks are a treasure trove for anyone interested in the early life of Ernest Hemingway."
Spanning the years 1899 to 1917, the scrapbooks tell the story of Hemingway’s childhood growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, and vacationing at the Hemingway family’s cabin in Northern Michigan. Grace Hemingway’s annotations throughout all five books provide context to the family photographs, letters (both to and from young Ernest), school work, and ephemera that she collected and preserved.
Mrs. Hemingway opens the first book with a lyrical account of her son’s birth, saying: “At 8 o'clock on the morning of July 21st. 1899 Ernest Miller Hemingway came to town wrapped in a light blue comforter. It was a very hot morning. The sun shone brightly and the Robins sang their sweetest songs to welcome the little stranger to this beautiful world.” She goes on in the book to dutifully document Hemingway’s height and weight, incoming teeth, favorite songs, first words, and many more details of his first years of life.
Mrs. Hemingway’s observations of young Hemingway often hint at personality traits and preferences that would later become themes in the author’s writing. In the second scrapbook, she says “Ernest Miller at almost 4 years of age, is able to go hunting with Daddy many miles through the dense woods and carry his own gun. He is a natural scientist loving everything in the way of huge stones, shells, birds, animals, insects and blossoms.”
As Hemingway gets older, his own work begins to populate the scrapbooks. There are cards and drawings made by the young boy, including a crude painting titled “First Landscape done by Ernest Miller in Kindergarten. 4 years old.” Early glimpses of his storytelling skills can be seen in a document from the seventh grade titled “Class Prophesies” in which he predicts the fate of various classmates. According to Hemingway, a young girl named Sadie will have “an ostrich farm in the Sahara desert,” Jane will run “a home for the aged and infirm monkeys,” Caroline will be “President of a South American womens [sic] suffrage republic,” and Jean will be “an old maid.” Multiple drafts of this list hint at Hemingway’s habit of re-writing his material later in life.
The final scrapbook provides early glimpses into Hemingway’s development as a writer. Among other material, the book includes clippings from some of Hemingway’s first assignments as a reporter for his high school newspaper, a sonnet written by Hemingway, and a short story by the author that appeared in his school’s literary publication.
The Ernest Hemingway Collection was the generous gift of Mary Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s widow, to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. While Ernest Hemingway and John F. Kennedy never met, President Kennedy admired Hemingway's work. In the opening sentence of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, Kennedy cited Hemingway's description of courage, writing that, "This is a book about the most admirable of human virtues: courage. 'Grace under pressure,' as Ernest Hemingway defined it." President Kennedy invited Hemingway to his 1961 inauguration, but the author declined as he was too ill to travel.
Mary Hemingway saw the Kennedy Library as a fitting place for her late husband’s papers due to the role President Kennedy played in helping her collect them after Hemingway’s death. In 1961, despite a U.S. ban on travel to Cuba (the result of high tensions between the two countries following the Bay of Pigs invasion), President Kennedy made arrangements for her to enter Cuba to claim family documents and belongings. While in Cuba, Mrs. Hemingway met with Fidel Castro who allowed her to take her husband’s papers and the artwork he collected in exchange for the donation of their Finca Vigia home and its remaining belongings to the Cuban people.
A 1968 exchange of letters between Mary Hemingway and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis confirmed that the Hemingway papers would find a permanent home at the Kennedy Library. In 1972, Mrs. Hemingway began depositing papers in the Kennedy Library, and in 1980 Patrick Hemingway and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis dedicated the Hemingway Room in the Kennedy Library. To learn more about the Hemingway Collection, visit www.jfklibrary.org/hemingway or to find out how to make an appointment to conduct research visit www.jfklibrary.org/OnsiteResearch or call (617) 514-1629.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.