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A Lock of Hair from Thomas Jefferson and George Washington

Some accolades from Thomas Jefferson’s illustrious political career include primary author of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President of the United States, just to name a few. His name would have been common knowledge in the days of early America, and if it were just a bit further in the future someone who met Jefferson might have even asked to take a photograph with him or have him sign an autograph. However, technology at the time would have made both of those tasks awkwardly long processes to oblige to and therefore it was much more likely for someone to ask the famed politician for a lock of his hair. Although it may seem strange in the 21st century, collecting and exchanging locks of hair would have been very common in the early 1800s. Saving hair as a keepsake is a tradition that dates back centuries among many groups of people and civilizations. Since hair does not ever decompose it was seen as the perfect, long-lasting and easily accessible memento. In the 1700s it became increasingly common to gift jewelry that contained a carefully woven lock of hair which was viewable through a small window in the locket or brooch.[1] The popularity of this practice is evidenced here by a small locket from the Mercury Collection containing the braided hair of President George Washington. Another artifact from the Mercury Collection contains a small lock of hair tied with a thread and pinned to a singular page that has been ripped from a scrapbook. A sketch of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, is at the top of the album’s page and the delicate lock is labeled “T.J. Hair”. The hair reportedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson and was assembled as part of this scrapbook page by an unknown resident or visitor of Monticello in the years following Jefferson’s death.[2] Dried, pressed plants collected on the grounds surrounding Monticello are included alongside the hair, and show that this scrapbook page was probably intended as a souvenir or personal keepsake.

Below is a picture of the lock of George Washington’s hair from the Mercury One collection.

Lock of George Washington's Hair

 

Sources:

[1] Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Publishing Group. 2006. p. 259-260.

[2] Reznikoff, John. University Archives. March 27, 2017.

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