PHILADELPHIA, PA     The Emancipation Proclamation looms large in the minds of Americans. Remembered popularly as the document that freed over three million slaves, it was a testament to America’s commitment to liberty and equality, to right over wrong, a promissory note to a new birth of American freedom.  But the Emancipation Proclamation also had other characteristics – it was a military document that treated the abolition of slavery as a military necessity rather than a moral issue and it was a political document that authorized the service of black soldiers in the United States military for the first time in the nation’s history. The Proclamation has been understood, misunderstood and interpreted in various ways by contemporary citizens in the nineteenth century, as well as by historians and everyday Americans since its publication. The copies of the Proclamation that were printed in newspapers across the country and distributed across the plantations and countryside of the South served a practical purpose: informing Americans of President Lincoln’s formidable act. Almost as quickly as the message of the Proclamation had been absorbed by the people, the document became the basis for commemoration and artistic expression.

This January, the Penn Libraries will exhibit a wealth of materials that highlight the Emancipation Proclamation as both document and deed. In 1864, as the meaning of the proclamation began to crystallize both for the millions in bondage and for the country at large, forty eight specially-printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, autographed by President Lincoln, were put on sale in Philadelphia at the Great Central Fair. The Penn Libraries’ exhibit will feature two of these forty eight copies, reunited for the first time since they were offered in 1864 for ten dollars each. One copy is from the Penn Libraries’ collections; the second is generously on loan from the private collection of Ian and Sonnet McKinnon, along with a congressional manuscript copy of the thirteenth amendment signed by all the members of Congress who voted for the amendment, President Lincoln, and Vice President Hamlin. The McKinnons believe in the importance of public access to these powerful historic documents as an enlightening experience, one that is valuable not only for scholars but for all interested parties.

Additional items on display will include miniature pamphlet printings of the Proclamation which were distributed by union troops to newly freed men, women and children. A host of commemorative objects related to Philadelphia’s role in the wartime effort and the effect of the proclamation on the lives of African Americans will also be on view.  The documents and items in the exhibit will speak not only to the monumental scope of the Proclamation, its dissemination and its place in the minds of wartime Americans, but to the power its words would come to represent.

The exhibit and loan of the Emancipation Proclamation document were made possible with thanks to Wendy Commins Holman, W’97, and the Orrery Society Council of the Penn Libraries. The Orrery Society Council works to expand University and alumni awareness of the importance the Libraries’ collections play in helping the University achieve its scholarly mission, and to increase the Libraries’ collections through endowments, annual gifts in support of collections and gifts in-kind.

The Great Emancipator and the Great Central Fair is on exhibit January 20 – February 27, 2015, in the Goldstein Family Gallery in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center at 3420 Walnut Street. The exhibit is free and open to the public (please show ID at entrance).
Gallery hours: Monday-Friday, 10AM-5PM; Wednesday, 10AM-8PM.
There will be an opening reception on January 29. For more information, please contact

About the Penn Libraries
The Penn Libraries serve the world-class faculty and students of Penn’s 12 schools. The Libraries’ collections comprise more than 7 million volumes, over 100,000 journals, some 2 million digitized images, and extraordinary rare and unique materials that document the intellectual and cultural experience of ancient and modern civilizations. Through our collaborative relationships, we supplement Penn’s great local collections with physical access to the Center for Research Libraries (approximately 5 million items), the combined holdings of the Ivies (more than 70 million volumes), and exclusive electronic access to some 2 million public domain titles in the HathiTrust. Today, the Libraries play an instrumental role in developing new technologies for information discovery and dissemination and are noted for groundbreaking work in digital library design.  To learn more about the Penn Libraries, visit

About the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
The Kislak Center is a vibrant space that brings together people, technology and unique content.  Located on the top floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, it was redesigned in 2013 to allow several different groups to interact with objects of study simultaneously, increasing the use of primary resources in the University’s curriculum and access to the Libraries’ resources for the larger scholarly community.  Today the Kislak Center encompasses the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Furness Memorial Shakespeare Library, the Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. To learn more about the Kislak Center, visit