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January 28, 2000
Princeton University Exhibition Celebrates Life of Adlai Stevenson
PRINCETON, N.J. -- Adlai E. Stevenson, the Democratic party's nominee for President of the United States in 1952 and 1956, is the focus of a new exhibition at the Princeton University Library. Entitled "A Voice of Conscience: The Legacy of Adlai Stevenson," the exhibition marks the one hundredth anniversary of Stevenson's birth and explores the life of a principled politician who, in the words of Alastair Cooke, "remains the liveliest reminder of our time that there are admirable reasons for failing to be president." The exhibition runs from February 6 through April 9 in the Main Exhibition Gallery of Firestone Library and is open to the public without charge from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends.
Two significant events will precede the exhibition's opening. On Friday, February 4 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. a panel of Stevenson's family and friends will reflect on his life and the ways in which he touched their own and the nation's as a whole. The panel, consisting of William McC. Blair Jr., Newton N. Minow, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Adlai E. Stevenson III and Willard Wirtz, will convene in Dodds Auditorium in Princeton University's Robertson Hall. On Saturday, February 5, from 3 to 4 p.m. former Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz, who served with Stevenson in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, will deliver a lecture entitled "The Politics of Integrity and Conscience" in Room 101 of Princeton University's McCormick Hall. Both events are open to the public.
Stevenson's family and friends will add their voices to the ones that Curator Susan Illis has interwoven in the exhibition. Fittingly, Stevenson's voice predominates, one that appealed to the heads as well as the hearts of voters. In 1952, for instance, he had the courage to declare that it is "better to lose the election than mislead the people." Drawing chiefly on the wealth of photographs, documents, recorded material, and memorabilia in the Adlai Stevenson Papers at Princeton University's Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, the exhibition reveals both the private and public facets of Stevenson's eventful life: from confident pronouncements on issues of national importance to moments of anxious introspection.
The story of Stevenson's life, which began in Los Angeles on February 5, 1900 and ended in London on July 14, 1965, is vividly chronicled as visitors pass from a childhood drawing of a farmer and a cow, to mementos of Stevenson's years at Princeton University, to an invitation to the inaugural ball that celebrated Stevenson's landslide election as Governor of Illinois in 1948.
The presidential elections of 1952 and 1956, which pitted Stevenson against the hero of D-Day, Dwight D. Eisenhower, are well-represented, and visitors can experience or re-experience the hoopla and the issues that distinguished these campaigns. There is, for example, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Stevenson, a tireless campaigner, with a hole in his shoe, as well as a pair of "Win with Adlai" stockings, accompanied by a photograph in which they adorn the legs of actress Shelley Winters. Also on exhibit are a Democratic flier warning that a vote for Eisenhower is a vote for Nixon and a telegram from Eleanor Roosevelt expressing the hope that Stevenson will prevail. There are sober words concerning nuclear weapons and civil rights, as well as a quartette of "Stevenson Parasol Girls" parading at the 1956 Democratic National Convention.
The exhibition also explores the last and sometimes trying chapter of Stevenson's career, when, at John F. Kennedy's invitation, he assumed the role of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Stevenson's masterful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when he declared that he was prepared to wait "until Hell freezes over" for his Soviet counterpart to acknowledge the existence of offensive weapons on the island, is illustrated in a number of ways. Among them is Stevenson's address to the United Nations Security Council, which he tore up and discarded when he finished speaking. An aide recovered the speech and taped it together, preserving a valuable fragment of history.
Rounding out the exhibition are two important audiovisual components: a condensed version of Andrew Schlesinger's 1990 PBS documentary narrated by Gregory Peck, entitled "Adlai Stevenson: The Man from Libertyville," and an interactive presentation of political commercials, interviews, speeches, and other material that captures Stevenson in the act of reaching out to his fellow citizens. Although he could not persuade a majority to accept his vision of a "New America" and elect him President, Stevenson's ideas took root in many quarters of the country, and parts of his program were later enshrined in law: a practical and moral legacy that even now endures.
For additional information concerning the exhibition and the events associated with it, please call the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at (609) 258-6345. Highlights from the exhibition, including audiovisual material, can be viewed online at www.princeton.edu/mudd.
NOTE: Three photographs from the exhibition, with accompanying captions, may be downloaded at: http://www.princeton.edu/~mudd/stevenson/press/.