The books displayed here belonged to Angelica Singleton Van Buren (1816-1877), the South Carolina-born daughter-in-law who was President Martin Van Buren's hostess at the White House. They are among a larger group of books, from the Barnwell and Singleton families, that were for many years in the home of Miss Malinda Barnwell of Florence, S.C. The collection has recently been donated to the University by Mr. and Mrs. David Phillips of Florence.
Angelica Singleton, daughter of South Carolina planter Richard Singleton and Rebecca Travis (Coles) Singleton, was raised at the family plantation Home Place, in Sumter, South Carolina. During the late 1820's and early 1830's she attended Madame Grelaud's Seminary in Philadelphia along with her older sister Marion; such seminaries offered young ladies instruction in subjects such as grammar, languages, deportment, history, and music.
After leaving school, Angelica spent time in Washington, D.C. with the family of a distant relative, Senator William Campbell Preston. Her mother's cousin, Dolley Madison, the widow of President James Madison, introduced her to Washington society, and in November 1838 Angelica married Abraham (Abram) Van Buren, the President's oldest son and personal secretary, whom she had met at a White House dinner earlier that year. The President reportedly approved of the marriage and the ties it brought between the White House and the powerful Southern aristocracy.
After an extended European honeymoon, Angelica returned in 1839 with her husband to live in the White House and to serve as its hostess for Van Buren's remaining years in office. According to contemporary reports, Angelica was "universally admired" in Washington, and the French minister Adolphe Fourier de Bacourt, generally critical of Americans, remarked that "in any country" Angelica would "pass for an amiable woman of graceful and distinguished manners and appearance."
When President Van Buren left office in 1841, Angelica and Abram first visited with Angelica's family in Sumter, where Angelica gave birth to their first son, Singleton. (A daughter born during her residency in the White House had lived only a few hours.) The family eventually settled at Van Buren's estate, Lindenwald, in Kinderhook, New York. The Van Burens continued to winter in South Carolina, and she later inherited Home Place. In 1848 the Van Burens moved to New York City, where Angelica was known for her charitable work.
The exhibit has been curated for the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Jennifer Talley, a graduate student in the joint MA-MLIS program in English and Library & Information Science.