Archives Article

Acceptance Letters - An Academy Tradition

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One of the Academy’s longest-standing traditions is the writing of letters accepting election to membership. Since 1781, the Academy has received communications in a variety of formats. From quill pens to emojis, the letters have evolved through the years, and provide perspectives as wide as our membership.

Acceptance letters from George Washington, Willa Cather, and Jonathan Zittrain

The Academy Archives preserves member letters and lines the walls of the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge with them, some of which are now available online:

  • Selections from the Academy’s early years include letters from George Washington (1781), Alexander Hamilton (1791), and Maria Mitchell (1848).
  • For Women’s History Month, the Academy offers letters from women, including Willa Cather (1943), Marian Anderson (1954), and Mary Leakey (1979).
  • A gallery of letters from members elected between 2009 and 2019 includes contributions from Nelson Mandela (2009), Nicholas Kristof (2017), and Jane Hirshfield (2019).
  • A gallery of letters from members elected in 2020 shares - in words and a few images, from near and from far - what election to the Academy means for them and the work that has shaped their lives and pursuits. 
Letters of Acceptance exhibit
A visitor reflects on letters of acceptance from Academy Members on display at the Cambridge headquarters

 

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