Special Collections Exhibit Showcases Mock Convention Memories Washington and Lee University’s Special Collections and Archives has been working with the 2024 Mock Convention to debut an exhibit showcasing extraordinary items from past conventions.
“Looking through the University Archives’ Mock Con collection revealed that the enthusiasm that permeates campus now is the same excitement that pushed W&L students to establish the convention well over 100 years ago.”
~ Lilly Jordan ’25, marketing chair for Mock Con 2024
While the 2024 Mock Convention at Washington and Lee University is hard at work preparing to predict the future Republican presidential nominee during its convention in February, students involved in the process have also been collaborating with the university’s Special Collections and Archives on an exhibit in Leyburn Library that celebrates the conventions of years past.
Mock Convention (Mock Con), a student-run simulated presidential nominating convention held every four years on Washington and Lee’s campus, began in 1908 and is one of the nation’s oldest mock presidential conventions. The exhibit, which opens in late January and will run through undergraduate Commencement in May, will include Mock Con memorabilia transferred to the archives from past conventions and from alumni willing to share their Mock Con memories. The University Archives, housed within W&L’s department of Special Collections and Archives, includes the administrative records, scrapbooks and ephemera associated with the history of the university, including a wide variety of donated items from Mock Conventions throughout W&L’s history.
Notable items on display will include a pressed recording of Vice President Alben Barkley’s speech at the 1956 Mock Convention. Barkley served as vice president under Harry S. Truman, and when his vice-presidential term ended in 1953, he ran for Senate in his home state of Kentucky. In his speech to the Mock Convention, he spoke of his willingness to sit with the other freshman senators in Congress, ending his remarks by declaring, “I’m glad to sit on the back row, for I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty” (an allusion to Psalm 84:10), before collapsing onstage and dying of a heart attack. The display also includes Barkley’s acceptance of the invitation to speak at the convention, as well as Truman’s acceptance of the invitation to speak at the 1960 convention; Truman paid tribute to Barkley’s memory during his remarks on campus.
Mock Convention has also created several unique publications during its convention cycles, three of which are on display in the exhibition. “The Democrat” was published by the 1908 convention and includes details about the nomination of William Jennings Bryan (U.S. House of Representatives member from 1891-1895 and secretary of state under President Woodrow Wilson) and essays by students involved in the convention. “Convention Gazette,” the publication of the 1940 Republican convention highlighting the selection of U.S. Senator Charles L. McNary, is also on display. The final publication on display is “The Mock Convention Report,” which highlights the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s visit to campus as a part of the 1988 Democratic convention that was also attended by former President Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas. While the publication and publicity of the results may look a little different today, these publications provide us with brief glimpses of past conventions.
Elephants, donkeys and even the famous Budweiser Clydesdales have all been a part of the Mock Convention kickoff parade down Lexington’s Main Street, and the exhibit showcases photos of the convention’s notable animal visitors and the agreements that brought them there. Photos from various convention events featuring the parades, convention floors and notable speakers are displayed in the exhibit as well to highlight the on-the-ground student experience. Lilly Jordan ’25, Mock Con’s marketing chair, worked closely with Mattie Clear, assistant professor and archivist, to identify the items included in the exhibit, and said the process was inspiring.
“While the W&L student body, along with supporters of Mock Con, look forward to February, it is important to look back at the origins of this organization,” Jordan said. “From the first parade in 1948 to former First Lady Laura Bush and First Daughter Barbara Bush’s visit in 2022, Mock Con has stayed true to its commitment to promoting civic engagement and fostering excitement on campus. Looking through the University Archives’ Mock Con collection revealed that the enthusiasm that permeates campus now is the same excitement that pushed W&L students to establish the convention well over 100 years ago.”
Clear said that even with the number of items available in the archives, there are still gaps in the collection she hopes might one day be filled.
“The majority of the materials telling the story of Mock Con and its important history are in the archives because individuals recognized the importance of documenting this history,” Clear said.
While most convention years are represented, this representation varies greatly from single items to multiple boxes, with very little of the last 50 years represented. This exhibition provides Mock Con participants, past and present, the opportunity to engage with the past while encouraging current students to plan how their convention will be remembered.
“As the first archivist hired to focus on University Archives, it is my hope that current students can see themselves in the archives,” Clear continued. “I look forward to working with students and alumni for years to come to ensure their experiences are captured alongside the administrative records.”
Visitors can see the exhibit during regular library hours. To make an appointment to visit Special Collections and Archives or to donate items, contact SpecialCollections@wlu.edu.
Visit www.mockconvention.com for more information about the 2024 Mock Convention.