May 26, 2022

Special Collections: Letters From Barack Obama to His College Girlfriend Now Part of Collection at Emory’s Rose Library

From Emory University:

“School. What intelligent observations can I glean from the first two weeks? I pass through the labyrinths, corridors, see familiar faces, select and discard classes and activities, fluctuate between unquenchable curiosity and heavy, inert boredom.”

These words, written just over 35 years ago, will feel familiar to most college students — far from home, starting a new academic year, “not having yet settled on the limits, and thus the form, that the new semester will take.”

Their young author, writing to his girlfriend and pondering topics ranging from college classes to social class, could be any of us who ever wondered where we fit in the world. Except he went on to become the 44th president of the United States, the first African American to hold the highest office in the nation.

The series of letters written by Barack Obama to his then-girlfriend, Alexandra McNear, are now part of the collection of Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, where they are available to scholars and students by appointment.


The nine letters in Emory’s collection pick up on Sept. 26, 1982, when both are back in classes at their respective schools on opposite coasts, and continue through April 14, 1984, when their romance has cooled to friendship and Obama has finished college and is working at Business International, “with everyone slapping my back” but no passion for the job.


The letters join other materials in Emory’s Rose Library to enrich research on African American history and culture, says Pellom McDaniels III, curator of African American collections for the Rose Library.

“From slavery to the civil rights movement, and now, to the first African American president of the United States, these collections provide tremendous insight into what can be described as a spiritual odyssey to wholeness,” he says.

MUCH More About the Letters (Including Several Images) in this Story from Emory U.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.