Two Illinois State University math professors recently authenticated that two math-notebook pages belonged to Abraham Lincoln. The pages were found in the archives of Harvard's Houghton Library and were part of a math workbook, called a ciphering book, that Lincoln worked on in his youth. The ciphering book is the oldest known Lincoln manuscript.
Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements, the professors who made the discovery, believe these pages indicate that Lincoln had more formal education than scholars previously believed. Lincoln was thought to have completed only three to nine months of school, but the professors think he went to school for up to two years.
"He made very few errors, and he always knew what he was trying to do," Clements added. "We've studied thousands of these cyphering books. You don't always get the feeling that 'this guy knew what he was doing.'"
Historian Daniel Stowell, the Director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, agrees that Lincoln may have attended school for three to five winters. The dates on the pages and in the notebook suggest that Lincoln worked on these problems over the course of several years in the 1820s.
"They are arguing with some merit that a ciphering book would have been created in a school setting," Stowell said. "It does at least open the possibility that he may have had more formal schooling than originally thought. Not a whole lot more, but still more."
The professors came across the pages while conducting research for a book on math books from that era.