Celebrating Moses Brown’s Rich History

Dedication of Odell Archives & Reading Room – May 7 at 10 a.m. (Reunion) 

Moses Brown School has a rich archive, a carefully conserved trove of historic materials dating back to the founding of the school in 1784. These carefully conserved artifacts document the many generations of people who have formed its community and the wide range of curricular and extra-curricular activities and events that have shaped its culture. In the 2019-20 school year, Moses Brown began renovation of the Archives in Middle House, with the intention of turning the space into an artifact-focused exhibit illustrating MB history slated to be unveiled at Reunion that May. The research and planning for the exhibit was coordinated by past parent and current trustee Rebecca Leuchak P ’04 ’09, an art historian, curatorial consultant, museum educator, and member of Providence Friends Meeting.

In the fall of that year, a group of MB students guided by Rebecca took an exploratory deep dive into the school archives, working with the actual objects and historical records of Moses Brown, the founder of our school, and of the school itself in its evolution over the centuries. Faculty and staff, alumni, and parents joined in, combing through the Archives to get a fuller sense of Moses Brown, the man, as well as an understanding of Moses Brown the institution, in its historical life and everyday world. A team began focused study of key objects and people of the school’s past.

Students examined and researched the physical objects and documents, and together discussed them and drafted a design of an exhibit. They wrote and photographed, created video and artistic interpretations, all in preparation for the opening of a show that would use real objects from the distant and not so distant past to tell the story of Moses Brown, the man, and the School. This collective effort resulted in an anticipated exhibit for our community and a wider audience that would tell the story of the school’s rich and multi-layered past. To peruse a young student’s scrapbook from 1919, to hold the penknife of a 19th-century lower schooler who used it to make quill pens, or to read the beautiful penmanship of Moses Brown’s own hand-written letters is to sense the past world of MB.

Says Rebecca Leuchak, Friend, trustee and former MB parent, “These objects truly put us in direct contact with our past. They provide us an immediate experience and help us understand who we are as a school and community today.”

In that year’s upper school Immersion (February 2020), the exhibit was started and developed, materials were made ready, the gallery space designated and renovated, and exhibit cases made and moved into place. Many joined in the effort, building on the incredible and painstaking work of long-time faculty member and archivist King “Doc” Odell. Others shared that dream, and through the generous donations and support from alumni in the classes of 1964, 1965, and 1967, funding was secured to make this space and exhibit a reality.

Although the school and its students have weathered other health crises and epidemics over the years – including tuberculosis (1908), the flu (1918), and polio (1953) – little did anyone know what was coming on the horizon. By mid-March of 2020, plans for the Archive exhibit were put on pause and the materials for the exhibit were carefully packed and held in waiting for an indefinite period, the school shuttered for Covid with classes taking place virtually for the remainder of the school year.

Now, with school reopened, and after two years of virtual Reunion, we are pleased to announce that a pop-up Archive exhibit will finally appear at an in-person Reunion this spring, May 6-7.

The rich history of Moses Brown is emerging from its hibernation, with the installation of a smaller but nonetheless rich collection that chronicles the centuries.

Make sure to see the exhibit during Reunion Weekend this May, when the history of Moses Brown is unveiled in a mini-exhibit housed in the Middle House Archives room, and join us on Saturday, May 7 at 10:00 a.m. for the Archives Room Dedication with King “Doc” Odell, Middle House Archives.

Thank you to all involved with preparation for this exhibit for the school, including Karin Morse ’79, Matt Glendinning, Rebecca Leuchak, Jay Sitton ’92, Laura Bennett P ’05, Sarah Lindblom ’07, Anne Krive ’17, and Erik Wilker P ’22’26.

If you can’t get to MB for this Archives pop-up but would like to tour campus or visit at another time, please reach out to Meghan and Karin in the Alumni Programs office (mhansen@mosesbrown.org / kmorse@mosesbrown.org).