Brandeis’ life on display in “Inspiring Life”
“Louis D. Brandeis: An Inspiring Life,” sponsored by the University Archives & Special Collections, showcases the highlights of the former justice’s life. The exhibit in Level 2 of Goldfarb Library starts from his early childhood and moves through his time on the Supreme Court bench, ending with his enduring legacy. The University Archives & Special Collections’ Leslie Reicher, Preservation officer and Special Projects coordinator, and Surella Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Outreach librarian, curated the Goldfarb exhibit.
A plaque on the “early life” section of the exhibit emphasizes the exhibit’s goals: to give viewers a look at the man behind Brandeis’ famous legal persona.
The exhibit uses various artifacts, including letters, photographs, commemorative plates, telegrams and even one of Brandeis’ Torah scrolls, to convey a vivid image of what Brandeis’ life was like.
The exhibit is part of “Louis D. Brandeis 100: Then and Now,” a series of events in winter and spring of 2016 celebrating the 100th anniversary of the nomination and confirmation of Brandeis to the United States Supreme Court. In an email to the Justice, Seelig clarified that there are actually two “Louis D. Brandeis: An Inspiring Life” exhibits: The first is the physical exhibit in Goldfarb, while the second is a digital exhibit curated by Zoe Waldman ’16 and designed by Jenn Schlick, an outside consultant. A computer in the physical exhibit allows guests to access its digital component.
One interesting facet of the exhibit is Brandeis’ coursework and journal articles.
On display are two of Brandeis’ physics notebooks, written with impeccable penmanship in German. A plaque from the exhibit’s “early life” section notes that Brandeis “enrolled in Harvard Law School just shy of the age nineteen,” and works from that time are on display in the exhibit’s “legal career” section.
A copy of Brandeis’ famous article “The Right to Privacy” for the Harvard Law Review, originally published Dec. 15, 1890, sits open next to the article’s first page. In her email to the Justice, Seelig commented on Brandeis’ coursework, remarking that “[she loved] looking at his grammar and law school notebooks (and the pressed flowers [she] found in one of them!)”
Seelig also mentioned that she found “the letters of condolence after Brandeis’ passing [to be] incredibly powerful testaments to the ways in which he touched people’s lives the world over.” The exhibit’s “legacy” section includes telegrams, letters and postcards from government officials and interest groups praising Brandeis’ contributions and principled stances on a variety of issues. The Government reached out to the Brandeis family through letters from the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee and the Assistant Secretary of State and at the state level through the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Perhaps the most relevant part of the exhibit is its section on the University. It contains a photo of students walking out of Usen Castle shortly after the school’s founding, a photo of the University’s founders featuring Albert Einstein sitting front and center and a yearbook from the class of 1952 dedicated to Louis Brandeis’ life and works.
A newsletter on display announces the University’s plans to build dorms for 500 students and to start construction on an expansive library — presumably the library that houses the exhibit now.
The newsletter was subtitled with an explanation of the University’s Jewish connection, noting that the University was a “non-sectarian university under Jewish auspices.” People outside the Brandeis community frequently ask students about the University’s Jewish connection, and most students say some variation of the subtitle on the newsletter.
Another common question people outside the Brandeis community ask students is about the University’s namesake: “Who was Louis Brandeis?” After visiting the exhibit, viewers will be able to thoroughly answer this question.