Library Archives show selection of significant photos in Brandeis history
“The Beginnings of Brandeis: A History in Pictures” retells the founding and story of the University through photos from the archives.
The Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections hosted a virtual event on Sept. 23 showcasing photos that tell the story of the University’s history. Surella Seelig, an archivist at the library, described the importance of the images, chosen from 100,000 photos taken throughout Brandeis’ history.
The first photo was of Middlesex University, the university that used to be on Brandeis’ campus. Middlesex was best known for its medical and veterinary schools, Seelig, who led the session, explained. She described the social ethos at Middlesex: whoever the student was, if they were motivated and had the potential to succeed, they belonged there. This social ethos has remained at Brandeis and continues to be the energy on campus today, Seelig reflected.
Next was a photo of the first president of the University, Abram Leon Sachar. Prior to coming to Brandeis in 1948, Sachar was the director of the American branch of Hillel International. He served as University president until 1968 and is buried on campus, Seelig said. Sachar “built the University from the ground up,” per his biography on the Brandeis website. Seelig explained that his method for building each academic department was to hire scholars in their respective fields, which he thought would encourage students to come learn from them.
The next photo showcased the Brandeis National Women's Committee, now known as the Brandeis National Committee. “These women are the reason we have an academic library,” Seelig said. Before the establishment of the University, a group of women who were connected to Brandeis in various ways began to raise money for an academic library. According to the archives, they wanted the library to be able to rival those at other prestigious universities in the Boston area.
“We couldn’t talk about Brandeis without talking about Eleanor Roosevelt,” Seelig continued. Roosevelt was the first woman to join the Board of Trustees in 1949 and the first commencement speaker in 1952. She later joined the faculty as a visiting lecturer.
In addition to rigorous academics, the University has an impressive history in sports. Seelig explained that All-American athlete Benny Friedman was named the first director of Athletics, and he established the football, basketball and soccer teams. The team’s first football game was against Harvard University, and the Judges won. Even though football was discontinued at Brandeis, other sports teams continue to thrive.
Seelig then presented a photo of the three chapels on Chapels Field. The original plan was to have one nondenominational house of worship, but when Boston surgeon David Berlin donated money for a solely Jewish chapel, the plan changed to have three houses of worship. After the Jewish chapel was funded, Sachar led a campaign to build a Catholic and a Protestant chapel. “Harrison and Abromavitz designed the chapels so none would cast a shadow on the other,” Seelig said.
Next, Seelig showed one of the most important photos in the archive — the statue of Louis Dembitz Brandeis on campus. Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice of the United States, and his advocacy for freedom of speech, the right to privacy and other core American values are the reason the University's founders named it after him. While he had nothing to do with the founding of the University, his legacy was the perfect match for the goal and mission of the school, Seelig shared. The statue that now stands on campus was put up on Justice Brandeis’ 100th anniversary.
Seelig then described an important moment in Brandeis history — the Ford Hall takeover. Ford Hall used to stand where the Shapiro Campus Center now stands, Seelig explained. In January of 1969, 70 Black students occupied the hall to advocate for racial justice on campus. These students composed 10 demands, but only after a second sit-in in March were most of their demands granted, one of the major ones being the creation of the African and African American Studies department.
To conclude the presentation of the archive photos, Seelig discussed some of the famous visitors in the University's history — speakers, professors, performers and more. She read the list of these individuals, which includes the Supremes, David Ben-Gurion, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Marc Chagall, James Baldwin, John Cage, Golda Meir, Maya Angelou and Dalai Lama.