The Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections hosted a virtual event on September 23 featuring photos that tell the story of the University. Surella Seelig, 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 once stood on the Brandeis campus. Middlesex was best known for its medical and veterinary schools, explained Seelig, who led the session. She described social ethics at Middlesex: Whoever the student was, if he was motivated and had the potential to succeed, he had a place. This social ethic has stayed with Brandeis and continues to be the energy on campus today, Seelig explained.
Next, a photo of the University’s first president, Abram Leon Sachar. Before coming to Brandeis in 1948, Sachar was the director of the American branch of Hillel International. He was president of the university until 1968 and is buried on campus, Seelig said. Sachar “built the University from scratch”, according to his Biography on the Brandeis website. Seelig explained that his method of building each university department was to hire academics in their respective fields, which he said would encourage students to come and learn from them.
The next photo showed the Brandeis National Women’s Committee, now known as the Brandeis National Committee. “These women are the reason we have a university library,” Seelig said. Prior to the establishment of the University, a group of women who were linked to Brandeis in various ways began to raise funds for a university library. According to records, they wanted the library to compete with those of 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 in 1949 and the first lecturer in 1952. She then joined the faculty as a guest 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 created the soccer, basketball and soccer teams. The team’s first football game was against Harvard University, and the judges won. Even though football was interrupted 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 a non-denominational place of worship, but when Boston surgeon David Berlin donated for a Jewish-only chapel, the plan changed to have three places of worship. After funding for the Jewish chapel, Sachar led a campaign to build a Catholic chapel and a Protestant chapel. “Harrison and Abromavitz designed the chapels so that neither cast a shadow over the other,” Seelig said.
Next, Seelig showed one of the most important photos in the archives – the statue of Louis Dembitz Brandeis on campus. Brandeis was the first Jewish judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, and his advocacy for free speech, the right to privacy, and other core American values are the reason the founders of the university gave it its name. Although he had nothing to do with the founding of the university, his legacy fit perfectly with the school’s purpose and mission, Seelig explained. The statue that now stands on campus was erected to mark Judge Brandeis’ 100th birthday.
Seelig went on to describe an important moment in Brandeis history – the Takeover of Ford Hall. Ford Hall stood where the Shapiro Campus Center is now located, Seelig explained. In January 1969, 70 black students occupied the room to advocate for racial justice on campus. These students made up 10 demands, but it was only after a second sit-in in March that most of their demands were accepted, one of the most important being the creation of the Department of African and Afro-Studies. American.
To conclude the presentation of the archive photos, Seelig discussed some of the famous visitors in the history of the University – speakers, professors, performers and more. She has read the list of such people, 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.