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‘Academy’ Award

University archivists preserve piece of local history
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News Feature

Bridgewater resident Linda Walsh knew she had something of local significance when she unearthed her father’s 78-year-old master’s thesis about the town’s most important building.

But with the pages of the only extant copy falling out of the binding, Ms. Walsh also knew she had only one chance to save her father, Maurice’s, thesis, “A Brief History of Bridgewater Academy.” Thus, she brought it to the Maxwell Library this summer and entrusted the family treasure to Head of Archives and Special Collections Orson Kingsley and Head of Digital Services Ellen Dubinsky

Months later at the official unveiling of the recently renovated Bridgewater Academy, BSU President Frederick W. Clark Jr. presented a re-printed and newly bound copy of the 1938 Boston College thesis to the town of Bridgewater. Thanks to the innovative preservation work of BSU’s archives department, Mr. Walsh’s one-of-a-kind document from the past will live on into the future.

“This was an opportunity to work with a local resident who had a unique item in hand and the library was able to make the content available for current and future residents, scholars, and researchers interested in the history of Bridgewater and the early history of public education in this town and region,” said library Director Michael Somers. “Recognizing its importance as a unique document identifying some of the history of this building, Orson and Ellen went to work.”

That work included scanning the text to post a copy online on the Virtual Commons, as well as sending the original copy to the library’s bindery. 

The efforts to protect the document were important in part because of the information that the 39-page thesis contained. Using Bridgewater Academy reports no longer in existence, Mr. Walsh detailed the history of the building that opened in 1799 and housed a school for decades prior to the growth of area high schools.

Throughout seven chapters, Mr. Walsh presented his research on the building’s impact of the region’s educational system, detailing how the academy stayed operational during the Civil War, and providing a comprehensive analysis of the role the building played in Massachusetts’ establishment of free public schools. 

“The academy predates the university, and the university may have not been located here if the academy was not already here,” said Mr. Kingsley.

Mr. Walsh was born in Bridgewater in 1902 and lived in town until his death in 1990. Most of his life was dedicated to education. After serving as an instructor and assistant principal of Bridgewater High School — then housed in the academy — he taught mathematics at Boston College, led evening courses at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and became the founding chair of the mathematics department at Massasoit Community College.

As for his own education, Mr. Walsh graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1924, and earned a master’s degree from Boston College — thanks in part to the thesis now available in the Maxwell Library’s archives as well as its circulating collection.

Other copies of the thesis have been distributed to President Clark, Bridgewater Town Manager Michael Dutton, Bridgewater Public Library and the Old Bridgewater Historical Society. 

“I think it’s important to make it known that the Town of Bridgewater and this institution have a history of working with each other,” Mr. Kingsley said. “We want to increase awareness of this 175-year connection.” (Story by Charlie Peters, University News & Media)

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