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A Place of Their Own

BSU's Archives and Special Collections is home to a wide – and surprising – array of items
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Bridgewater Magazine
JFK Letter
JFK Letter
Date stamped November 22, 1963, this letter is possibly one of the last things signed by President John F. Kennedy. It was acquired by BSU in 2011, along with a collection of papers belonging to U.S. Representative Hastings Keith, donated by his daughters. The letter is a simple happy birthday greeting to the Brockton-born Republican representative. As such, it is not that valuable for research purposes, but “unique and collectible,” Dr. Kingsley said. Two other JFK letters are also in the general collection.

A letter from President John F. Kennedy dated the morning of his assassination, three Civil War-era rifles, a portion of Seamus Heaney’s papers, original prints of Norman Rockwell’s famous Four Freedoms series, and a large and growing collection highlighting women in American sports are just a few of the thousands of items to be found in Bridgewater State University’s Archives and Special Collections.

Housed on the third floor of the Maxwell Library and overseen by Dr. Orson Kingsley, the department’s contents tell the story of the institution, but also touch on people and matters regional, national and even international.

Class Photos
Earliest Class Photographs, 1856-1858
Ambrotypes represent the second generation of photography, following on the heels of the daguerreotype. The earliest portraits of Bridgewater State students were captured in this format. The good news is that a handful of the students are identified; the bad news is that the limitation of ambrotypes means these images are one of kind with no duplication possible.

As head of Archives and Special Collections, Dr. Kingsley wears many hats. Safeguarding the often-delicate items in his charge, procuring materials from donors and ensuring that researchers will want to make use of the vast collection are among his responsibilities. He also creates exhibitions to showcase the department’s belongings.

“I’m trying to create a center here that would be enticing for people to come to for research, beyond our own students and faculty,” he said. He points to the Women in Sports Collection as something that would likely draw future researchers to BSU.

The first dedicated space for the campus archives was in a banker’s vault in the basement of Tillinghast Hall, which was built in 1917. In 1971, a dedicated location for the archives was created in the newly built library, and S. Mabell Bates was named the archivist. The space was increased with the 2007 renovation of the library, and in July 2011, Dr. Kinglsey, a professionally trained archivist, was hired.

As the name of the department indicates, there are two parts to the enterprise. University Archives comprises the institution’s history. This includes curriculum records, past catalogs, school photos, yearbooks, master’s theses, student records and the like.

Tillinghast Cookbook
Dating from 1768, this handwritten cookbook belonged to the family of Nicholas Tillinghast, the institution’s first principal, who served from 1840-1853.

Special Collections takes a wider perspective, and includes hundreds of manuscript collections, including some papers and audio recordings from the poet Seamus Heaney (he visited campus in 1982 and 1990) and rare photos of fellow poet Robert Frost (he visited in 1959).

Also part of this collection are faculty research materials, as well as papers and items connected to local history, such as the papers of local author Louise Dickinson Rich, which draw the occasional researcher. Ms. Rich was well known in her day and earned degrees from Bridgewater State in 1923 and 1931.

Ghandi Letter
Gandhi Letter
This signed letter from Mahatma Gandhi was donated in 2010 by Abraham Thomas, professor emeritus of sociology and anthropology. “It’s one of the items that people like to see,” Dr. Kingsley said.

Donors, including many alumni, provide the lifeblood of Archives and Special Collections. Some have a connection to the university or the area and want their donations to have a safe, permanent home. “People want their items to be where they will be taken care of and where people will see them and be able to make use of them,” Dr. Kingsley said.

It is up to him to create systems to make the vast amount of material easy to find for visiting researchers. And, as a curator of the materials, he can give shape to the collections. “Recently, I’ve been trying to diversify our types of collections, with a focus on the university’s social justice theme,” he said. He is also working to digitize parts of the collection to make them even more widely available, a time-consuming and ongoing process.

Heaney Prize
Seamus Heaney Nobel Prize
Material Some of the paperwork that accompanied the Irish poet, playwright and translator’s Nobel Prize for Literature, signed by the laureate himself, is part of a growing collection of Irish literature. 

Some of the department’s most intriguing items are featured here. And, in future issues of Bridgewater, look for a regular column featuring items from the University Archives.

Women in Sports Collection

Donors Linda Lundin and Kathleen Bertrand, ’70, have made numerous donations to the archives, forming the basis of what is fast becoming a must-see for researchers tracing the history of sports and/or baseball in the United States.

One of the highlights – among many – is a baseball signed by Mildred Ella Didrikson Zaharias, better known as “Babe,” and generally hailed as one of the greatest athletes of all time. Name a sport, and she dominated it, winning two gold medals in the 1932 summer Olympics and later winning 10 major Ladies Professional Golf Association championships. She also played baseball, and in March 1932 during a barnstorming tour, pitched against the Red Sox. The archives is proud to possess a baseball signed by Ms. Didrikson and some of her teammates.

Other items in the Women in Sports Collection include a scrapbook that once belonged to Mary Pratt, who played for the Rockford Peaches, a women’s professional baseball team that played from 1943-1954 in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The team was the centerpiece of the 1992 film, A League of Their Own. The scrapbook is notable for its beautifully carved cover, and it contains original photos and news clips about the team.

Also in the collection is a 1940’s baseball uniform worn by Madeline “Maddy” English, who played for the Racine (Wisconsin) Belles from 1943-1950 and was, at 18 years old, one of the youngest among the founding members of the All-American Girls Baseball League. In a single game in 1947, she stole seven bases. The uniform was donated to the University Archives by her niece, Madeline Mitchell.

Women In Sports
Civil War Rifle
Civil War-Era Rifle with Bayonet

Because BSU does not have a museum, donated items like this 1863 rifle with bayonet are kept in Archives and Special Collections. This is one of three Civil War-era rifles owned by BSU. The other two date from 1864 and 1870 and do not have bayonets.

They are part of the Lincoln Collection, which grew out of the institution’s relationship with the Lincoln Group of Boston. Three former professors, Thomas Turner, Jean Stonehouse and Jordan Fiore, were members and leaders in the organization. The group’s archives are kept at BSU.

Rockwell Prints
Norman Rockwell Original Prints

It’s hard to imagine work by Norman Rockwell more well-loved than his Four Freedoms series. The archives contains four of these original prints, though their provenance is unknown. Dr. Kingsley shared them with the public in a 2018 exhibition he arranged on campus, The Art of Propaganda: Posters of World War I and II.

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