Throwback… Way Back
One hundred fifty eight years ago, 10 men and 9 women entered what was then Bridgewater State Normal School. The class, the 50th to enter Bridgewater since the school’s founding in 1840, was small, even by the standards of the time.
The newcomers were welcomed to the school’s only building by Principal Marshall Conant and the three members of the faculty. The class would graduate on February 15, 1859, the school term then being only twelve months long then, but they would leave behind an item of priceless value to their alma mater: the earliest publication yet discovered featuring photographs of Bridgewater students.
"We were unaware of the book’s existence until earlier this summer when I was reviewing a stack of uncatalogued books in the special collections area,” said Orson Kingsley, university archivist in the Maxwell Library. “There was nothing written on the spine of the book so it didn’t catch my attention at first. But when I removed the book and saw the cover, with gold stamping ‘Class 50, B,S.N.S.,’ and then opened it saw the collection of photographs, I knew instantly this was worth further investigation.”
Mr. Kingsley showed the book to Ellen Dubinsky, BSU’s digital librarian who over the past several years has uncovered a significant amount of historical information about the university that was heretofore unknown.
“I was skeptical at first when I saw the book,” she said. “Only two of the photographs in the book were identified by name – both of them students – so initially we had to rely on matching the pictures in the book with likenesses we already had and the pictures of Marshall Conant and (faculty member) Eliza Bond Woodward were slightly different than others in our possession.”
But after much detective work, which included combing through large swaths of online digital records, Ms. Dubinsky – though not an absolute 100 percent ready to declare the book genuine – is “as convinced as I possibly can be that we do indeed have this book dating from 1857 which shows the faculty and students at Bridgewater at that time.”
The book will now be mined for historical information about the institution and its people.
“Slowly we’re building a good deal of information about the members of the class which entered in 1857,” explains Mr. Kingsley. “But this book is such a treasure because it was so unusual to have a publication like this with pictures – all of them pasted on paper because the technology to print photographs directly on paper wasn’t invented for many years after 1857. It opens a window for us to the people and the times in which they lived.” (Story and photo by David K. Wilson, ’71, University News)