Friday, October 30, 2009

The Brandeis Seal

The University Archives receives many questions about the Brandeis University seal, which has undergone several revisions over the course of the school's sixty-plus year history.

In 1948, the Brandeis University Bulletin (course catalog) showed a simple circular seal with the words "Brandeis University" surrounding two Tablets of the Law; the tablets were inscribed with the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The university's first president, Abram Sachar, transformed the seal into a more secular symbol designed by Kenneth Conant, a professor of medieval history at Harvard University and an expert on heraldry. Conant created a shield containing an image of three mounds of ice with three licks of fire rising from them—representing a literal translation from the Yiddish: Brand (Fire) and Eis (Ice). The number three was a reference to the city of Boston, which was built on a trimount, and could be seen from the Brandeis campus. President Sachar decided to surround the shield with a quote from Psalm 51: "Truth Even Unto Its Innermost Parts."

The second seal was delineated by a simple line but in 1950 an ornate Baroque framing appeared and the Hebrew word "EMET" (Truth) was newly inscribed on the trimount. This design continued until c.1983, when the current blue and white seal of a shield within a circle was introduced. A committee was then formed to evaluate the new unofficial seal; though committee members recommended that the heraldic shield be replaced by a book, the shield remains to this day.

description by Maggie A. McNeely, Assistant Archivist

Friday, July 24, 2009

Charlie Who?

In January of 1950, a group of male Brandeis students living in the former Smith Hall—a converted military barracks—came up with the idea of organizing a variety show, something akin to a "semi-satirical, semi-entertaining all-male revue." The group, known as Hi Charlie, was founded that spring and held its first production on May 13, 1950. Called simply, "Hi Charlie: A Musical Revue," the program was directed by Jay Aronson, ’52 and held in Nathan Seifer Hall, an auditorium in Ford Hall. Included were a series of dance numbers and satirical skits with names such as "Administration Tsooris," "A Nite at the Arena," and "Quiet, Please." The inaugural production was a resounding success and inspired a new annual tradition at Brandeis.

In its second year, "Hi Charlie" moved from the "curtainless and almost stageless" Seifer Hall to Hovey Hall in Waltham. For one memorable ditty, the all-male cast dressed in drag and danced the can-can (as seen here), a performance that, according to The Justice, included "several well-placed 'bumps' and 'grinds.'"

In recognizing the limits of an all-male revue, Hi Charlie became co-ed in its third season and transformed into a full-scale musical comedy troupe with productions written, directed, acted, and staffed by Brandeis students. Performances returned to the campus in 1954 and were held at the outdoor Ullman Amphitheater. Three years later, the Hi Charlie Alumni Association was founded with the goal of perpetuating and expanding the ideals of the organization. By the time Hi Charlie folded after the 1969/70 school year, the association had a full technical staff including a producer, assistant producer, technical director and musical director.

description by Karen Adler Abramson, Associate Director for University Archives & Special Collections

Ralph Norman: A Gifted Presence

Photo of Ralph NormanBefore Brandeis officially opened in the fall of 1948, a portrait photographer with a studio on Newbury Street was hired, on a contractual basis, to document the emerging university. In 1950 Ralph Norman became Brandeis’s first university photographer and was well on his way to becoming one of the most beloved members of the Brandeis community. Over the course of thirty-three years, Norman photographed the growth and development of the university, creating a visual trove that has become indispensable to the work of the University Archives.

Norman was originally from Roxbury, Massachusetts and dropped out of school at the age of fourteen to help support his mother and sisters. He was an accomplished boxer and bowler, the latter ability transforming his career path from grocery worker to celebrated photographer; in 1928 Norman won a bet on a bowling game and in the process acquired his first camera equipment, along with photography lessons. Soon thereafter he created a darkroom and enlarger in his bathroom and would later teach his wife to print as they embarked on the wedding photography business.

When Ralph Norman began to photograph Brandeis, there were approximately 107 students and thirteen teachers on campus, which made for a very close-knit community. Norman’s giving and loving Ralph Norman Barbequeyet no-nonsense character quickly made him the go-to person for anything from car rides to campus, to personal advice, to financial loans. He sponsored and participated in many types of events, parties, and picnics on campus. In 1950 he decided to throw a barbecue for the first graduating class (Class of 1952) and it was so popular that it grew to become an annual event attracting hundreds. Brandesians still enjoy the annual Ralph Norman Emeritus Barbeque.

Norman was very fond of his several dogs and they became welcome fixtures on campus. The name chosen for the popular Ralph Norman with his dog, Chumleycampus coffeehouse located in the Castle—the same coffeehouse that inspired alumni creators of the TV series, Friends—was inspired by Norman’s beloved dog, Cholmondeley.

In 1977 Brandeis awarded Norman with an honorary Master of Arts degree. The citation noted: “Behind the shutter, your enchanting patter and spontaneous smile have made you a campus treasure.” In 1981, the year of his retirement, a student loan fund was established in his name. Three decades of Norman’s photography became the basis for the university’s striking fortieth-anniversary publication, From the Beginning: A Picture History of the First Four Decades of Brandeis University (1988).

In 1983 at the age of 69, Ralph Norman became blind due to an eye disease. However, this disability did not stop him from teaching photography and becoming president of a camera club at his retirement residence in Florida. He died on July 8, 1995, by all accounts still a kind and wonderful man who considered himself to be very lucky.

Sources: University Photography Collection finding aid; Ralph Norman Memorial Service program, 1995, University Photography Collection; Miami Herald, 1986. All images from the University Photography Collection, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department.

description by Maggie A. McNeely, Assistant Archivist

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Denah Lida Papers

Denah LidaThe University Archives is pleased to make available the personal papers of the late Denah Lida (1923-2007). Professor Lida was a Brandeis faculty member from 1955 to 1986; during her long tenure she served as chair of European Languages, Romance and Comparative Literature, the Joint Program in Literary Studies, and the School of Humanities. She was among the first tenured female faculty members at the university and was the first woman to serve on its faculty senate.
Professor Lida (née Levy) was born and raised in New York City; she received her B.A. from Hunter College, her M.A. from Columbia University, and her Ph.D. from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. She returned to the United States in 1954 when her husband, Raimundo Lida, accepted a position at Harvard University; within a year she was teaching at Brandeis. In 1961, Professor Lida was among the first group of scholars accepted into the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study—now known as the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Over the course of her academic career she became a noted scholar in Sephardic studies, Spanish and European theater, and nineteenth-century fiction and intellectual history.
Professor Lida's graduation capProfessor Lida’s papers include personal and professional correspondence, research notes and typescripts, copies of her publications, items from her personal library, materials related to her personal and family history, and regalia—including her cap and gown from the Universidad Nacional—a striking garment that she continued to wear at Brandeis commencement ceremonies.
Two years before her death, Professor Lida was honored by her colleagues with a festschrift entitled Studies in Honor of Denah Lida (2005).

To see the online finding aid to the Denah Lida papers, click on the following link: Denah Lida papers.

description by Karen Adler Abramson, Associate Director for University Archives & Special Collections

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Brandeis University: The Campus and its Past

The campus that Brandeis University now occupies has undergone massive growth and change in a relatively short time span. From the University’s inception, its trustees ushered in an explosion of buildings, with the most dramatic increase occurring during the 1960s. When one walks along the narrow paths from building to building today, the landscape gives no indication of having once been rural farmland and eventually a bucolic campus—for Middlesex University—dominated by a castle and a few sparsely-placed buildings. Brandeis inherited from Middlesex the following structures: The Castle, a converted stable for a library, a small crescent-shaped building with a wishing well and grape arbor nearby, a quaint farmhouse called Woodruff Hall, a rectangular dorm called Smith Hall, and the relatively new Science Hall (which came to be called Ford Hall), complete with a greenhouse. An apple orchard once stood where the science complex is currently located. Usdan Student Center was built over a city reservoir. With the exception of the Castle, all Middlesex buildings were eventually razed and many structures that were erected during Brandeis’s infancy have been altered. The master plans of Eero Saarinen and Max Abramovitz, and the buildings of Benjamin Thompson, Hugh Stubbins & Associates, and Sasaki & Associates, and the layouts of various landscapers and planners, have added layer upon layer to this bustling university on the hill.

The above image was created by Assistant Archivist Maggie McNeely using a 2004 aerial photograph of the Brandeis campus. Former buildings and places of historical significance have been marked by red dots with accompanying short descriptions. To compare this map to the current campus map, please visit
The Archives houses important resources on the University’s architectural history; some of our favorites include the following:
  • Building a Campus: An Architectural Celebration of Brandeis University’s 50th Anniversary by Gerald S. Bernstein (1999) is the go-to resource for the history of selected campus buildings;
  • A Host At Last by Abram Sachar (1976) includes the description of the physical campus that Brandeis inherited from the perspective of its first president;
  • A 1971 senior thesis by Michael Hauptman called The Architecture of Brandeis University or "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" by Max Abramovitz offers a rather critical view of the University’s modernist, mostly brick, and crowded campus;
  • A 1972 senior thesis by Ann Lorenz called Architecture and Planning at Brandeis University is told from the perspective of a Fine Arts major; and
  • For those interested in the history of the Castle, a 1998 thesis by Amy Debra Finstein called Unlocking Doors to the Past and Future: An Architectural and Social Exploration of the Irving and Edyth Usen Castle is the best in-depth analysis of this flamboyant and mysterious building.
Archival collections that document the history and development of the Brandeis campus are also worth noting: the University Architecture Collection; the David Berkowitz Papers; the University History Collection; the Middlesex University Records; the Abram L. Sachar Presidential Papers; the University Photography Collection; and others. Please also visit our online exhibit called “Building Brandeis: Style and Function of a University” at
description by Maggie A. McNeely, Assistant Archivist

Friday, March 6, 2009

Honoring Women's Month: A Look Back at Feminist Activism on the Brandeis Campus

On the evening of December 3, 1982, eighty Brandeis students gathered outside of the Usdan Student Center to protest the showing of a pornographic film, part of an annual tradition during what was known as “Usdan Lives,” a series of entertainment for students before winter finals. The porn film scheduled for that year, “The Opening of Misty Beethoven,” was sponsored by the student-led Programming Board, also known as ProBo.

In response to the proposed showing, members of the Brandeis Women’s Coalition, the student feminist organization, organized a protest outside of Levin Ballroom. The protest was intended as a stand against an industry that degraded women and promoted violence against them. The students—one quarter of whom were men—marched around the Usdan plaza carrying placards and shouting slogans such as “Trash the tradition” and “We are everywhere; we will not be silenced.” Other undergraduate students as well as university administrators watched the protest from the sidelines.

In addition to the protest march, the Women’s Coalition sponsored an event that was presented as an alternative to the film; former porn star, Linda Marchiano (aka, “Linda Lovelace” of “Deep Throat” fame), was invited to speak about her past experience as a sexual slave and long-time prisoner of the man who forced her into pornography—her former husband and well-known pornography producer, Charles “Chuck” Traynor. Marchiano, who had become an anti-pornography spokesperson, recounted her ordeal (documented in a book of the same name) to the audience and addressed the violent and misogynistic foundation on which the porn industry was built. She explained that during the filming of “Deep Throat” she suffered a brutal beating at the hands of Traynor for smiling on the set; her bruises were readily apparent during filming, though no one said anything to her about them.

Neither Marchiano’s talk nor the protest succeeded in preventing the showing of “The Opening of Misty Beethoven.” Nevertheless, 500 individuals showed up to hear Marchiano speak, and, according to The Justice,[1] the film drew 300 less individuals than the previous year’s showing. The Women’s Coalition—an active group on the Brandeis campus during the 1980s—sponsored a number of other events and programs that addressed issues including abortion rights, sexual harassment, equal pay for equal work, rape and domestic violence, anti-pornography legislation, and more. In addition to producing a feminist periodical called Artemis, the group brought leading feminist activists and scholars to the Brandeis campus including Andrea Dworkin, Kate Millett, Catherine MacKinnon, Robin Morgan, and Adrienne Rich.

[1] The Justice, Dec. 8, 1982

description by Karen Adler Abramson, Associate Director for University Archives & Special Collections

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Brandeis Grape Arbor?

A member of the Brandeis Orientation Committee once asked us:
“Was there really a grape arbor on the Brandeis campus?”
The answer is YES. In fact, in the same approximate area (near the current Science complex) there was a grape arbor, a wishing well, and a quaint crescent-shaped building affectionately called the Banana Building. The wishing well was a popular hangout for students and couples in the 1950s, a fact documented in photographs from the time period.
The Banana Building’s name derived from its shape and color: yellow with a light-green roof. Formerly a Middlesex University building, it served as a small animal hospital for the veterinary school. After Brandeis was founded, it became the first campus bookstore and
housed the offices of early student newspapers.
The Brandeis Master Plan, begun in the early 1950s, did not accommodate rustic and quirky structures like the Banana Building, the grape arbor, the wishing well, and the old horse stable that served as the first library. The Modernist-style buildings that soon populated the campus overshadowed and clashed with these pastoral structures, and they were eventually razed to make way for the burgeoning campus.
To find out more about these and other early campus structures, visit our online exhibit "Building Brandeis: Style and Function of a University," at:

Debunking Urban Legends about Brandeis Architecture

Much of the following information may be found in Gerald S. Bernstein’s An Architectural Celebration of Brandeis University’s 50th Anniversary (1999).

Was Spingold Theater designed to resemble a top hat?
No. Drawings indicate that the theater’s original design was much flatter; it was eventually elongated, most likely to enhance the building’s acoustics.

Was the Slosberg Music Center designed to resemble a grand piano?
No. The building did not include its signature “glass curtain” windows on all four sides until a major addition was built in 1963. Many have claimed that the structure’s 88 windows were intended to represent the 88 keys of a piano — a fortuitous coincidence.

Does the Castle have secret passageways?
Yes. Early architect Archie Riskin surveyed the structure and found sliding panels and apartments accessible by secret passageways.
Was the Castle modeled after a Scottish castle?
No. The Castle is an eclectic, Gothic-style structure loosely based on medieval castles from England and Ireland, most notably Cavendish Castle (Ireland). It is also reminiscent of buildings at Cambridge and Oxford Universities (England).
Was Usdan Student Center designed to prevent student takeovers in response to the Ford Hall takeover of 1969?
No. Usdan was originally designed ca. 1965, before the occurrence of the Ford Hall takeover (January 1969). It was built in the Brutalist style, defined by massive brick walls and raw concrete. The design connected four buildings around an open courtyard; it has been suggested that its many entrances/exits were intended to comply with fire code requirements. But this design was also convenient in attracting donors after whom a hall of the building could be named. Of note: Usdan Student Center was built on the former Middlesex Reservoir.

Now Available: Lawrence H. Fuchs Papers

Processing has been completed on the Lawrence H. Fuchs Papers and the online finding aid to the collection is available, here: Lawrence H. Fuchs papers.
Lawrence H. Fuchs, now a professor emeritus, founded the American Studies department at Brandeis University and was a key player in the early Peace Corps, the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, and the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. He co-taught several classes at Brandeis with his friend and associate Eleanor Roosevelt.
The Fuchs collection (1948-2002) comprises 68 cubic feet and contains biographical materials, American Studies departmental and curricular materials, and records documenting Fuchs’s involvement in a range of educational, political, governmental, and community organizations.
Fuchs authored many books, including Hawaii Pono: A Social History (1961), American Ethnic Politics (1968), Family Matters (1973), The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity, and the Civic Culture (1991), and Beyond Patriarchy: Jewish Fathers and Families (2000). He was principal author of the texts Black in White America (1974) and The American Experiment (1981) and published extensively in academic journals and periodicals on the subjects of immigration, refugees, and ethnicity.

What was Middlesex University?

Middlesex University was a medical and veterinary school that previously occupied the land now belonging to Brandeis University. The Middlesex College of Medicine and Surgery, as it was first called, was established in 1914 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its founder, John Hall Smith, moved the institution to Waltham, Massachusetts in 1928 and shortly thereafter began construction on the school’s emblematic structure, Smith Castle.
Unlike most medical schools at the time, Middlesex did not have quotas in its admissions policy and granted medical degrees to marginalized populations including Jews, African Americans, and women. The veterinary and liberal arts schools opened in 1935 and the university expanded its footprint with a new structure called Main Hall (and later Science Hall) that accommodated examination tables for horses. Prior to World War II, Middlesex offered instruction in the schools of medicine, liberal arts, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine.
In 1944, a law was passed making it necessary for all schools offering medical degrees to be officially recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA). Middlesex was one of the few schools that failed the AMA’s accreditation and had to close its doors due to lack of support and funds. The last medical degrees were granted from 1945-1947 in accelerated wartime and postwar programs. Many graduates who applied after January 1, 1941, were not eligible to take the state boards in order to acquire licensure.
The Middlesex Board of Directors sought to attract the interest of those wishing to open a new school, preferably a nonsectarian university that granted medical degrees. In 1946, the school signed over its charter and deeds to Brandeis University, which admitted its first class in the fall of 1948. Brandeis never opened a medical school, but did maintain the nonsectarian and quota-free admissions system initiated by Middlesex.*
Brandeis University inherited several notable buildings from Middlesex University, among them: Smith Castle (renamed Usen Castle, the only Middlesex building still standing today), Main or Science Hall (renamed Ford Hall), and the library, a converted horse stable. The campus also retained a semi-circular yellow and green structure affectionately named the Banana Building, as well as a wishing well, grape arbor, and apple orchard.
The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department maintains the archives of Middlesex University and its staff regularly responds to questions about Middlesex and its graduates.

The finding aid for Middlesex University can be found at:
Photographs from the collection can be found at:
Catalogs and Bulletins for the school under the corporate name of Middlesex University are here and those under other corporate names are here.

*For more information on the transition from Middlesex to Brandeis, see Brandeis University: Chapter of Its Founding by Israel Goldstein.