Where Dana Hall history comes alive

Archives display in Helen Temple Cooke Library.In a corner of the Helen Temple Cooke Library, as far from the front door as possible, are two rooms comprising the Dana Hall Archives. Named for Nina Heald Webber, Class of 1949, the Archives has a fascinating collection of school records, photographs, publications, scrapbooks, letters, recordings, clothing, and memorabilia dating back to the School’s earliest days.

Requests for information about Dana Hall’s past come to the archivists from a variety of groups including administrators, faculty and staff, alumnae and their descendants, outside researchers, and current students and their families. Students as young as 5th graders stop by to satisfy their curiosity about what lies behind the door to this seemingly mysterious office. On occasion seniors come by because they’ve wondered for years what the Archives is, and does. A small group of upperclassmen taking the half credit Making History class with Social Studies teacher Eric Goodson uses the primary resources in our collection to delve into the 139-year history of the School in the context of women’s history and United States social and political history.

Many requests we receive are simple and easily researched, such as “did my Grandma graduate from Dana Hall, and if so, do you have her class yearbook?” Routine annual activities include creating displays and providing materials to welcome alumnae returning for reunions. Archivists also work with the current Senior Class Historians to make sure that the story of each graduating class is reflected in our holdings, and will be available in the future.

Dana Hall Students at the Harvard Art Museum.
Members of the Class of 2020 pose with the Helen Temple Cooke photo/label introducing the exhibit of four pieces of Persian art from Harvard’s extensive collection that formerly belonged to Helen Temple Cooke.

Two recent high-profile research projects highlight the influence and significance of our School’s past in sometimes surprising contexts and provide an understanding of the far-reaching influence that Dana Hall women and their teachers have had since the late 19th century.

Over the past year three members of the Class of 2020 researched former Principal Helen Temple Cooke and her extraordinary collection of Persian art and manuscripts. The Dana Hall Schools (yes, plural – she had an empire!) inherited these rare works of art on Cooke’s death in 1955. The collection was auctioned in 1959 and a large percentage of it was acquired by Harvard’s Fogg Museum. In November 2019 four of these exquisite artworks went on display at the Harvard Art Museums, and will be available for viewing until April 26, 2020.

Just last month a little known, but influential alumna named Mary (“Molly”) Dewson of the Class of 1893 was introduced to the community with a display in the Library. Miss Dewson was a social reformer and activist who worked for suffrage, and for labor laws and social programs that we in the U.S. enjoy today. She was instrumental in getting women, including Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member, appointed to high government positions.

The Archives is rich with fascinating stories from Dana Hall’s past. We are fortunate to be among a handful of New England independent secondary schools to have a dedicated space to collect historical records and memorabilia, and a team to staff it. Dana Hall students have opportunities, both curricular and extra-curricular, to study the history of the School, learn the lessons of, and be inspired by the past, and to have their current and future contributions reflected in the collection. We welcome comments and requests at archives@danahall.org, and in the Archives, open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. To paraphrase Lin Manuel Miranda: “History has its eyes on us!”

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About Dorothy DeSimone

Dorothy DeSimone is the Archivist at Dana Hall School. She joined the school in 2010.

3 Replies to “Where Dana Hall history comes alive”

  1. Dorothy,
    Thank you for all the work you do bring the rich history of Dana Hall School to the attention of the broader community!

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