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Louis Brandeis hiding in plain sight, on the campus that adopted his name
By Julian Cardillo '14
Feb. 9, 2016
Drawing inspiration from Louis D. Brandeis isn’t hard for the university community, especially since bits and pieces of the late Supreme Court justice’s life and work are hiding in plain sight on campus.
And with Brandeis celebrating the centennial anniversary of its namesake’s nomination and confirmation to the nation’s highest court, the university’s Archives and Special Collections is putting an even greater emphasis this semester on showcasing the late justice to the Brandeis community.
“The value of these materials is that we can understand the time in which Louis D. Brandeis was working,” said Anne Woodrum, the special collections librarian who helps oversee all of the items housed in the university archives along with director Sarah Shoemaker. “Materials like this can engage and are invaluable to us, as they keep his memory and the work he did alive.”
Archives and Special Collections possess one of the largest collections in the world of Brandeis’ personal effects.
The Louis D. Brandeis collection is housed in two separate spaces of the library. One part, which includes over 100 linear feet of the late Justice’s letters, photos, personal affects, and legal writings, remains inside the Archives and Special Collections department on the second floor of the Farber Library.
The more visible piece of the Brandeis collection—which includes Brandeis’ Supreme Court robes, furniture from his legal office in Boston and parts of his personal library—sits in a temperature-controlled, glass enclave inside the Goldfarb Library, mere feet from where current students work every day.
“Having these items and materials on campus allows you to get a feel of where this great mind did his work,” Woodrum said. “It’s inspiring, I think, to have these pieces of his life here.”
Many of Brandeis’ personal items were gifts from his grandchildren, Louis and Frank Gilbert and Alice Popkin. These include his Supreme Court robes and the desk on which Brandeis wrote his famous “Brandeis Brief,” the first legal brief to heavily incorporate scientific information and social science.
However, a number of other pieces arrived at the university library in more curious ways. For example, the desk from Brandeis’ law office in Boston was left to his secretary, who in turn gave it to a friend, who then donated it to the university.
But Archives and Special Collections allows visitors to engage with a more personal side of Brandeis, too. The thousands of personal documents belonging to Brandeis humanize his legacy, from a correspondence to his wife in which he expressed his stress over the process for his confirmation to the Supreme Court, to a letter to his daughter, Alice, which features Brandeis’ more playful side as he inquiries about her life at school, at home and at play.
Woodrum and her colleagues help make the collection more accessible both through instructing visitors on how to handle the century-old items and by supporting various projects that are part of the centennial celebration, Louis D. Brandeis 100: Then and Now.
Legal studies lecturer Daniel Breen and two of his students worked with Archives and Special Collections to view primary source and research materials for a timeline on Brandeis’ Supreme Court confirmation process that is being displayed inside the Shapiro Campus Center for the whole semester. Breen is also using research material to install a digital timeline as well.
Archives and Special Collections has also created its own exhibit, located inside the entrance foyer to its office, that features numerous installations cataloguing various parts of the late justice’s life.
“It’s hard to rank the collections we have because each is unique,” Woodrum said. “But this is a very significant collection and it belonged to someone who is not only a great thinker and legal mind, but also the person from whom the university gets its name.
“I remember when I first saw this collection. I had a great sense of awe.”