Preservation Week Talk | Preserving a Textile Archive

To celebrate Library Preservation Week, The Brown University Library is hosting a talk about and viewing of textiles from the archives of Rush Hawkins and Annmary Brown.

Please join us in the Digital Scholarship Lab at the Rockefeller Library on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, from 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. 

The Preservation Department staff will discuss the process for housing and preserving items and Archives staff will discuss the challenges in describing the collection ranging from quilts, clothing, and shoes to fans, parasols, and shawls, predominantly from the 18th and 19th century.
Date: Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Time: 10:30 a.m.
Location: Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab, Rockefeller Library, 10 Prospect Street, Providence

Commencement Forum | The Impact of Social Media on Politics, Culture, and Scholarly Communication

On Saturday, May 27, 2017 at 12:30 p.m. in the auditorium (room 120) of List Art, the Library will host a Commencement Forum entitled, “The Impact of Social Media on Politics, Culture, and Scholarly Communication.” This event is free and open to the public.

Social media and other rapidly-evolving digital technologies have changed the way we communicate in all realms of our lives. This panel discussion will focus on the impact of social media on political, cultural, and scholarly communication.

Panelists include:

  • David Corn ’81, P’21, American political journalist and author and the chief of the Washington bureau for Mother Jones
  • Alissa Quart ‘94, Executive Editor of Economic Hardship Reporting Project and author of Branded, Republic of Outsiders, and other books that mix reportage and cultural theory
  • Elias Muhanna, Brown University Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and contributing writer to The New Yorker online

David Corn

David Corn ’81, P’21

David Corn is a veteran Washington journalist and political commentator. He is the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine and an analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. He won the 2012 George Polk award and a National Magazine award for breaking the 47 percent video story that influenced the Obama-Romney presidential contest. For 20 years, he was the Washington editor of The Nation magazine.

Corn writes on a host of subjects, including politics, the White House, Congress and national security. He has broken stories on Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, George H.W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Rush Limbaugh, Enron, the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA leak case, corruption in Iraq, the National Rifle Association, the Pentagon and assorted Washington players and institutions.

Corn has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Boston Globe, Newsday, Harper’s, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, LA Weekly, the Village Voice, The Independent, Elle, Slate, Salon and other publications and websites. He has blogged for AOL’s “Politics Daily,” The Huffington Post, CQ Roll Call, and The Guardian. For years he wrote the online column “Capital Games” for The Nation.

He is the author of three New York Times best-sellers—Showdown: The Inside Story of How Barack Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party; Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (with Michael Isikoff); and The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception—as well as the e-book 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. His novel, Deep Background, was hailed as one of the best novels of the year by Los Angeles Times. Corn is also the author of the biography Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA’s Crusades.

Corn has long been a prominent analyst on television and radio. He regularly appears on Hardball, The Rachel Maddow Show and other MSNBC shows. For years, he was a Fox News contributor, appearing on The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. He was a regular panelist on the weekly television show Eye On Washington, which was syndicated on PBS stations across the United States. He was a guest host for CNN’s Crossfire and a regular panelist on its Capital Gang. He has appeared on CBS News’ Face the Nation, ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos, PBS’s Newshour and Washington Week in Review, the CBS Evening News, Fox News Sunday, CNN’s Reliable Sources, The McLaughlin Group, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, and many other shows. He is a regular guest on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show and To the Point and has contributed commentary to NPR, BBC Radio and CBC Radio. He has been a guest on scores of call-in radio programs.

Alissa Quart

Alissa Quart ’94

Alissa Quart is the author of three non-fiction books, Branded (Basic Books, 2003) and Hothouse Kids (Penguin Press, 2006), and Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels (The New Press, 2013). They have been translated into 14 languages. She is co-editor with Barbara Ehrenreich of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a journalism non-profit devoted to reporting on inequality. She has written features and reported opinion pieces for The New York Times Magazine and Sunday Review, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, Elle, The Nation, Marie Claire, Mother Jones, O Magazine, and many other publications. Her columns have appeared in Columbia Journalism Review and elsewhere.

She is also a multimedia producer. She commissioned, produced and wrote The Last Clinic, a multimedia work for The Atavist, nominated for a 2014 multimedia Emmy and National Magazine Award. She has received grants from the Pulitzer Center and the Magnum Foundation for her multimedia collaborations with photographers. She is the 2015 Ottaway Professor at SUNY New Paltz and has taught at a number of universities including Columbia University’s Journalism School. She was a 2010 Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

She is also a poet: her poems have been published by the London Review of Books, Fence, The Awl and Open City and her first poetry book, Monetized, was just published this year from Miami University Press. She is currently under contract for a new book with HarperCollins.

Elias Muhanna

Elias Muhanna

Elias Muhanna is the Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University, and director of the Digital Islamic Humanities Project. He earned his doctorate in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations from Harvard University and was a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies in 2015-16. In 2017-18, he will be a Public Engagement Fellow of the Whiting Foundation. His research focuses on encyclopedic literature in the Islamic world and Europe, the cultural production of the Mamluk Empire, and the problem of the vernacular in different literary traditions.

In addition to his scholarship, Muhanna writes frequently for the mainstream press. He is a contributing writer for, and his essays and criticism have appeared regularly in The New York TimesThe Nation, and other periodicals. His blog, Qifa Nabki, is a forum for intellectual exchange and debate on Levantine politics.

Date: Saturday, May 27, 2017
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Location: Room 120, Albert & Vera List Art Building, 64 College Street, Providence

Event | Adam Teller: The Power of Memory: Thinking about the Holocaust in Poland from 1945 until Today

Professor Adam Teller

On Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 6 p.m. in the Digital Scholarship Lab of the Rockefeller Library, Adam Teller, Brown University Associate Professor of History and Associate Professor of Judaic Studies, will give a talk in the Library’s lecture series, The Holocaust: History and Aftermath. This event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow the talk.

The Power of Memory: Thinking about the Holocaust in Poland from 1945 until Today

This lecture will examine the ways in which the memory of the Holocaust has developed in Poland over the last 70 years.  It will show both how it was shaped by the changing political climate of the country and how it influenced Poland’s development in the Communist and Post-Communist periods. Based on his research as well as his personal experience in three decades of traveling to Poland, Prof. Teller will also discuss the roles which the memory of the Holocaust has played – and continues to play – in the development of the tortured relationship between Poles and Jews.

Professor Adam Teller

Born in London and educated at Oxford University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Adam Teller specializes in the history of the Jews in eastern Europe. He has published widely on the history of the Jews in early modern Poland-Lithuania. His book, Money, Power, and Influence in Eighteenth Century Lithuania: The Jews on the Radziwiłł Estates, was published by Stanford University Press in 2016. Professor Teller was a member of the core academic team which created the exhibit at the award-winning POLIN Museum for the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, where he was responsible for two of the Museum’s eight galleries. He is currently a member of the museum’s Academic Advisory Council. Professor Teller is on the editorial board of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry and is associate editor of Gal-Ed: On the History and Culture of Polish Jewry, published in Tel Aviv.

Date: Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab, Rockefeller Library, 10 Prospect Street, Providence, RI

Event Series | Scalar: Writing Digital Scholarship

The Library is pleased to host three events in the series, Scalar: Writing Digital Scholarship, this April, 2017. All events will be held in the Digital Scholarship Lab at the Rockefeller Library.

Professor Caroline Frank

On Thursday, April 13 at 3 p.m., Caroline Frank, Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies at Brown, will give a talk entitled,”Paths Across the Pacific: A Scalar Project of East-West Interaction,” during which she will discuss her recent Scalar project, “Asia-Pacific in the Making of the Americas.” Professor Frank will be presenting with collaborator Andrea Ledesma, a graduate student in American Studies. Free and open to the public.

On Tuesday, April 18 at 11 a.m., Elli Mylonas, Senior Digital Humanities Librarian, will give an “Introduction to Scalar” workshop. Space is limited and registration is required. Click here to register for the “Introduction to Scalar” workshop.

Curtis Fletcher, Associate Director of the Polymathic Labs at USC Libraries and Co-PI on Scalar

On Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 12 p.m., Curtis Fletcher, Associate Director of the Polymathic Labs at USC Libraries and Co-PI on Scalar, will give a talk entitled, “Beyond the Platform: Enabling and Supporting New Forms of Digital Scholarship.” A reception will follow the talk. Free and open to the public.

Beyond the Platform: Enabling and Supporting New Forms of Digital Scholarship

Fletcher will discuss his experience working on Scalar, an open source authoring and publishing platform designed for media-rich, born-digital scholarship. Highlighting specific Scalar projects, broader use cases, and ongoing development, he will discuss the ways in which the platform’s affordances attempt to move digital scholarly publishing beyond the linear ePub; how emerging scholarly workflows and practices for creating media-rich, archive-connected, scholarship have evolved alongside those affordances; and how the platform’s design relates to broader trends in digital scholarship and the digital humanities.

Curtis Fletcher

Curtis Fletcher is the Associate Director of the Polymathic Labs at USC Libraries and Co-PI on Scalar. His research spans the history of technology, the history of humanities education, science and technology studies, and visual studies. He specializes in digital research and writing in the humanities with particular expertise in new models for authoring, credentialing, and publishing born-digital, multimodal, humanities scholarship. Prior to his work at USC Libraries he was Associate Multimedia Editor for Urban History at Cambridge University Press; Administrative Assistant for the Center for Transformative Scholarship in the Digital Age at USC; and Project Manager for the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.

These events are part of the Library’s series, The Future of Scholarly Publishing, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Location for all events: Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab, Rockefeller Library, 10 Prospect Street, Providence, RI

Annual Yoken Lecture | Anka Muhlstein: The Pen and the Brush

Anka Muhlstein in New York City, February 2012

On Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 5 p.m. in the Lownes Room of the John Hay Library, celebrated French author Anka Muhlstein will deliver the Annual Mel and Cindy Yoken Cultural Series Lecture, entitled, “The Pen and the Brush,” based on Ms. Muhlstein’s recent book, The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels. This event is free and open to the public. A reception and book signing will follow the talk. The Pen and the Brush will be available for purchase on site.

Anka Muhlstein

Anka Muhlstein was born in Paris in 1935. She has published biographies of Queen Victoria, James de Rothschild, Cavelier de La Salle, and Astolphe de Custine; studies on Catherine de Médicis, Marie de Médicis, and Anne of Austria; a double biography, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart; and more recently, Monsieur Proust’s Library and Balzac’s Omelette (Other Press). She has won two prizes from the Académie Française and the Goncourt Prize for Biography. She contributes regularly to the New York Review of Books. She and her husband, Louis Begley, have written a book on Venice, Venice for Lovers. They live in New York City.

The Pen and the Brush

The lecture will elaborate on the close friendships and constant borrowings among artists and writers so characteristic of nineteenth-century France, as reflected in the novels of that period. Ms. Muhlstein will concentrate on the relations among three painters, Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, and three novelists, Balzac, Zola, and Proust, to show the influence of painting on their works.


Date: Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Time: 5 p.m.
Location: Lownes Room, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence, RI

Event | Omer Bartov Discusses “The Voice of Your Brother’s Blood: Buczacz, Biography of a Town”

Omer Bartov, John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History and Professor of German Studies

On Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. in the Digital Scholarship Lab of the Rockefeller Library, Omer Bartov, John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History and Professor of German Studies at Brown, will present his new book, The Voice of Your Brother’s Blood: Buczacz, Biography of a Town.

A reception will follow the talk. This event is free and open to the public.

The Voice of Your Brother’s Blood: Buczacz, Biography of a Town

This lecture will discuss how the East Galician town of Buczacz was transformed from a site of coexistence, where Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews had lived side-by-side for centuries, into a site of genocide. Between 1941, when the Germans conquered the region, and 1944, when the Soviets liberated it, the entire Jewish population of Buczacz was murdered by the Nazis, with ample help from local Ukrainians, who then also ethnically cleansed the region of the Polish population. What were the reasons for this instance of communal violence, what were its dynamics, and why has it been erased from the local memory?

Professor Omer Bartov

Born in Israel and educated at Tel Aviv University and St. Antony’s College, Oxford, Omer Bartov’s early research concerned the Nazi indoctrination of the Wehrmacht and the crimes it committed in World War II, analyzed in his books, The Eastern Front, 1941-1945, and Hitler’s Army. He then turned to the links between total war and genocide, discussed in his books Murder in Our Midst, Mirrors of Destruction, and Germany’s War and the Holocaust. Bartov’s interest in representation also led to his study, The “Jew” in Cinema, which examines the recycling of antisemitic stereotypes in film. His monograph, Erased, investigates interethnic relations in the borderlands of Eastern Europe. As a framework for this research, he led a multi-year collaborative project at the Watson Institute, culminating in the co-edited volume, Shatterzone of Empires. Bartov has recently completed a major monograph, The Voice of Your Brother’s Blood: Buczacz, Biography of a Town.

This event is part of the Library’s lecture series, The Holocaust: History and Aftermath.

Date: Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab, Rockefeller Library, 10 Prospect Street, Providence, RI

Exhibit | Preparing John Bull for General Congress

Preparing John Bull for General Congress, George Cruikshank (British, 1780-1842); hand-colored etching on wove paper; London: W.N. Jones, August 1, 1813; Brown University Library, Special Collections

From April 3 – 30, 2017, the image, Preparing John Bull for General Congress (1813), will be on display in the second floor landing case of the John Hay Library.

Shown above, the Napoleonic caricature depicts John Bull backed against a tree, which is being hacked to pieces by malevolent pygmies representing Britain’s many pressing domestic and foreign problems. An American gunboat on the left is manned by two disreputable-looking sailors and a captain while flying a tattered Stars and Stripes and the pennant of the frigate USS President. As an enraged, muzzled bulldog representing the Royal Navy looks on, the American captain fires a swivel gun at John Bull’s right leg, representing the West Indies, as he shouts “D[am]n that Bull Dog. The Shannon he has gored the Chesapeake, if the English ministers will but keep him out of our way we’ll pepper the dog.”

At the far right Napoleon sits in front of his tent, his right foot resting on a globe while he cheerfully exclaims, “When you have finished your labors gentlemen bring him to me & I will prepare his epitaph.” The title refers to the Congress of Prague (June 4-August 10, 1813), at which Metternich attempted in vain to negotiate a peace between Napoleon and the Allies.

The print was drawn by George Cruikshank for volume VI of The Scourge, a monthly satirical journal published in London.

Dates: April 3 – April 30, 2017
Time: John Hay Library Hours
Location: Second Floor, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence, RI





Symposium | Bamboula! Black Music Before the Blues with John Davis ’79

The Bamboula! Symposium has been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 11 from 2 – 3:30 p.m. in Petteruti Lounge, second floor, Robert Campus Center/Faunce House. A reception will follow in the lobby of the John Hay Library.

The exhibit, Bamboula! Black Music Before the Blues, was conceived and curated by Brown graduate, pianist John Davis ’79. It will run from March 21 to May 5, 2017.


Organized and moderated by Tony Bogues, Asa Messer Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory and Director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown, the symposium will feature panelists John Davis ’79 and Brandy Monk-Payton AM’12, PhD’16, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Film and Media Studies and the Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College.

Update: Eric Lott is unable to attend the symposium.

John Davis

John Davis; photo by John Halpern

With Bamboula! Black Music Before the Blues, the exhibition he has now conceived and curated at Brown University’s John Hay Library, pianist John Davis continues to define, excavate, and disseminate a previously-unacknowledged African American roots music. Davis is most associated with his frequent concerts in the United States and abroad stemming from three critically-acclaimed recordings on Newport Classic: John Davis Plays Blind Tom [2000], a top-ten seller in Classical Music at Tower Records and; Marshfield Tornado: John Davis Plays Blind Boone [2008], a repeat No. 1 seller on the Ragtime chart at; and Halley’s Comet: Around the Piano with Mark Twain & John Davis [2010], a CD of Twain-related compositions “played powerfully and with a rich palette,” according to The New York Times. At the core of Davis’ grassroots pursuit of forgotten black culture is the pianist’s personal archive of rare 19th– and early 20th century printed African Americana that is the source for many of the ideas and materials that have filtered into his concerts, recordings, and literary contributions to African American Lives, the African American National Biography, and Stress and Coping in Autism, all published by Oxford University Press. Mr. Davis’ cutting-edge career has been featured on CNN; CNN-International; ABC Radio National (Australia); the BBC World News; NPR’s All Things Considered, Performance Today, and On Point, with Tom Ashbrook; PBS’ Life 360; The Today Show on NBC, ABC’s Good Morning America; and in a program-long interview of him on ABC’s Nightline Up-Close. Among the countless print publications in which he has been profiled are The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Oxford American, The Independent (London), and Scientific American.


Brandy Monk-Payton

Brandy Monk-Payton, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Leslie Center for the Humanities, Dartmouth College

Brandy Monk-Payton is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow associated with the Department of Film and Media Studies and the Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College. She obtained her Ph.D. in Modern Culture and Media at Brown University where she was a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow and a Graduate Fellow at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. Her work on race and representation has been published in the edited collection From Madea to Media Mogul: Theorizing Tyler Perry as well as the journals The Black ScholarReconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, and Feminist Media Histories (forthcoming). She is currently working on her first book project Dark Optics: Blackness, Exposure, and Celebrity in Media Culture. In Fall 2017, she will begin a position as Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.

Event: Symposium
Date: Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Time: 2 – 3:30 p.m.
Location: Petteruti Lounge, Second Floor, Robert Campus Center/Faunce House, 75 Waterman Street, Providence

Previous Related Events

On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, the Brown University Library and the Music Department also hosted two events related to the exhibition.

Exhibition Opening & Reception

The exhibit opening and reception took place in the Exhibition Gallery of the John Hay Library from 4 – 5:30 p.m. The exhibit, Bamboula! Black Music Before the Blues, is an in-depth survey of the African American roots of popular music and show business in the United States. The exhibition includes significant and visually arresting printed artifacts of the shared African- and European-based musical tradition established in colonial America, a cultural synthesis that continues to shape our nation’s identity. The 19th- and early 20th-century books, sheet music, and ephemera included in the exhibition are drawn primarily from the personal collection of John Davis (Exhibition Curator) and the holdings of the Brown University Library. Mr. Davis’ archive of rare 19th-century printed musical African Americana, widely respected in the antiquarian book and ephemera world, is the bedrock of his career as a concert pianist devoted to works influenced by black culture of the American South.


Drawing from materials on display in the exhibition, Mr. Davis gave an extraordinary, multi-media concert performance entitled Bamboula! Black Music Before the Blues: A musical journey with pianist John Davis at 7 p.m. at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. The concert, organized with the Brown Music Department, included special guests Harmonizing Grace, with Hance Phillipe, director, and the Old-Time String Band–both Brown student music groups.

The exhibition and all related events are free and open to the public. No registration or ticketing is required.

Event | Abby Smith Rumsey: “Digital Memory: What Can We Afford to Lose?”

Abby Smith Rumsey

On Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 12 p.m. in the Digital Scholarship Lab of the Rockefeller Library, writer and historian Abby Smith Rumsey will discuss “Digital Memory: What Can We Afford to Lose?” A reception will follow the talk. This event is free and open to the public.

Digital Memory: What Can We Afford to Lose?

Memory technologies from papyrus to print have given humans a unique survival advantage, allowing us to accumulate knowledge. These technologies shape our perception of history, time, and personal and cultural identity. Historian Abby Smith Rumsey explores how digital memory is shaping the future of knowledge and the roles that libraries and archives play in the future of our collective memory.

Abby Smith Rumsey

Abby Smith Rumsey is a writer and historian focusing on the creation, preservation, and use of the cultural record in all media. She has written and lectured widely on digital preservation, online scholarship, the nature of evidence, the changing roles of libraries and archives, intellectual property policies in the digital age, and the impact of new information technologies on perceptions of history and time.

Rumsey served as director of the Scholarly Communication Institute at the University of Virginia, and has advised universities and their research libraries on strategies to integrate digital information resources into existing collections and services.

For over a decade, Rumsey worked with the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) in development of a national strategy to identify, collect, and preserve digital content of long-term value. She was on the National Science Foundation’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access and was senior writer and editor of the task force’s second-year report, Sustainable Economics for a Digital Planet: Ensuring Long- term Access to Digital Information. The Final Report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access. She served on the ACLS Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Rumsey served as director of programs at the Council on Library and Information Resources and was responsible for projects that addressed the use and preservation of historical and cultural materials in all genres, formats, and media. She wrote, edited, and commissioned numerous reports on the challenges of migrating our shared intellectual and cultural heritage from paper, film, and audio formats to digital media; and on consequences such organizational disruptions, threats of information loss, and changing conceptions about intellectual property and the value inherent in information.

Prior to that, she managed programs at the Library of Congress relating to preservation of and access to cultural heritage collections. She curated several exhibitions, including the “Treasures of the Library of Congress,” “Living Traditions of Russian Faith: Books and Manuscripts of the Old Believers,” and contributed to the historic display of documents from classified Soviet archives, “Revelations from the Russian Archives.” She worked with former Soviet bloc governments and organizations directing programs to open up access to their libraries and archives.

Abby Smith Rumsey holds a BA from Radcliffe College and MA and PhD degrees in history from Harvard University, where she specialized in Early Modern Russia and intellectual history. She has been a Fulbright Fellow and taught at Harvard and Johns Hopkins Universities.

This event is part of the Library’s ongoing lecture series, “The Future of Scholarly Publishing.” Abby Smith Rumsey’s visit to Brown is co-sponsored by the John Carter Brown Library.

Date: Thursday, March 23, 2017
Time: 12 p.m.
Location: Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab, Rockefeller Library, 10 Prospect Street, Providence, RI

Exhibit | Court Documents from the State vs Frances Leach, 1833

Report of the Examination of David Gibbs, Fanny Leach and Eliza P. Burdick, for the Alleged Murder of Sally Burdick, at Coventry, R. I., on 18th Feb. 1833 (Hartford: Hanmer and Comstock, 1833). With signature and manuscript annotations in the hand of Thomas Wilson Dorr.

The John Hay Library has two new acquisitions on display in the second floor landing case: manuscript trial notes and a report related to the State vs Francis Leach, 1833. They will be on display until April 3, 2017.

In February 1833, forty-eight-year-old Frances (nicknamed “Fanny”) Leach of Providence was called on to attend Sally Burdick, a young woman in Coventry, Rhode Island, who was found to be pregnant. The unmarried Sally resided in the home of her deceased brother’s father-in-law, David Gibbs. A witness named Mary Ann Briggs later testified that upon discovering Sally’s pregnancy, David Gibbs sought to contract Leach to “doctor off” the fetus. Accordingly, Leach borrowed a pair of forceps from Dr. William A. Hamilton in Providence and went down to Coventry to perform the procedure she had been asked to do. Sally, however, was not inclined to terminate her pregnancy in this way, and the operation went horribly wrong. Leach attempted to abort the child while Sally’s sister-in-law held her down, but the result was that Leach only perforated Sally’s uterus. When Sally died of gangrene after six days of acute suffering, Leach and Gibbs were indicted for her murder. Leach’s case was tried at the Superior Court for Kent County in October 1833 and, after a 9-day hearing before two judges and 13 magistrates, resulted in a conviction for manslaughter. Leach received a two-year prison sentence. According to the Niles Weekly Register of 30 November 1833, it was believed to be the second-longest trial ever held in Rhode Island, and “the first of the kind ever tried in New England.”

Prosecution of the case on behalf of the State of Rhode Island was undertaken by State Attorney General Albert C. Greene and his law apprentice, Thomas Wilson Dorr. Although they succeeded in the goal of obtaining justice for Sally Burdick, they could not bring Sally, or her baby, back to life. The case remains a reminder of a time when a woman’s reproductive choices were sharply limited by both social mores and available medical care, and when decisions about childbearing were often outside of a woman’s control under the law.

Dates: March 19 – April 3, 2017
Time: John Hay Library Hours
Location: Second Floor, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence, RI