Thursday, June 21, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: The Newport Poor House, 1819

---Jen Nason, Curatorial Assistant

Before Founders Hall became home to the museum in 1978, it was the original site of the Naval War College. The college occupied the building from 1884 until 1892 when a new structure (later named Luce Hall) was completed. It was here that Alfred Thayer Mahan gave his lectures on naval history and tactics that formed the basis for his seminal book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History,1660-1783, published in 1890. As the site of these lectures, the building was named a national historic landmark in 1964. However, Founders Hall had a long history as an asylum for the poor and mentally challenged prior its occupation by the United States Navy.  On 25 June 1819 Newporters laid the cornerstone for the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb on Coasters Harbor Island. Truly, this 193-year-old building is the museum's primary artifact.


The Newport Asylum, 1832
In March 1819, citizens at a town meeting decided that an asylum or poor house, was to be built for Newport on Coasters Harbor Island.  Benjamin Chase constructed the building using local  field stone. The main building consisted of a kitchen, storeroom, and closets in the basement.  Housing was on the first and second floors, while a large room for assemblies and religious services was on the third floor.
The people that resided at the asylum were of varied backgrounds. Some people were poor with no means of supporting themselves, some were orphaned children, some were declared insane, while others were petty criminals. Despite these different conditions, they all lived under the same rules and regulations enforced by an overseer. The occupants were all given work to perform: some cleaned the asylum, others tended a successful farm, and the orphaned children attended a school within the building. There were also designated meal times, washing times, and days of worship. Visitors were allowed once a week and contact between the men and women was forbidden. Inmates who failed to comply with the overseer were punished. The harshest punishments included incarceration in small cage on the first floor.  On occasion, the overseer would lock those who were declared insane in these solitary cages permanently. There were at times up to sixty people at the asylum, yet they must have felt an intense amount of loneliness and frustration. It was not until the 1850s that a bridge was constructed to link the town of Newport to the island, and even then the bridge was two miles away from the center of town. 

The Naval War College, c. 1884
After the 1850s, Newport created a larger jail in which to place its criminals and the state established another asylum in Cranston for the "insane."  Still, the poor and orphaned remained within the Newport poor house until the 1880s when the island was transferred to the U.S. Navy. During that time, the ideal of institutionalization started to fade away. The facilities of the asylum had improved to incorporate new technologies, and the living quarters had been enlarged. Yet, a separate orphanage was constructed in Newport, and the asylum’s poor dwindled down to about twenty people. Those who remained moved into a small building on Broadway Road in Newport. In October of 1884, Commodore Stephen B. Luce climbed the steps of the old asylum, and reportedly announced, "Poor little poorhouse, I christen thee United States Naval War College." Not long after, Alfred Thayer Mahan began his historic lectures on naval history and tactics to the first class of naval officers. The cornerstone laid on 25 June 1819, along with Mahan's lectures, formed the basis for the museum's local, national, and international focus.

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Engraved Copper Plate for NWC Diploma, c. 1925

---Grace Christenson, Curatorial Assistant




Graduation at the Naval War College is a formal academic ceremony that marks a student’s successful completion of a course of study at the College. Since tomorrow is graduation day it is fitting to look back at the first ever formal graduation ceremony held on 27 May 1925. This was also the first year that graduates were presented with formal diplomas. This engraved copper plate was used to print those first diplomas and many others after. The diplomas printed with this 11” x 8.25” plate featured a device that included the attributes of Minerva, the patroness of scientific warfare: a Grecian helmet with serpent, a Grecian round shield bearing the head of Medusa, a Grecian spear, and an olive branch. The Latin motto Ex Unitate Victoria means "unity leads to victory." The plate  also includes the reverse text “This is to certify that ____ has satisfactorily completed the course presented at the United States Naval War College for the year ____.”


Sample diploma printed in 1925 for Col. Frank E. Evans, USMC
Since that first ceremony, the graduation exercises have changed many times. Modern diplomas now feature the official Naval War College crest and specify the particular college the student is graduating from: the Naval Staff College, Naval Command College, the College of Naval Warfare, etc.) In 1970, civilian faculty began to wear their robes in an academic procession. In 1984, in honor of the institution’s 100th anniversary, the Naval War College Foundation presented a mace to the College. Carried by the most senior member of the faculty (the Faculty Marshal), the mace remains an integral part of the academic procession. Since the 1990s, the Naval War College has held graduations three times a year, in November, March, and June.  Also, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accredited the Naval War College to award a Masters of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. This has allowed the College to award diplomas to international students who are not enrolled in the Masters Degree program.

The copper plate used for printing the original diplomas, along with other graduation memorabilia including the mace, sample diplomas, and an academic hood belonging to Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, are on display on the second deck of the Naval War College Museum.

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum                                    78.05.01

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Naval War College Library Globe, c. 1902

---Grace Christenson, Curatorial Assistant

This thirty-inch terrestrial library globe was made by William and Alexander Keith Johnston, Ltd. of Edinburgh, Scotland between 1902 and 1907. The two brothers started their first cartographic business in 1824 and their firm soon became one of the most prominent globe makers in Britain. They received several awards for their thirty-inch globes (the largest size they made) at the Great London Exposition of 1851, which featured many kinds of new advanced technology aimed at showcasing British industrial, military, and economic superiority.

Faculty and students of the Naval War College used the globe at its location in Mahan Hall which served as the College’s library from 1904 to 1976. In many ways, it is symbolic of the Naval War College’s mission and purpose. In a 1903 speech, Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce told an incoming class that the principal objective of the College was “the study of the Science and Art of War.” In that same speech, Luce also spoke about the importance of the College in the study of  peace and diplomacy but cautioned that, “he who waits for war to learn his profession often acquired his knowledge at a frightful cost of human life.” Luce told his audience that, “The game-board [for war], now, is the great globe itself.” This globe represents not only the importance of learning about and understanding the world geographically, it also represents the ever changing and political aspects of the world. Many of the national borders and names on this globe have since changed, and much of that is because of policies carried out by war, diplomacy, or other means. As the globe stood in the Mahan Hall Reading Room for several decades, one can easily imagine that many students have used it as a reference during their time here.

The Mahan Hall Library Reading Room, c.1940
On this particular globe there is a small label that reads “30 INCH TERRESTRIAL GLOBE BY W & A.K. JOHNSTON LIMITED. Geographers, Engravers, & Printers. EDINBURGH & LONDON.” Above these words is a symbol of the United Kingdom with a crowned lion and a unicorn on either side it. The globe not only depicts a highly detailed map of the world, but also charts the transatlantic cables and even the sites of some collisions. It is currently on display on the second deck of the Naval War College Museum with its original wooden stand.