Collecting Memories

The College Archives at Keene State, located on the first floor of the Mason Library, is home to a collection of school documents, photographs, records and memorabilia that have significance to the history of KSC from 1909 to the present. Recently, a notable addition was made to the collection; a graduation gown worn by Keene State alum Emily Frances Lord when she graduated in 1913. The gown was donated by Mr. Dana Huntley, Lord’s nephew. 

“It’s a moment. You know, time sort of captured. We took it in because it’s school history,” said Rodney Obien, the head of Special Collections and Archives at Keene State. Obien, who is also an Associate Professor at KSC, has been working in the archives since 2009. He explained that finding a piece of school history this old while still being in good condition is rare. “It’s definitely handmade. And for something that’s over a hundred years old, that’s in really, really good condition,” Obien said. 

Obien explained that the dress was handmade in Lime, New Hampshire for Lord when she graduated from what was formerly known as Keene Normal School. 

“I’ve probably seen what may look like graduation gowns here and there in pictures, but I’ve never seen one in person,” Obien said. “Compared to what we wear nowadays for graduation, it’s so well made, so elegant.” 

To Obien, physical artifacts capture history in a way that documents and records can’t compete with. “It’s an ordinary thing, you know? You graduated and that’s it, right? And I think it’s wonderful because it’s a physical example of someone’s experience here at Keene State College… this existed in 1913, this was worn by a person. So this dress is just one step removed from that person, that history, and so forth… History’s kind of an imagination thing, a guessing game, but these are real; these are tactile,” Obien said. 

Obien’s passion for the preservation of KSC’s history is potent. “History’s kind of an abstract thing. You read it in a book, you write something in your article and I’ll just have to imagine what you’re talking about, but these are real things that you can touch… When you look at these dresses, you handle them, or these gowns or documents, it’s like time traveling because this existed in that time period.”

The Archives exist to preserve and catalog KSC’s history. Obien encourages students and faculty to take advantage of this unique resource, getting a glimpse into the collected memories of Keene State. 


Gabe Schatz can be contacted at


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