News Post

Meet Alex Bentley, School Archivist
tgrimm

Tucked in the basement of the Upper School, Blake's archives contain photographs, clothing, memorabilia and stories from the school's century-plus history. Archivist Alex Bentley oversees the collection and welcomes community engagement. She can be reached at abentley@blakeschool.org or 952-988-3854.

Q: Can you talk about why you became an archivist and describe your background?
A: I have always been curious about the lives of people in the past. I love learning about history and thinking about why things are the way they are today and how they could be different. As an archivist, I preserve the historical records, photographs, publications and artifacts that are the primary source material when someone is studying history. Making sure these irreplaceable items are saved and available for future use is important to me. Who are we without our history?

Q: What do you like most about the work you do?
A: Hearing stories from alumni and alumnae about what the school was like during their time is always fun and highly informative for me since I was new to the Blake community when I started working here in 2016. It's also fun to see current students react to old photos and memorabilia from the school. I enjoy organizing things, which is also key.

Q: What are some of the challenges?
A: In general, I think changes in record keeping, communication practices and technology are my biggest challenges to preserving the history of the school.

Q: What have been the most interesting items or stories you've discovered during your time at Blake?
A: It's hard to chose a favorite or most interesting item. Some of the stories that interest me most are about the development of the archives collection. Students, faculty and alumni have all helped to preserve the history of the school over many years. There was a student historical society in the 1960s that helped organize and collect many of our records from Blake. Alumni have told me about saving records from West House before it was demolished in the late 1980s. Around the centennial celebrations in the early 2000s many alumni and faculty shared oral histories, donated material to build the collection, and volunteered their time to research and organize the collection.

I love reading the old school newspapers. We have a full set of the Blake Torch newspaper that ran from 1916-1974. We also have a very incomplete set of Northrop Spectator newspapers; we only have some from 1958-1974. Both newspapers are really fun snapshots of what was happening at the schools. I find the Blake Union record books that have meeting minutes of every meeting from 1910s-1950s very intriguing. As part of the meeting, for many years, the students gave speeches. Some of the topics would be relevant today. It's also fun to see the handwriting.

Some of my favorite photos are snapshots from a Northrop scrapbook from the 1930s. I love the informality and the sense of fun that shines out from the photos.

Q: What are some of your current projects?
A: I've been doing a lot of work to continue sorting and organizing our photo collection. I'm also working with records from the Head of School office, Communications, Advancement and other school departments that routinely send material to the archives. I also look for ways to share the materials and make them more accessible. I bring out materials for display at reunion events and some classes have used old photos and student newspapers for class projects.

Q: What is the oldest item in the school's archives?
A: The Blake School's first predecessor school — Graham Hall — started in 1900. But in the archives, I think the oldest items are newspaper clippings from 1907 advertising Graham Hall and Blake.

Q: What would you like the Blake community to know about the school's archives?
A: That the archives exists! And that all are welcome to contact me or schedule a visit if they have history-related questions.

Q: How can people get involved or contribute?
A: The archives collection is strong, but donations are welcome. Materials from Northrop, Highcroft and the post-1974 The Blake School(s) are of particular interest. I'm especially looking for records that would add to an understanding of school life from a student perspective (e.g., reports created by a student club, snapshots of school events or other projects created by a student while in school). I'm also looking for help identifying the people and places in many of our photographs. If you're interested in volunteering, let me know.