History of the Project
The State Home and School Project at Rhode Island College was initiated in the spring of 2001 when Trinity Square Repertory Theatre contacted the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) for historic background material that would be helpful as the Theatre Company began pre-production of John Irving’s Cider House Rules, a novel set against the backdrop of an early orphanage. Richard Hillman, an administrator of DCYF and RIC alumnus, began reviewing old documents relating to the State Home and School. Hillman soon realized that he had uncovered several important pieces of state history. He also recognized that the current East Campus of Rhode Island College possessed three original structures of the State Home. Hillman met with the College’s President, John Nazarian, Michael Smith, his assistant, and Pierre Morenon, associate professor of anthropology. The discussion into the importance of the history contained on the East Campus began.
Morenon began conducting preliminary surface studies of remaining foundation sites of the institution. The significance of the last remaining structure (not yet refurbished) was noted and thus the scheduled demolition of the yellow cottage was halted. Hillman and Morenon were also very interested in recording the history of the Home through the experiences of the children who lived there. Susan Hughes, an undergraduate honors student of anthropology, began conducting oral histories with past residents and former staff of the Home.
In May of 2002, a steering committee of RIC faculty and administrators, former residents and interested individuals from the community met to discuss how to best preserve and remember the Home and its former residents. It was decided that the State Home and School Project would become a centerpiece of the college’s Sesquicentennial activities.
The archeological excavation of the site continues today. The steering committee is currently seeking funding to allow for the preservation of the “yellow cottage”, the only unmodified structure remaining from the original State Home. Collections of the histories of former residents, staff, and other individuals intimately involved in the Home are continuing. Work is now underway to develop a permanent memorial for the children who died at the home. A number of RIC faculty members are currently conducting research and writing papers on various aspects of the project.
It is our hope former residents and staff will continue to join in this effort to document the history of the Rhode Island State Home and School/Dr. Patrick I. O’Rourke Children’s Center and the lives of the people it touched.