Rhode Island

‘Lovely, gracious building’: Tracing the history of Andrews House

Most university students on campus today have seen two iterations of Andrews House: as a COVID-19 testing center and, for this academic year, as the temporary home of the Department of Africana Studies and the Rites and Reason Theatre.

However, the building at 13 Brown St. was much more than a proving ground and makeshift academic building. Prior to 2021, it served for nearly 82 years as the center of on-campus health services and before that as Rhode Island’s faculty club and governor’s mansion.

foundation and early history

Built in 1901 for Rhode Island textile manufacturer James Coats, 13 Brown St. is a 29-room mansion built in 1901 and designed by New York architect Ogden Codman, according to the Encyclopedia Brunoniana. The 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture called the mansion, at the time of its construction, “the clearest neo-Georgian house Providence had yet seen”.

In 1915 it became the Rhode Island Governor’s Mansion, where Governor R. Livingston Beekman resided until 1921.

In 1922, the university acquired the property and opened its first faculty club, which served to improve “intellectual understanding and cooperation” among faculty members, former university president William Faunce said at the time. According to Encyclopedia Brunoniana, individual faculty members, teaching assistants, and graduate students could also pay rent to live on the upper floors of the building.

Transfer to a healthcare facility

In January 1939, 13 Brown St. officially became Andrews House – a 50-bed health facility – while the Faculty Club moved to 1 Megee St. Named for Elisha Benjamin Andrews, the university’s president from 1889 to 1898, renovations were made possible by donations worth $390,000.

During the building’s opening, then-university president Henry Wriston described it as “one of the finest and best-appointed college infirmaries in the country,” The Herald previously reported.

When it opened, the health center had a modern dental examination room, an X-ray machine, adjustable hospital beds, a library, a kitchen and spacious, light-filled rooms. Those roles were selected after a “year’s study of university hospital supplies,” the same Herald article reported.

Andrews House treated students suffering from all sorts of illnesses, including dining room food poisoning, the H2N2 virus pandemic of the late 1950s, mental health issues, and myriad other health problems. Over the years, Andrews House has remained an important resource for students. According to a 1974 article in The Herald, the average student visited Andrews House between eight and twelve times a year.

student complaints

In December 1946, a “Pembroker” denounced a policy of Andrews House in a Herald letter to the editor. The rule she wrote had no “intelligent basis” requiring women to be married to a patient in order to visit men who were in the building.

The author argued that the policy was unfair to women since double standards allowed male visitors with no requirements. The woman accused the nurses at Andrews House of being “uncooperative” and “just plain rude” and treating women as if they were “trespassers invading a forbidden country”.

In 1949, The Herald published a series of editorials about the university’s health facilities, intended to ‘denounce’ the ‘extremely unpleasant atmosphere faced by prospective patients. The first editorial accused Andrews House of being “shrouded in an icy haze of stylized bureaucracy” that students deemed “inappropriate”.

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The Herald later outlined the internal workings of Andrews House in the series’ third and final editorial, which briefed the student body on what was actually going on behind the scenes in the building. The article praised the cooperative relationship between Andrews House and nearby hospitals, as well as the health and discipline separation policy, which protected students from reprimands if their injury was related to university misconduct.

Phase out Andrews House

In September 1981, The Herald reported on a tentative plan for a health care redesign, including the decentralization of operations and the refurbishment of Andrews House. The university introduced a new system “that seeks to shift health services’ efforts from health care to preventative treatment and health education.”

The decentralization of healthcare continued over the next few decades. In 2018, these efforts culminated in the university’s proposal for a joint residence and wellness center at 450 Brook St. that would accommodate health services as well as counseling and psychological services. Sternlicht Commons and the Brown University Health and Wellness Center were completed in May 2021, removing Andrews House from the center of student health.

Use today

With the university no longer requiring COVID-19 testing for students, the Andrews House site closed in November 2021. For 2022-23, Andrews House has been remodeled to house the Department of Africana Studies and the Rites and Reason Theatre, while the department’s previously site at Churchill House is undergoing a refurbishment, The Herald previously reported.

According to Elmo Terry-Morgan ’74, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Theater Arts and Performance Studies, evidence now exists of the building’s past health purposes.

“What we now use as an archival space was the old infirmary,” he wrote in an email to The Herald. “Also, there are washbasins in many offices since they used to be examination rooms.”

Terry-Morgan, artistic director of Rites and Reason, acknowledged that the “tiny offices” and “limited parking” posed some challenges for his department, but his favorite part of the building’s unique layout is the first-floor ballroom, which he frequents used as a room for class reunions and rehearsals. “Overall, Andrews House is a beautiful, graceful building,” he added.

Kathy Moyer, stage and production director at the Rites and Reason Theatre, also expressed her admiration for the building’s design in an email to The Herald. “The architectural details are simply beautiful.”

Moyer wrote that while the future use of the building is “unclear” following the departure of her faculty, students should know that “while we are here, (all students) are welcome.”

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