Location: Bowdoin / Multicultural Life / Facilities

30 College

Russwurm House

John Brown Russwurm

The Center for Multicultural and Spiritual Life

The Center for Multicultural and Spiritual Life, located at 30 College Street, is home to Bowdoin's multicultural student and spiritual/religious organizations. The first floor of the building is dedicated to general student use. There are rooms for meeting, dining, prayer, and socializing. There are also two kitchens on the first floor: one general purpose kitchen and a kitchen used solely to prepare foods that are either kosher or halal. The rooms on the first floor are usually open to casually use, but they can also be reserved for specific events. Also housed on the first floor are the offices of Leana Amaez, Associate Dean for Multicultural Student Programs, and Bob Ives, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life. The second floor contains offices and resources for student leaders. The third floor is housing for student interns. To reserve space in the multicultural house fill out an online application or contact Alithea McFarlane.

Russwurm African American Center

The building that houses the John Brown Russwurm African American Center was originally built in 1827 for Professor Alpheus Spring Packard, Professor of Ancient Language and Classical Literature who in 1836 sold half to William Smyth, Professor of Mathematics. For the next 35 years the house was known as the Packard-Smyth House. The house has also been known as the Mitchell-Little House (after subsequent owners).  The rumors concerning the house as an Underground Railroad Station in the middle of the 19th century are not documented and cannot be positively proven. However, it is well documented that Professor William Smyth was an avid abolitionist. In an unpublished work, Smyth's son does reminisce on the many fugitives that visited their home in the night and were gone by morning's light.

John Brown Russwurm

John Brown Russwurm (1799-1851), Bowdoin's first African-American graduate (Class of 1826), is thought to be the third African-American graduated from an American college. He was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, the illegitimate son of a white planter and a black slave. His father, John Russwurm, of a wealthy Virginia family, went to Jamaica after completing his education in England. He sent his son, John Brown Russwurm, to Quebec at age eight so that he might receive a good education. Soon after moving to Maine, his father married Susan Blanchard. Russwurm then came to live with his father's family, where he was accepted by his step-mother as one of her own. Russwurm stayed with the family even after his father died, continuing his education at Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine. His step-mother and her new husband helped him to enroll at Bowdoin in 1824.

After graduation, Russwurm taught at Primus Hall, a school for black children in Boston. In 1827, he became junior editor of The Freedom's Journal, the first newspaper in the United States owned, operated, published and edited by African-Americans. The journal opposed the idea of African-American colonization of Africa until Russwurm became senior editor. He was forced to resign his position (1829) for expressing strong views on colonization that antagonized many. The same year Russwurm emigrated to Liberia where he worked for the American Colonization Society, serving as colonial secretary (1830-34) and as editor of The Liberia Herald. He then joined the Maryland Society, which recognized the importance of black leadership in their colony, and made him governor in 1836, a post he held until his death.  In 1833, Russwurm married Sarah McGill, daughter of Lieutenant-Governor McGill of Monrovia. They had three sons and a daughter.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed John Brown Russwurm on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

Sources: John Brown Russwurm Collection, George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library.
Molefi Kete Asante, Prometheus Books, 2002