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though. (Full disclosure: the writer and Robinson are cousins.) Bottom Lines Get out of town: There

Time:2019-03-05 19:09Underwear site information Click:

Foster History

2/27/2019

One More Thing - History is hot in Foster

 though. (Full disclosure: the writer and Robinson are cousins.) Bottom Lines Get out of town: There are plenty of fine spots to dine in Observer country

Foster Preservation Society President Edwin Robinson shows one of several historic horse-drawn conveyances donated to the organization by the University of Rhode Island. The carriages had been stored at the Alton Jones campus since the 1940s, Robinson says. The society will seek to restore them and put them on display in the future. (Breeze photo by Laurence J. Sasso Jr.)

By LAURENCE J. SASSO, JR.

In 1820, a century and a half before the advent of bra burning, Foster hosted what likely was the first symbolic undergarment incineration in America.

Edwin Robinson, president of the Foster Preservation Society, explains it. Dr. Solomon Drowne who was a highly respected physician, botanist, veteran of the American Revolution, associate of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette, original member of the Rhode Island Medical Society, and a professor at Brown University, convinced a group of women to set fire to their corsets.

“There was a wedding near his home here in Foster,” Robinson says. “Drowne told the guests about a theory that was gaining belief. It held that tight corsets restricted the breathing and were unhealthy. The doctor then lit a fire and invited the women to burn their girdles, and they did.”

A 2016 Providence Journal story by Lynn Arditi quotes Drowne as calling the event a “conflagration of corsets’’ and saying he hoped it would “induce very many, now enslaved by fashion, to follow our flaming example.”

It’s one of countless anecdotes “Ed” Robinson, 73, often recites regarding his adopted town’s rich history. A native of Smithfield, he moved to Foster in 1998 and soon became immersed in the rural community’s culture.

Ed is a genealogist, and he discovered that his maternal roots trace back to Foster. His sixth great-grandfather, the Rev. John Hammond, built the Foster Townhouse, the oldest municipal meeting house still in continuous use in America.

“I found that my story is the story of the family moving from Foster to Smithfield and coming back full circle,” he declares.

In Smithfield he had been chairman of the Historic District Commission. After the secretary of the Foster Preservation Society retired, Ed was asked to assume the role. He accepted.

“When I became secretary there was an eight-foot table piled three feet high with donations of material,” he remarks. Included were six boxes of slides and 21 archival boxes of photos, documents, and memorabilia.

That trove of historical treasures became the impetus for a program of preservation that likely would be considered impressive for a community several times the size of Foster.

Robinson began a project of digitizing and annotating the pictures. His method for figuring out the locations and subjects in them was to invite society members with longtime connections to the town to his house where he showed each image on a big screen TV monitor. The group would meet weekly and supply as much information as they could. Ultimately, they identified more than 85 percent of the photos, and approximately 3,000 were archived on the society’s website (fosterpreservationsociety.org).

In 2011, Robinson was elected president of the organization, which has some 130 members. He has continued to advocate for the cataloging and archiving of materials that illuminate the town’s history. Besides photos, the growing collection includes everything from old town records, to Civil War letters, to artifacts like the aged iron kettles originally used to make chowder at Foster Old Home Days, which began in 1904 and is still observed every year.

Before Ed ever got involved in the organization, there was a project to locate and record every historic cemetery in town. In cooperation with the state, most of the burial sites had already been identified. However, information was sometimes spotty, and details were missing. So, week after week he and various members of the organization trekked through the woods and fields finding the cemeteries, taking pictures, and gathering information right down to headstone inscriptions.

Robinson also approached the society’s board of directors, and got approval to seek a legislative grant. The funds were used for the purchase of a GPS device. Today, all 153 known cemeteries have been documented and all the data, including GPS coordinates, detailed directions, and information on who is interred, is available on the society’s website.

“We make as much as possible available online,” Ed says, noting that an Ivy League library consortium has included their information. “Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year it’s there. We get letters from educators all over the country recognizing us for the resources we provide. You can get all kinds of information using the website as a springboard. Everything is about educating and saving stuff for future generations.”

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