Q&A: Chester County Historical Society’s Elizabeth Laurent

The Merion Station resident shares her plans for the organization.

Photo by Tessa Marie Images

A graduate of the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the University of Delaware, Elizabeth Laurent has decades of experience in historical preservation. Now, the Merion Station resident is busy ushering the Chester County Historical Society into its next phase as its new president. 

MLT: What have the first few months of your tenure been like? 

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EL: It’s particularly exciting to be here at the society because I come from a background with history collections and historic sites. Learning the specifics of the collections, the stories and the community is nothing but energizing.

MLT: How will you bring your experience to this position? 

EL: The link between past lives and today’s lives is very real to me. History done right is the story of people. We’re all interested in those sorts of stories. Helping make those connections is my first love.

MLT: What drew you to history?

EL: I guess it’s been a lifelong love. I grew up in an old house in Alexandria, Va. It was filled with stuff that had belonged to other people.

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MLT: What are some of the society’s plans for the future? 

EL: We have 80,000 artifacts that we can’t see enough of. Visible storage is the museum world’s way of showing off its inventory—things jammed together pretty closely, no interpretive labeling, but well lit. It will enable us to pull out some of our greatest objects that don’t necessarily fit in with our exhibit themes.

MLT: What is your favorite moment in Chester County history?

EL: At the moment, it’s the story of Humphry Marshall. He tried to bring a sense of order to this world by his mastery of the science of plant identification. It’s a fascinating link to the science that dominates Chester County today—the technology and pharmaceuticals we see up and down the Route 202 corridor. 

MLT: What are your personal goals for CCHS’s future?

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EL: I would like to see us expand our educational programs for people of all ages. I think the opening of the permanent galleries and visible storage is going to be a huge leap forward into the 21st century and make us a destination in a whole new way.

MLT: What similarities or differences do you see between Chester County and Philadelphia?

EL: Philadelphia has such an incredible concentration of historic sites and museums and galleries right within the city limits. It’s almost overwhelming. In Chester County, they tend not to be jammed quite as close together. I think that’s a tremendous opportunity—you tend not to get lost in the mix.

MLT: Any favorite moments in history?

EL: Gettysburg. When my children were younger, we took them to national park for the first time. We were standing in front of the Lee Monument when my son said, “You’re from Virginia; you’re relatives were fighting for the South. Were they the good guys or the bad guys?’ It was one of the great teaching moments of my life. In retrospect, it’s pretty clear who was on the right side of that one. But those things that are so clear to us 100 years later weren’t at all clear then to the people who were fighting. Nobody fights wars thinking they’re the bad guys.

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