Museum administrator, educator. Born in Northbridge, Massachusetts, on October 9, 1881, Bragg was the daughter of Reverend Lyman Bragg and Sarah Klotz. Deaf by the age of six, Bragg was educated by private tutors but attended public high schools. A member of Simmons College’s first graduating class of 1906, she earned a degree in library science. Her first professional positions were in Maine and at the New York City Library.
Hired by Dr. Paul Rea in 1909 to be the Charleston Museum’s librarian, Bragg was soon promoted to curator of books and public instruction. Seeing herself as an educator and social missionary, she used her position to cross both racial and class lines with her educational program, the first in a southern museum. She developed a southern nature study course and created traveling school exhibits to illustrate it. These portable wooden boxes opened to display nature or cultural scenes and included teachers’ stories. By 1913 the museum began providing them to the city’s private and public schools—both black and white. Recognizing the educational value of Bragg’s work, the school board required teachers to take their classes to the museum weekly and to use her curriculum and exhibits. These educational tools became so well known that the museum sent them to black and white schools in Charleston County and across the state. They were also used to train teachers at the state’s normal schools.
In October 1920 Bragg was named director of the Charleston Museum and became the first woman in the country to hold such a position at a publicly supported museum. Soon thereafter she opened the museum to black patrons one afternoon a week. She continued the educational focus of the museum and added a children’s library and a reading room that lent books. These efforts were the forerunners of the Charleston Free Library, which opened in January 1931. She was both its trustee and its first librarian.
Bragg’s other efforts included preserving the state’s cultural history, such as Edgefield pottery, and she was instrumental in the purchase and restoration of the Heyward-Washington House. She influenced the development of museums across the Southeast through a field study conducted for the American Association of Museums (AAM). As a result of this work, she was named to the governing board of the AAM and taught museum administration at Columbia University for three years.
Bragg was among the six founders of the Poetry Society of South Carolina and a founder of the Southern States Art League and of the Southern Museum Conference. She was named to the first edition of Women in America in 1923, to Who’s Who among North American Authors in 1925, and to the 1974 edition of the Standard Biographical Dictionary of Notable Women.
In 1931 Bragg became the director of the Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts. Her modern-art exhibits and education program garnered national attention in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Art Digest. Bragg retired to Charleston in 1939, where she lived until her death on May 16, 1978.
Allen, Louise Anderson. A Bluestocking in Charleston: The Life and Career of Laura Bragg. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.