Field Trip Free for All: RIHS School Tours

As of July 1, 2017, all of our standard tours, including those with special needs accommodations, are free to schools and educational organizations. 

Jump to site-specific tour info:

John Brown House Museum

Robinson Research Center

Museum of Work & Culture

The Field Trip Free for All program offers, at no cost, teacher-supervised visits to the RIHS’s John Brown House Museum and Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center in Providence, as well as the Museum of Work & Culture in Woonsocket for students from preschool through higher education, as well as for homeschool families and educational organizations.

This expansion of resources at the RIHS, which fosters historical literacy through hands-on research experiences, has been made possible by recent major donations, including an anonymous bequest. Until now, standard tours have cost $3 per student at the John Brown House Museum, $6 per student at the Museum of Work & Culture, and a flat rate of $100 at the Robinson Research Center.

“The extraordinary gifts we have received are now allowing us to look outward more than we ever have and to ask what our communities need,” RIHS Executive Director C. Morgan Grefe said. “Studying and understanding our history can help to build empathy, promote civic engagement, foster civil discourse, and hone communication skills. These are needs in Rhode Island – in the world – and these gifts have allowed us to remove a barrier to access for our schools to the incredible history resources held by the RIHS.”

The RIHS’s immersive experiences give students greater access to history in “their own backyard.” At the John Brown House Museum, students will gain the critical thinking skills necessary to read and interpret their environment, discovering how the presence of tea, for instance, signifies the earliest trade with China. At the Museum of Work and Culture, they can practice their perfect posture in a re-created parochial classroom or sample authentic French Canadian fare as they learn about the role of immigration in the state’s history.

Tours can also help teachers address difficult subjects that are sometimes avoided in classrooms. At the John Brown House Museum, students will tie local history to the larger story of slavery as they learn about John Brown’s role in the slave trade and the family debates that resulted when his brother Moses became an abolitionist.

At the Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center (RRC), students can sort through the original documents pertaining to the trade, from slave ship logs to a memoir written by the daughter of a former enslaved person. But the History Free for All program isn’t just for younger students getting their feet wet in history. At the RRC, college students can research their final papers and theses using our vast archives. And at the John Brown House and Museum of Work & Culture, we offer subject-specific tours for a range of audiences, including one focused on decorative arts and another on the environmental history of the Blackstone river.

The RIHS provides a strong foundation in educational and historical literacy in a time when funding for these programs is increasingly being threatened. Regardless of financial status, history should be accessible to all, which is why the RIHS has established the Klyberg Educational Access Fund, made possible by a bequest from former director Albert T. Klyberg, who passed away in January of 2017. The fund will award grants of up to $400 to Title I-designated schools to help underwrite the cost of bus transportation to RIHS sites. For more information, click here

Ready to get started? Below, you’ll find more information about our free tours, as well as additional add-on options including activities and guided walks.

Booking and Cancellation Information

We recommend scheduling your program at least four weeks in advance to secure preferred times. Free rates are available only to groups who schedule tours in advance.

Since our staff works very hard to make each tour meaningful for each group, and time slots are limited to one group at a time, any cancellation must be made three business days before a scheduled tour. In the event of a late cancellation (barring those related to weather that affect either the school district or the RIHS site), groups will be charged a late fee of $25. A credit card will be required for booking.

The John Brown House Museum

Let us bring Rhode Island’s long and fascinating history to life for your students at the John Brown House Museum. The John Brown house was built in 1788 for merchant, patriot, politician, and slave trader John Brown. He and his family were some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the state. In fact, Brown University was named for John Brown’s nephew, industrialist and philanthropist Nicholas Brown. Students will walk through this house in the steps of famous figures like George Washington and Abigail Adams, as well as the people who lived and worked in this space making this house a home, confronting the issues of the day in the new nation.

Field Trip Free for All John Brown House Museum Tour Options

Docent-Led House Tours (60 minutes)

John Brown House Museum General Tour: Explores the Brown’s house, as students learn about political issues and everyday life in the 18th century.

For All the Tea in China: Students will learn about the significant role of the Brown family in some of the earliest American trade with China.

“That Unrighteous Traffick”: This program focuses on the Brown family’s role in the slave trade, as students walk through the exhibit “Forgotten History: Rhode Island and the Slave Trade.”

Decorative Arts / Architecture (NEW): Starting in the Fall of 2017.

John Brown House Museum Add-On Options

Web of Complicity (30 minutes, $2 per student): This activity is intended to familiarize participants with many of the people and materials needed to prepare a ship for a slave trading voyage in the eighteenth century and to illustrate with a hands-on activity the connections and relationships that stretched from farms to the sea in the global enterprise of the slave trade.  This activity can be easily added onto one of the above-listed tours.

John Brown House Museum Walking Tours (90 minutes)

Walking tours can be added onto any of the above-listed tours or scheduled on their own.

Avi’s Something Upstairs  ($3 per student, $60 minimum): Step back in time and explore the streets of Providence through the lens of Avi’s Something Upstairs. This book has captivated young readers for three decades with its blend of time travel, ghosts, fact, and fiction. We’ll walk the same streets as Kenny and Caleb, visit the waterfront, and see the very house in which the story is set. Students will learn about life in 1800, Rhode Island’s involvement in the slave trade, and the traits of historic fiction. Recommended for: Young readers, fourth grade or above. The tour is 90 minutes long and covers one mile. Students should have finished the book, or be nearly finished, before participating in the tour.

Benefit Street: A Mile of History  ($5 per student, $100 minimum): Created in the mid-18th century “for the benefit of all,” this Colonial thoroughfare offers an enviable collection of 18th and early 19th century wood-frame houses. Although the street might seem like a museum mile, it is actually a vital urban neighborhood enhanced by ongoing preservation efforts since the 1950s. Students will learn about preservation efforts, as well as the fascinating history of colonial construction.

H.P. Lovecraft Walk: A Literary Life  ($5 per student, $100 minimum): Walk through places known and loved by Providence’s best-known fantasy and horror author. Lovecraft was a master of detailed description, and his words offer a most amazing historical and architectural tour.

Women’s History Walk  ($5 per student, $100 minimum): This walk celebrates the courage, spirit, and achievements of remarkable women. As educators, entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists, women like Helen Metcalf (founder of RISD), Sarah Helen Whitman (poet, spiritualist, friend of Edgar Allen Poe), Lillian Gilbreth (industrial engineer), and Christiana Bannister (hairdresser and philanthropist), made heroic and lasting contributions to our community. This tour explores the remarkable contributions made by women to RI’s history.

Custom tours: Call for availability and price.

John Brown House Museum Availability and Contact Information

School tours are available by reservation Tuesday through Friday between 9am and 1pm. The maximum number of students per program is 40, though if you plan to add a walking tour, we can accommodate up to 80 students. We require one chaperone for every 10 students.  Lunch may be eaten on the lawn. In case of rain, lunch must be eaten on the bus.

Please call for accommodations for participants in wheelchairs or walkers.

Plan a same-day visit to our Robinson Research Center! See below for RRC program options.

Contact Information

52 Power Street

Providence, RI 02906

Tour Coordinator

(401) 273-7507 Ext. 362

Museum of Work & Culture

Dedicated to sharing the stories of the men, women, and children who came to find a better life in Rhode Island’s mill towns, the Museum of Work & Culture’s exhibits allow students to imagine themselves in the position of these industrious immigrants. Whether it is the journey from a nineteenth-century farmhouse to the floor of a textile mill or becoming immersed in early twentieth century culture in a triple-decker parlor, parochial classroom, or union hall, the Museum is sure to bring history to life for students of all ages. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible.

Field Trip Free for All MoWC Tour Options

Standard Docent-Led Tour (90 minutes): Our trained docents will lead students through the museum and engage their imaginations with stories and anecdotes, all the while encouraging critical thinking skills by asking leading questions that connect the museum’s information to the classroom. French-speaking guides available on request.

MoWC Add-On Options

Assembly Line Activity (30 minutes; $3/per student; recommended for grades 3-6): Students will get a hands-on understanding of history by participating in an assembly line, learning in real time the importance of balancing speed and accuracy. Students vie as competing companies and work together to deal with layoffs, reorganization, and the success and

failure of their competitors.

Suitcase Activity (30 minutes; $3 per student; recommended for grades 6-12): Students will take on the role of a historian as they sort through the belongings of immigrant families. Working in teams, students catalog the contents of suitcases and use context clues to draw conclusions about the family’s home, occupations, socioeconomic status, and faith.

Living History Presentation (30 minutes; $3 per student): A living history interpreter will perform a play about her own life while engaging with students and helping them better understand the contrasts between her life and theirs. You can chose to hear about the life of Marie, a woman who chose to remain on a farm in Québec when her sister moved to Woonsocket, or Bridgette, the maid for a mill owner who discusses the gossip she has overheard at meetings of local businessmen.

MoWC Seasonal Tours

Outdoor Tour (30-45 minutes; $3 per student; available April-October, subject to guide availability): This tour traces the path of the Blackstone River, as guides teach students about the way in which the force of the river was harnessed to power textile mills, as well as the river’s recent environmental recovery.

Blackstone Valley Explorer w/ Mystic Aquarium (45 minutes; $8 per student; available September 18 – October 27): Scientists from Mystic Aquarium will join students on this boat tour of the Blackstone River. Students will have the opportunity to interact with an underwater remotely-operated vehicle, while learning about watershed ecology, water quality, sustainable practices, and pollution. Guides also offer a narration of historic sites, as well as wildlife and flora.

MoWC Lunch Options

French Canadian Lunch (on-site, $11.95 per person; $1 rental + $10.95 lunch): A traditional, catered French Canadian lunch served buffet style in the Museum’s ITU Hall. The menu includes meat pie, baked beans, dynamite sandwiches, brown bread, maple cookies, and bottled water.

French Canadian Lunch (off-site, $12.95 per person): A traditional French Canadian lunch served at River Falls, the restaurant directly next door to the Museum. The menu includes salad, pea soup, meat pie, brown bread, a maple dessert, and bottled water.

Pizza Lunch ($4 per person; $1 rental + $3 lunch): A pizza lunch with soft drinks served on-site in the Museum’s ITU Hall.

Lunch Space ($1 per student): Students may bring bagged lunches to enjoy in the Museum’s ITU Hall.

MoWC Availability and Contact Information

Maximum number of students is 50. One chaperone required per 10 students.  

Hours of Operation

Monday: Closed

Tuesday – Friday: 9:30am – 4pm

Saturday: 10am – 4pm

Sunday: 1pm – 4pm

Contact Information

42 S. Main Street

Woonsocket, RI 02895

(401) 769-9675

Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center

At the Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center (RRC), students of all ages can gain valuable experience working with the RIHS’s vast collection of printed items, manuscripts and graphics.They can read through the original diaries written by Rhode Islanders or examine old pictures to see firsthand the dramatic changes in Rhode Island’s skyline. As students use RIHS collection, they will not only learn strategies for researching in archives and interpreting primary sources, but also develop a deeper connection to their local history.

Field Trip Free for All RRC Tour Options

Standard Research Center Orientation (60 minutes): The RRC offers orientations led by our librarians and curators, who provide students with an overview of the Rhode Island Historical Society, the RRC, and our varied collections. Each orientation option includes a selection of materials from collections to support a chosen topic (see topic list below). Our librarians will also provide students with a resource list with collection highlights for the chosen topic.  

Topic options for standard orientation:

  • Introduction to Research in a Special Collections Library
    Our librarians provide students an introduction to our catalogs, finding aids, online galleries, indexes, and comprehensive research strategies and tips for making the best use of their research time.  
  • Researching Early Rhode Island History
    The RRC holds excellent resources on the settlement of the colony in 1636 by Roger Williams and the native peoples who preceded him. Our librarians will provide an overview of our earliest collections documenting Rhode Island history.
  • Rhode Island and the Slave Trade
    Our librarians provide students with key strategies for using the collections pertinent to the slave trade and related industries. Materials include an in-depth review of the “Papers of the American Slave Trade” collection on microfilm, as well as the “Guide to People of Color in the RIHS Collections.”
  • Rhode Island Women’s History
    Students will learn about strategies for researching women in Rhode Island, including highlights from personal papers, diaries, and women’s organizations prominent in Rhode Island.
  • Introduction to Architectural Research
    The RIHS architectural collections are extensive – and can sometimes be overwhelming! This orientation will focus on researching Rhode Island’s built environment through architectural drawings, maps, photographs, industrial reports, and other resources.
  • Avi’s Something Upstairs
    Our librarians provide a first-hand look at manuscript collections, microfilmed newspapers, and maps related to the people, places, and events depicted in Something Upstairs. This is followed by a group discussion about how collections like ours are used to develop historical fiction.
  • National History Day Theme
    Our librarians will share primary resources from the collections reflecting the current NHD theme. Students will then get a chance to ask librarians for research strategies for their projects.

Additional RRC Options

Customized RRC Orientation (60 minutes; $50): Our librarian will work with you to develop an orientation customized to the specific course topic, including a tailored resource list.

Class visit by RIHS librarian (Up to 60 minutes; $50): Our librarian will visit your class to provide an introduction to the RRC and our collections. This also includes digital scans of three items from the RIHS collections for classroom use.

RRC Availability and Contact Information

Orientations held at the RRC have a limit of 15 students, though we can accommodate larger groups by booking two separate sessions (either back to back or on different days). We require faculty, teachers, and/or chaperones to stay with the group at all times.

RRC orientations can be scheduled Mondays and Tuesdays, between 9:30am and 4pm. RIHS librarians can visit classrooms Monday through Friday, between 9am and 4pm. Plan a same-day visit to our John Brown House Museum. See above for JBHM program options.

The Robinson Research Center is wheelchair accessible. Street parking is available.

Contact Information:
121 Hope Street
Providence, RI 02906
Michelle Chiles, Research Center Manager
401-273-8017 x410