Laura Brower Hagood is the new executive director of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. This photo was taken at the Carnegie Library building at Mount Vernon Square, home to the society. Unfortunately, it’s closed because of the covid-19 pandemic. (Anne McDonough/Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

These days, for obvious reasons, a lot of people are eager to learn how Washingtonians got through the 1918 flu pandemic. Laura Brower Hagood’s new job is making sure people 100 years from now will understand how we got through this covid-19 pandemic.

That’s part of her job anyway. Hagood is the new executive director of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

It’s an odd time to start a new job. It’s an odd time to do anything. You could even say it’s a historic time.

“We have our hands full right now, documenting, understanding and preserving what’s happening in the here and now,” Hagood said via a Skype video chat. “What is this pandemic like for Washingtonians and how is our experience unique? And what does that mean for day-to-day life and how we engage and take care of each other?”

For now, that means encouraging Washingtonians to keep journals and assemble time capsules. When we emerge from the pandemic, the folks at the historical society will decide what to catalogue and keep at their headquarters in the Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square.

Hagood, 46, comes to the historical society from the National Building Museum, where she was vice president of development. It’s her second time at the HSW. In 2001 she served as the group’s director of public relations and marketing. She’s also worked at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., and at Cultural Tourism DC, where she helped create the neighborhood heritage trails that dot the city.

Hagood was born in the Netherlands and grew up there and in France.

“Whenever I had one-on-one time with my dad, he took me to a museum,” she said. “Those were really precious memories for me. I came to see museums as places where people made memories together. My mom also loved historic sites. I remember a visit to Chartres Cathedral in the fifth grade. I fell in love with history.”

Hagood came to the United States to attend Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She has a master’s degree from American University, where she is an adjunct faculty member. She and her husband live in the Shaw neighborhood. And for now that’s where she’s working — “ from the comfort of my living room table.”

The historical society has had its ups and downs over the years, but last May it reemerged in the refurbished Carnegie Library. Its top-floor space — above an Apple store — includes a research library, museum exhibits in the DC History Center and a D.C.-theme gift shop. The society also publishes a journal, Washington History.

“Washington is a city of neighborhoods, beautiful and welcoming,” Hagood said of her adopted town. “And in some ways, it’s a small city, too, where people know each other and take care of one another.”

As for the historical society, Hagood says it’s meant to be a gathering place for all who love Washington.

“It’s a place — spatially, spiritually, emotionally — to bring people together and share with one another what they love about their city, what they find interesting and fascinating about it,” she said. “It’s a place to share that love, but also a place to dive into issues that are sometimes difficult, sometimes contentious. It’s a place to listen to one another and have a conversation.”

Of course, those conversations are currently at a remove. And like so many nonprofits, the society is hurting financially.

“These are tough times,” said Hagood. “There’s no understating that. We’re a small organization. We don’t have a lot of financial reserves. What we are is resilient and nimble. An organization like this hasn’t survived for this long — 126 years — without developing some serious survival skills.”

For now, that means reducing the salaries of the society’s four-person staff and launching what’s being called the Urgency of Now campaign to raise $125,000.

Visitors to the society’s website — — are being invited to answer questionnaires about how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting them. The effort complements work the D.C. Public Library’s Special Collections Department is doing with its “Archive This Moment DC” program. It encourages Washingtonians to tag their social media posts #archivethismomentdc. (For information, visit

“This is a pivot point,” said Hagood. “We’re going to look back at this moment and think about how it changed our lives and the lives in our community.”

Added Hagood: “Students of the past and researchers in the future are going to come back to this moment in time and try to understand what happened here.”

She wants to make sure they’ll find plenty of material to help them.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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