Benjamin Russel Hanby (class of 1858) was a teacher, a minister, an abolitionist, and most importantly a composer of songs. In his lifetime he was best known for the ballad Darling Nelly Gray, considered to be “the Uncle Ton’s Cabin of song.” Today he is remembered as the composer of the beloved children’s Christmas song, Up on the Housetop.
The origins of the Hanby Collection are unknown. It is likely the contents were accrued over time by various representatives of Otterbein University, and around 1954 these items were organized into a collection by Dr. Robert Price, the founder and volunteer curator of the Otterbein Room, the university archive.
Materials in this collection primarily cover the life and works of Ben Hanby, and his legacy up to the present day. Also included are materials about Ben’s family, including his father William Hanby, a Bishop in the United Brethren Church, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and a founder of Otterbein University, Ben’s wife Mary Katherine (Kate) Winter Hanby (class of 1857), one of the two first graduates of Otterbein University and for many years the school’s oldest living alumnus, and Ben’s son Brainerd Hanby, a newspaper publisher who wrote and published biographical sketches of both his parents.