A Short History of Brown

new edition
has taken the path less traveled. This is the
story of the New England college that became a
twentieth-century leader in higher education by
making innovation and excellence synonymous.
Brown University
Through nearly three centuries, Brown University
Brown University
A Short History
A Short History
by janet m. phillips
Brown University
A Short History
by janet m. phillips
Office of Public Affairs
and University Relations
Brown University
All photos courtesy of Brown University Archives
except as noted below:
John Forasté, Brown University: pp. 75, 77, 84, 86, 88, 89,
90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 98, 101, 103, 107, 110, 113, 115.
John Abromowski, Brown University: p. 114.
Michael Boyer, Brown University: p. 83.
Brown University Library, Special Collections: p. 38.
Billy Howard: p. 102.
John C. Meyers: p. 45.
Rhode Island Historical Society: pp. 22, 51.
David Silverman: p. 64.
Bob Thayer: p. 12.
Design and typography: Kathryn de Boer
Printing: E.A. Johnson Company
Copyright © 2000, Brown University
All Rights Reserved
on the cover: College Edifice
and President’s House. A colored
reproduction, circa 1945, of the
circa 1795 engraving by David
Augustus Leonard.
Office of Public Affairs and University Relations
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island 02912
September 2000
❦ Contents
Editor’s Note
1 Small Beginnings, Great Principles: A College
for the Colony
2 Breaking the Seal: Revolution and Independence
3 Old Systems and New: The Search for Identity
4 Building a University
5 The Modern Era
6 The International University
7 Toward the New Millennium
8 New Horizons
Interesting sidelights
about selected people,
activities, and traditions
Nicholas Brown Jr., 1786
Horace Mann, 1819
Samuel G. Howe, 1821
Undergraduate Literary Life
John Hay, 1858
Inman Page, 1877
Theatrics at Brown
Charles Evans Hughes, 1881
Mary Emma Woolley, 1894
John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1897
Women’s Athletics
Margaret Shove Morriss
S. J. Perelman, 1925
Otto Neugebauer
Josiah Carberry
Thomas J. Watson Jr., 1937
On Diversity
❦ Editor’s Note
he first edition of this book, published in 1992, was so
well received and proved useful to so many readers, it
was clear to all involved in the project that someday it would
need to be updated and reissued. That, indeed, has come to pass
with the publication of this edition. But what the author, veteran
Brown writer Janet M. Phillips ’70, could not have foreseen was that
the work of revising her manuscript would outlive Phillips herself.
Janet Phillips spent the first part of her career as a writer at
the Brown Alumni Monthly, where in the 1970s and early 1980s
she was a peerless copy editor and an author of award-winning
articles. Several years ago, after completing revisions to two
chapters of A Short History and writing a new section on the presidency of Vartan Gregorian, Phillips was diagnosed with cancer.
She never got to see her revised history in print. On March 26,
2000, at the age of 50, she died at her home in Warwick, Rhode
Island. For the many readers who admired this exceptional citizen of Brown, the new edition of A Short History will stand as a
fitting memorial to Phillips’s talents, her perseverance, and her
love for her alma mater.
Anne Hinman Diffily ’73
❦ Acknowledgments
early a decade has passed since the first edition of this
book was written in 1991. Because the passage of time
not only adds new chapters to a history, but affords new perspectives on earlier chapters, this second edition has been expanded
and somewhat revised.
Many people who know and love Brown well have contributed
to this project at various stages. Foremost among these are Eric
Broudy, who as associate vice president for University relations
patiently supervised the original project from start to finish, and
Laura Freid, executive vice president for public affairs and University relations, who made updating this book a priority.
Special thanks are also due to Anne Diffily, former editor of
the Brown Alumni Magazine, for her generosity with her notes
and source materials; to Martha Mitchell and the staff of the
University Archives for their encyclopedic knowledge of Brown;
to John McIntyre, assistant to a half-dozen Brown presidents,
who carefully read and critiqued the manuscripts; to the late
Professor William McLoughlin, who read the original draft and
clarified its picture of the historical context in which the University developed; and to Henry A.L. Brown of Warwick, a collateral descendant of Chancellor John Brown Francis (class of 1808),
who gave me access to unpublished materials relating to the
Brown and Francis families and their ties to the University.
I am especially grateful to Vartan Gregorian, Brown’s 16th president, whose generosity with his time and insights made easier
the difficult task of gaining perspective on recent events.
Janet M. Phillips ’70
A sampler “Wrought in the 10th Year
of her age” by Abigail Adams Hobart,
grandniece of President John Adams, in
1802. It depicts the College Edifice,
shown as “Providence College,” and the
“President’s House.”
Small Beginnings, Great Principles:
A College for the Colony
olleges and universities with long histories, like Brown’s,
often possess an aura of timelessness, as if they had
always been here and would always continue to be. It may be difficult to imagine any resemblance, past or present, between an
Ivy League university with a 228-year history and a struggling
new denominational college with a limited curriculum and even
more limited resources. Yet Brown at its inception – and for
many years afterward – was just that. Far from being “timeless,”
it was as timely as could be: Like most new ventures, it bore the
unmistakable stamp of its era, its founders, and its place.
That era, of course, was the colonial one, and the Colony of
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was well into its second century before it finally acquired a college of its own. Roger
Williams, fleeing Puritan religious oppression in Massachusetts
Bay, founded Providence in 1636. Although he remained rigidly
Calvinist in outlook all his life, Williams believed that no civil
authority had the right to interfere with religious belief, and he
made this the founding principle of his new settlement.
In due course Rhode Island attracted other like-minded individualists, some even more radical than Williams, and became
famous – indeed, notorious – as a haven for unpopular religious
minorities and unaffiliated “seekers.” Walter Bronson, professor
of English at Brown from 1892–1927 and author of the definitive
A History of Brown University, summed it up pithily in that 1914
volume: “The afflicted and the eccentric from various quarters,
Antinomians, Quakers, ‘Seekers,’ and Anabaptists of all stripes,
had lived here together in tumultuous amity, attacking one
another’s heresies but steadily respecting everybody’s right to
preach heresy without any restraint from the civil power. . . .
7 small beginnings, great principles
‘For the first time in human history,’ writes the historian Richman, ‘State had wholly been dissociated from Church in a commonwealth not utopian but real.’ ”
Inevitably, Rhode Island became fertile ground for the planting and cultivation of new varieties of religious belief, not merely
for the transplanting of varieties that were persecuted elsewhere.
Brown’s “parent” denomination, the Baptist Church, was in its
infancy in the 1630s, having been established only a quarter century earlier by English Separatists in Holland. It had no real
foothold in the New World until Roger Williams became a convert to its beliefs. In 1638, just two years after his arrival in
Rhode Island, he and a small group of followers founded the
First Baptist Church in America. Only four months later, Roger
Williams recanted its tenets, and he abstained from church membership ever after. But although the captain had jumped ship, the
ship sailed on. The Providence congregation held together, and
a new congregation was established in Newport in 1644.
The Baptist faith spread gradually through New England, the
Middle Colonies (especially Pennsylvania and New Jersey), and
the South – although, characteristically, as it grew it divided into
schisms. Nevertheless, Baptists in general maintained a common
sense of identity, and the faith continued to win converts. Unlike
the Anglicans, Congregationalists (or Puritans), and Presbyterians – the more “established” Protestant churches, with their formal organization, their emphasis on the written Word, and their
educated ministry – Baptism was a grass-roots inspirational religion. It distrusted and often despised ecclesiastical authority
and anything that smacked of intellectualism. In a country where
so many had fled from Old World authoritarianism, and where
experience often carried more weight than book learning, it
had a straightforward appeal to ordinary people. It was particularly well suited to the rebellious and egalitarian spirit of many
8 small beginnings, great principles
Rhode Islanders, who were much slower to embrace the mainline Protestant faiths.
Until the middle of the eighteenth century, those mainline
churches were the keepers of the flame of higher education in
the New World. The cerebral Puritans had wasted no time in
founding Harvard, less than a decade after the Massachusetts Bay
colony was settled, in 1636 (the same year Roger Williams paddled up the Seekonk River). The Anglicans established the College of William & Mary in Virginia in 1693; Yale, founded in
1701, gave New England a second Congregational stronghold.
But these institutions were far from being the denominationally
pure divinity schools they have often been stereotyped as.
Although they were founded and controlled by religious bodies
and tended to attract those of their own faith, none ever required students to belong to that faith. And although they did
graduate large numbers of learned men for the ministry, they
were part of a tradition of broader humanist scholarship in which
their founders had been educated in Europe. As Richard Hofstadter notes, “The founding fathers of colonial education saw
no difference between the basic education appropriate for a cleric
and that appropriate for any other liberally educated man. . . .
They intended their ministers to be educated side by side and
in the same liberal curriculum with other civic leaders and men
of affairs.”
As the colonies in the eighteenth century became more settled (in every sense of the word) and prosperous, colonial life
took on an increasing vigor, autonomy, and cosmopolitanism.
America was coalescing as a society of its own making, not
merely an offshoot of Europe. One of the byproducts of that
process, and of the general rise in the standard of living, was a
new consciousness about social standing. Americans living in a
frontier society had almost prided themselves on being unsophis9 small beginnings, great principles
ticated and unlettered; now they began to worry about respectability. This was especially true of middle-class Baptists, whose
reputation for being an ignorant lot led by unlearned ministers
made them squirm.
The eighteenth century also brought with it a phenomenon
new in American life: a widespread religious revival that challenged the established churches and their theologies. The
so-called Great Awakening of the 1730s and ’40s dramatically
divided the “Old Lights” (formal, doctrinaire) from the “New
Lights” (inspirational, mystical). It swelled the ranks of sects
like the Baptists, who absorbed various New Light factions that
had split from their parent churches. And it provided an impetus
for the founding of a new generation of colleges to train a new
generation of ministers. Revivalist Presbyterians founded the
College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1746; and the Philadelphia
Association of Baptists, having successfully launched a preparatory school in New Jersey in 1756, were soon emboldened to discuss plans for a college. Their search for a suitable locale led
them straight to Rhode Island – the birthplace of their church –
which had a large Baptist population and no college as yet.
Rhode Island, in turn, was ready to receive them. Ezra Stiles,
a distinguished Congregationalist clergyman in Newport (and
later president of Yale), had been planning a college for the state
when the Baptists’ emissary, James Manning, landed in Newport
in July 1763. Manning’s plan for a “liberal and catholic” institution, grounded in interdenominational cooperation, was readily
endorsed by Rhode Island’s leading citizens. Stiles and attorney
William Ellery Jr. were asked to draw up a charter based on
Manning’s draft, which was then presented to the General
Assembly. It divided the Corporation’s power about equally
among Baptists (who would make up a majority of the Trustees),
Presbyterians and Congregationalists (either or both of whom –
10 small beginnings, great principles
The Rev. James
Manning was the
college’s first president,
as well as its first
professor – of languages
and “other Branches
of Learning.”
they were considered interchangeable – would be a majority of
the Fellows), with a few slots reserved for Quakers and Anglicans
and a few unallotted.
The Baptists, however, had second thoughts about the wisdom of this arrangement once the charter had been drawn up.
Apparently they felt they had given away too much power, for a
quarrel ensued with the Congregationalists that ended with the
Baptists asserting definitive control over the college-to-be. Subsequent drafts of the charter placed the college presidency and a
majority of the Fellows permanently in Baptist hands; they were
given an even larger majority of the Trustees, and the Anglicans
were promoted above the Congregationalists in number of allotted seats.
Sectarian squabbles aside, the charter was and is a distinguished document. The administrative reshuffling did not change
its central intent nor its eloquent language, which remained, as
11 small beginnings, great principles
The 1914 Commencement ceremonies
at the First Baptist Meeting House (at top)
drew crowds of spectators, whether on foot
or in more modern conveyances. Today
(above), the scene is much the same, except
for hair styles, dress, and vehicle.
ong before Rhode Island College
became Brown University, its Commencement was the state’s first public
holiday. Although much of it was conducted in Latin or Greek and was over
the audience’s heads, it drew a large,
mixed, and often boisterous crowd, the
more respectable ones dressed to the
nines and the rowdier ones ready to get
drunk. (From 1790 onward, the sheriff
of Providence County has attended
every Commencement “to preserve the
peace, good order, and decorum.”) The
Providence Journal suspended publication on Commencement Day well into
the nineteenth century. Until the 1850s
it was always held the first Wednesday
in September; like Labor Day now, it
officially marked the end of summer. In
1870 it was moved to June, but not until
1928 was it held on Mondays and preceded by a weekend of class and alumni
activities. Since 1984 it’s been held on
Memorial Day weekend.
The early Commencements, which
from 1776 on were held in the First
Baptist Meeting House, required all
graduates to have a speaking part – and
the seniors were assessed fees in proportion to the magnitude of their parts, to
pay for Commencement expenses. As
public speaking gradually slipped from
its central position in the Brown curriculum, the number of student orations
was trimmed accordingly. Nevertheless, Brown has remained
true to its tradition of having
graduating seniors as the principal Commencement speakers,
rather than invited dignitaries.
The orations are still delivered in
the First Baptist Church, but
since 1947 the size of the graduating class (with attendant family, Corporation members, faculty, and guests) has required
the degree-granting ceremonies
to be held on the Green.
Commencement has twice
been overshadowed by political
events – first in 1775, when the
seniors decided to cancel the
ceremonies after the outbreak
of war, and again in 1970, when
the invasion of Cambodia and
the killings at Kent State University triggered a nationwide
student strike. Commencement
wasn’t canceled, but its format
and content reflected the atmosphere of political crisis. Many
seniors and faculty carried their
mortarboards under their arms
as a sign of protest on the march down
College Hill, the rotc commissioning
ceremony was disrupted, Campus
Dance was called off. A couple of innovations that year proved permanent:
Senior Citations were awarded for the
first time, and the weekend workshops
and panels on hot political and social
topics became today’s Commencement
The Providence Journal envisioned a
campus teeming with “Gibson girls” and
their escorts on Class Night in 1900.
R.H. Ives Gammell’s
mural of the 1774
Commencement shows
James Manning thanking
Nicholas Brown and his
brother Joseph for helping
secure the college’s new
home in Providence.
Bronson notes, “almost wholly the work of Ezra Stiles.” He saw
the college’s mission as one of preparing “a Succession of Men
duly qualify’d for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness
and reputation” through instruction in “the Vernacular Learned
Languages, and in the liberal Arts and Sciences.” In providing
that “Youths of all Religious Denominations shall and may be
freely admitted to the Equal Advantages Emoluments & Honors
of the College,” and that “into this Liberal & Catholic Institution shall never be admitted any Religious Tests,” the charter was
not unusual for its day; other college charters had similar provisions. But it was unique in its declaration that “Sectarian differences of opinions shall not make any Part of the Public and
Classical Instruction.” And despite the Baptists’ dominance, the
charter, which was finally approved in March 1764, remained
14 small beginnings, great principles
committed to the principle of denominational cooperation. “In
so doing,” Bronson writes, “it was true to the best traditions of
the Baptist denomination and of the colony; and it was also
wise after the manner of this world, by thus securing broader
support than an institution controlled wholly by one sect could
have won.”
At the first meeting of the Corporation, held in September
1764 in Newport, twenty-four of the original incorporators were
sworn in as members. They included such luminaries as the governor, Stephen Hopkins (later a signer of the Declaration of
Independence), who was elected chancellor; his chief political
rival, Samuel Ward, who also served several terms as governor;
and Nicholas Brown Sr., one of the famous mercantile Brown
brothers of Providence and father of Nicholas Brown, after
whom the college was eventually named. The new institution,
officially called Rhode Island College, had as yet no funds, no
building, no students, and no faculty. So the Corporation’s first
order of business was to raise money, which it did by drawing up
a list of sixty-nine persons around the country (including Benjamin Franklin) who were authorized to receive “subscriptions.”
At its second meeting a year later, the Corporation named as
president a man who had no serious rivals for the post: James
Manning. Manning, anticipating the appointment, had settled
in Rhode Island in 1764 as pastor of the new Baptist church in
Warren, where he also opened a Latin school. His parsonage
became the first home of Rhode Island College, which he
served simultaneously as president and as professor of languages
and “other Branches of Learning.” The college already had a
student: William Rogers, a precocious fourteen-year-old from
Newport, who had matriculated the day before Manning’s
appointment and who was his sole college pupil for the next nine
15 s m a l l b e g i n n i n g s , g r e a t p r i n c i p l e s
After the Revolution, the profiles
of King George III and Queen
Charlotte on the college seal gave
way to a neoclassical temple, then
in 1833 to the crest and motto
(“In Deo Speramus”) still used
Breaking the Seal:
Revolution and Independence
taste for Learning is greatly upon the increase in this
Colony,” James Manning remarked in 1766, soon after
his brother-in-law, Richard Stites, had enrolled as Rhode Island
College’s second student. That taste was still not universal
among Baptists, whose traditional prejudice against an educated
and salaried ministry had sparked much debate in the ranks over
the founding of their new college. But the college served a wider
constituency, which unquestionably helped it survive those lean
early years. The number of students increased steadily: Five
more enrolled in 1766, another four in 1767, eight more in 1768
and eleven in 1769. Still, this was scarcely a flood, and tuition
was so low ($12 a year) that operating funds had to be raised by
other means.
In 1766 the Rev. Morgan Edwards was authorized to go to
Europe and “solicit Benefactions for this Institution.” (That
Europe was the first choice as a source of donations shows the
extent to which the New World was still an appendage of the
Old – despite the arduousness of trans-Atlantic travel and the
difficulties of communication in those days.) During a year and a
half in Great Britain and Ireland, he raised the equivalent of
$4,300, including donations from the likes of Benjamin Franklin
and Thomas Penn, who gave $50 or $100 apiece. The donors,
of various Protestant persuasions, willingly supported the cause
of education in general and of “this Liberal & Catholic Institution” in particular. Edwards’s subscription book, as Walter Bronson notes, contains “on the same time-stained pages the names
of obscure men and women . . . who out of their poverty gave
their one shilling or two shillings sixpence to aid the cause of
education in a distant college from which they could never
17 b r e a k i n g t h e s e a l
Completion of the College Edifice was delayed
by the Revolution: The first two floors were
finished and occupied by 1771–72, the third
floor in 1785, and the fourth in 1788. The
French troops quartered there during the war
almost succeeded in dismantling it; luckily,
their plan to strip and sell its boards was
averted at the last minute. But generations
of service as a dormitory nearly doomed
it again in the 19th century, when it was
rescued and renovated into offices.
expect to receive any personal benefit.” After Edwards returned, the Rev.
Hezekiah Smith was sent
on a similar expedition
to the Southern colonies,
raising another $1,700.
The college was still
operating out of Manning’s parsonage in Warren when it held its
first Commencement in September 1769. That first graduating
class had only seven students, but the ceremonies lasted all day
and into the evening – and are of special interest for what they
reflected of the prevailing political weather. They featured a vigorous debate on the thesis, “The Americans, in their present Circumstances, cannot, consistent with good Policy, affect to
become an independent State.” The Newport Mercury, in its
account of the day’s festivities, tactfully declined to say who lost
the debate, but it pointedly noted that “the President and all the
Candidates were dressed in American Manufactures.” (Harvard’s
graduating class had made the same gesture the previous year.)
Whatever political storms were gathering on the horizon, the
Corporation had more immediate and pressing concerns. Chief
among these was choosing a permanent home for the college,
and on that first Commencement Day it decided in favor of Bris18 breaking the seal
tol County, Warren’s location. No further debate or discussion
seemed necessary – until word of the choice got around the
colony. East Greenwich, Providence, and Newport all protested
hotly, each proclaiming its superior qualifications to be the
colony’s seat of higher education. The Corporation retracted its
decision, and the contest quickly narrowed to Providence and
Newport; Newport was the larger and richer of the two, but
Providence had powerful allies in Manning himself and the
Brown family, as well as other arguments in its favor. The colony
had its origin there, as did the Baptist Church in America, and its
economic vigor boded well for its future. When the Corporation
settled on Providence in February 1770, Newport’s partisans, in
a fit of pique, took steps to charter a rival college in their home
town. But the Corporation’s protests to the General Assembly
quashed the idea, and no more was heard of it.
A few months later the college’s president, its first tutor
19 b r e a k i n g t h e s e a l
n i c h o l a s b r ow n j r .
class of 1786
he destiny of Nicholas Brown Jr.
and that of Rhode Island College were
so intertwined that it seems almost
inconceivable in retrospect that Brown
University might have been named for
anyone else. Nicholas graduated from
the college in 1786 at age seventeen, and
by age twenty-two was already a trustee.
He just as quickly assumed a leading role
in Providence’s (and Rhode Island’s)
economic life by establishing the firm of
Brown & Ives, which became one of
New England’s largest mercantile houses.
His benefactions to Brown, totaling
$160,000 over his lifetime, sprang partly
from a sense of proprietorship that his
family passed to him, and partly from
his own generosity of temperament and
broad vision. Francis Wayland said of
him, “He was endowed to an unusual
degree with that quality, which I know
not how better to express than by the
term, largeness of mind. A plan or an
enterprise was attractive to him, all
things being equal, in proportion to its
extensiveness.” According to Wayland,
he had a large heart as well, full of “active
sympathy for every form of human suffering. He not infrequently visited the
sick in their own dwellings, while his
door was frequently thronged, and
his steps waylaid by the poor and unfortunate of every age.” He served continuously as a trustee and then a fellow
of the University until his death in 1841;
he also helped found Butler Hospital,
the state’s first mental hospital, and the
Providence Athenaeum.
(David Howell), and its students took up residence at various private houses in Providence. Classes were held in the brick schoolhouse at the west end of Meeting Street, amid the congestion
and noise of downtown. The Corporation had been scouting for
a building site in the “regions calm of mild and serene air” at the
top of what is now College Hill, “above the smoke & stir of this
dim spot.” Of the eight-acre site it purchased (partly from John
and Moses Brown), which commanded a broad view of the town
below, of Narragansett Bay and miles of gently rolling farmland
and woodland, Morgan Edwards remarked, “Surely this spot was
made for a seat of the Muses!”
No time was lost in putting a roof over the Muses’ heads: In
May of 1770 the cornerstone of the College Edifice, now University Hall, was laid. The plans were modeled on Nassau Hall
at Princeton, the alma mater of both Manning and Howell.
Nicholas Brown and Company, the Brown brothers’ firm, had
charge of the construction, which progressed with remarkable
efficiency. This may have been partly due to their willingness to
motivate the crew with generous supplies of rum punch. John
Brown’s meticulous account book shows the expenditures at each
stage of building, e.g.: “To 2 Galls. W.I. [West Indian] Rum 7s.
2 lbs Sugar 1s. when Laying the 2d floor.” By the winter of 1771–
72, the four-story structure was closed in and the first two floors
ready for occupancy. A house for the president had also been
built just northwest of the College Edifice. The Boston Gazette
twitted the Corporation for building “a College near as large as
Babel; sufficient to contain ten Times the Number of Students”
that could ever be expected to enroll. Time, of course, stood that
prophecy on its head; meanwhile, the college’s officers and its
twenty-one students could be excused for the pride they took in
their spacious new quarters.
The college was finally beginning to take on what Bronson
21 breaking the seal
22 breaking the seal
This bird’s-eye view of Providence, with the College Edifice
and the president’s house at the top, was drawn by John Fitch
in 1790 when he was a student at Rhode Island College.
23 breaking the seal
calls a “settled air” just as the political climate was becoming radically unsettled. The Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765,
the Declaratory Act of 1766, the Townshend Acts of 1767, and
the Tea Act of 1773 were experienced in the colonies as a sort of
drum roll of mounting British tyranny. And Rhode Island,
obstreperous as ever, “rushed pell-mell toward revolution after
1764,” in the words of William McLoughlin: “the first colony to
resort to armed resistance, to call for a Continental Congress, to
renounce allegiance to the king, to create an American naval
force.” The college’s Commencement programs from the early
1770s reflect a growing preoccupation with the colonies’ fate,
and the Class of 1775 decided to forgo the festivities of a public
Commencement, in sober
recognition of “the Distresses of our oppressed
Country, which now most
unjustly feels the baneful
Effects of arbitrary Power.”
The last Commencement
until after the Revolution
was held in 1776 in the
newly completed First Baptist Church; that year the
President Manning published this notice in the
Providence Gazette in December 1776. The
college didn’t reopen until 1782.
college awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree
to Gen. Nathanael Greene,
the commander of the state’s armed forces, who was soon to
become a Revolutionary hero.
Once war broke out, it was only a question of time before
the college would be forced to shut down. That time came in
December 1776, when the British seized Newport and Aquidneck Island. “This brought their Camp in plain View from the
24 breaking the seal
18th-century Spanish chair that
Brown presidents sit in while conferring degrees was booty from a captured Spanish vessel bound for
the West Indies. Benjamin Wicker
presented the chair to his friend
Stephen Hopkins, governor of Rhode
Island (1758–68) and the first chancellor of Rhode Island College, and
in 1848 Stephen Hopkins Smith made
College with the naked Eye,” Manning wrote, “upon which the Country
flew to Arms & marched for Providence.” The College Edifice was seized
for use as a barracks, and the students
turned out. Immediately afterward,
Manning published a notice in the Providence
Gazette dismissing the students until the following spring.
But things were no better in May of 1777, when he published
another notice acknowledging that the college could not reopen
“while this continues a garrisoned Town.” The current senior
class received their degrees at a meeting of the Corporation in
September, the last business the college transacted until 1780.
Manning was by no means at loose ends without a college to
preside over. He had assumed the pastorate of the Baptist
Church in Providence after leaving Warren, and he worked tirelessly, through many channels, to relieve the widespread hunger
and distress war brought to Rhode Island. In 1777 he finished
building thirty-two rods of stone wall on the college land with
his own hands. From 1778 onward he joined forces with Moses
Brown and Stephen Hopkins in agitating for the abolition of
slavery and slave trading in the state. (Manning had freed his
only slave in 1770.) But his first commitment was to the college,
and within eight days after the American troops vacated it in
25 breaking the seal
The college’s first chancellor,
Stephen Hopkins (1707–1785),
was also a three-term governor
of the colony, a signer of the
Declaration of Independence,
and a delegate to the Continental
April 1780, he had presented to the Corporation a proposal for
reopening it in May. What Bronson aptly calls “this courageous
beginning amidst the ruin left by war” was short-lived: On June
5, Manning was informed by Gov. William Greene II that the
College Edifice was again to be commandeered for military use,
this time as a hospital for French troops.
In the ensuing two years, Manning tutored several students
under his own roof, enabling them to receive their bachelor’s
degrees in 1782. When the French troops finally cleared out of
the College Edifice in May of that year (but not before they had
tried to strip the building of its boards and windows to sell
them), the “ruin left by war” was a literal description of its condition. Manning referred to it as the “Augean Stable.” The Corporation promptly submitted a bill for the equivalent of $4,400
to the new federal government, asking recompense for use and
damages from 1776 onward. Eighteen years later, the college was
reimbursed $2,779.13 for its occupancy by American troops
At the Corporation’s first postwar meeting in September
1782, one of its first orders of business was to break the old college seal, with its profiles of King George and Queen Charlotte,
26 breaking the seal
horace mann
class of 1819
he opportunity to carry out his
life’s work in public education came to
Horace Mann, class of 1819, quite by
surprise. After graduating from Brown,
he made a distinguished name for himself as a lawyer in Boston and was elected
first to the Massachusetts House, then
the Senate. He had solid reformist credentials, but had never gotten deeply
involved in public education until he
cast his vote in 1837 in favor of creating
the nation’s first State Board of Education. It was expected that James G.
Carter, who had worked almost singlehandedly for years to improve public
schools in Massachusetts, would become
the board’s first secretary. Instead, the
board surprised everyone and chose
Horace Mann. Awed by the immensity
of the challenge, Mann swore to himself
the day he accepted, “Henceforth, as
long as I hold this office, I dedicate myself to the supremest welfare of mankind
upon earth.” Over the next twelve years
he transformed the state’s hodgepodge
of common schools (basically charity
schools for the poor) into a great system
of free public schools, organized on solid
educational principles. And he accomplished this feat by persuasion alone, for
the board had no power to compel or
enforce anything. Mann held teachers’
institutes and public meetings in every
county, using the oratorical skills he had
honed at Brown, to raise public con-
sciousness (which he likened to “trying
to batter down Gibraltar with one’s fist”).
His twelve annual reports to the board
still stand as a monument of educational
thought. In 1848 Mann was elected to
Congress to fill the seat vacated by John
Quincy Adams’s death, where he fought
vigorously against slavery; in 1854 he
was named president of Antioch College
in Ohio, and served out his days there.
His statue and that of Daniel Webster
still flank the entrance to the Massachusetts State House.
s a m u e l g r i d l e y h ow e , m . d .
class of 1821
amuel Gridley Howe, M.D., class of
1821, is memorialized both on the walls
of the Boston Public Library and in a
street that bears his name in Athens,
Greece. Like his contemporary, Horace
Mann, Howe embodied those nineteenthcentury reformist sympathies that strove
to abolish slavery and all forms of institutionalized mistreatment or neglect –
in such places as prisons, schools, and
insane asylums. Like another contemporary, Lord Byron, he was stirred by the
Greek revolution against the Ottoman
Turks. In 1824, shortly after earning
his M.D. from Harvard, he sailed for
Greece to volunteer as a soldier and surgeon in the war, and was eventually made
surgeon-in-chief to the Greek navy.
Returning to Boston, he helped establish
the New England (later Perkins) Institution for the Blind and became a virtually
self-taught pioneer in educating the
blind. He worked with Horace Mann on
behalf of public education in Massachusetts, and lobbied for the mentally ill,
the retarded, and prisoners. He and his
wife, Julia Ward Howe (author of “The
Battle Hymn of the Republic” and first
president of the New England Woman
Suffrage Association), edited the antislavery paper The Commonwealth, helped
rescue fugitive slaves, and raised money
to keep Kansas a Free Soil state. Ironically, Howe was best known at Brown for
his pranks (putting hot ashes in a tutor’s
bed, leading the president’s horse to
the top floor of University Hall), which
it still amused him to recount years later.
As his daughter Laura observed, “The
very ardor of temperament which led him
on from scrape to scrape was that which
later was to carry him through fire and
water” both at home and abroad.
and commission a new one. Alterations to the charter were made
to reflect the shift from colonial status; a new tutor was
appointed (David Howell by then was a delegate to the Continental Congress); and the college’s books and papers, which had
been taken elsewhere for safekeeping, were returned to campus.
But amid the general destitution and disarray of the immediate
postwar period, funds and students – the most necessary items of
all – were scarce indeed. After casting about for a viable fundraising strategy, the Corporation came up with a novel idea: to
appeal to the King of France.
This scheme was not as outlandish as it might sound. Britain
was obviously not the place to seek funds then, and France had
been an ally (and a house guest) during the Revolution. In addition, the king had reportedly offered aid to Yale and had been
declined. So an address was drawn up and forwarded to Benjamin Franklin, minister at the French court. He apparently took
no action, and two years later, in 1786, the Corporation renewed
its request through Thomas Jefferson, the new minister to
France. Jefferson tactfully informed Corporation members that
his preliminary inquiries had met with no encouragement, and
the matter was dropped.
The college did have one windfall during this period: In
1783, John Brown offered to pay half the cost of a “compleat
Philosophical Apparatus and Library,” and the Corporation
promptly raised the other half. (The term “philosophical apparatus” referred to the instruments – telescopes, microscopes, globes,
magnets, etc. – used in studying the natural sciences, which in
those days went under the heading of “natural philosophy.”) The
acquisition of these sorely needed books and equipment put the
college on a more solid academic footing, and it began to attract
more students, which in turn meant more revenue. But the
money’s arrival was slow and often sporadic – many students
29 breaking the seal
William Williams
received this diploma
at the college’s first
in 1769.
30 breaking the seal
were in arrears on tuition and fees – and the college’s poverty
almost cost it its president.
By the winter of 1786–87, the normally cheerful and resilient
Manning was near the end of his rope. He had recently been
pressed into serving seven months in the U.S. Congress, but had
yet to be paid for it; and the arrearages of tuition at the college
meant that he had been unable to collect his salary. Broke, ill,
and weary, he wrote to a friend that he was seriously considering
leaving Rhode Island; and in his uncharacteristically black mood,
he suspected Howell of plotting to unseat him because Howell
had openly disagreed with him on a matter of student discipline.
However, as his health and his finances improved, Manning
regained his composure.
The first post-Revolutionary Commencement was held in
1786, when a class of fifteen (including Nicholas Brown Jr.) was
awarded degrees. The trials of new nationhood were hinted
at by one of the debate topics: “Whether it would not have been
better for America to have remained dependent on Great
Britain.” By then, Commencement had become the town’s first
public holiday, whose high spirits sometimes spilled over into rowdiness. The Corporation tried to lessen the carnival atmosphere by pressuring the Baptist Society in 1790 to crack down
on “the erection of Booths, or receptacles for liquors, or other
things for sale” on the grounds of the Meeting House. That
year’s Commencement was a watershed of sorts: It was the
largest to date (twenty-two graduated); it was held not long after
Rhode Island became the last state to ratify the Constitution; and
it conferred an honorary degree on George Washington, who
had visited the state a few weeks earlier to give the newest member of the Union his blessings. That Commencement was also
the last at which Manning presided. He died of a stroke on July
24, 1791, at the age of fifty-two.
31 breaking the seal
View of the East Side and College Hill painted
for the drop curtain at the Providence Theater
by noted Boston artist John Worrall.
Old Systems and New:
The Search for Identity
he man who took James Manning’s place at the helm
of Rhode Island College was younger even than the
college itself. The Rev. Jonathan Maxcy, class of 1787, was only
twenty-four when he was named president pro tem in 1792. He
had served as a tutor since his graduation, had succeeded Manning as pastor of the First Baptist Church, and had recently been
made professor of divinity; he was called to the presidency after
the Corporation’s first choice, Dr. Samuel Jones of Pennsylvania, declined because of advancing age. Maxcy was probably the
youngest college president in the country at the time of his
appointment, and the Corporation thought it wise to keep him
on pro tem status for five years, after which he “graduated” to
The college he took over had quadrupled its enrollment in
the past two decades: By 1793–94, there were eighty-three undergraduates, most of them from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and
Connecticut. Their course of study was based on the venerable
triad of classics, mathematics, and metaphysics, with the addition
of English grammar and rhetoric, and of a few scientific and
practical subjects such as astronomy, geography, surveying, and
navigation. There were no electives, and no concentrations: The
curriculum was the same for all. The dawn of academic specialization was still a generation or two away.
Students lived, ate, studied, and worshiped in the College
Edifice (nicknamed the “Old Brick”), under the vigilant eyes of
the tutors and steward, who were required to live there as well,
and often of their professors, who were encouraged to do the
same. The president’s house was next door, so he too was omnipresent. This was the “family model” of undergraduate life,
33 old systems and new
adapted from Oxford and Cambridge, and the concept of in loco
parentis was applied quite literally. Indeed, most students probably lived under stricter discipline at college than at home:
Approximately ten hours a day were designated study hours, during which students had to remain alone in their rooms, and
attendance at morning and evening prayers was mandatory.
Youth, as always, chafed at the bit. The college records from 1791 note that “Fairbanks is
fined also 6/ for permitting, some time since,
liquor to be brought into, and to be drunk in
his room. . . . Howell [is] fined 6/ for . . . at late
Hours in the night running through the College, beating against the doors, hallooing and
using prophane [sic] language.” A student’s
letter of 1799 notes, “The Old Brick resounds
very frequently with the breaking of glass
bottles against Tutor T’s door, If he can be
Jonathan Maxcy, class of
1787, was twenty-four years
old when he succeeded James
Manning as President.
called a Tutor. We have given him the epithet
of Weazle.” Punishments ran the gamut from
fines to public rebuke to “rustication” (temporarily banishing a student to some rural pas-
tor’s house) to – rarely – expulsion. The college’s historians seem
to agree that the campus was a bit rowdier under Maxcy’s administration, perhaps because his youth failed to intimidate students.
Maxcy nonetheless did much to increase the college’s reputation. He was a brilliant orator in an era when that skill was considered of preeminent importance, and Rhode Island College
became known for its teaching of oratory and belles-lettres. Its
enrollment continued to grow, but not its operating funds. In
1795 the Corporation tried a new tactic, one that had succeeded
at other colleges: It voted that “any person giving to this Corporation the sum of Six thousand dollars, or good security therefor,
34 old systems and new
u n d e r g r a d u at e l i t e r a ry l i f e
The late 19th-century yearbooks were
brightened with lighthearted cartoons.
This one is from the 1886 Liber
ndergraduate literary life at Brown
made its debut in 1829 with The Brunonian, a more-or-less-monthly periodical
that printed student essays, Commencement orations, poems, and such. In midcentury it was followed by the more factual Brown Paper (1857–68), an organ of
the Greek-letter societies that published
lists of their members, items of college
news, and editorials. (Not entirely factual, though: James DeWolf’s lyrics to
“Alma Mater” first appeared in the 1860
edition of the Brown Paper.) When the
Brown Paper became the Liber Brunensis
in 1868, the Brunonian was revived, and
flourished for another half century
(until 1917). By then, Brown had a full-
fledged campus newspaper – the Brown
Daily Herald, founded in 1891 – and an
alumni magazine, the Brown Alumni
Monthly, which since its inception in
1900 has developed into one of the best
university magazines in the country.
During the heyday of college humor
magazines in the ’20s, the Brown Jug
poured out wit and satire from the likes
of S.J. Perelman, class of 1925.
Today, word processors and desktop
printers have given birth to any number
of campus publications: The more
established ones include Issues Monthly,
Journal of the Arts, Mediatribe, Passion
Fruit Review, and the College Hill Independent.
The Brunonian, launched
in 1829, was Brown’s first
literary magazine. Its
successor, the Brown Paper,
published James DeWolf’s
lyrics for “Alma Mater.”
before the next annual Commencement, shall have the honour of
naming this University.”
No suitor was forthcoming, so the college had to retain its
maiden name for a few more years. Meanwhile, Maxcy resigned
in 1802 to accept the presidency of Union College in Schenectady, and the Corporation chose a new president from the ranks
of the faculty. Asa Messer, professor of mathematics and natural
philosophy, was a comparatively ripe thirty-three years old and
had already served on the faculty eleven years. After his election,
the Corporation tried again to find a patron, this time offering
slightly easier terms: It voted in 1803 that a donation of $5,000
would entitle the donor to name the college.
36 old systems and new
This time a suitor did come forward, an alumnus and old
friend of the college. Nicholas Brown’s gift of $5,000 to endow a
chair in oratory carried out the wishes of his recently deceased
uncle, John Brown, and was the first in a series of increasingly
liberal gifts over his lifetime. Later generations have sometimes
jokingly accused him of buying fame cheap with that $5,000, but
that was a substantial sum in those days, and by contemporary
accounts Brown appears to have been a true rara avis – a wealthy
and prominent man who was both generous and modest. In
September 1804, at the same meeting in which the gift was
announced, the Corporation voted to change the college’s name
to “Brown University in Providence in the State of Rhode Island,
and Providence Plantations.”
The newly christened university branched out in 1811 by
establishing a medical school, or at least the beginnings of one.
Three well-known physicians (Solomon Drowne, William Ingalls, and William C. Bowen) were appointed as lecturers on medical subjects – albeit without the aid of textbooks, laboratories,
equipment or endowment. Walter Bronson points out that even
by the standards of that era, when medicine, like most professions, was learned primarily through apprenticeship and not academic preparation, Brown’s medical school had a long way to go.
After some prodding, additional faculty were appointed to fill
gaps in the curriculum. The professors appear to have taken
responsibility for providing the necessary supplies: One Professor Parsons made secret and not entirely legal arrangements to
procure a stock of “anatomical material,” according to his son.
In any case, the medical school flourished – thanks largely to its
distinguished faculty – and became a credit to the University
while it lasted.
The other great addition in President Messer’s tenure was a
new college building. The “Old Brick” was bulging at the seams
37 old systems and new
j o h n h ay
class of 1858
ohn Hay, class of 1858,
showed literary promise from
a young age and was chosen
class poet during his senior
year at Brown. But on returning home to Warsaw, Ill., he
found few prospects for a
career in letters in what he
called “this barbarous West.”
In 1859 he reluctantly joined his uncle’s
law office in Springfield. Next door was
the office of Abraham Lincoln. When
Lincoln was elected in 1860, Hay and a
friend, John Nicolay, accompanied him
to Washington as private secretaries.
Hay’s companionship with the President
(whom he fondly nicknamed the
“Ancient” and the “Tycoon”) left him
with an intimate and abiding sense of
Lincoln’s greatness. He and Nicolay
often discussed the possibility of writing
a book about those momentous years,
but the project had to wait. Hay was
appointed secretary to the American
legation in Paris in March 1865, the first
of several diplomatic posts in Europe.
On returning to the States in 1870, he
had a brief fling with journalism, then
launched his literary career with Pike
County Ballads and Other Pieces, Castilian
Days, and his collected Poems. In 1875
he and Nicolay began the collaboration
that resulted, 15 years later, in the publication of the ten-volume Abraham
Lincoln: A History. It was their monument to the President they had served,
This unusual painted photograph of
President Lincoln with his secretaries,
John Hay (standing) and John Nicolay,
is from the Lincoln collection at the
John Hay Library.
and it remains an invaluable historical
record based on original sources (much
of it material loaned by Lincoln’s son
Robert). Hay had returned to public life
as assistant secretary of state in 1878
under Rutherford B. Hayes; after the
Lincoln opus was published, he became
an adviser to President William McKinley, ambassador to Great Britain in
1897, and finally secretary of state from
1898–1905 under McKinley and Teddy
Roosevelt. Hay’s name is primarily
linked with the “Open Door” policy in
China, but his greatest success there
may have been to prevent the Chinese
empire from breaking up in the Boxer
Rebellion of 1900. Under Roosevelt, he
also settled the Alaskan boundary dispute with Canada and was a key player
in the creation of the Panama Canal.
by 1821, when the Corporation decided to purchase an adjacent
lot from Nathan Waterman. Nicholas Brown again stepped forward and paid the entire cost of a new three-story brick building,
which he named Hope College after his sister. On its completion
in 1823, the old College Edifice was duly renamed University
Hall, a fence was put up around the grounds, and trees planted –
the beginnings of a real college campus.
Despite the considerable strides made during his administration and the generally high personal regard in which he was held,
Messer’s presidency came to an unhappy end. By the 1820s, a
new and heretical faith called Unitarianism was spreading rapidly,
and sects like the Baptists that had once been in the vanguard of
heresy now felt themselves threatened, like any establishment
church, by new waves of dissent. Messer was suspected by some
Corporation members of being a fellow traveler of the Unitarians, and he was repeatedly challenged on his belief in the divinity
of Christ. He defended himself against this “Spanish Inquisition”
(his words), but when anonymous pamphlets attacking him began
to circulate, and Corporation members began citing them in
meetings, Messer resigned in bitterness and disgust. He clearly,
and understandably, felt betrayed by the institution to which
he had devoted thirty-nine years of his life, twenty-four of them
as president.
On the same day it accepted Messer’s resignation in 1826, the
Corporation named as his successor a man who was to transform
Brown profoundly. Francis Wayland, age thirty-one, professor
of mathematics and natural philosophy at Union College, had
started out to study medicine, then found his true calling in the
ministry; he was already a leading figure among Baptists when he
was named a Fellow of Brown University in 1825. Wayland was
a forceful personality with strong views, and on taking office in
1827 he immediately embarked on a vigorous intellectual and
39 old systems and new
moral housecleaning. Academic and disciplinary standards were
tightened, entrance requirements were raised, and student pastimes that Wayland considered frivolous (like singing in one’s
room) were squelched. There were murmurs of protest, but
most seemed to welcome this invigorating new wind that blew
across campus.
Wayland’s next move, however, was far more controversial.
He was an earnest believer in the “family model” of the college
community and in close supervision of campus life. By those
lights, he concluded that non-resident professors, like those in
the medical school, did not belong at Brown. Within a month of
assuming office, he persuaded the Corporation to fire them indirectly by cutting off their salaries and fees – all except Professor
Bowen, who was also the librarian. Brown thus lost not only
its medical school, but another star faculty member: Tristram
Burges, who had been named in 1815 to the chair in oratory
endowed by Nicholas Brown. A storm of protest broke out on
campus and in the community; angry editorials and letters to the
editor appeared in the local papers, some suggesting that the
time was ripe for another college in Rhode Island, one organized
on more democratic principles. But Wayland simply ignored his
critics, and the protests died out.
The call for another college in the state “to furnish a broader
and more practical education,” although it would be fifty years
before it was realized, was prophetic of the enormous social
changes that were beginning to press in on Brown and other colleges. The Industrial Revolution was well under way (nowhere
more so than in Rhode Island); great strides were being made in
technology and science; and America, after the War of 1812, had
a new sense of national identity and an obsession with westward
expansion. The tide of progress was moving ever faster, and
those who did not move with it would simply be left stranded.
40 old systems and new
John Brown Francis’s 1805 receipt for tuition, room
rent, and use of the library reflects the college’s new
identity as Brown University. Francis (class of 1808)
served as chancellor from 1841 to 1854.
Wayland was not blind
to these larger issues or their
implications for higher education. He took steps early
on to broaden the curriculum and bring it more in line with the
times, adding courses such as chemistry, physiology, political
economy, French and Hebrew, and calculus. Students were even
allowed a limited choice of electives. But there were urgent practical needs at Brown that had to be addressed before any sweeping changes in educational philosophy could be considered. The
library, for one, was understocked and underfunded. In 1831 the
Corporation authorized a subscription for the unprecedented
sum of $25,000 to set up a permanent library fund. Wayland
spearheaded the drive and succeeded in raising more than
$19,000 ($10,000 from Nicholas Brown, the rest from many
other donors), which was put at interest until it grew to $25,000.
Next, the library needed new quarters; Nicholas Brown contributed $18,500 to build Manning Hall, which housed the
library downstairs and the chapel upstairs. Four years later, in
1839, the sciences acquired a new home in Rhode Island Hall,
for which Nicholas Brown gave the land and most of the funds.
As the University’s intellectual life was recharged and its
41 old systems and new
inman page
class of 1877
nman Page, class of 1877, the first
African-American to graduate from
Brown, was born into slavery in 1853.
He was a ten-year-old houseboy on a
Virginia plantation when he and his
family escaped through the nearby battle lines in 1863 and fled to Washington. Fourteen years later, he was chosen
class orator at Brown’s Class Day – not,
as the Providence Journal
observed, out of a sense
of chivalry, but because
he was “an orator of rare
ability” in a college that prided itself on
the eloquence of its graduates. After a
year of teaching at Natchez Seminary in
Mississippi (as Reconstruction was being
dismantled in the South), Page joined
the faculty of Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Mo. Much of the rest of his
life was dedicated, as Ralph Ellison has
noted, to implanting the New England
tradition of education in the newer states
out West – transmitting that tradition
to former slaves and their children and
grandchildren. Page served as president
of Lincoln Institute (later Lincoln University), Langston University in Oklahoma, Western Baptist College in Macon,
Mo., and Roger Williams University
in Nashville. After the First World War,
he devoted most of his remaining years
(he died in 1935) to serving as principal
and supervisor of Oklahoma City’s black
public schools.
material wants were met, extracurricular life began to flourish.
The first college magazine, The Brunonian, was founded in 1829;
a Phi Beta Kappa chapter was established in 1830; fraternities
took hold in the late 1830s, despite Wayland’s initial suspicions
about them; and the first general alumni association was founded
in 1842. (There were still no organized sports at Brown, the
principal form of exercise being “to promenade on the north side
of Westminster Street after 5 p.m.,” as one student put it.)
But Wayland was not inclined to be complacent. On sabbatical in Europe in 1840–41, he spent most of his time visiting
British universities and meeting with leading scholars and intellectuals. He was brimming with ideas when he returned, which
he put into a report to the Corporation in 1841 and into a book
entitled Thoughts on the Present Collegiate System in the United
States in 1842. The core of his proposal was that colleges should
“adapt their courses to the different capacities and wants of students” – in short, adjust themselves to the realities of a varied and
competitive American market, and give the public what it seemed
to demand.
As in Revolutionary days, though, outside events suddenly
intruded and put academic matters on the back burner. The
Dorr Rebellion of 1842 was the climax of a struggle over voting
rights and legislative representation. In 1840, Rhode Island was
the only state still restricting the vote to landowners, and the
allotment of representatives to the various towns under the 1663
charter bore no relationship to their current population. Thomas
Wilson Dorr, a prominent legislator, and his followers drafted a
more equitable “People’s Constitution” for the state, succeeded
in getting it ratified by popular vote, and duly elected a slate of
officials that included Dorr as governor. When the incumbents
refused to recognize the new regime and tried to have Dorr
arrested, an armed uprising ensued, led by Dorr himself. State
43 old systems and new
troops were called out, and once again the college had to shut
down while its buildings were used as barracks. The rebellion
failed (with no loss of life on either side), but it made its point: By
1843, the state had a new constitution that extended suffrage and
redressed some of the imbalances in representation.
After college life returned to normal, no action was taken
on Wayland’s 1841 report, probably because there seemed to be
no pressing reason to do so. The institution appeared to be
in good health – so it struck the university like a thunderclap
when Wayland abruptly resigned in 1849, the day after Commencement. A gradual but steady decline in enrollment over the
previous decade had led him to conclude that something was
fundamentally wrong, and that drastic action was needed to
correct Brown’s course. The decrease in enrollment also meant,
of course, increasing financial pressures – and after Nicholas
Brown’s death in 1841 there was no comparable source of muchneeded funds.
Wayland’s resignation was meant to shock the Corporation
into acting, and it did. Members begged him to resume office
and appointed him head of a Committee of Advice to reshape
Brown’s future. The committee’s report, delivered in March
1850, quickly became famous nationwide as one of the most radical proposals yet made for restructuring an American college.
Actually, as Bronson points out, the ideas were a continuation of
Wayland’s earlier writings, and some had long been in use at the
University of Virginia. Nonetheless, the report excited a lot of
comment, most of it positive, and it was implemented at Brown
with little opposition.
The report was essentially a marketing plan that began by
acknowledging that “with the present century, a new era dawned
upon the world. A host of new sciences arose, all holding important relations to the progress of civilization.” College curricula
44 old systems and new
t h e at r i c s at b r ow n
heatrics at Brown got their start
after the Civil War, when the shortlived Thalian Dramatic Association gave
way to the more durable Hammer &
Tongs in 1867. Under the direction of
Tom Crosby, H&T staged a yearly
student-written “entertainment” at the
Providence Opera House, because
Brown had no stage of its own.
The Women’s College organized
its own dramatic society, Komians, in
1901; its male counterpart, Sock &
Buskin, staged its first production a year
later. For nearly 30 years, both societies
carried on impersonating each other’s
gender – the women laboring under the
extra handicap of being forbidden to
wear male costumes. Sock & Buskin
began using female actors in 1931 (the
same year Faunce House Theater was
built), and the two groups merged a
decade later. Ben Brown, class of 1919,
Sock & Buskin’s director from 1921
to 1955, brought Brown theater to a new
level of professionalism – presenting a
Above, a scene from Facing the Music,
a melodrama staged by Sock and Buskin
in 1910. One of Rites and Reason’s
stellar performers was Sandra Franklin
’75, shown below as Hannah in Letters
from a New England Negro.
full theater season, tackling playwrights from the
ancient Greeks to
G.B. Shaw, taking
shows on the
Other established theater
groups are
founded in 1935 to stage original musicals; Production Workshop, for studentwritten and -produced works; and Rites
& Reason, the research and development theater for Afro-American Studies.
had necessarily expanded, but the four years allotted for a bachelor’s degree hadn’t altered – and the result, the report argued,
was a hasty and superficial review of many fields that left students
ill prepared to practice in any of them. “Where are our classical
scholars? . . . where are our mathematicians?” the report asked. It
alluded to the pressures created by industrialization and westward expansion: “There has existed for the last twenty years a
great demand for civil engineers. . . . We presume the single
academy at West Point . . . has done more towards the construction of railroads than all our one hundred and twenty colleges
The problems of superficiality and declining enrollments
were both to be met by “adapt[ing] the article produced, to the
wants of the community.” This meant fewer required courses
and more electives, so that students might pursue their chosen
field in depth; making the length of the program more flexible,
including a new three-year Ph.B. degree; and the addition of
courses in agriculture, law, civil engineering, and chemistry and
science applied to the arts. This last was especially tailored to
Rhode Island, with its burgeoning textile, jewelry, and metal
The “New System,” despite its attempt to be both highminded and practical, was an ironic reversal of Wayland’s early
efforts to raise academic standards at Brown. Admission requirements were eased to attract more students; the list of requirements for an A.B. degree was reduced by one-fourth, and an
A.M. degree could now be earned for the same amount of work
once entailed in getting an A.B. The inescapable result was that,
although enrollments did increase for a few years, the value of a
Brown degree was debased, and the quality of the students it
attracted suffered. Both students and faculty were acutely conscious of this loss of prestige.
46 old systems and new
Albert Harkness (class of1842) was
professor of classics at Brown (1855–92)
and a founder of the American School
of Classical Studies in Athens. His son,
Albert Granger Harkness, joined the
Brown faculty in 1889 as associate
professor of Latin and later served as
director of the American School of
Classical Studies in Rome.
It is difficult to imagine that Wayland
himself could have been oblivious to the
disappointing results of his New System.
The fatigue which he pleaded as his reason for stepping down in 1855 may have
been partly due to a sense of failure. But it
didn’t prevent him from staying involved
with the University in a variety of official
and unofficial capacities, including serving as a Fellow on the
Corporation from 1855 to 1858. He was still a commanding figure, both in the University and in the larger community, when
he died of a stroke in September 1865.
47 old systems and new
Manning Hall, a
product of the Classical Revival, was built
in 1835 by Nicholas
Brown to house the
college’s library and
Tree planting efforts
were underway in the
1860s, when the
campus extended east
from Rogers Hall
(now the Salomon
Center for Teaching)
to Hope Street.
48 building a university
Building a University
he man who succeeded Francis Wayland faced a double
challenge: to rebuild Brown’s academic reputation,
weakened by the New System, and to do so without giving
offense. Wayland himself was now a Fellow of the University, and
most members of the Corporation had supported his academic
reforms. But Barnas Sears, class of 1825, who took office in 1855,
had both the authority and the tact to meet that challenge. He
was a former president of Newton Theological Institution who
had succeeded the renowned Horace Mann, class of 1819, as
head of the Massachusetts Board of Education. He brought with
him to Brown the highest reputation as a teacher and scholar,
and a gift for diplomacy that (in contrast to Wayland’s autocratic
manner) smoothed many rough roads.
Sears’s unpublished report to the Executive Board in 1856
“frankly and fearlessly probe[d] the wound,” in Walter Bronson’s words, yet was careful not to attack the quality of
teaching or the courses themselves – only the lowered
degree requirements. The report called them “an open
act of underbidding other colleges,” which had resulted
in the best students choosing to go elsewhere, and in
Brown being “flooded by a class of young men of little
solidity or earnestness of character, who resort to this
college . . . for the sake of cheap honors.” There was no
arguing with the facts Sears presented, and the Corporation in 1857 voted to restore the requirements and admission
standards for the A.B. and A.M. degrees to essentially what they
had been before the New System. Interestingly, the students
themselves, despite their supposed intellectual laziness, welcomed these changes and objected strongly to the continuation
49 building a university
The First Rhode Island Regiment left
downtown Providence on April 20, 1861,
and later fought under General Ambrose
Burnside at Bull Run, where Sullivan
Ballou ’52 (inset) was fatally wounded.
of the three-year Ph.B. program. (It
finally became a four-year degree in
Sears further endeared himself to
students by relaxing the iron grip of
college regulations a bit. Clubs and organizations were allowed to meet in
the evenings, and the popular tradition
of lighting candles in the windows
of University Hall and Hope College
on Commencement eve was restored.
The two sports that dominated the
campus in the nineteenth century,
baseball and crew, had their beginnings in this era. Some beginnings were more auspicious than others: The student baseball
club defeated Providence’s best town club in 1864, but Brown’s
first entry in an intercollegiate boat race in 1859 was a six-oared
shell, Atalanta, that weighed 150 pounds more than her rivals
from Harvard and Yale, and was not even in sight of the finish
line when those two crossed it. The following year the Brown
crew tried to remedy the error by entering the 112-pound
Brunonia – which was so fragile it broke up and sank halfway
through the race. Mercifully, the hiatus caused by the Civil War
gave the Brown crew a chance to get itself organized.
The hiatus was only an extracurricular one; classes and Commencements went on more or less as usual, and enrollment
remained fairly stable through the war, although the University,
like the rest of the country, was galvanized by these momentous
50 building a university
events. From the start there was no shortage of
Brown volunteers: 268 students and alumni served
in the war, 132 of them from the five classes that
graduated between 1861 and 1865. The first Brown
man to die was Maj. Sullivan Ballou ’52, made famous
by the pbs series “The Civil War” for the deeply moving
letter he wrote to his wife shortly before he was fatally wounded
at Bull Run. By the war’s end, Brown had lost twenty more.
The war also deprived Sears, one of Brown’s ablest presidents, of the opportunity to leave a more lasting mark. Still, the
achievements of his twelve-year tenure were considerable. Not
only was the University’s academic reputation salvaged, but
endowment increased by $120,000, scholarships by $36,000, faculty salaries were raised, and a much-needed chemical laboratory
was built. Sears’s excellent relationships with his various con51 building a university
stituencies – faculty, students, community leaders – did much to
restore confidence in Brown and laid the foundation for its phenomenal growth in the late nineteenth century.
When Sears retired in 1867, the Corporation’s first two
choices to succeed him – Martin Anderson, president of the
University of Rochester, and Ezekiel Robinson, president of
Rochester Theological Seminary – both declined the invitation.
Brown then turned to one of its own. Alexis Caswell ’22 had
served thirty-six years as professor of mathematics and natural
philosophy, retiring in 1864, and had been acting president in
1840–41 (during Wayland’s trip to Europe) and regent in 1852–
55. He stepped into the breach once again and succeeded
in being more than just a caretaker
An elegant Slater Hall room
shows the Victorian tastes of an
earlier generation of students.
president. Between 1868 and 1872,
the nearly defunct alumni association
was revived and greatly enlarged, the
52 building a university
c h a r l e s e va n s h u g h e s
class of 1881
harles Evans Hughes,
class of 1881, grew his
famous beard in 1890 in
the interest of efficiency –
to save trips to the barber.
At the time he had a busy
commercial law practice
in New York, with a side
interest in Republican
reform politics. In 1905
his reformist career began
in earnest as counsel to state legislative
committees investigating abuses in the
New York City utilities industry and
the insurance business. The resulting
renown enabled him to run against and
beat William Randolph Hearst for governor of New York in 1906. After his
second term, President William Howard
Taft named him to the Supreme Court,
but Hughes hadn’t quite gotten elective
politics out of his system. He resigned
from the court to challenge Woodrow
Wilson for the presidency in 1916, and
lost. He returned to corporate law, then
was recalled to public life from 1921–25
as secretary of state under Warren
Harding and Calvin Coolidge. By 1930,
when Herbert Hoover named him Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court, Hughes
was the “acknowledged leader of the
American bar.” With magisterial authority and aplomb, he steered the court
through one of the most turbulent periods in American history – respecting
legal precedent while responding to the
harsh new realities of the Depression,
taking strong stands in favor of civil liberties and civil rights, even outmaneuvering fdr’s attempt to “pack” the court.
Most importantly, in helping define
the government’s role in managing the
economy, Hughes became “one of the
master builders of the American federal
m a ry e m m a wo o l l e y
class of 1894
n December 31, 1900, Mary
Emma Woolley, class of 1894, the new
president of Mount Holyoke College,
arrived on the campus in South Hadley,
Mass., ready to assume her duties on
New Year’s Day of a new century.
Waiting for her was a basket of fresh
eggs from the chairman of the botany
department with a card reading, “Nineteenth Century eggs for a Twentieth
Century President.” Woolley had
already established herself as a pioneer
by being one of the first two women to
graduate from Brown; she went on to
accumulate a long list of such firsts in
her lifetime. She was the first woman to
serve as chair of the College Entrance
Examination Board, the first woman
elected to the Senate of Phi Beta Kappa,
the first to represent the United States
at a major international conference (the
1932 Disarmament Conference in
Geneva). She felt strongly that women
must “do their share of the world’s
thinking and working,” and she was
appalled when, after thirty-seven years
of promoting female leadership and
scholarship as president of Mount Holyoke, the trustees chose a man as her
successor. Her bitterness in retirement
was eased somewhat when Brown
awarded her the Rosenberger Medal in
1937. She already had an honorary doctorate from Brown (one of 20 honorary
degrees from institutions around the
country), and she was the first woman to
receive both honors from her alma
Mary Woolley and
Anne Tillinghast
Weeden entered
Brown with
advanced standing
in 1891 and became
its first women
graduates in 1894.
Advisory and Executive Committee of the Corporation was created, endowment nearly doubled, and two more endowed chairs,
both in the sciences, were established: the Hazard chair in physics
and the Rogers chair in chemistry. In July 1870, the freshman
crew vindicated Brown’s prewar record by beating Harvard,
Yale, and Amherst in the annual regatta on Lake Quinsigamond
in Worcester, Mass.
The new endowed chairs in physics and chemistry highlighted the profound changes taking place in college curricula –
the decline of theology and oratory (“that source of power and
influence in this Republic,” as one commentator put it during
Wayland’s era) and the rise of the applied sciences. Far from
being merely a change in emphasis, it marked the shift from a
rhetorical to an empirical mind-set. “The scientific spirit was
permeating every department of thought,” Bronson observes,
“and arousing multitudes to a new realization of the value of
trained intellect in confronting the problems of life on all its levels.” Ironically, the man who was to carry forward the banner of
scientific inquiry at Brown was a professor of divinity and seminary president who had already turned down the presidency of
Brown once: Ezekiel Gilman Robinson, class of 1838.
Robinson, still the head of Rochester Theological Seminary,
did not refuse the Corporation when it again approached him in
1872 after Caswell’s retirement. He resolved to “strike at once
for a widened curriculum and new buildings,” and years later he
described in his autobiography the impact of his academic policy:
“Naturally there was a jostling of old hereditary prejudices in
behalf of certain studies which from time immemorial had taken
precedence of all others. But science then got a foothold in the
curriculum which it is never likely to lose.” So did subjects like
modern languages and English literature, which also found their
way into admission requirements. Robinson’s first annual report
55 building a university
to the Corporation showed the range of his ambitions: “. . . A
large number of the intelligent citizens of our state are now
desirous that a scientific school of high order – [with] subschools of Design, of Drawing, of Civil Engineering, of Architecture, of the Fine Arts, etc. – may speedily be established in
Rhode Island, and if possible may be established in conjunction
with, and in a sense, as a part of Brown University.”
Robinson, of course, was essentially describing the Rhode
Island School of Design, founded four years after that report.
Engineering remained part of Brown’s curriculum, and architecture had its day too, but
Brown could not afford to become an art
school as well. It had other priorities, such as
classroom and laboratory space, dorm space,
a larger library, and repairing University
Hall, which had become “an eyesore and a reproach,” in the president’s words. Sayles Hall,
Slater Hall, and Wilson Hall all date from the
Robinson era, and John Carter Brown’s death
in 1874 brought a bequest of land and money
to build a new library (now Robinson Hall).
The fate of University Hall, battered by generEzekiel G. Robinson ’38,
Brown’s seventh president
ations of service as a dormitory, hung in the
balance for a while. One contingent actually
proposed demolishing it – but luckily, the
grande dame of the campus was proven to be structurally sound,
and $50,000 was raised to renovate it.
The broadening of the curriculum under Robinson made it
possible finally for Brown to become a true university, with a full
range of degree programs. In 1886, toward the end of his tenure,
Robinson stated in his annual report, “The time, it seems to me,
has now fully come for Brown University to offer a course of
56 building a university
A chemistry class of the 1870s posed with its equipment on the steps
of Rogers Hall.
study to be pursued by candidates for the degree of Doctor of
Philosophy.” The following year the Corporation authorized the
establishment of a Ph.D. program, and in 1889 the first doctoral
degrees were awarded. When Robinson retired in March of that
year, the stage had been set for one of the greatest periods of
expansion in Brown’s history.
Rhode Island and the nation were then at the pinnacle of the
Gilded Age, an era of enormous affluence in which the middle
class shared as well as the wealthy. Rhode Island, as William
McLoughlin notes, had acquired a clout far beyond its size: Sen.
Nelson W. Aldrich, who controlled the tariff schedules in
Congress, was known as the “General Manager of the United
States”; the “Four Hundred” summered in Newport every year
and built the mansions for which the city is still famous; and the
manufacturers who dominated the state’s economy traveled in
the same circles as the nation’s richest and most powerful people.
57 building a university
john d. rockefeller jr.
class of 1897
John D. Rockefeller Jr. refused honorary
degrees from all institutions, but accepted
an L.L.D. from Brown in 1937. In 1950,
he donated $6 million to the University.
n 1893, the only son of the
world’s wealthiest man chose
Brown as his college because he
knew he would feel “lost in the
crowd” at Yale. Intensely shy
and private, John D. Rockefeller
Jr., class of 1897, found a camaraderie at Brown that helped
him come at least partly out of his shell
(he was elected president of the junior
class and senior manager of the football
team), and he treasured those memories
all his life. It also helped prepare him for
the relentlessly public life he led as the
steward of an immense fortune. “Johnny
Rock’s” relationship with his powerful
father was one of mutual affection and
admiration, but he chose a very different
path: that of philanthropy. He believed
sincerely that wealth should be “an
instrumentality of constructive social
living,” and he used it wherever he
thought it could make a real difference.
From massive public health campaigns
to eradicate hookworm and other diseases, to the restoration of Colonial
Williamsburg and the dedication of new
national parks, to providing a home site
for the United Nations and funneling
millions of dollars into colleges and universities, the Rockefeller Foundation
he established set the standard for “big
giving” and left almost no aspect of
American life untouched.
But the immigrants (then mostly Irish and French Canadian)
who staffed the factories and made possible the state’s wealth
were also a growing threat to the hegemony of Yankee Protestants. The latter resorted to a variety of strategies to maintain
control, from political corruption to social one-upmanship. As
Theodore Crane explains it, in the late nineteenth century, college education “at last [began] to appeal widely to middle-class
families, particularly . . . among those of old-stock ancestry troubled by the influx of non-Protestant immigrants.”
Onto this fertile ground stepped Elisha Benjamin Andrews
’70, a professor at Cornell, former Brown faculty member, and
former president of Denison University in Ohio. Andrews, a
combat veteran who had lost an eye in the siege of Petersburg,
was by all accounts a charismatic and vivid personality; during his
five years on the Brown faculty, he had become the object of
hero worship by students, and was the overwhelmingly popular
choice to succeed President Robinson in 1889. “At his touch,”
Bronson writes, “the old college leaped into new life, and began
to grow at an astonishing rate” – much faster than other New
England colleges in this period. Enrollment “began to rise like
the incoming tide”: from 276 undergraduates to 641 in the first
eight years, and from three graduate students to 117 in only six
years. Professorships increased from sixteen to thirty-seven as
Andrews recruited trained specialists from all over the country,
and academic departments grew from seventeen to twenty-five.
Andrews also served as the catalyst for another landmark in
Brown’s evolution: the admission of women. The subject had
been broached several times in the past two decades (one woman
had actually applied for admission in 1874 and been refused),
but the Corporation had repeatedly stalled it. It was the Quaker
members of that body who began to lobby for coeducation in
the 1880s. One of them, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier,
59 building a university
Pembroke Hall was under construction in 1897 when
the Class of 1900 gathered for this portrait.
60 building a university
Ivy Day, begun in 1897
and continued through
1968, was the women’s
counterpart to Class Day
at Brown. The ivy chain
tradition dated from
wrote to a friend that it was a matter of “simple justice.” President Robinson had studied
the issue, and in 1886 had recommended the
creation of “a distinct but appended college”
for women. The Corporation approved the
plan, but again postponed action, until President Andrews took over and got the ball
rolling. In 1891 women were finally admitted as candidates for
all University degrees.
Women undergraduates, however, were not admitted to University classrooms. Instruction was provided by a few professors
who volunteered their services (to be paid for by students’ fees),
and classes were held in the University Grammar School, in
Andrews’s office, and in other buildings in the neighborhood as
space permitted. The course content was identical with that of
the men’s courses, though, and Bronson notes that “the average
standing of the women students was regularly higher than that of
the men in corresponding classes.” The physics professor in
1895–96 wrote that he wished “to bear testimony to the uniformly admirable work done by the women. I began the course
of lectures to the Women’s College with diffidence, believing
that the mind of woman is not, as a rule, of a kind to be willingly
tethered by exact considerations of the material universe. But I
found neither lack of aptitude nor of grasp.”
The first two women, Anne Weeden and Mary Woolley,
graduated in 1894; by 1896–97 there were 157 female undergraduates, thirty-one graduate students, and a college building
nearing completion. Pembroke Hall, named after Roger Williams’s
college at Cambridge University, was dedicated in 1897. But the
growth of the Women’s College was overshadowed at the time
by a crisis in the academic community. On the surface, it was
about the arcane issue of “free silver” (i.e., unrestricted coinage
61 building a university
62 building a university
of silver), which had dominated the 1896 presidential race – and
about the not-so-arcane issue of free speech. President Andrews
had voiced his support of free silver, a view that was out of favor
with many on the Corporation, and they in turn tried to muzzle
him. In a written statement delivered to him in July 1897, they
asserted that his views “were so contrary to the views generally
held by the friends of the University that the University had
already lost gifts and legacies,” and they asked him to keep silent
on the subject. Andrews promptly resigned, stating that he
refused to surrender “that reasonable liberty of utterance . . . in
the absence of which the most ample endowment for an educational institution would have but little worth.” A national furor
erupted over the issue of academic freedom, and prominent academics from all over the country, as well as Brown faculty and
alumni, rallied around Andrews. The besieged Corporation backed
down, and Andrews withdrew his resignation.
The underlying issue, though, as the Corporation’s written
statement showed, was financial – and that had not been resolved. Andrews had launched an ambitious fund drive at the
beginning of the decade, aiming to raise $1 million within a year
and another $2 million within ten years. But the Panic of 1893
intervened and the campaign fell flat. As enrollment continued
to grow, resources were strained beyond capacity. The only
additions to the Brown campus after 1891 were Maxcy Hall,
Ladd Observatory, and Lyman Gym, and the University was
The Corporation’s
attempt to stifle
President Andrews’s
political views only
made it a target of
ridicule, as this Life
magazine cover
often operating in the red. It was easy to pin the blame on
Andrews for overreaching, for lack of prudence or failure
to cultivate donors properly. In fact, what the Corporation
did (as Theodore Crane has pointed out) was repudiate
bold presidential leadership. The strain in their relationship with Andrews was irreversible, and he resigned for
good in 1898.
63 building a university
wo m e n ’ s at h l e t i c s
The Class of 1906, at
right, won the intramural
basketball championship
their senior year.
The 1999–2000 women’s ice hockey team,
left, celebrates its ECAC championship.
rom the time the Women’s College
established a Department of Physical
Culture in 1897 until after World War II,
the motto of female athletics at Brown
was, in the words of physical education
director (1930–1961) Bessie Rudd, “Let
the women have their sports and the men
have theirs.” Most women’s sports were
intramural, offered as part of the physical
education program. Among the most
popular were swimming, basketball, tennis, field hockey, lacrosse, and bowling.
By the mid-1960s, however, the genteel “ladies” model was fading at Brown,
and modern programs began to emerge
under the leadership of Director of
Physical Education Arlene Gorton ’52.
In 1964, Gorton helped Pembroke students establish the first women’s college
ice hockey team in the nation; today their
legacy lives on in Brown’s ecac champion women’s hockey team and its two
gold-medal Olympians, Katie King ’97
and Tara Mounsey ’01.
As Pembroke and Brown merged
in the early 1970s, Title IX, the federal
statute prohibiting sex discrimination in
higher education, put male and female
sports on a more equal footing. In
the ensuing years Brown added varsity
women’s programs faster than did most
other universities. Today Brown has 37
varsity sports – 20 for women and 17
for men – comprising one of the largest
ncaa Division I programs in the country. Even so, in 1992, when the University attempted to trim its budget by
cutting two women’s teams (volleyball
and gymnastics), along with men’s wrestling and golf, Brown became the target
of a class-action Title IX lawsuit brought
by one of the gymnasts. Eventually
Brown settled the case and took further
measures to equalize the numbers of
men and women in its varsity programs.
Today, women’s teams are among
the University’s most successful. Recent
years have seen Brown women win the
national championship in women’s crew;
ecac championships in field hockey
and ice hockey; Ivy championships in
volleyball, softball, and tennis; and the
women’s cross-country Heptagonal
Andrews’s legacy of high academic standards and a wider reputation for Brown was a permanent one. His successor, William
H.P. Faunce ’80, who was academically little more than a “cautious caretaker” of the University for the next thirty years,
presided over the unfinished part of Andrews’s vision: an unprecedented era of physical expansion. The John Carter Brown
Library, John Hay Library, Faunce House (née Rockefeller
Hall), Sayles Gym, Miller Hall, Caswell Hall, and the Van
Wickle Gates all date from the first three decades of the twentieth century, when Brown finally began to catch up with itself.
Augustus Stout Van Wickle, class of 1876
(inset), left a bequest to build Brown’s celebrated
Van Wickle Gates, dedicated in 1901. The gates
are opened only twice each year – inward to
admit students at the start of the academic year
and outward at Commencement to discharge
them. A plaque with a quotation from Cicero
was added in 1906: “These studies fortify one’s
youth, delight one’s old age: amid success they
are an ornament, in failure they are a refuge
and a comfort.”
Architect’s rendering
of the “Men’s Dormitory
Group” (Wriston
Quadrangle) in 1950.
Within a year the site had been cleared for construction.
This project gave a boost to President Wriston’s vision of Brown
becoming a national university, as it provided a substantial
increase in residential housing on campus.
The Modern Era
rown’s first two presidents in the twentieth century,
William H.P. Faunce (1899–1929) and Clarence A. Bar-
bour (1929–1937), have never been accused of being innovators;
one alumnus said of them that they “seldom if ever came close to
disturbing the status quo.” Yet the era over which these two
genial Baptist clergymen presided was by no means lacking in
progress, as its long list of new buildings indicates. It was a
period of consolidation after the heady advances of the Andrews
years, one in which the University tried to focus its efforts on
fundraising. Although the Depression eventually stalled those
efforts, Brown managed to hold onto its gains during the 1930s,
with enrollment remaining steady and endowment actually
increasing slightly.
This was also the era of Brown’s first brush with football
greatness (the Rose Bowl team of 1915 and Tuss McLaughry’s
“Iron Men” of 1926); the heyday of college humor magazines
like the Brown Jug, where S. J. Perelman ’25 cut his teeth; the
maturation of the Women’s College, officially renamed Pembroke in 1928; and the revision of Brown’s original charter in
1926 to eliminate the requirement of a Baptist president. Faunce,
himself a man of the cloth, was the prime mover behind this
change. When he retired in 1929, the Corporation’s new freedom of choice gave its members a distinguished candidate in
Zechariah Chafee ’07, professor of law at Harvard and a nationally known civil libertarian. The Baptists were not quite ready to
give up the helm, however, and they prevailed in their choice of
Clarence Barbour, class of 1888, president (like Robinson before
him) of Rochester Theological Seminary.
Barbour kept Brown on a steady course during the worst
67 the modern era
Frederick D. “Fritz” Pollard
’19, considered one of the
finest running backs in the
history of college football, was
a star of Brown’s 1916 Rose
Bowl team. (Brown lost,
The “Iron Men” of 1926,
Brown’s only undefeated football team, who earned their
reputation in the Yale Bowl
against a heavily favored
Eli team.
68 the modern era
69 the modern era
years of the Depression, but he did not outlive it; illness forced
him to take a leave of absence in 1936, and he died in January
1937. His death marked the end of 173 years of sectarian leadership of an increasingly secular university. The pace of change on
all fronts – social, political, technological – was accelerating
rapidly, and the times demanded that universities be progressive
and flexible enough to keep up. Even the conservative Corporation recognized this, in choosing as Brown’s next president a
man who was not at all afraid to challenge the status quo. Henry
Merritt Wriston was neither a Baptist nor a Brown alumnus nor
a product of the “Eastern establishment.” Born in the Wyoming
Territory in 1889, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from
Harvard and a reputation as an
innovator as president of Lawrence
College in Wisconsin. William S.
Learned ’97 of the Carnegie Corporation, in recommending Wriston
to a friend on the Brown Corporation, wrote, “He would undoubtedly
provide a series of shocks to the old
college, but I believe it would survive and profit enormously.”
He was right on all counts.
Wriston in 1937 took over an essentially regional institution and,
in the course of the next eighteen
years, transformed it into a major
American university. No aspect of
University life was left untouched,
Henry Merritt Wriston, Brown’s eleventh
president (1937–55), was regarded as one
of the finest college presidents of his era.
70 the modern era
which meant that Wriston had to do
battle from time to time with a variety of vested interests: the Corpo-
m a r g a r e t s h ov e m o r r i s s
argaret Shove Morriss,
affectionately known as
“Peggy Push” during her
twenty-seven years as dean of
Pembroke (1923–1950), did
indeed propel the college to
national standing – attracting
students from around the
country and abroad, doubling
enrollment to 800, expanding
its physical facilities, and
changing its name from simply
the Women’s College to Pembroke. A Baltimore-born
Quaker with strong Quaker
convictions about justice and
equity, Morriss was outspoken on the
subject of opportunities for women, saying, “I don’t think society is just in giving all this training to women if it is not
going to be used.” She came to Providence from Mount Holyoke, where she
was associate professor of history during
the presidency of Mary Woolley ’94,
and she became a full professor of history at Pembroke in addition to the
deanship. She served as president of the
American Association of University
Women and the New England Associa-
tion of Colleges and Secondary Schools,
as a member of the Committee on
Higher Education of the American
Council on Education, and as a consultant to the secretary of war during
World War II. In 1965 the aauw established an international fellowship in her
name to support postgraduate and doctoral studies by women.
s. j. perelman
class of 1925
utton-cute, rapier-keen, cucumbercool, and gall-bitter.” That pithy
description could only fit one man: S. J.
Perelman, class of 1925. Perelman grew
up in Providence wanting to be a cartoonist. He got his start on the Brown
Jug as an undergraduate, which led to a
job with the weekly magazine Judge
after he left Brown in 1924. He found
his captions getting longer and longer,
until he was no longer a cartoonist but a
writer. Within a decade he was writing
screenplays for the Marx Brothers
(Monkey Business and Horse Feathers),
followed by stage plays and musicals
(One Touch of Venus, The Beauty Part),
countless humor pieces for the New
Yorker, and the Oscar-winning screenplay for Around the World in 80 Days.
Perelman’s prose was dense as a fruitcake with puns, wordplays, and allusions:
“The following morning the Maid of
Hull, a frigate of the line mounting
36 guns, out of Bath and into bed in a
twinkling, dropped downstairs on
the tide, bound for Bombay, object matrimony. . . . ” He died in 1979 before he
had a chance to write his autobiography,
tentatively titled The Hindsight Saga.
Andrews Hall of Pembroke College, shown here in
the early 1950s, was dedicated in 1947 and named in
honor of President Elisha Benjamin Andrews, who
helped secure the admission of women to Brown.
ration, the faculty, fraternities, alumni, East Side
neighbors, and so on. (William Learned had warned
him, “The old mores weigh appallingly at some points, and you
will doubtless feel on more than one occasion like using dynamite.”) He brought to these battles a combination of intellectual
keenness, political shrewdness, and moral conviction – but he
seems to have prevailed, as often as not, by the sheer force of his
Wriston’s first challenge, as a non-Baptist and non-alumnus,
was to “become legitimate,” particularly in the eyes of the Corporation. He did so by showing himself to be a man of both
vision and decisive action. One of his first acts as president,
intended to “awaken a decent pride” in Brown, was to order the
director of admissions to admit no one who had been turned
down elsewhere. Later he made it even more stringent, requiring
that successful applicants list Brown as their first choice on the
College Entrance Examination form. The result was that Brown
73 the modern era
acquired a reputation for being hard to get into, and both the
number and quality of applicants increased. (Being an “Ivy
League” school didn’t mean as much in those days; the Ivy
Group, which had existed as an informal football association
since 1900, wasn’t officially organized until 1954, and then only
to set policies for intercollegiate athletic competition.)
Wriston’s next priority was to rebuild Brown’s sense of community by making it a residential college once again. Housing
had not kept pace with enrollment over the years, and Wriston
was determined to gather his flock back onto campus. The
answer to the housing shortage was Wriston Quad, and at Pembroke, Andrews Hall. To make way for the quad, a number of
historic houses had to be demolished; when the president described this as “the greatest slum clearance since Sherman burned
Atlanta,” Brown’s neighbors woke up and organized the Providence Preservation Society. The quad was also meant to be the
answer to the problem of Brown’s fraternities, which till then had
been in chapter-owned houses on the fringes of campus. Many
were financially strapped, and the condition of their chapter
houses showed it. Wriston made them all turn over their houses
to the University, in exchange for new quarters in the quad and
private dining rooms in the refectory – a move intended to
strengthen both the Brown community and the fraternities themselves, although some of them were less than grateful at first.
Another priority was the curriculum. Wriston believed that
education should not be limited to classroom learning (“an
instructor up front and students in rows before him”), and over
the objections of the faculty he reduced the number of required
courses per semester from five to four. During World War II he
appointed a committee to study the content of the curriculum,
and its recommendations became the second so-called New Curriculum in Brown’s history. Its core was a broad range of distri74 the modern era
Rosemary Pierrel (Sorrentino)
was Pembroke’s sixth and
last dean, serving from 1961
to 1971. An experimental
psychologist and former faculty
member at Barnard, she
returned to teaching and
research at Brown after the
John Rowe Workman,
one of Brown’s most
beloved professors, came
from Princeton to teach
classics in 1947. Before he
retired in 1985, he had
become a legend for his
humor, his scholarship,
and his direction of the
Latin Carol Service each
holiday season.
75 the modern era
bution courses in the first two years, and it remained substantially unchanged until 1969. After the war Wriston introduced
IC courses – Identification and Criticism of Ideas – which were
seminar-like discussion groups for freshmen and sophomores.
These were judged to be an interesting experiment, but not a
very efficient use of faculty time, although they were reincarnated years later as Modes of Thought courses. Finally, Wriston
saw to it that Brown and Pembroke had one and the same curriculum by eliminating separate classes and faculty for Pembrokers.
Another group Wriston successfully integrated into campus
life was the returning veterans of World War II. Under his leadership, Brown was the only institution in Rhode Island to establish a Veterans College, and Wriston made it clear to the GIs
who flooded the campus that they were not “stepchildren,” but
were entitled to all the rights and privileges of a Brown education. They proved to be a highly motivated group, and many
went on to distinguish themselves academically.
In his quest to make Brown a first-rank university, Wriston
was determined that its faculty should be second to none, and he
exercised personal control over the selection and appointment
process. A number of academic departments were developing
national reputations, such as Applied Mathematics, which recruited
several brilliant European scholars during the Second World
War and made significant research contributions to the war
effort. Two departments created during Wriston’s tenure are
unique to Brown: Egyptology and History of Mathematics. Wriston strongly supported research and scholarship, and refused to
allow graduate study to be phased out as a cost-cutting measure,
but he also blocked the creation of a separate graduate faculty.
He believed in the concept of a university college (a phrase that
had been used to describe Brown since the early 1900s), in which
undergraduate teaching was the heart of the enterprise.
76 the modern era
otto neugebauer
or over thirty years, Brown’s History
of Mathematics department, the only
one in the world, was virtually synonymous with Otto Neugebauer, its founding chairman and professor. Neugebauer, an Austrian native, had studied
mathematics and physics before becoming fascinated by Egyptology at the
University of Göttingen. After writing
his doctoral thesis on Egyptian fractions, he tackled Babylonian cuneiform
tablets – specifically the highly sophisticated astronomical and mathematical
texts, which had been deciphered but
not really understood by previous scholars. Neugebauer’s work revolutionized
our modern understanding of the roots
of science in antiquity; he discovered,
for example, that the algebra and geometry used by the Greeks had been
known to the Babylonians as much as
2,000 years earlier. He left Nazi-occupied
Europe in 1939 to come to Brown,
and in 1947 was made head of the new
History of Mathematics department.
The author of such landmark works as
The Exact Sciences in Antiquity and A
History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy, Neugebauer received many of
academia’s most prestigious awards and
honors, including election to the American Philosophical Society and the
National Academy of Sciences. In 1960
he was named Florence Pirce Grant
University Professor at Brown, and in
1987 he was awarded the Rosenberger
Medal by the Brown faculty.
Brown today is still recognizably the institution Wriston
shaped, and few would dispute that he was its greatest president.
His distinction as an educator and historian led to an increasing
involvement in national affairs before and after he stepped down
in 1955. As a friend and adviser to Dwight Eisenhower, he was
asked in 1954 to help reorganize the Foreign Service, and took
a six-month leave from Brown to do so. Upon Wriston’s
retirement, Eisenhower made him director of the American Assembly, an organization that arranged conferences
on current national problems, and in 1960 appointed
him head of a blue-ribbon commission charged with
identifying “the great issues of our generation.” He
also served as president of the Council on Foreign
Relations, and continued writing and speaking on
national issues until his death in 1978.
Brown’s next president, Barnaby C. Keeney,
was somewhat more of an insider than his
famous predecessor: He had joined the faculty
in 1946 as assistant professor of medieval history, then became dean of the Graduate School
in 1949 and dean of the College in 1953. But Keeney,
a much-decorated combat veteran, was no less blunt
and outspoken, and every bit as ambitious for
Brown. Embarking on a building campaign of heroic
proportions, Keeney joked that Brown’s neighbors
would have to learn anew the meaning of “higher
education,” since lack of ground space would force many
new buildings skyward. During his eleven-year tenure,
the Rockefeller Library (dedicated in
President Barnaby Keeney got the
equivalent of a standing ovation at his
last Commencement exercises in 1966.
78 the modern era
1964 in honor of Brown’s bicentennial
celebration), Barus-Holley, J. Walter Wilson Lab, Hunter Lab, the Computer Lab
(housing the first ibm 7070 owned by an Eastern university),
Meehan Auditorium, and the West Quad (now Keeney Quad)
were built. And Brown did acquire some significant chunks of
ground space: the thirty-nine-acre grounds of Dexter Asylum,
which became Aldrich-Dexter Field (site of the Erickson Athletic
Complex), and the 376-acre Haffenreffer estate in Bristol.
The success of the building campaign was a testament to
Keeney’s skills as a fund raiser (Wriston said that his “gift for
charming money from flint-like men of substance . . . is aweinspiring”) and to Brown’s stature, which made it easier to attract
large gifts. Citing its potential to “become one of the most
important university centers in the country,” the Ford Foundation twice honored Brown with major grants during the Keeney
years, the first for $7.5 million and the second for $5 million –
and both times Brown succeeded in raising the two-for-one
matching funds. Not all the money went into buildings, of course.
As befitted a former dean of the Graduate School, Keeney was
strongly committed to graduate education, and graduate enrollment nearly tripled during his tenure. Plans for a medical school
began to be discussed, and a six-year program leading to a Master of Medical Science degree was established in 1963.
By stepping down in 1966, Keeney managed to escape the
scars inflicted on most university presidents – including his successors – by the student activism of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
He went on to head the newly established National Endowment
for the Humanities, while Brown’s new president, Ray L. Heffner, was swept up in a social and political revolution that turned
the campus on its ear. For perhaps the first time in the history of
American universities, major changes were being impelled from
the bottom up instead of from the top down. “Student power”
was not just a catch phrase, but a startling new reality.
When Heffner, a reflective Elizabethan scholar who had been
79 the modern era
j o s i a h s . c a r b e r ry
osiah S. Carberry, professor of psychoceramics (the study of cracked pots), has
held tenure longer than anyone on the
Brown faculty, past, present or future.
He was born on a bulletin board in University Hall in 1929, in an anonymous
notice: “On Thursday evening at 8:15 in
Sayles Hall J. S. Carberry will give a lecture on ‘Archaic Greek Architectural
Revetments in Connection with Ionian
Philosophy.’ For tickets and further information apply to Professor John Spaeth.”
Professor Ben Clough, suspecting a
ruse, inserted the word “not” between
“will” and “give.” Spaeth had no tickets,
but he rose to the occasion and provided
further information: that Carberry had
an ungrammatical wife, Laura; a poetical
daughter Patricia; a puffin-hunting
daughter Lois; and an accident-prone
assistant named Truman Grayson, who
was always being bitten by things
beginning with “A.”
The Carberry family proved to be
prolific correspondents, sending letters,
telegrams, and postcards, and inserting
notices about themselves in the
local press until they were
banned by the Providence Journal.
in other newspapers, in directories
that published Carberry’s name,
and in journals that carried his
articles, his friends kept his spirit
alive. Likewise, they honored him
by making every Friday the 13th
Carberry Day – a custom begun
on Friday, May 13, 1955, when
the University received an anonymous gift of $101.01 to establish
the Josiah S. Carberry Fund.
Henceforth, every Carberry Day
members of the Brown community have donated loose change
to the fund to purchase “such
books as Professor Carberry
or might not approve of.” In
gratitude for his continuing support, the University Library
vice president and dean of faculty at Indiana University, came to
Brown in 1966, there were already stirrings of unrest, primarily
over the college’s in loco parentis role. Students were objecting to
curfews for women undergraduates (when men had none) and
rules restricting visits by the opposite sex in dorm rooms. The
ferment spread quickly to issues like the curriculum, the role of
minorities at Brown, the increasingly unpopular Vietnam war,
and the place of rotc on campus. By 1968, things were coming
to a head. Ira Magaziner ’69 and Elliot Maxwell ’68 released
their famous report calling for sweeping curricular changes at
Brown. Black students organized a walkout in December to
protest the University’s minority recruitment and admission
policies. Objections to rotc’s presence on campus escalated into
a confrontation with the Advisory and Executive Committee,
when 150 students crashed the April 1969 meeting to demand
that rotc be ousted.
Ira Magaziner ’69 and President Ray Heffner
conferred often in 1968–69 as the debate over the
proposed New Curriculum heated up.
81 the modern era
bru-fm, which bills itself as
“Southern New England’s Only Modern Rock,” has stayed ahead of the pack
through most of its history. The first
college radio station in the country, it
was started in 1936 by two freshmen
who linked their dorm rooms in Caswell
and Littlefield halls by wire. Thirty years
later it got an FM license, incorporated
as Brown Broadcasting (an independent
nonprofit entity), and launched itself
into the “real world” of commercial radio.
wbru-fm brought album-oriented
rock to the Providence market in the
late sixties and seventies – the first rock
station to break from a Top 40 format.
Over the years, as its format has evolved,
wbru-fm has continued to define its
own niche. Currently it is the only station in the Providence market that focuses
on modern rock. It is also the home of
360 Degree Black Experience in Sound, an
“urban contemporary” program that
runs all day Sunday and covers everything from gospel to rap. From its homegrown beginnings in Hope College, ’bru
has become big business, with a volunteer staff of some 150 students and
interns and annual revenues in excess of
$2.4 million for the 1999 fiscal year.
wbru’s success and growing audience of listeners has not gone unnoticed
nationally. In 1993, 1994, and 1995,
Rolling Stone magazine named wbru
radio station of the year in the medium
market category – the only station in the
In May 1940, George Stuckert ’42, at
top, and Edward Sarnoff ’42, son of RCA
president David Sarnoff, strung transmission lines on a Slater Hall chimney for
the first broadcast of the Intercollegiate
Broadcasting System, composed of twelve
northeastern colleges.
country to win this award three years in
a row. In 1997, wbru’s accolades
included nominations from Billboard /
Monitor Magazine for best radio station,
best program director, and best music
director. wbru-fm was honored again
by Rolling Stone in 1998 when it was
selected as one of the top ten radio stations in the United States.
Although the upheavals at Brown were relatively restrained
and never reached the level of violence and polarization seen on
many campuses, they were more than Ray Heffner was prepared
to handle. The month after the rotc showdown, he wearily
offered his resignation, stating, “I have simply reached the conclusion that I do not enjoy being a university president.” That
same May, after more than a year of vigorous debate, the faculty
held a marathon meeting and voted final approval of the New
Curriculum – the third in Brown’s 200-year history, and by far
the most radical.
In 1968, hundreds of students listened to marathon faculty debates
on curricular reform via loudspeakers on the Green.
83 the modern era
A bird’s-eye view of the campus
looking west from the fourteen-story
sciences library.
The International University
hat made the New Curriculum truly radical (and
unique) was its redefinition of the role and respon-
sibilities of undergraduates. By eliminating distribution requirements and “core” courses outside the concentration, it gave students a large measure of control over their own education. In doing
so, the New Curriculum recalled some of the principles of Wayland’s curricular reforms a century earlier, particularly his belief
that a student should be able to study “what he chose, all that he
chose, and only what he chose.” By making letter grades optional, it
encouraged students to explore unfamiliar or difficult subjects.
And it acknowledged (as Wayland had in his time) that the accelerating “information explosion” made it unrealistic to imagine that
any college could imbue all students with the same basic, essential
information – even if it were possible to agree on what that necessary core of knowledge was.
Instead of seeing higher education as primarily a fact-gathering
process, with students expected to assimilate a certain quota of
facts from various disciplines, the New Curriculum emphasized
the importance of understanding how those disciplines tackled
their subject matter and constructed reality. Modes of Thought
courses, a cornerstone of the 1969 curriculum, were designed
to explore various approaches to knowledge, encourage critical
thinking that transcended disciplinary boundaries, and lay a
foundation for independent studies. Again, the New Curriculum
was not really so new or so radical a departure from Brown’s
past: In 1958–59, Professor George Morgan had introduced such
a perspective in the first extradepartmental University Course,
titled “Modes of Experience: Science, History, Philosophy, and
the Arts.”
85 the international university
Even though Morgan’s course was far outside the academic
mainstream at the time, it had President Keeney’s blessing.
Keeney, in fact, had told Morgan that he thought undergraduate
education lacked vitality and coherence, and that the trend
toward academic specialization was too strong. The course inspired
other faculty to try integrative approaches (in courses with titles
such as “Science and Civilization” and “The Functions of Literature”), and it attracted gifted undergraduates
who were looking for a new kind of intellectual
challenge. Among them were Elliot Maxwell and
Ira Magaziner, who enrolled in Morgan’s Modes
of Experience course. Magaziner went on to
concentrate in human studies – Brown’s first
interdisciplinary concentration, developed by
Morgan in 1967.
This emphasis on integrating knowledge
was to become a basic principle of the New
Curriculum and a hallmark of Brown’s evolution in the 1970s and 1980s. But before the curThe establishment of Brown’s
M.D.-granting medical school
in 1975 was a turning point
for regional health care.
riculum’s potential could be realized and that
evolution could flourish, the University had to
overcome a number of obstacles. In the midst
of the political and social turmoil of the era,
Brown faced some painful internal struggles: absorbing Pembroke College in 1971; launching a full-fledged medical school
in 1972; and, above all, addressing its operating deficits. The
University had overextended itself financially during the 1960s,
especially in granting tenure to unprecedented numbers of faculty. The recession and bear market triggered by the Iranian oil
embargo of 1973 shrank Brown’s chronically undersized endowment, raised operating costs, and brought matters to a crisis.
Donald F. Hornig, a former chemistry professor and acting
86 the international university
Donald F. Hornig,
the fourteenth
president of Brown,
was a Harvardtrained chemist. As
a member of the
Manhattan Project
in 1945, he was
the last person to
leave the Los Alamos,
New Mexico, staging
tower for the first
atomic bomb prior to
its detonation.
dean of the Graduate School who succeeded Ray Heffner as
president in 1970, must have felt at times as if his appointment
were a trial by fire. Under pressure to close a $4 million budget
gap, the administration began admitting more undergraduates
each year in order to collect more tuition and fees. It also began
drawing on the endowment’s capital to cover operating deficits.
Unhappy with such emergency measures, Hornig asked the Corporation to name a committee on plans and resources, chaired
by Thomas J. Watson Jr. ’37, to devise long-term solutions to
Brown’s fiscal problems.
The Watson Report, released in 1974, recommended that
Brown limit undergraduate enrollment to 5,150, seek a major
increase in endowment as well as funds to implement the New
Curriculum fully, cut back weaker departments and graduate
87 the international university
programs, trim the number of tenured faculty, emphasize loans
and work-study rather than outright scholarships in financial-aid
packages, and move to year-round operation. The following
February, Hornig issued a white paper based on the report;
among other things, it recommended cuts in faculty positions
and financial aid.
The plan alarmed and infuriated many segments of the
Brown community, especially students. When their attempts to
pressure the administration to adopt an alternate budget failed,
nearly 3,000 undergraduates voted April 14 to go on strike.
Many cut classes and picketed University Hall, but another referendum on April 22 failed to support a continued strike. Then,
on April 23, the Corporation voted to approve the original budget. The next day, a group of forty students from the Third
Protesting students marched around
University Hall during the Third
World Coalition’s occupation of the
building in April 1975.
World Coalition took over University Hall
and occupied it for two days, winning concessions on minority recruitment and support for the Afro-American studies program.
88 the international university
But there was simply no getting around hard budgetary
choices on financial aid and faculty cuts. Hornig had done what
needed to be done, but he didn’t enjoy the process or the backlash that it created. At the same time, Brown was facing a classaction lawsuit filed in 1974 by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Louise Lamphere after she was denied tenure. Lamphere’s
suit claimed that the University discriminated against women faculty in its hiring
and promotion decisions. In July 1975,
Hornig announced that he would step down
the following summer, explaining that the
retrenchment “has taken a toll on me and
my family, as well as producing great strains
on the fabric of the University.”
The Hornig years weren’t entirely a
starvation diet for the University – Brown
completed two major facilities, the Sciences
Library and the List Art Center, and took
The List Art Building
opened in 1971.
over Bryant College’s former campus on
the East Side during that era – but the
strains the president referred to were real. It remained for his
successor to repair them while completing the financial
retrenchment Hornig had begun – a tough balancing act. The
Corporation searched long and thoughtfully before choosing
Howard R. Swearer, the forty-four-year-old president of Carleton College in Minnesota, to take over the presidency at this
difficult juncture.
Swearer, a native of Kansas who held a doctorate in political
science from Harvard and had worked for the Ford Foundation,
brought to the presidency an unpretentious Midwestern style
and an ability to listen that soothed many anxieties and bruises.
His low-key persona belied a decisiveness that had Brown oper89 the international university
ating in the black within eighteen months of his inauguration
in 1977 – a balanced-budget commitment that has continued
unbroken ever since. His confidence led him to launch a fiveyear, $158 million capital campaign in 1979. That goal was a
stratospheric amount for Brown, and few believed the University
would succeed. But as the Providence Journal described the outcome: “Swearer, the son of a wildcat
oil man who never made the big
strike, helped bring in a gusher for
Brown: more than $180 million.”
Annual giving also quadrupled during
the Swearer years, and external funding for research more than tripled
(from $13.2 million to $44.3 million),
despite a decline in government support for universities. In 1983 the faculty awarded Swearer its highest
honor, the Rosenberger Medal, citing
“the abundant feeling of security you
have rekindled in all of us.”
Swearer’s confidence was infecHoward R. Swearer, Brown’s fifteenth
president (1977–88), is credited with
stemming the flow of red ink and
putting Brown on a firm financial
tious, and it gave Brown a welcome
boost in more than just its finances.
Bronson’s observation about President
Andrews – “at his touch the old college leaped into new life and began to
grow at an astonishing rate” – could also have been made about
Howard Swearer. New programs and institutes, many of them
interdisciplinary (as the architects of the New Curriculum had
hoped), blossomed during his tenure: the A. Alfred Taubman
Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, the Institute
(later the Watson Institute) for International Studies, the Center
90 the international university
Students pass through the lobby of the five-story Center for
Information Technology, the hub of Brown’s computer facilities
and instruction. The building was opened in 1988.
for Foreign Policy Development, the Center for Environmental
Studies, and the Center for Old World Archaeology and Art, to
name a few. Important new facilities were added, including the
Geology-Chemistry Building and the Thomas J. Watson Sr.
Center for Information Technology, which brought most of
Brown’s impressive computing resources and its computer science department under one roof.
Brown’s curriculum had already outlived a decade of countervailing trends in higher education, during which most colleges
that had dabbled in flexibility returned to conventional curricula.
Yet Brown reflected what many saw as a larger trend toward the
integration of knowledge – which was both a reaction against
excessive intellectual specialization and fragmentation, and a
desire for a new synthesis of all the knowledge born of this century’s “information explosion.” In the late 1970s, the curricu91 the international university
lum’s potential to reshape the entire academic enterprise at
Brown finally became a reality, thanks in large part to a dynamic
dean of the College, Walter Massey, who committed his office’s
resources to long-overdue curricular development and funding.
Modes of Thought courses had withered away through insufficient support, but the principle of integrative learning had
taken hold and found expression in other ways. Under umbrellas
such as Special Themes and Topics and
Modes of Analysis, interdisciplinary perspectives were woven into the curriculum,
spawning dozens of new concentration programs and revamping departmental offerings. Freed from distribution requirements,
which tended to reinforce traditional disciplinary boundaries and produce standardized courses, faculty were encouraged to
exercise more creativity and originality in
their teaching.
Students themselves demanded as much.
No longer relegated to a passive role, they
An influential dean of the College
from 1975 to 1979, physicist
Walter Massey went on to become
director of the National Science
Foundation and later president
of Morehouse College.
were eager to team up with faculty as partners in learning and to make their own contributions to research and teaching. The
utra program (Undergraduate Teaching and
Research Assistantships), launched in the
1980s by a Ford Foundation grant, became
one of the most innovative and durable avenues for facultystudent collaboration. Based on a pilot program at Brown called
Odyssey, it enabled students to work one-on-one with faculty to
develop new ideas and approaches in scholarship and teaching –
and the impetus for any given project could come from either a
professor or a student. The success of utra /Odyssey illustrated the
92 the international university
t h o m a s j . wat s o n j r .
class of 1937
homas J. Watson Jr., class of 1937,
son of the founder of ibm, was an indifferent student at Brown who almost
became a commercial pilot after serving
in the Army Air Corps in World War II.
When he did decide to join his father’s
firm after the war, he proved to have the
brains, the drive, and the foresight to
help ibm create, and then dominate, the
computer age. Where Watson Sr. was
reluctant to give up punch cards (ibm’s
stock in trade), Watson Jr. saw the
potential of electronic circuits, and later
of magnetic tape and transistors. But he
also knew that ibm’s preeminence all
along had been based on his father’s
principle of “systems knowledge” –
customer service and technical support.
From that foundation he built one of
the most phenomenally successful companies in the world and helped launch a
technological revolution. In 1957 Brown
awarded him an honorary degree, and
in 1968 he received the Rosenberger
Medal. After retiring from ibm he served
as ambassador to Moscow from 1979 to
1981 – coming full circle from World
War II, when he had ferried Lend-Lease
planes to the Red Army in Siberia. In
1991, Brown named its Institute for
International Studies in his honor. Watson died on New Year’s Eve, 1993, at
the age of 79. In addition to the Watson
Institute, his Brown legacies include the
Arnold Fellowships for graduating
seniors, Wriston faculty fellowships for
curricular innovation, an endowed chair
held by Nobel-winning physicist Leon
Cooper, and a lifetime of gifts – most
of them anonymous – in the vicinity of
$50 million.
revitalizing effects of the curriculum, which were already obvious
to anyone close to Brown. At a 1979 Commencement forum
marking the curriculum’s tenth anniversary, Chancellor Richard
Salomon ’32 rose from the audience to testify “on behalf of what
the curriculum has done for Brown. We’ve made the greatest
strides in the University’s history by enacting it and sticking to it.”
Brown’s growing reputation seemed to validate Salomon’s
remark and helped answer the curriculum’s perennial critics,
who generally assumed that it fostered laziness. (Howard Swearer
also took away some of their ammunition by persuading the faculty to increase the number of
course credits required for graduation, from 28 to 30.) Applications for admission to the College began to rise in the early
1980s, until by 1984–85 Brown
had the largest applicant pool
in the Ivy League – which
meant that the caliber of students it admitted was higher
Engineering professor Barrett Hazeltine was
given a teaching-excellence award so many times
by seniors at Commencement, it was renamed
in his honor.
than ever. In 1986 Swearer was
named in a survey as one of
the nation’s ten most effective
college presidents, and in 1987
U.S. News and World Report ranked Brown (for the first time)
among the top ten major universities in the country.
Howard Swearer had come to Providence with his own vision
of what he wanted to accomplish as a university president. A
former acting director of ucla’s Russian and East European
Studies Center and regional director of Peace Corps training
programs, he was deeply interested in international relations and
public service, two areas that thrived in Brown soil. The “inter94 the international university
Howard Swearer’s emphasis on civic responsibility culminated in the
establishment of Brown’s Center for Public Service (renamed in Swearer's
honor in 1991). By the end of the century, more than 1,400 students
were contributing some 77,000 hours of service to the community each year
nationalization” of Brown began with the formation in 1979 of
the Council for International Studies, superseded in 1986 by the
Institute for International Studies – the brainchild of Swearer
and Thomas J. Watson Jr. ’37, former U.S. ambassador to the
Soviet Union, for whom it was renamed in 1991. The Institute
quickly became a leading think tank on international affairs, with
a number of satellite programs and centers: the Center for Foreign Policy Development, the Population Studies and Training
Center, and the Center for the Comparative Study of Development. Programs for international study expanded as well: by the
late 1980s, Brown had more than 30 formal exchange agreements with foreign universities.
Swearer believed strongly that the academy and its members
– faculty, staff, and students – had a responsibility to become
involved with and to serve their communities in direct, tangible
ways. He made Brown the headquarters of the Campus Com95 the international university
One of Brown’s most
fruitful and congenial
partnerships was
that of President
Swearer and Artemis
A.W. Joukowsky ’55,
a philanthropist who
became a University
trustee in 1985, vice
chancellor in 1988, and
chancellor in 1997.
pact, a coalition of more than 200 colleges and universities committed to integrating civic responsibility and higher education.
The C.V. Starr National Fellowship Program, launched in 1981,
endowed $1,000 scholarships for Brown students who delayed
matriculation or took a leave of absence to work on public service projects. The Center for Public Service, founded in 1986
and renamed for Howard Swearer in 1991, became the campus
clearinghouse for community-service and national-service projects, matching students with volunteer opportunities and helping them link those learning experiences to their academic studies.
Swearer also served as president of the Rhode Island Public
Expenditure Council and chaired a governor’s commission
studying state and local taxation – launching what came to be
known as “the era of the external president.”
Swearer’s administration had its share of frustrations as well.
96 the international university
They included an unsuccessful attempt to revive rotc, occasional run-ins with fraternities over unruly behavior, increased
tensions between minority and white students, and growing student activism on issues such as free speech and Brown’s investment policies. (A group of students stood up and recited the
poem “Jabberwocky” in the midst of a speech by cia Director
William Casey in 1981; cia recruiters were interfered with in
1984; and in 1987, members of Students Against Apartheid disrupted a Corporation meeting.) Swearer also inherited the burden of implementing the Lamphere consent decree. Fashioned
by U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Pettine as part of
Brown’s out-of-court settlement of the class-action suit in 1977,
it granted tenure to Louise Lamphere and cash settlements to
three other women faculty members, created an Affirmative
Action Monitoring Committee, and required that all departments develop goals and timetables for hiring women faculty.
Another source of controversy was the restaffing plan developed in 1985 by Provost Maurice Glicksman, which recommended that Brown focus on its strengths instead of trying to be
all things to all people. It proposed to shrink certain departments, expand others, and shift a number of faculty to interdisciplinary centers and programs. The plan ruffled some professorial
feathers, especially among social-sciences faculty, who felt their
departments were being undermined by the unchecked growth
of interdisciplinary programs. Yet it represented, like the Watson Report a decade earlier, an ongoing effort by Brown to adopt
the essential discipline of long-range, institution-wide strategic
planning. As a result, when Swearer stepped down in 1989 to
become director of Brown’s Institute for International Studies,
he left the University on a far more solid footing than he found it
– and in a position to attract the most highly qualified candidate
to succeed him as president.
97 the international university
Chancellor Alva O. Way ’51 (right)
introduces Vartan Gregorian as Brown’s
sixteenth president in late August, 1988.
Toward the New Millennium
n light of Brown’s growing internationalism, it was fitting
that its next president would be a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Vartan Gregorian, born in Iran of Armenian parents, was educated
at the Collège Armenien in Beirut before winning a scholarship
at Stanford, where he earned both a B.A. and a Ph.D. in history.
He went on to teach at San Francisco State, the University of
Texas at Austin, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was
named provost. In 1981 Gregorian accepted the job that made him
famous: president of the New York Public Library. The oncegreat institution had been all but abandoned by its constituency
and was in a state of decline when Gregorian took over. Within
eight years he achieved a stunning turnaround, rallying New
Yorkers – from the wealthy and influential to ordinary citizens – to
support one of their foremost intellectual and cultural resources.
By the time he came to Brown, in January 1989, Gregorian
had a reputation as something of a miracle worker, particularly
in fund-raising. While Brown was in far better shape when Gregorian took the helm than the Public Library had been, and its
endowment was no longer perilously low, its fiscal challenges
nevertheless were considerable. The years since the previous
capital campaign had been a period of such rapid expansion –
both academically and physically – that the University’s ambitions
needed to be brought into balance with its resources once again.
One of the first things Gregorian did was put a temporary
hold on the creation of new academic centers and interdepartmental programs (which it was generally agreed had reached
critical mass) while he launched a review of existing programs.
He also asked Dean of the College Sheila Blumstein to undertake a thorough evaluation of Brown’s curriculum, then 20 years
99 toward the new millennium
old and relatively unchanged since its inception, to make sure
that (in his words) “it delivered what it promised.” In 1987 the
University had commissioned public-opinion researcher Daniel
Yankelovich to survey graduates of the New Curriculum era – 1973
through 1985. The extensive survey found that Brown alumni
overwhelmingly endorsed the curriculum, while at the same time
they felt students would benefit from stronger advising and other
support services. The Yankelovich survey’s findings became a
point of departure for Blumstein’s internal review, which resulted
in the development of a systematic Curricular Advising Program
and the publication of a guidebook and workbook for incoming
students to help them structure their Brown education.
The Guide to Liberal Learning identified several hundred existing courses that would serve as building blocks for a liberal education. It revived the title “University Courses” for such offerings,
since they tended to be interdisciplinary in nature. Brown continued to impose no distribution requirements, but even before
Gregorian’s arrival, the University had begun requiring students
to demonstrate writing competency in order to graduate, and it
had created resources, such as the Rose Writing Fellows program, to help students polish their skills.
Near the end of his first year as president, Gregorian wrote
an essay for Brown’s annual report that sounded what would be
the three dominant themes of his administration. Expanding the
University’s financial-aid resources topped his list of concerns.
The cost of a Brown education, like the costs at most private colleges and universities, had risen faster than the average rate of
inflation since the 1970s, putting such an education increasingly
out of reach for middle-income families. Those at the lower end
of the economic scale were in a better position to qualify for the
limited amount of scholarship funding available; those in the
middle were being squeezed hardest, with middle-income parents
100 toward the new millennium
Historian Carolyn Dean and
anthropologist David Kertzer ’69
were among the faculty stars hired
during the Gregorian presidency.
and students being asked to assume the largest burden of debt.
Access to higher education, with all it implies about equality
of opportunity, had become an increasingly contentious issue
nationwide – but especially at elite, high-tuition private schools
like Brown that were not rich enough to meet the financial-aid
needs of every qualified student who applied for admission. Recognizing that Brown’s excellence depended on its ability to attract
and compete for the best students from all backgrounds, Gregorian wrote in his report: “Brown . . . has a particular responsibility
to respond to the needs of [this country’s] brightest children,
regardless of color, creed, or financial circumstances. . . . [W]e
must find the resources to offer financial aid to all who qualify.”
Gregorian’s second major theme – recruiting the best new
faculty in an increasingly competitive academic market – was
equally central to his vision for Brown. As a former professor,
Gregorian was committed to enhancing Brown’s excellence in
teaching and scholarship. As a first step, he announced a plan to
endow a number of assistant professorships, something Brown
(and most universities) had never done before. The University
already had a reputation for hiring carefully at the junior faculty
level and treating assistant professors not as temporary help, but
101 toward the new millennium
on diversity
fter Brown was founded in 1764,
more than a century passed before it
graduated anyone who was not a white
male. The College took its first step
toward racial diversity in 1877, when two
African-American men – Inman Page and
George Washington Milford – received
bachelor’s degrees. In 1891, the first
two women – Mary Emma Woolley and
Anne Tillinghast Weeden – enrolled,
graduating in 1894 from what was to
become the Women’s College in Brown
University, later renamed Pembroke
While only a handful of African
Americans received Brown degrees before
1900, their later influence was substantial. Between 1877 and 1912, Brown
graduated five black men who went on to
become college presidents. The first
African American to receive a graduate
degree from Brown was John Wesley
Gilbert, class of 1888, who earned his
master’s in 1891 and later taught at Paine
Institute. Biologist Samuel M. Nabrit
’32 Ph.D. was the first black man to earn
a doctorate at Brown; he went on to
teach at Morehouse College and later
became president of Texas Southern
University, as well as Brown’s first black
trustee. Among early graduates of the
Women’s College were two AfricanAmerican sisters, Ethel Robinson ’05
and Cora Robinson ’09, both of whom
became college teachers.
At the same time that blacks were
beginning to attend Brown in small
numbers, so too were Asians and, somewhat later, Asian Americans. The first
Graduate School pioneers: Julius Kumpei
Matsumoto (top) of Japan received a master’s degree in 1894. Samuel M. Nabrit
’32 Ph.D. (above), a biologist, was the
first black man to earn a Brown doctorate.
known Asian student to enroll at Brown
was Sau-Ahbrah of Burma, class of
1877, who later earned his M.D. at Jefferson Medical College. Several students came to Brown before 1900 from
Japan: Heita Okada, class of 1895; Julius
Kumpei Matsumoto, who received a
master’s degree in 1894; and his brother,
Matsuzo Matsumoto, class of 1894.
The first Korean student at Brown was
Sang-Kyu Pack, class of 1905. Chinese
students began arriving in small but regular numbers in 1906. John F. Aiso ’31,
the son of Japanese immigrants in California, was the first in a slow but steady
trickle of Asian-American matriculants.
In 1955, a Brown chapter of the
naacp was founded. Well into the mid1960s, however, the numbers of blacks
on campus remained small. In December
1968, 65 of Brown’s 85 African-American
students walked down College Hill and
camped in the Congdon Street Baptist
Church for three days, asking that
Brown increase the number of blacks in
each entering class to 11 percent. The
University agreed to fund minority
recruitment and scholarship initiatives,
and the next entering class included 128
new black students.
Today, Brown attracts (in roughly
equal numbers) men and women from
all 50 states and at least as many foreign
countries. Approximately 10 percent
of its undergraduates are international students, and more than
one in four is a person of color.
In 1999–2000, 15 percent of
Brown’s undergraduates were
Asian American, 6 percent were
African American, and 6 percent
were Hispanic American.
Myra Liwanag ’91 (top), of Filipino descent, was active at
Brown as a minority peer counselor. In recent decades many
African-American graduates (above) have worn colorful
African sashes over their Commencement robes.
as an investment in Brown’s
future. Adding endowed positions would make Brown even
more attractive in the bidding
wars for the best candidates.
Gregorian’s third theme was
that a world-class university
demanded world-class libraries,
other facilities. As the first step
in updating Brown’s facilities, he
vowed to tackle the physical
plant’s $50 million “deferredmaintenance” backlog.
The Brown Daily Herald comic strip Thatch,
by Jeff Shesol ’91, drew nationwide attention
for affectionately skewering student life at the
turn of the decade.
The common thread linking
all these concerns was a need for
money – large sums of it. Gregorian noted in his essay that
“Brown has a history, born out of necessity, of doing more with
less,” and he vowed to maintain fiscal responsibility while seeking the resources to meet these priorities. The obvious inference
was that Brown would have to embark before long on another
fund-raising campaign. But the time wasn’t ripe yet; by early
1990, the nation’s economy was decelerating and a recession was
clearly around the corner.
In the meantime, Gregorian deployed his staff to find more
efficient ways to operate. Fiscal restraint enabled Brown to
reduce its annual rate of increasing tuition and fees to less than
5 percent and to index the financial aid budget to the annual
tuition increase for the first time, guaranteeing that the two
would always rise proportionately. Endowment spending was
reduced as well, to just over 4 percent annually. The University
104 toward the new millennium
prioritized deferred maintenance needs so that the most urgent
could be tackled right away. Academic and fiscal planning, previously semi-autonomous processes, became more integrated, taking Brown to a new level of strategic change.
Gregorian had other goals that extended beyond Brown. To
increase diversity in higher education – particularly at the faculty
and administrative levels – he created the Leadership Alliance, a
coalition of colleges and universities committed to increasing the
flow of talented minority students through high school, college,
and graduate school, and into academia. But diversity, already a
source of occasional tension on campus, became a critical issue
early in Gregorian’s tenure, and it forced this most accessible
and public of Brown presidents into the national limelight under
circumstances he hardly would have chosen. Within months of
his inauguration, a flurry of racist incidents directed at minority
students (name-calling, anonymous notes, and the like) had the
campus in an uproar and Brown in the news. Gregorian made his
views explicit at a rally on the Green, where he said: “There are
many outlets in this nation for racism, bigotry, and dehumanization. Brown will not be one of them, I assure you.” Not long afterward, the University enacted an anti-harassment behavior code.
At the same time, Gregorian bucked the trend of “political
correctness” to keep the Brown community hospitable to a wide
range of views. He brought distinguished speakers of every political stripe to campus, from sixties radical Angela Davis to conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and created the
President’s Lecture Series in 1992 to ensure a steady flow of
diverse ideas and intellectual debate. Gregorian spoke out frequently and forcefully in defense of intellectual freedom, and he
prided himself on the fact that during his tenure no speech, however controversial, was cut short by protest.
He had less luck, however, keeping the University’s daily busi105 toward the new millennium
ness from being disrupted. In the spring of 1992, a group of 250
students occupied University Hall during a daylong protest over
financial aid. When, after repeated warnings, the protestors would
not leave the building, they were arrested (they later pleaded no
contest and agreed to pay court costs). The protest was partially
a consequence of a national economic downturn, which saw
many students’ economic circumstances change for the worse.
Among the institution-wide cuts required to balance the budget that year were funding for four varsity sports: women’s volleyball and gymnastics, and men’s golf and water polo. Those
cuts, in turn, triggered a Title IX-based lawsuit that charged
Brown with discriminating against women athletes. Ironically, a
preliminary injunction against Brown was granted in 1992 by the
same Judge Raymond Pettine who had fashioned the Lamphere
consent decree – and who had just agreed to vacate the decree
after 15 years, a period in which the number of tenured women
faculty quintupled. Pettine later ruled against Brown on Title IX,
and the case failed the appeals process; the two women’s teams
were restored to varsity status, and Brown was ordered by the
courts to achieve parity in varsity sports opportunities for men
and women. The 1991–92 academic year also saw Howard Swearer’s
untimely death from cancer, at the age of 59.
The following spring, amid signs that the national recession
had bottomed out, Gregorian decided the time had come to launch
a major fund-raising campaign. In April 1993 he announced a
$450 million, five-year “Campaign for the Rising Generation” –
by far the most ambitious in Brown’s history. Its goal was nothing less than the reendowment of the University on all levels:
faculty, undergraduate and graduate programs, library, facilities,
financial-aid budget, endowment, and physical plant.
The campaign aimed high and came in even higher – a total
of $534 million – doubling Brown’s total endowment to more
106 toward the new millennium
At a financial-aid fund-raising gala held in New York’s
Grand Central Station in 1994, President Gregorian greeted
friends such as Brown parent Carly Simon.
than $800 million. Its success brought the University within
reach of many of its long-range goals and enabled it to launch
major new initiatives. The campaign endowed 43 new faculty
chairs, 27 for senior professors and 16 for assistant professors;
raised $40 million for undergraduate scholarships and $16 million for graduate fellowships; increased funding for the library
system by $23 million; established special programs, such as the
Royce Fellowships for outstanding undergraduates and the
Salomon Research Awards for faculty; and provided funds to
renovate existing buildings and construct new ones (including
MacMillan Hall, an undergraduate sciences center). At the same
time, the University recognized that some of its key priorities
would be achieved only incrementally, not instantly by this or
any other fund-raising effort. For example, although the undergraduate scholarship endowment doubled, Gregorian acknowledged that the ideal of truly need-blind admissions would require
at least three times that amount.
The campaign brought in a number of large gifts, including
the historic Nightingale-Brown House on Benefit Street given to
107 toward the new millennium
the University by the Brown family to serve as the John Nicholas
Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization. The
largest single windfall was Ambassador Walter Annenberg’s 1993
gift of $50 million to endow the National Institute for School
Reform (later renamed the Annenberg Institute) at Brown.
Awarded as part of his unprecedented $500 million “Challenge
to the Nation” grant to stimulate education-reform initiatives,
Annenberg’s gift to Brown recognized the University’s leadership in school reform beginning in the mid-1980s, when it had
recruited Theodore Sizer to head its education department and
had given a home to his new Coalition of Essential Schools.
Six months after the campaign’s successful conclusion, and eight
years after he was sworn in as president, Gregorian announced
he would leave Brown in July 1997 and return to New York to
head the Carnegie Corporation. He had done his part for Brown,
Gregorian believed, and now it was time to move on to his next
challenge. Professor Sizer, in an interview with the Providence
Journal, summed up the Gregorian era by observing that the litmus test of a college president is the quality of faculty brought in
during his tenure. “There has been a string of brilliant appointments of rising young faculty,” Sizer told the Journal. “That’s even
more important than the extraordinary campaign for funds.”
In a “State of the University” speech to a special convocation
in March 1997, Gregorian cited the many other strides Brown
had made in eight years. In addition to 270 new faculty hired, 72
senior professors had been appointed to endowed chairs. Applications to the College had reached a record of more than 15,000
for the class of 2000 (making Brown one of the half-dozen most
selective schools in the United States). In that same class, the
percentage of students receiving scholarship aid from Brown –
38 percent – reached an all-time high. The library had grown
from two million to three million volumes, and was rapidly
108 toward the new millennium
transforming itself through information technology; users could
now access the entire system through its on-line catalog, josiah.
Eleven of Brown’s strongest academic programs (including neurosciences and American civilization) had been elevated to departmental rank. Community ties and collaborative projects multiplied
through the efforts of Brown’s public-service programs and
its new Office of Government and Community Relations. And
Brown had maintained its identity as a community while becoming more diverse, in every sense of the word: the proportion of
minority students rose from 21 to 29 percent, the number of
international students increased 17 percent, and the number of
women faculty increased 40 percent.
But as he prepared to leave Brown, Gregorian placed just as
much emphasis on what remained to be done as he did on what
had been accomplished. Under his direction, strategic plans for
the coming decades were developed by six task forces focusing
on the Graduate School, liberal education in the 21st century,
academic resources, information resources, business and administrative operations, and the University’s mission statement.
Other works in progress included renovating Carr House to
serve as the English department’s new headquarters, constructing a new home for the Watson Institute for International Studies, and launching a major fund-raising campaign for the School
of Medicine. And, of course, finding a successor to lead Brown –
now nearly two and half centuries old, and more vital than ever –
into the 21st century. Gregorian concluded his “State of the
University” speech by paraphrasing Thomas Wolfe on America:
“I think the true fulfillment of Brown’s role in higher education
is yet to come. I think the true discovery of Brown’s potential is
still before us, I think the true appreciation of a liberal education
is before us, and I think that all these things are certain, as certain as the morning, as inevitable as noon.”
109 toward the new millennium
An extroverted leader, Gordon Gee
brought Brown’s presidency into the
Ratty and the residence halls, where
students responded enthusiastically
to his energy and wit.
New Horizons
s if to challenge the certainties invoked in Gregorian’s
last major address as president, the next two years saw
the University undergo a series of rapid changes – with an unexpected twist.
In late June 1997, the Corporation announced that it had
chosen E. Gordon Gee, a 53-year-old Utah-born Mormon who
had made state-university presidencies his career since the age of
37, to be Brown’s 17th president. At the time, Gee was in his
fifth year as president of the Ohio State University, where he had
distinguished himself as a consummate politician and fund-raiser
while effecting a brisk sequence of controversial academic cutbacks that had stabilized Ohio State’s gargantuan operating budget. With his rapid-fire Midwestern patter, colorful bow ties, and
lack of a traditional academic background (he has a J.D. and an
Ed.D., both from Columbia, but no Ph.D.), Gee represented a
180-degree stylistic departure from his scholarly Brown predecessors. Students, colleagues, and alumni were charmed by their
energetic new leader, on the whole, but some members of the
faculty received Gee more skeptically – a reaction that may have
played a part in the surprising turn of events that transpired two
years later.
Gee took office formally in January 1998 and immediately
began mobilizing his senior leadership to undertake a Universitywide process of self-evaluation and change, with a particular
emphasis on strengthening the Graduate School. Work continued
on the long-awaited external “cluster” reviews of academic disciplinary areas, whose findings would serve as a platform for future
restructuring. An example of the sort of collaborative academic
model Gee had in mind for graduate and faculty scholarship at
111 new horizons
Brown was the Brain Sciences Program, which was inaugurated
in the fall of 1999 and involved nearly 90 faculty from 10 separate departments and disciplines: cognitive and linguistic sciences, computer science, neuroscience, psychology, physics, psychiatry and human behavior, clinical neuroscience, and the divisions
of applied mathematics, biology and medicine, and engineering.
In addition, at the May 1999 Commencement, Gee and
Brown’s chancellor, Stephen Robert ’62, launched a far-reaching
program to incorporate the study of values into numerous
academic and civic endeavors on campus. The Stephen Robert
Initiative for the Study of Values included undergraduate courses,
colloquia for faculty and graduate students, and an annual symposium and lecture series open to the
public – all aimed at examining “the
elements of any good life: ethics and
a just community, spirituality and
beauty, friendship and love, physical
well-being and freedom from fear.”
Meanwhile, the physical plant was
growing again. In October 1998,
Brown unveiled a new state-of-the-art
science facility, W. Duncan MacMillan Hall, named to honor the contributions of the longtime trustee (’53)
and located on the corner of Thayer
Neuroscience professor John Donoghue
was a founding academic leader
of Brown’s Brain Sciences Program,
established in the fall of 1999.
and George streets. The century-old
Ladd Observatory, which stands a
mile north of the campus on the highest point in Providence, reopened its
doors for student star-gazing and neighborhood gatherings after
extensive repairs and renovations. Work commenced on the
transformation of the former Carr’s Restaurant on Angell Street
112 new horizons
The Watson Institute
for International
Studies brought
prominent speakers
to campus, including
former Secretary
of State Robert
McNamara, a key
strategist during
the Vietnam War.
into a new home for the English department, as well as on a
major renovation and addition to the engineering and physics
building. Ground was broken in 1999 for a new home for the
Watson Institute for International Studies closer to the main
campus, on Thayer Street, and the administration began to move
forward with plans for a new life-sciences building adjacent to the
biomedical center on Meeting Street. In addition, the conversion
of the former Sayles Gymnasium on the Pembroke Campus into a
classroom facility was nearly complete by the time Brown entered
the new millennium.
Keeping pace with the optimism of a remarkably robust U.S.
economy, the College’s popularity continued to swell. The
admission office received a record number of applications for the
class of 2004 (some 16,500) – helped, perhaps, by a more generous financial-aid policy implemented under Gee’s leadership the
previous spring. Turning to the quality of undergraduate life at
Brown, in late 1999 Gee appointed Brown’s first vice president
for campus life and student services, Princeton dean of students
Janina Montero. “Brown will be ready for the coming year, the
next decade, and the next century,” Gee wrote in his introduction to the annual financial report published just before the new
year. But few were ready for what happened shortly thereafter.
113 new horizons
In the wake of President Gee’s resignation, two women led the University:
Interim President Sheila Blumstein
(above), and Executive Vice President
and Provost Kathryn Spoehr (right).
On February 6, 2000, Chancellor Robert informed senior
administrators that after two years as Brown’s president, Gordon
Gee had accepted an offer to become chancellor of Vanderbilt
University. The news, so totally unexpected, shocked the Brown
community. While Gee’s Vanderbilt salary would place him
among the highest-paid university leaders in the country, foremost among his stated reasons for leaving was what he described
as a poor “fit” between him and Brown.
Within two days, the Corporation appointed former dean of
the College (and former interim provost) Sheila Blumstein, a
professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences, to serve as Brown’s
interim president while a search committee was formed to hire
Gee’s successor. The swift appointment of Blumstein, an admired
administrator and distinguished faculty member for 30 years,
was unanimously well received on campus. In addition, Brown’s
provost, Kathryn Troyer Spoehr ’69, a cognitive scientist and
114 new horizons
former dean of the Graduate School and of the faculty, reassured
her colleagues at an emergency meeting that Brown could withstand
even the most abrupt change of leadership. Since joining the faculty in 1974, she reminded them, she had seen four presidents come
and go. “Frankly,” she said, as her colleagues rose to applaud,
“what has happened [this week] doesn’t faze me in the least.”
Just as it had in the late 1960s, Brown University had once
again pulled itself together after an unusually short presidential
tenure. But much more so than in the wake of Ray Heffner’s
term, Brown in the year 2000 was on possibly the firmest institutional footing of its 236 years. With one of the most highly qualified undergraduate student bodies in the Ivy League, a distinguished faculty committed to innovative scholarship, a Medical
School celebrating 25 years of health-care leadership in the state
and the region, and a Graduate School poised for new initiatives
and excellence, Brown stood more than ready to welcome its
18th president, a leader with whom it could reach new heights in
the 21st century.
115 new horizons
❦ Bibliography
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Bronson, Walter C. The History of Brown University, 1764–1914. Providence: Brown University, 1914.
Boucher, Norman. “A Week in February.” Brown Alumni Magazine,
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Crane, Theodore R. “Four Presidents and Their Roles in Educational
Renewal during Brown’s History.” Brown Alumni Monthly, vol. 76,
no. 1, September 1975, pp. 18-24.
Cremin, Lawrence A. American Education: The Colonial Experience,
1607–1783. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.
Diffily, Anne. “One Hundred Years of Women at Brown.” Brown
Alumni Monthly, vol. 92, no. 4, December 1991–January 1992.
Diffily, Anne. “Hello, College Hill.” Brown Alumni Magazine, vol. 98,
no. 2, November-December 1997.
Hofstadter, Richard. Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. New York:
Vintage Books, 1963.
Kaufman, Polly Welts, ed. The Search for Equity: Women at Brown
University, 1891–1991. Providence: Brown University Press, 1991.
Mitchell, Martha. Encyclopedia Brunoniana. Providence: Brown University Library, 1993.
McLoughlin, William G. Rhode Island: A History. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company / Nashville: American Association for State and
Local History, 1978.
Phillips, Janet. “Carpe Diem: Twenty-Five Years of (R)evolution.”
Brown Alumni Monthly, vol. 95, no. 6, March 1995.
Providence Journal-Bulletin. Article on Vartan Gregorian’s resignation,
January 7, 1997.
Providence Sunday Journal. Obituary of Howard Swearer, Oct. 20, 1991.
116 bibliography
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