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John Hay Library, Brown University Archives

Collections Overview


The Library Discovery Service enables researchers to cross-search physical and electronic collections held by Brown from the search box on the top of most library web pages.

Josiah includes records for books, theses, and approximately 80 manuscript collections held in the University Archives.

BAMCO or the Brown Archival and Manuscripts Collections Online database includes digital versions of finding aids to a limited number of collections held in the University Archives. Collections on BAMCO are in the process of being migrated to RIAMCO (Rhode Island Manuscript Collections Online). Collections may also be located using Collections A – Z.

Most of the rest of the material in the University Archives can be found through the card catalog or finding aids. These include registers of manuscript collections, office files, graphics, and audio-visual material. There are also guides to Archives subject files and sport and dramatic collections, as well as indexes to University publications.


Corporation Records

Brown University is governed by a bicameral Corporation composed of a Board of Fellows and a Board of Trustees. The Archives contains the minutes, correspondence, reports, and committee records of the Corporation from 1763-present.

The earliest Corporation records are part of a collection called the Rhode Island College Miscellaneous papers. These papers date from the petition for a charter in 1763 to the change of name from Rhode Island College to Brown University in 1804, and consist of minutes, reports, correspondence, a charter, lists of subscribers, lists of members of the corporation, accounts, and library catalogs.

Another interesting subgroup of Corporation records are the records of the Committee on Agricultural Lands, dealing with the University's acquisition of land in Kansas as a result of the Morrill Act passed by Congress in 1862, the agreement to provide agricultural and mechanical arts instruction, and the sale of the land to support scholarships.

Researchers should take note that Corporation records are restricted for 50 years from the date of the record's creation. Exceptions will be granted to those individuals who have received permission in writing from the Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy and who have presented this written permission to the University Archives. E-mails will not be accepted as written permission. To use restricted records, researchers must include in their request the purpose of their research and indicate the records they intend to use.


President's Papers

The Archives contains papers of all of Brown's presidents with the exception of Brown's second president, Jonathan Maxcy (1792-1802):

  • James Manning (1765-1791) - finding aid
  • Asa Messer (1802-1826)
  • Francis Wayland (1827-1855)
  • Barnas Sears (1855-1867)
  • Alexis Caswell (1868-1872)
  • Ezekial Gilman Robinson (1872-1889) - finding aid
  • Elisha Benjamin Andrews (1889-1898)
  • William Herbert Perry Faunce (1899-1929) - finding aid
  • Augustus Barbour (1929-1937) - finding aid
  • Henry Merritt Wriston (1937-1955)
  • Barnaby Conrad Keeney (1955-1966)
  • Ray Lorenzo Heffner (1966-1969)
  • Donald Frederick Hornig (1970-1976)
  • Howard R. Swearer (1977-1988)
  • Vartan Gregorian (1989-1997) (restricted until October 2022)
  • Gordon Gee (1998-2000) (restricted until May 2025)
  • Ruth J. Simmons (2001-2012) (restricted until July 2037)

The President's papers contain correspondence, memorandums, speeches, journals, reports, publications, and office files, and provide an extraordinary view of the development of the University from a small institution of higher learning to one of the leading educational institutions in the world. These papers include information on fundraising, admissions, curriculum development, buildings, academic centers and departments, student activities, athletic teams, faculty, students, alumni, and finances,

The President's papers from Manning to Barbour not only includes material regarding the administration of Brown University but also papers of a personal nature.

Researchers should take note that President's papers are closed to researchers for a period of 25 years following the last day of the President's term of office. Currently the papers of Vartan Gregorian, Gordon Gee, and Ruth J. Simmons are subject to this restriction. Exceptions will be granted to those individuals who have received permission in writing from the Vice President and Secretary of the University and who have presented this written permission to the University Archives. E-mails will not be accepted as written permission. To use restricted records, researchers must include in their request the purpose of their research and indicate the records they intend to use.


Administrative Records

The University Archives contains administrative and department records that document the administration of Brown on the university and department level. These records includes the files of deans, provosts, departments and department heads, Pembroke College, the athletic department, and student activities office.

The Provost's papers are closed to researchers for a period of 25 years following the last day of the Provost's term of office. As is the case with restricted records of the President, exceptions will be granted to those individuals who have received permission in writing from the Vice President and Secretary of the University and who have presented this written permission to the University Archives. E-mails will not be accepted as written permission. To use restricted records, researchers must include in their request the purpose of their research and indicate the records they intend to use.

The files of the music department cover the 1920s to the 1950s. The Division of Applied Mathematics files contain much correspondence that occurred when the department was established in the 1940s.

The Ladd Observatory papers, coupled with the office files of astronomy professor Winslow Upton and Charles Smiley, cover the department of astronomy from 1880s to 1970s.

The Student Activities files cover from 1930s to the 1950s and illustrate the beginning and growth of many student organizations.

The treasurer's papers include detailed receipts for the building of Wilson Hall, Lyman Gymnasium, one of University Hall's restorations, and various expenditures on the upkeep of many buildings during the later part of the 19th century.

The Dean of the College files, 1939-1971, contain much information on Brown, and usually a topic can be found here when it is lacking in the president's files. The files of Samuel T. Arnold (1937-1957), Bruce Bigelow's (1931-1953), Lawrence Lanpher (1936-1939), Vice President James P. Adams (1920-1945), and Provost Zena Bliss (1957-1965) are very rich in Brown related material and also cover much of World War II-related issues.

Information on Pembroke College can also be found in the general administration files of Brown, as well as the Pembroke College Student activities files, 1946-67, the Pembroke College Director of Residence files, 1940-68, the Pembroke College Athletic and Recreation files, 1908-1972, the Alumnae Association files, 1900-1992, the Placement and Career Planning office, 1924-1970, and the Fiftieth and Seventy-fifth Anniversary files.

The papers of individual faculty are also important sources of administrative and department records.


Faculty Papers

The University Archives contains the papers of a number of Brown's faculty covering a variety of disciplines, including applied mathematics, art and architecture, biology, botany, chemistry, classics, Egyptology, history, languages, linguistics, literature, mathematics, oratory, philosophy, physics, and rhetoric. Faculty papers typically include research files, correspondence, lectures, syllabi, course documents, presentations, student papers, and manuscripts of articles and/or books.

Notable faculty for whom the Archives has papers include:

  • William Whitman Bailey
  • Elmer Blistein
  • Walter Cochrane Bronson
  • Ben W. Brown - finding aid
  • Sidney Goldstein
  • William Herbert Kenerson
  • Meiklejohn (1893)
  • William Jordy
  • Charles Nichols
  • Alpheus Spring Packard
  • Louis Franklin Snow
  • Margaret Stillwell
  • Winslow Upton
  • J. Walter Wilson

Additional faculty papers are located within the Manuscripts department of Special Collections. These include Lester Frank Ward, William Williams Keen, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Naomi Schor, Albert Spaulding Cook, and S. Foster Damon.


Alumni Papers

The University Archives includes personal papers of Alumni as well as records of individual classes and alumni groups, such as the various Brown Clubs and Pembroke Clubs in existence throughout the country. Some of the notable alumni who have papers in the Archives are:

  • Rudolph Fisher (Class of 1919) - finding aid
  • Charles Evans Hughes (Class of 1881)
  • Thomas Alexander Tefft (Class of 1851) - finding aid
  • Thomas J. Watson (Class of 1937)
  • Horace Mann (Class of 1819) - finding aid

Additional personal papers of alumni are located in the department of Special Collections. These include the papers of John Hay (Class of 1858), Eli Thayer (Class of 1845), Theodore Francis Green (Class of 1887), S. J. Perelman (Class of 1925), and J. Saunders Redding (Class of 1928)


Student Records

The University Archives has many materials that document student life and activities, including records of academic societies, performing arts groups, fraternities and sororities, and recreational clubs. Among the records of student groups preserved in the Archives are:

  • Alpha Beta
  • Brownbrokers
  • Brown Christian Association
  • Brown Key Society
  • Brown Union
  • Cammarian Club
  • Delta Upsilon
  • Elizabethans
  • Federal Adelphi
  • Franklin Society
  • Menorah Society
  • Philandrian Society
  • Phi Beta Kappa, Rhode Island Alpha
  • Phi Beta Kappa
  • Philendean Society
  • Philermenian Society
  • Philophysian Society
  • Religious Society
  • Psi Upsilon, Sigma Chapter
  • Sailing Association
  • Society for Missionary Inquiry
  • Sock and Buskin
  • United Brothers Society

For information on donating the records of a student organization please contact the University Archives.

In addition to records of students groups and societies, the University Archives also contains a substantial collection of diaries kept by students from 1770 through the nineteenth century, and letters written by students to family and friends. An interesting collection of student letters is the World War I correspondence collection. This collection consists primarily of letters, dating from 1917 to 1918, written by 274 Brown University students, alumni, and faculty serving in the American Expeditionary Forces or the Young Men's Christian Association during World War I.


Topic Files

This collection includes files containing newspaper clippings, circulars, notices, pamphlets, brochures, and other miscellaneous materials documenting a wide variety of topics on Brown's history. The topic files are an excellent starting point for any researcher beginning a research project on an aspect of Brown's history.


Museum Objects

This collection includes artifacts, ephemera, and memorabilia documenting numerous aspects of University history, including presidents, students, alumni, athletics, fraternities, sororities, academics, commencements, and reunions.


Includes class rings, class pins, sorority and fraternity pins, badges, lockets of hair, uniforms, dresses, clothing, medals, pennants, flags, plaques, trophies, furniture, liquor flasks, perfume flasks, canes, and scientific instruments.


Biographical Files

This collection consists of files of biographical information about alumni, faculty, administrators, and officers of the University. Alumni questionnaires, obituaries, and newspaper clippings are the common items found in these files.


Sound Recordings and Moving Images

The University Archives has several thousand motion picture films, videos, and sound recordings of academic celebrations, Brown television programs, speeches, lectures, performances, oral histories, and athletic events. Many of these materials require special equipment to view. Please contact the Archives in advance if you are interested in using this material.

Researchers may listen to an online sample of oral histories by Brown alumnae at Brown Women Speak, a website launched in spring 2012. The Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women began collecting oral histories of Brown Alumnae in 1982. The digitization of these interviews has been sponsored by the Pembroke Center Associates, a group of alumnae and friends that supports the Pembroke Center.


University Publications

The University Archives contains handbooks, course catalogs, commencement programs, yearbooks, directories, student newsletters, faculty newsletters, department newsletters, student newspapers, student literary magazines, student humor magazines, alumni magazines, technical reports, dissertations, master's theses, and honor's theses.

  • Brown Alumni Magazine, 1900-present (alumni magazine)
  • Brown Daily Herald, 1891-present (student newspaper)
  • Pembroke Record, 1922-1970 (Pembroke student newspaper)
  • Liber Brunensis, 1870-present (yearbook)
    • John Hay Library Special Collections Reading Room (1912-present): Bound copies
    • Digitized (1870-present) accessible at Maddock Alumni Center
  • Brun Mael, 1909-1970 (Pembroke/Women’s College yearbook)
    • John Hay Library Special Collections at Rock RReading Room (1912-1970): Bound copies
    • Digitized (1909-1970) accessible at Maddock Alumni Center
  • Historical Catalog of Brown University, 1934
    • John Hay Library Special Collections at Rock RReading Room
  • Brown University Alumni Directory, 1964
    • John Hay Library Special Collections at Rock RReading Room

Broadsides and Posters

These posters and broadsides promote concerts, events, lectures, exhibitions, performances, and athletic contests. A number of posters documents the rivalries that existed between the upperclassmen and underclassmen at Brown.


Photographs and Prints

There are over 60,000 photographs depicting campus scenes, buildings, groups, events, student activities, athletic teams and events, and individual faculty members, students, and alumni preserved and accessible in the University Archives.

Other photographs may be found in enormous leather-bound class albums owned by graduates from 1857 to 1904. There are about 100 of these albums containing photographs of seniors, buildings, and student groups. The Robinson Collection of athletics depicts 125 years of Brown athletics. The earliest photograph is a daguerreotype taken of the class of 1847 as seniors. There are also drawings, etchings, and cartoons, and several hundred glass slides of campus scenes around the turn of the century.


Edward North Robinson Collection of Brown Athletics

Representing over 150 years of athletics at Brown, this collection is an unparalleled resource of archival material relating to the study of Brown sports. Consisting of photographs, moving images, artifacts, posters, drawings, cartoons, administrative records, and publications, this collection traces the earliest days of athletic competition at Brown and Pembroke up through the modern era. This collection is supported through an endowment created by Jackson Robinson (Class of 1964), the grandson of famed Brown football coach. Edward North Robinson.


Christine Dunlap Farnham Archives

The Christine Dunlap Farnham Archive, a collection of materials pertaining to women, was not originally compiled as a collection. Established in 1987 as a partnership between the Pembroke Center for the Teaching and Research on Women and the Library, The Farnham Archive initially represented the attempt to retrospectively uncover materials documenting women's history within the Library's existing holdings. Since 1987, the Farnham Archive has added much new material focusing specifically on women to the Library's manuscript holdings. Most recently, the Pembroke Center has established a Feminist Theory Archive, which includes the papers of pioneering feminist theorists Naomi Schor and Elaine Marks.


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