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Elmer Ellsworth Brown Papers

Call Number



1827-1936, inclusive


Brown, Elmer Ellsworth, 1861-1934


11.92 Linear Feet in 29 boxes and 2 folders in a shared oversized flat box

Language of Materials

Materials are written in English


Elmer Ellsworth Brown was the Chancellor of New York University from 1911 until his retirement in 1933. Materials in this collection span the years 1827-1936 and include papers from Brown's family members along with documents related to his work as a teacher, principal, United States Commissioner of Education, and Chancellor of NYU. The bulk of this collection is comprised of correspondence with his wife and family, his daily diaries, and mementos from his travels to Europe.

Biography of Elmer Ellsworth Brown

Elmer Ellsworth Brown (1861-1934), educator and university administrator, was born in Kiantone, Chautaugua County, New York, on August 26, 1861. He was the fourth and youngest child of Russell McCrary and Electa Louisa (Sherman) Brown. His father's ancestors moved from Connecticut to Albany County, New York in the early eighteenth century and settled in western New York around 1800. In 1862, the family moved west to Sublette, Illinois, but returned shortly thereafter to Kiantone when Elmer's father enlisted in the Union Army. In 1864, the family returned to Sublette following Russell Brown's discharge from the Army due to poor health.

The Brown family lived in poverty, relying on income and produce from their farm. Additional income was received through a soldier's pension and money earned by the children performing neighborhood chores. Russell Brown, the grandson of a Congregational minister, completed his formal schooling in New York State, but was unable to attend college due to financial contraints. Despite this, Russell Brown continued to educate himself by reading literature and poetry. He shared this activity with his children. Russell Brown's four children went on to acquire college educations and entered into professional careers.

Elmer Brown did not begin formal schooling until he was eight years old. In 1874, while attending Sublette High School, Brown competed with other students for a teacher certification and finished first in the county examinations. Unfortunately, due to his young age, he was not appointed as a teacher. Two years later, he entered the Illinois State Normal University and began a period of both teaching and study.

In 1878, Brown became principal of the public schools in Rockport, Illinois and in 1880, he served as a teacher in the public schools in Astoria, Illinois. In 1881, he graduated from Illinois State Normal University and became principal of public schools in Belvidere, Illinois, serving there until 1884. His older brother, Isaac Eddy Brown, held the position of State Secretary of the Illinois Y.M.C.A. and Elmer became Assistant Secretary, a position in which he occupied until 1887.

In the fall of 1887, Brown entered the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to study the theory and practice of education under Professor William H. Payne and the history and philosophy of education under Professor Burke A. Hinsdale. He completed the four-year course in two years, graduating in June 1889 with Phi Beta Kappa honors. Two days following commencement, Brown married his cousin Fanny F. Eddy of Detroit. Fanny was the daughter of the Reverend Zachery Eddy, a prominent Michigan clergyman.

Elmer and Fanny Brown traveled to Europe in 1889 and settled in Germany, where Elmer enrolled in the University of Halle-Wittenberg to study the philosophy of education. At the end of the academic year, he was awarded a Ph.D. degree after completing and publishing his German-language thesis, "The Position of States Toward the Church and Carrying Out Religious Education in the Schools in Prussia, England, and the United States" (1890). Returning to the United States, Brown became a high school principal in Jackson, Michigan, a position he held until 1891 when he was selected as acting Assistant Professor of the Art and Science of Teaching in the University of Michigan. He temporarily replaced his mentor, Dr. Hinsdale. Before his first year was completed, Brown received an invitation to join the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley.

Brown spent the next fourteen years at Berkeley. He was appointed the first chair of the Science and Art of Teaching in 1892 and he soon formulated plans for the organization and development of the University's Department of Pedagogy. During his tenure at the University of California, Brown wrote his best known scholarly works, The Origins of American State Universities (1903) and The Making of Our Middle Schools (1903), a historical study of secondary education in the United States. Through his publications and work in developing the pedagogy department at Berkeley, Brown became a national figure in education. In 1905, he was elected to serve a two-year term as president of the National Council on Education.

In 1906, Elmer Brown was appointed United States Commissioner of Education by President Theodore Roosevelt. Building upon the work of his predecessor, William Torrey Harris, he enlarged the Bureau of Education by establishing special divisions in higher education and school administration. He also extended the services of the Bureau throughout the country. As national spokesman for education, Brown traveled extensively, addressing problems and issues in elementary, secondary, and higher education. A selection of his many speeches and essays were published in Government By Influence and Other Addresses (1910). He was reappointed to the role of United States Commissioner of Education by William Howard Taft in 1908 and served until 1911, when he was chosen to be Chancellor of New York University. He held the office of Chancellor of New York University until his retirement in 1933 and then the title of Chancellor Emeritus until his death in New York City on November 3, 1934.


Frusciano, Thomas J. "Elmer Ellsworth Brown: Mohonker, Scholar, and Educator, 1861-1934," unpublished address delivered at the Hudson Valley & Mohonk Heritage Program, Lake Mohonk, New York, July 10, 1984. New York University Archives.

Jones, Theodore Francis, ed. New York University, 1832-1932. New York: New York University Press, 1933.

Voorhis, Harold O. A Tribute to Elmer Ellsworth Brown, 1861-1934. New York: Hall of American Artists, New York University, 1944.


Files are arranged either alphabetically or chronologically within each series.

This collection is divided into eleven series.

Series I: Biographical and genealogical materials, 1880-1934

Series II: Family correspondence and related materials , 1827-1935

Series III: Verse, 1903-1933

Series IV: Address books, diaries, journals, and ledgers, 1875-1934

Series V: Public life, cultural activities, and travel, 1901-1903

Series VI: Personal and professional correspondence, 1869-1911

Series VII: Pre-retirement awards and tributes, 1905-1933

Series VIII: Retirement, 1932-1935

Series IX: Obituaries, funeral arrangements, and memorial service, 1932-1935

Series X: Estate papers, 1932-1936

Series XI: Printed and Published Materials, 1931-1935

Scope and Contents

Materials in this collection span the years 1827-1936 and include papers from Brown's family members along with documents related to his work as a teacher, principal, United States Commissioner of Education, and Chancellor of NYU. The bulk of this collection is comprised of correspondence with his wife and family, his daily diaries, and mementos from his travels to Europe.


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact
New York University Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form: Identification of item, date (if known); Elmer Ellsworth Brown Papers; MC 16; box number; folder number; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.

Location of Materials

This collection is located in offsite storage. Please contact the University Archives for access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These papers were transferred to the University Archives from the Office of the Vice President and Secretary in 1976. Materials found in Series XI: Printed and Published Materials, 1931-1935 were donated by Frances Eddy Lodge in 1983.

Collection processed by

Archives Staff.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-09-08 12:10:27 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

In August 2023, an archivist arranged and described a half manuscript box containing additional materials donated by Frances Eddy Lodge in 1983. This accretion was incorporated into the existing collection and finding aid. Materials were rehoused in new acid-free folders. Original folder titles were retained. A new series, Series XI: Printed and Published Materials, was created to accomodate accretion materials.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from brown01ES.xml


New York University Archives
New York University Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012