Brown University Logo

Office of University Communications
38 Brown Street / Box 1920
Providence RI 02912

401 863-2453
Fax 863-1650
[email protected]



From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:

Sears, Barnas

Barnas Sears (1802-1880), fifth president of Brown University, was born in Sandisfield in the Berkshires, Massachusetts, on November 19, 1802. From the age of fifteen, determined to work his way through college, he worked in the summer and taught school in the winter. He began to prepare for college and the ministry under “Parson” Cooley in East Granville, Massachusetts, and later entered the University Grammar School in Providence. He entered Brown in 1822 and graduated in 1825, supporting himself by teaching school in the winter vacation and building stone walls in the summer. He borrowed his textbooks from the Philendean Society, which provided books for poor students, and once walked to Boston and back to borrow money. At Commencement in 1825 he delivered an oration on “The Influence of Association Upon the Intellectual Character.” After graduation he studied at the Newton Theological Institution. In 1827 he was named pastor of the First Baptist Church in Hartford. He resigned in 1829 because of his health, and became professor of ancient languages at Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution. He was appointed professor of biblical theology, for which he prepared himself by study in Germany from 1833 to 1835. He returned to teach for about a year at Hamilton before becoming professor of Christian theology at Newton Theological Institution in 1836. He taught at Newton until 1848, and was also president from 1839. He published A Grammar of the German Language in 1842, The Ciceronian: or the Prussian Method of Teaching the Elements of the Latin Language in 1844, and collaborated with others in Classical Studies: Essays on Ancient Literature and Art in 1843. He was also editor of the Christian Review from 1838 to 1841. In 1848 he succeeded Horace Mann 1819 as secretary of the the Massachusetts Board of Education. In September 1855 he replaced Francis Wayland as president of Brown University. First beset by the financial crisis of 1857-58 and later by the Civil War, his administration was still able to produce a new chemistry laboratory, an endowment increased by about $210,000, and the beginning of a system of scholarships for the students. He also modified some of the curricular changes made by Wayland, and relaxed the rules which prohibited the student societies from holding evening meetings. John B. G. Pidge 1866 remembered the new teaching methods in Sears’s classes:

“Dr. Sears was, above all perhaps, a “loved” President. The students in his classes were led, not driven.... The little book in which the professor was wont to mark the value of a student’s recitation, was no longer seen. It was a tradition in the college, that Dr. Sears did all the marking of his classes at the end of the term.... Those hours at the feet of Dr. Sears sifted men as they had not been sifted before.... And I am convinced that the influence of that recitation room has been a larger one than we ever dreamed at the time it could become. Dr. Sears cared so little to impress his own ideas upon us, that he used to say, he cared not whether we remembered what he taught or not, so that we only learned how to think for ourselves.”
The students so loved Sears, that when he left Brown and Providence on September 19, 1867, they formed a procession in order of classes which marched down the hill by his house, and then at the wharf, filed by, each student shaking his president’s hand. He had resigned to become the general agent of the Peabody Education Fund, established by George Peabody for the promotion of education in the South, and resided in Staunton, Virginia. He died on July 9, 1880 in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he had gone to improve his health and also to address the American Association of Teachers. His address, “Educational Progress in the United States for the Past Fifty Years,” had been read by R. F. Ellis of Boston one day earlier.

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.

Return to Encyclopedia Index  |  University Home Page