A History of Sustained Academic Excellence

Throughout its history, Brown University has embodied its mission of cultivating knowledge in a spirit of free inquiry.

This interactive timeline tells the story of a University forged by a commitment to sustained academic excellence; a shared ethos that values discovery, creativity and collaboration; and the persistent drive — by its community of faculty, students, staff and alumni — to build a better Brown.

The timeline chronicles milestones of more than 250 years, including Brown’s founding in 1764 on the idea of admitting students regardless of religious affiliation, the introduction of the first women to begin studies at Brown in 1891, the 1969 adoption of the “New Curriculum” that continues to define the undergraduate experience, the 2004 report confronting the University’s relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, and the diversity and inclusion action plan established in 2016 to foster an academic community that embodies the social and intellectual diversity of the world.

The University has been shaped by the addition of schools, institutes and degree programs, by changes to the physical campus, and by strategic planning processes that have built the Brown of today.

Brown is building a legacy of making a transformative impact on the world, retaining a commitment to the belief that education and scholarly inquiry are vital to the advancement of society.


  • Indigenous Peoples

    In the 1600s, the area now known as Rhode Island had long been populated by various indigenous peoples, including the Narragansett, the Niantic, the Wampanoag and the Manisseans.


    "...unto me in my distresse, called the place PROVIDENCE..."


  • First President: James Manning

    Baptist James Manning was instrumental in the founding of Rhode Island College and a fitting choice to be its first leader. He was the first (and initially only) professor and oversaw many of the College’s early accomplishments, including...

  • The First Student

    The College’s first student was its only student. For the first year, 14-year-old William Rogers studied alone with James Manning in the parsonage of the Baptist Church in Warren. After graduating from the College in 1769, he went on to...


  • “John and Josie, Nick and Mosie”

    The Brown family and in particular the four sons of James Brown (grandson of Chad Brown, who established the family in America), were associated with Rhode Island College from its earliest days.

    The merchant brothers, Nicholas, Joseph...


  • Visit by President George Washington

    While the second day of the President’s visit was devoted to speeches and addresses, it was the evening of his arrival that was, perhaps, most memorable. After sailing from Newport, he landed in Providence to a greeting of “discharge of...

  • Second President: Jonathan Maxcy

    Jonathan Maxcy, Class of 1787, was appointed president of the College in 1792 after the death of his mentor, James Manning. At only 24 years of age, he is still the youngest person to have served in the position. During his tenure, he...


  • Enrollment Passes 100 Students

    The number of students enrolled in the College grew steadily in the late 1700s, reaching 107, as listed in the first printed Catalogue of the Officers and Students, in 1800. The names of the students and their home states were...

  • Third President: Asa Messer

    Asa Messer, Class of 1790, served in a variety of functions at the College including tutor, librarian and professor of both “learned languages” and “natural philosophy” before being named first president pro tempore and, finally, president...



  • Fourth President: Francis Wayland

    Son of a Baptist minister and a graduate of Union College, Francis Wayland, as president of Brown, would prove to be both a successful fundraiser and an educational reformer. As one of his first orders of business, he dealt decisively with...


  • First Latin American Graduate

    Geronimo Urmeneta was the first Latin American to graduate from Brown. Born in Santiago, he returned to Chile in 1850 to become Secretary of Finance.



    “The various courses should be so arranged that, in so far as it is practicable...

  • Fifth President: Barnas Sears

    The presidency of Barnas Sears, Class of 1825, was a successful one, but markedly different than that of his respected predecessor, Francis Wayland. By tightening entrance and degree requirements, Sears tactfully phased out the aspects of...


  • Sixth President: Alexis Caswell

    Alexis Caswell, Class of 1822, had been a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy for many years and was 69 years old when he came out of retirement to assume the presidency. While not an innovator, Caswell was effective and Brown...


  • Seventh President: Ezekiel Gilman Robinson

    A president with, reportedly, “more force than tact,” Ezekiel Gilman Robinson, Class of 1838, was nevertheless an effective leader. Robinson oversaw a number of building restorations, as well as the construction of Robinson, Slater and...


  • Public Health Pioneer Begins Teaching at Brown

    After receiving his undergraduate degree from Brown in 1876 and a medical degree from New York University, Charles Chapin returned to his hometown of Providence where he taught physiology at Brown and served as Superintendant of Health in...

  • Eighth President: Elisha Benjamin Andrews

    The decade that Elisha Benjamin Andrews, Class of 1870, served as president was a time of great growth and accomplishment for the University. In addition to championing academic freedom (including in his own dealings with the Corporation),...


  • First Female Ph.D. Recipient

    In 1897, Brown conferred its first doctoral degree on a woman. Martha Tarbell earned the Ph.D. in German studies for her dissertation on the history and criticism of the German ballad.

  • William Herbert Perry Faunce

    President Faunce, Class of 1880, served for 30 years, longer than any president before or since. Even accounting for the length of his term, his accomplishments were many. The physical growth of the campus included a new President’s House,...


  • First African American Woman Graduates

    A graduate of Providence’s Classical High School, Ethel Ester Maria Tremaine Robinson was the first African American female graduate of Brown. She went on to teach English at Howard University and helped in the founding of Alpha Kappa Alpha...



  • Tenth President: Clarence Barbour

    Clarence Barbour, Class of 1888, began his presidency just two weeks after the stock market crash that would usher in the Great Depression. With all expansion plans on hold, Barbour focused instead on the task of connecting with Brown’s far-...


  • First Asian American Graduate

    Born in California of Japanese parents, John F. Aiso faced prejudice in his schooling due to widespread anti-Japanese sentiment, including being asked to resign as the district winner of a national oratorical contest on the Constitution. He...

  • First African American Receives Doctorate

    A graduate of Morehouse College, Samuel M. Nabrit was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Brown, completing the degree in just three years. He would later serve as the president of Texas Southern University and was Brown’s first...


    “It is always Old Brown and it is always New Brown...”

  • Eleventh President: Henry Wriston

    Benefitting from a change to the Brown Charter that allowed for a non-Baptist to assume the presidency, Henry Merritt Wriston was the first non-Baptist, but also the first president (since Manning, of necessity) who was not a Brown alumnus....


  • First American Indian Graduate

    Albert L. Anthony, from Wayne, New Jersey, was the first Native American student to graduate from Brown. A member of the Class of 1944, he received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. After serving as a lieutenant in the Navy in World War...


  • Twelfth President: Barnaby Keeney

    A decorated soldier in World War II, Barnaby Keeney came to Brown as an Assistant Professor of Medieval History in 1946. Advancing rapidly, he was chosen as president just nine years later. His tenure was marked by rapid growth in graduate...


  • Thirteenth President: Ray Heffner

    A scholar of Elizabethan England from an academic background, Ray L. Heffner served as president during a time of tumult. In the late 1960s, Brown, like many other college campuses, was facing protests, walkouts and controversy surrounding...


  • Fourteenth President: Donald Hornig

    Arriving at Brown from his role as Vice President at the Eastman Kodak Company, Donald F. Hornig was the first president to come directly from industry, although he had previously served on the faculty in chemistry and as Dean of the...

  • Fifteenth President: Howard Swearer

    Howard Swearer became president as Brown was beginning to make a financial recovery; he led a successful capital campaign that garnered $180 million and greatly improved the University’s financial picture. The popularity of the school during...


  • Sixteenth President: Vartan Gregorian

    Born in Iran, Vartan Gregorian studied in Lebanon before being awarded a scholarship to attend Stanford. After holding a number of teaching and administrative positions, Gregorian became head of the New York Public Library. In 1984, he was...


  • Seventeenth President: E. Gordon Gee

    In his inaugural address, E. Gordon Gee, a Mormon who had received both a law degree and doctorate in education from Columbia University and then returned to his home state to serve as president of the University of Utah, set his purpose as...


  • President Gordon Gee Resigns

    While E. Gordon Gee was not the first president to resign from Brown, his decision to leave after only two years and to assume...

  • Eighteenth President: Ruth J. Simmons

    A native of Texas and a 1967 graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans, Simmons received her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Harvard University in 1973. Her appointment as the President of Brown made her the first African...


  • Nineteenth President: Christina H. Paxson

    At the time of her appointment in March 2012, Christina Paxson was Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs and the Hughes Rogers Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. As Brown’s...

  • Nobel Prize in Physics

    The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Professor J. Michael Kosterlitz the Nobel Prize in Physics in October 2016 “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.” Kosterlitz became the...