Monthly Archives: August 2015

Union’s Other Dynasty

The shadow and impact of Charles Augustus Briggs still hangs over Union Theological Seminary and the collections at the Burke Library. Charles, as well as his family members Emilie Grace, Julia and Alanson Tuthill, all have collections at the Burke, and many other faculty and staff collections contain records showing how the Briggs’ heresy trial affected their lives and work.

But did you know that there is another family, with a wide variety of collections at the Burke Library, which have also left just as much of a mark on the history of UTS?

William Adams Brown

William Adams Brown

The family would be that of William Adams Brown.

When I was hired at the Burke Library almost four years ago, part of my project was to process the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. Apart from that being a really long name, I only knew WAB as an individual through his small collection of papers in MRL3. That collection in MRL however was more about Brown’s activities rather than Brown The Man. Now, as part of my second grant to process the UTS Papers, I’ve been given a different perspective.

I recently processed WAB’s papers in the Union record group and thought, “Wow, he was a pretty cool guy.” I wrote his biographical note in the finding aid and realized that much more how accomplished he was; although organizing these materials over seventy years after his death, there is only so much you can “know.”

That was until I reached his family scrapbooks. This collection of 15 boxes contains six very large scrapbooks, assembled by the Brown Family, that contain an amazing amount of detail, ephemera, sketches, poems, and just life.

I was convinced that I finally appreciating how great WAB was. Little did I know what I would understand about his family with the next collection I processed.

A page from William Adams Brown's scrapbook

A page from William Adams Brown’s scrapbook

That would be the papers of William Adams.

William Adams

William Adams

Other than being the maternal grandfather of William Adams Brown, and his namesake, I knew Adams was a theologian, minister, UTS professor and president. Adams’ collection is comprised of 29 boxes of material, 24 of which are sermons. The most informative things (on the surface anyway) were Adams’ collection of memorial books.

These seven volumes contain in amazing detail who William Adams was, and why we need to remember who he was in the present. His most important impact was to that at UTS. He was professor of Sacred Rhetoric, instructor of Church Polity, on the board of directors, and he served as UTS President from 1873-1880. Union had not had a president named by the directors for 31 years when Adams was appointed to the post.

William Adams holding William Adams Brown as a young boy

William Adams holding William Adams Brown as a young boy

He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization during his presidency, raised Union’s status in church life, and had a profound impact on the other students and faculty during his short time in the presidency. After Adams’ death in 1880, Roswell D. Hitchcock was named to the presidency; he said of Adams,

“The whole institution was toned up. Professors and Students, equally and all, felt the magnetism of his courtly and stimulating presence. On all public occasions, he was our ornament and pride.”

Remembrances from other UTS faculty who were impacted by Adams included Thomas Hastings, Charles Cuthbert Hall, Charles Briggs, Francis Brown and Charles Gillett.

While I was processing the William Adams Papers, I had assigned two smaller collections for interns to work on: John Rogers Coe and Jonas Coe. Again, we knew almost nothing about these men. Turns out that not only were they related to William Adams Brown, but he was the one to donate their collections to the library.

The Family

The Family

The Burke Library also has the papers of William Adams Brown’s father, John Crosby Brown. John Crosby’s father, James, was also interested in Union, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish professorships. John Crosby joined the Board of Directors at Union in 1866, becoming Vice President in 1883 and President in 1897. During his tenure Brown was involved in the great controversies affecting Union, including the heresy cases against Charles Briggs and Arthur C. McGiffert. He was also instrumental in many of the great advances made by Union over the forty years that he served. He donated a good deal of money to the Seminary, and he successfully encouraged others to give as well. The Board, under Brown’s leadership and with the help of faculty president C. C. Hall, convinced board vice-president D. Willis James to make the major donation in what would become the Morningside campus of UTS. John Crosby’s legacy is still in effect at Union: the tower built in 1928 that dominates the skyline over the Seminary was named the Brown Tower in his honor.

The parents of William Adams Brown: John Crosby Brown and Mary Elizabeth Adams

The parents of William Adams Brown: John Crosby Brown and Mary Elizabeth Adams

William Adams Brown and his family impacted Union Theological Seminary through their positions as professors, presidents and board of directors. However they also continue to impact the Burke – I have a feeling that there are more collections at the Burke Library thanks to the donation of William Adams Brown. I look forward to even more of these discoveries!

An Adirondack Honeymoon, from William Adams Brown

An Adirondack Honeymoon, from William Adams Brown



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I started at the Burke Library a little over a year ago.  Not coming from a theological background, I was a little intimidated. However I quickly saw how my background in public history and public services could help do effective outreach to promote usage of the amazing materials in our special collections by Union students. It was during my first Student Senate meeting where the new senate officers announced that they would be adopting the theme #LoveInAction.

Based off of the infamous words of Union professor, Cornel West, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public,” #LoveInAction embodies perfectly the activist spirit held by the students, alumni/ae and faculty at Union both today and yesterday.  Seeing an immediate link between Union’s archives and this sentiment, I saw the potential in getting students aware of Union’s history not just through other’s words but through their own research experiences.  With the approval from the Burke Library’s director, Beth Bidlack, I set upon recruiting Union students to curate the library’s display cases that would help begin to tell of Union’s activist history.

Three students were recruited, Benjamin Van Dyne (MDiv, 2017), Carolyn Kaasen (PhD cand.), and Timothy Wotring (MDiv, 2016), to curate a series of three small exhibits in the library’s first floor display cases.  Each student has curated an exhibit that narrates Union’s activist history in one area: Carolyn selected education; Benjamin, activism in action; and Timothy, local community involvement.

Timothy’s exhibit, which is currently on display until September 28, 2015, focuses on the East Harlem Protestant Paris (EHPP).  Created by Union students in 1942 EHPP was an interdenominational ministry that provided leadership in the development of community life as served as an excellent example of an ecumenical ministry in a local, inner-city setting.  For his exhibit, Timothy dug into  the EHPP (1942-2007) records held at the Burke Library.

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Up next will be Benjamin’s exploration of activism in action, and will focus on Union’s archives relating to student-led activism.  Primarily focusing on the time period between 1922 through to 1969, his cases hope to show the major shift in the civil rights narrative that occurred in the mid to late ’60s.  Benjamin’s exhibit will be on view from October 5, 2015 to November 30, 2015.

Carolyn has been researching forms of activism within education and has been sifting through the student driven and led Student Interracial Ministry (SIM) records (1960-1968) and archives relating to the Free University and the Union Commission. Carolyn’s exhibit will be on view in January 206 through to April 4, 2016.

Each exhibit also has a program tied to it.  For the unveiling of Timothy’s display cases, the Burke Library hosted a panel that was organized by the student curator and which brought 3 Union folks together, all of whom are at different points in their activist careers, to discuss the guiding philosophies of the EHPP founders.  Benjamin is working with Burke Library staff and the Union alumni/ae liaison to put together a panel of Union alumni/ae and current Union students to reflect on how their education here at Union is preparing and/or has prepared them for a career in activism.  This panel is to take place in the main reading room of the Burke Library on Friday, October 9th from 2-3:30pm, and is part of the roster of fabulous events planned for Union Days 2015.

If you would like additional, more detailed accounts of this project please check back here as links will be added to articles that are slated for publication shortly!

We are looking to carry on this project for at least another round, and are on the look out for new student curators. If you are interested and are a current Union student please reach out to us by email:

The next round would start in early January 2016 and run through the spring semester.  The time commitment would be at least 3 group meetings during the semester as well as individual research sessions.

Even if you feel you might not have the time to commit to being a student curator you can contribute to the project in other ways.  In order to help students document all of the work they are doing that celebrates the theme #LoveInAction, we have created a website that invites members of the Union community to contribute their personal photos, videos, writings, etc.