Ford K. Brown

While the primary mission of the Meem Library is to support the College’s academic programs, the Library also maintains various peripheral collections dedicated to the general reading and archival interests of the campus and College community. Among these is a dedicated Faculty Collection, located in the Library’s formal Ault-Evers room and comprised solely of works authored by St. John’s College Faculty. While publication is not and never has been an expectation for our College’s tutors, whose primary duty always remains teaching, a significant number of faculty each year do publish. The Faculty Collection ensures the Library retains an archival copy of each such title, in addition to any copies that are catalogued for circulation in the general collection.

Due to its archival nature, the Faculty Collection includes certain volumes with particularly rich associations for the history of the College. One such volume is a 1961 edition of Fathers of the Victorians: The Age of Wilberforce, authored by Ford K. Brown.

Ford K. (Keeler) Brown holds a special place in the histories of both St. John’s College generally and the Santa Fe campus particularly. In 1937, when Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr took the reins of St. John’s and instituted the New Program the College still follows today, Ford Brown had already been a professor of English at the College for 12 years, since 1925. As described in Tutor J. Winfree Smith’s 1983 history of the New Program In Search for the Liberal College:

Shortly after becoming president, Barr had assembled in his office the incumbent faculty members who were in Annapolis that summer. This was before he has made any announcement to the press about the form and content of the curriculum. There were only about twenty-five faculty members in all. He explained to those assembled that there were three groups of the faculty: (1) those who would be interested in the program and teach successfully in it; (2) those who would be interested but who, for one reason or another, would find that they could not be successful teachers in the new curriculum; and (3) those who would not be at all interested and would prefer to leave and teach elsewhere. He promised help in finding employment for all those who might want to leave or might have to be dropped. There was nothing in the way of organized opposition from the faculty as there might have been in a college or university where there were strong departments…. Some of the faculty left right away, some stayed for a few years, and four continued to the end of their teaching careers: George Bingley, a mathematician; Ford Brown, a former Rhodes scholar and an authority on the Evangelicals in the Church of England; Richard Scofield, another Rhodes scholar who had previously taught art and English and very quickly proved the breadth of his interest and ability by the excellence of his teaching within the new program; and John Kieffer, in whom the program got a warm welcome because of his background in classical languages and literature.

As Winfree Smith indicates, Ford Brown continued on at the College for many years. After Richard Weigle assumed the presidency in 1949, Brown took the lead in the College’s adult education program, through which St. John’s tutors conducted seminars in Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington, and Easton. Brown also appears in living color in the lecture segment (at the 12:40 mark) of the 1954 recruitment film “The St. John’s Story,” available on the College’s Digital Archives here.

Ford Brown’s influence was, however, not confined solely to the Annapolis campus. As the new Santa Fe campus of St. John’s prepared to open its doors in 1964, an initial roster of ten faculty was recommended by the two deans and the members of the Instruction Committee. Among this group of ten who would constitute the inaugural teaching slate for the new campus, now thirty-nine years after he had first arrived at St. John’s and twenty-seven years after serving as one of the New Program’s founding faculty in 1937, was Ford K. Brown. When the members of the Board, government officials, delegates from other institutions, and friends of the College converged on Santa Fe in October of 1964 for the formal dedication of the new campus, Ford Brown, as senior tutor on the Santa Fe faculty, served as marshall for the procession (and was described pointedly by Richard Weigle as “resplendent in the crimson and blue of his academic gown, for he had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.”)

Brown taught only that very first year in Santa Fe, but an anecdote Weigle relates in his history The Colonization of a College is indicative of the impression he made:

An incident during the spring of the College’s second year of operation illustrates the spirit which pervaded the campus at the time. Ford Brown, an Annapolis tutor, had come out for the first year of the Santa Fe campus. He had returned to the East in the summer of 1965 but was invited back to lecture on Thucydides in the spring of 1966. Students were delighted, so they formed a washboard band to greet him at the railroad station in Lamy, the stop nearest Santa Fe. As the train came to a halt and the porter opened the car door and set the steps for debarkation, the band struck up an appropriate tune, and cheers arose from the assembled students, many of whom had had Mr. Brown in seminar or tutorial. The porter was greatly impressed and turned to Mr. Brown. “Just who are you?” he inquired. Ford Brown was equal to the occasion. He drew himself up and replied, “I am the Secretary of Defense.” The students loved it.

Ford Brown had married in 1921, four years before he joined the faculty at St. John’s. Within a few years of his arrival at St. John’s his spouse, Zenith Jones Brown, had begun her own writing career, publishing crime fiction under two separate and simultaneous aliases (David Frome and Leslie Ford). Over the next 33 years she would publish several dozen books in the genre, at a rate of more than one a year. Ford, meanwhile, continued with the research and writing he had first begun with the assistance of a Guggenheim fellowship in 1928, eventually publishing his own magnum opus, Fathers of the Victorians, in 1961. According to the New York Times:

The book recounts the national reform movement begun in England in the 1770s by a handful of men and women who were shocked at the moral conditions in England at the time, a national scene described by Dr. Brown as a “spectacle of horror, a nightmare of depravity, vice, sin and infidelity.” It received an honorable mention in the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize given by the American Historical Association for the best work on European history published by an American.

As mentioned above, among the books in the Meem Library’s Faculty Collection is a copy of this same Fathers of the Victorians, signed and inscribed to the library by Ford Brown on September 3, 1965.

Ford Brown continued to teach at the College through 1968, passing away in 1977 at the age of 82.