The 1994 Meem Library “Books By Women Project”

Original Circulation Desk Poster for the 1994 Books by Women Project

As mentioned previously, the opening of the Meem Library in 1990 dramatically increased the campus’s library shelf space. Along with substantial Library acquisitions of Eastern texts during the early 1990s, in support of the College’s new Eastern Classics Master’s program, came a significant student-driven initiative, the 1994 Books by Women Project. Conceived by then-senior Heather Malcolm, the Books by Women Project sought donations from faculty, staff, students, and friends of the College with the goal of adding more books by women to our new library’s shelves. An article that appeared in the Fall 1994 issue of The St. John’s Reporter showcased this project and included the following interview with Ms. Malcolm:

How did the Books by Women Project get started?

I think it really happened because I got to the end of my senior year and realized I had been bothered for four years about the issue of women in the program but had never done anything about it. I realized part of the reason I hadn’t done anything is that there’s so much controversy over what can be done to remedy the problem, so I wanted to do something that was voluntary in terms of participation but that everybody would have access to. I figured if I couldn’t put a hundred books by women in the program I could at least put them in the library.

How did you solicit books?

Basically, I wrote letters to people I knew and my sister, Allison, designed the book plates. I talked to [Library Director and 1987 Santa Fe alumna] Inga Waite, and she set up a little display in the library. I also should thank my mom. She was really supportive throughout the whole thing and encouraged me when I felt like it was going to be an impossible project.

How many books have you acquired?

We have 110 books now and they’re still trickling in slowly.

What kind of books have been donated?

We got so many different kinds–poetry, biography, philosophy, a few history books by women. We got
some strange things like The Book of Women’s Firsts. I was impressed by the variety.

Did you ask for specific titles or categories?

I guess I really wanted the community to say what they thought was important, for one thing because books by women is uncharted territory. I actually made up a big list of books we might want, but people didn’t really end up using it. They seemed to have a book or books they really cared about that they wanted to donate.

What has the response been?

It’s been really interesting because it’s taken awhile for people to sort of catch on. As time has gone on people have warmed up to it. We ended up getting a lot more books than people thought we would.

Which books have you personally donated?

I’ve only donated a couple so far because I wanted to wait and see what was not there. I did donate Joyce Carol Oates and I will donate a hard cover copy of The Second Sex.

Do you think there is a place for women authors in the program?

I think it’s a myth that there aren’t really women who have been influential in our society, but I think they get lost and people forget about them. One of the reasons I did the project is that it might help lay the groundwork for future consideration of books by women. This year I gave my seminar a speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It was the start of the women’s suffrage movement. I did it when we did the civil rights readings. It really fit in well and it was a short reading. My tutor, Mr. Taylor, was going to take it to the Instruction Committee. I think that’s one thing that could definitely be in there. I’d also like to see us stop switching the readings by women around so much because that makes it look like they’re interchangeable and not worthy of a permanent place on the program and that they’re actually there as a sort of lip-service to women. I’d also like to see people do more stuff in precepts.

Why do you see it as important to include more women in the program?

I think something like Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own gives a perspective no male author could ever give us. That’s one reading that tells us what the silent half of the world might be thinking.

Do men and women think differently?

I don’t think we’ve talked about it enough to know.

This 1994 initiative ultimately yielded nearly two hundred and fifty titles for the new Library’s collection. Among the more than one hundred authors included across a broad spectrum of genres were Arendt, Atwood, Beauvoir, Byatt, Chicago, Chute, Dillard, Doerr, Faludi, Gilman, Giovanni, Gordimer, Hildegard of Bingen, Hrdy, Kingsolver, Lessing, Markham, Morrison, Munro, Murdoch, Parker, Plath, Porter, Sarton, Stein, Steinem, Tan, Walker, Weil, and Welty.

In the nearly three decades that have now passed since Ms. Malcolm’s graduation, the Library has increased its holdings by some twenty thousand volumes, representing literally thousands of authors across a myriad of genders, races, and ethnicities. For those who find the time, or make the time, for reading outside the prodigious demands of the Program, the Library stacks offer endless reading opportunity. Patrons browsing our stacks with a keen eye can still come across many of the very same volumes that first came to us as part of the Books by Women Project, with their original bookplates intact. This includes, for instance, the very first book received by the Library from this project, a Library of America edition of the works of Harriet Beecher Stowe donated by then-President of the Santa Fe campus John Agresto.

Also still on the shelves are titles donated by several longtime Santa Fe Tutors, including Linda Weiner Elmore, who passed away this last June, and recently retired Tutor Emerita Susan Stickney.

Further browsing also turns up the copy of Mary Wollstencraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women donated by Ms. Malcolm herself twenty-seven years ago.

And finally–included among these many original donations is one treasured volume that resides safely in the Library’s non-circulating Special Collections: a signed and inscribed copy of Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise, donated by then-freshman student Amy Filiatreau, of the Santa Fe class of 1997.

Ford K. Brown

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.