This week, as we look forward to the 242nd Commencement, we provide you with a glimpse into the early days and struggles of this venerable institution to gain respect and scholars. During the first 3 years, 1764-1767, James Manning was not only the first President but also the only faculty member. The first commencement was held in 1769 at which time 7 young men graduated and 21 men of distinction were awarded Honorary Degrees. On November 12, 1772, James Manning wrote to his friend John C. Ryland in England with the happy news that John C. Ryland, Junior had received his degree from Rhode Island College that same spring. He also took the opportunity to comment on the political situation affecting the ability of the school to attract students.
“With this I send you a Catalogue of those who have received the honours of the College, from the first [to] our last Commencement, I believe, acquired us considerable Reputation amongst the Literate in N. England and had we not to combat with the inveterate Enmity of the N. England Clergy, it would have added to the Number of our Scholars, but they take unwearied pains to prevent any from coming, if possible, and don’t [?] at the Methods of carrying their Points: but, thank God, they don’t govern the World.”
James Manning was clearly able to overcome the clergy that worked against him. A total of 40,244 scholars applied to be admitted to Brown University for the 2011-2012 academic year. Of that number a total of 8,454 students began their studies in September 2011. James Manning would no doubt be flabbergasted by those numbers and extremely pleased.
You can learn more about James Manning’s experience as the first President of Brown University by visiting the Guide to the James Manning Papers (MS-1C-1). Digital copies of all his correspondence can be viewed by clicking on the link for each item in the inventory.