James Pickwell Adams (1895-1969), professor of economics and vice-president of Brown University, was born in Carson City, Michigan on January 27, 1895. He received his A.B. and A.M. degrees from the University of Michigan and began his teaching career as assistant professor of economics there in 1919. He came to Brown as assistant professor in 1921, became a full professor in 1927, and in 1928 was named chairman of the Economics Department at the age of 33, the youngest to be named a department head at the University. He was acting vice-president of the University in 1931-32 while President Barbour was in the Far East, and was vice-president from 1932 to 1945. During the first semester of 1936-37 he was acting president during the illness of President Barbour and before the arrival of President Wriston. He was also acting comptroller in 1927 and 1932-33 and the first administrator of the student loan system which he helped to establish.
He left Brown in 1945 to become provost at the University of Michigan. He came back to Rhode Island in 1951 to retire in Little Compton. In 1955 he was appointed to the Board of Trustees of State Colleges and served five of the seven years of his term before cataracts in his eyes caused him to resign. Of his service on the board, he remarked that his most valuable contribution had been to keep the board free of political and official influence. The library at Rhode Island College is named for him.
He was well known for his civil rights and ecumenical activities. Growing up in Michigan, he never encountered racial discrimination until he served as an instructor at the officers’ training school at Camp Lee, Virginia during the first World War, where, as he said later, “I saw it and hated it.” He worked for fair housing legislation in Rhode Island, making many speeches and writing many “letters to the editor.” Adams was a member of Central Congregational Church in Providence and United Congregational Church in Little Compton. As a member of the Faith and Order Committee of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches he studied and wrote articles on the Vatican Ecumenical Council. He made a point of attending Jewish services several times a year. When the National Conference of Christians and Jews presented him with its National Brotherhood Award, the citation had this compliment for his well-known audible voice, calling it “the golden trumpet of his voice, which he has used without stint in the causes of ecumenicity and interracial justice.” He died of a heart attack on February 27, 1969.