Clarence Augustus Barbour (1867-1937), tenth president of Brown University, was born in Hartford, Connecticut on April 21, 1867. He graduated from Brown in 1888. During his student years at Brown he was business manager of the Liber Brunensis, business manager and treasurer of the Glee Club, first bass of the club and quartette, president of the football club in his senior year, and a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon. Throughout his course he taught in the Providence Evening School, and in his senior year he was made principal of the Richmond Street Evening School. In 1891 he graduated from Rochester Theological Seminary and was ordained to the Baptist ministry. He was the pastor of the Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester for eighteen years, during which time he became a leader in working for better schools and against political corruption. In 1909 he resigned to become associate secretary of the Religious Work Department of the International Committee of the Y.M.C.A. In 1915 he was named Wyckoff Professor of Homiletics and president of Rochester Theological Seminary. He was given a leave of absence during the first World War to supervise the religious activities of the Y.M.C.A. in army camps. Under his administration the Seminary expanded and conducted a very successful campaign for additional endowment. He was instrumental in the merger of Colgate Theological Seminary and Rochester Theological Seminary to form the Colgate Rochester Divinity School in 1928.
Barbour was unanimously elected by the Corporation on October 10, 1928 to be president of Brown on the retirement of William H. P. Faunce in 1929. He accepted a week later, explaining to the trustees of the Rochester-Colgate Divinity School, “I hoped to complete my life’s work in Rochester. The call from Brown University was entirely unsolicited and I feel that a greater duty calls me.” To Brown he replied by telegram, “Deeply appreciating the honor and the opportunity for service conveyed in the unanimous action of the Corporation, I accept the presidency of my alma mater with faith in the enabling wisdom of God and the loyal support of the alumni and the friends of Brown.” He was 62 years old when he became president. One of his former students, Dr. Clinton Wunder, interviewed at this time, described Barbour as “a great fisherman and outdoor man, athletic and of powerful physical build; he is a fine bowler and a splendid story teller ... He reads poetry beautifully and gathers many groups of students and faculty in his home.”
During the first year of Barbour’s presidency a committee composed of Chancellor Samuel P. Capen of the University of Buffalo, Dean Luther P. Eisenhart of Princeton University, and Dean Guy S. Ford of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota, surveyed all departments to determine the state of the University. Among their conclusions: that Brown had ceased to be a typical New England college and become a University; that Rhode Island depended on Brown as the chief educational institution in the State; that administrative development had failed to keep pace with the growth of the University; that entering students were found by various psychological tests to be above average freshmen, with the women scoring slightly higher than the men; that the Honors courses adopted in 1920 had not been effective as hoped, as the achievement of Brown graduates in professional schools lagged behind that of graduates of comparable schools; that Pembroke should be given more independence in her organization and offerings; that the Graduate School was providing Brown with nation-wide clientele from which to build her its staff; that there was need for reorganization of the curriculum and methods of instruction to stimulate students. This, then, was the state of the University when Barbour took charge. The Survey Committee presented its report to the Corporation, which hoped to begin an endowment campaign. All such plans came to an end with the advent of the Great Depression. Plans for expansion for the university were not feasible, but Barbour was able to do much for public relations. In his first year he spoke before 28 alumni clubs, 61 college and school audiences, 63 chapel services at Brown and 70 church services, not to mention luncheon meetings and conventions of professional groups. In September 1931, the day after presiding at the opening of the academic year, Barbour left for a nine month trip to the Orient with the Laymen’s Committee on Foreign Missions. The Commission, which was to appraise the activities and effects of missions in Japan, China, Burma, and India, was supported by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. During Barbour’s absence Albert D. Mead served as Acting President and James P. Adams as Acting Vice-President.
Speaking to the alumni at the first Homecoming dinner in 1935, Barbour said, “I came to Brown with lofty dreams and with visions of things to be accomplished. Almost at once we were struck with the most terrible depression in the history of the country. ... Many of my dreams have never come to pass and never will come to pass. But I have tried to navigate the ship on an even keel. I have the satisfaction that I have been used in a measure to hold the wheel in a stormy sea. We are steady.” On January 22, 1936, he was overcome by a sudden attack of appendicitis at the Brown Club of Providence dinner. He was relieved of his presidential duties in September 1936 and planned to retire in February 1937. He died in Providence on January 16, 1937, two weeks before his scheduled retirement. Three days earlier, in an article by Brown Daily Herald writer John McIntyre ’39, Barbour replied to a question about what concerned him most as president, “Holding Brown steady in a very critical time was, I feel, the greatest accomplishment of my administration.”