Chapel attendance was an important requirement in the life of early students. The Laws of 1783 state: “On the ringing of the Bell for morning and evening prayers, all the members of the College shall immediately, without unnecessary noise repair to the hall, and behave with decency, during the time of the exercises. ... The senior class, when required shall read a chapter out of the Greek Testament into english (sic) before morning prayers, the President or Tutors calling on whom they think proper of the class to perform this duty.” The first chapel was in University Hall, occupying the two lower floors of the front projection, with galleries on the second. After 1834 the chapel was on the second floor of Manning Hall.
In 1869 the rule regarding attendance at chapel every morning applied to all residing in the college or living within a mile, but allowed certain students within that radius who had no recitation after prayers to be excused. Compulsory chapel attendance on Sunday was abolished by President Robinson soon after his arrival in 1872, and later he changed another rule, that students should attend public worship twice on Sunday, by announcing that “once was enough.” In 1890 the chapel was improved by “lady friends of the University,” who furnished an organ and a carpet around the pulpit. Professor John Larkin Lincoln contributed new hymn books at the same time. By September 1892 there were too many students to attend chapel at once, and chapel attendance was made optional for the two upper classes. The alternative would have been to use Sayles Hall, rather than Manning, for the service. Sayles Hall, with a new organ installed in 1903, was eventually used. In 1906 Gene Wilder Ware ’06, who had been college organist as a student, became director of chapel music. From 1910 to 1931 he was organist and director. When Sayles Hall was in turn outgrown by the student body in 1923, only two of the classes could be accommodated at one time, and President Faunce noted, “No longer can any officer or speaker on any occasion address the entire student body at once.”
The Women’s College had its own chapel services, which were held on the top floor of Pembroke Hall. In 1911 a change was made, so that the women had regular chapel with gowned choir and seniors in procession on four days a week, but on Wednesday morning the service was replaced by a mass meeting of Student Government. In 1912, Blanche N. Davis succeeded Hamilton MacDougall and Lacey Baker as chapel director. She established a vested chapel choir in 1922, and also gave monthly organ recitals for the students and provided musical accompaniment as needed for other productions of the Women’s College. In 1927 the auditorium of Alumnae Hall provided a new home for the chapel exercises. Retiring in 1938 after 26 years as chapel director, Miss Davis recalled the early days of daily religious chapel services, when the women students were forbidden to bring books into the chapel or to talk above the top landing of Pembroke Hall, and the change to once a week exercises, the subjects of which went so far afield as a demonstration of fire apparatus.
Chapel attendance became less popular, especially in the 1920s. S. J. Perelman ’25, in later life a well-known humorist, wrote in a letter to the Brown Daily Herald:
“Permit me to call to your attention a peculiarly humourous state of affairs. At the present time men on the Dean’s list are allowed to cut chapel as often as they like. The natural inference is that excellence in scholarship makes religious education unnecessary. I can see no mention made of this inducement in Student life at Brown, the naive propaganda publication of the university. I have no doubt that prospective students would be interested in knowing that a grade of B or better excuses them from worshipping the Creator in Brown University. Does not this rather fantastic ruling represent a departure from the old fear-God days?”
A committee on chapel services was appointed by President Faunce in 1926 to improve the quality of chapel services. In 1927 daily attendance by all students was replaced by a plan in which three groups of students attended two mornings per week. In 1929 the Brown Daily Herald, which advocated voluntary chapel in preference to compulsory chapel, recommended that the chapel services be reduced to three per week on consecutive days, in hope of a better planned program, so that students might be spared boring speakers or a pre-breakfast organ recital with no speaker at all. In 1930 President Barbour cut chapel to two days a week, to be attended by freshmen and sophomores on Wednesday and by juniors and seniors on Thursday. Barbour himself selected 71 hymns to be printed for the use of the choir of 21 voices directed by John B. Archer. In addition, assemblies at the First Baptist Church and the Central Congregational Church continued.
In 1946, with the influx of students after the war, chapel was held three times a week with each student attending once. In 1958 each class met once a week in Sayles Hall, and women students met once a week in Alumnae Hall. The renovation of Manning Chapel in 1959 and its rededication for the purpose of voluntary worship brought about the reconsideration of compulsory chapel. A changing view was hinted at by President Keeney in his address at the dedication, when he suggested that “we re-examine our present requirement of attendance at religious Chapel in Brown and Pembroke in a manner consistent with our Charter and with the temper of modern life and preserving the best of what we have.” The expected change was voted by the Corporation on May 30, 1959. Keeney pointed out, “we have been concerned to maintain and enliven the religious tradition of the University. We are now providing in Manning Chapel an adequate program of worship for the major religious traditions represented in our student body. If services continue to be well conducted, they can be expected to flourish.” When compulsory chapel ended in September 1959, it was replaced by a new program of bi-weekly College Convocations of a more secular character. At the convocations outside speakers as well as faculty and administrators would speak on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Each class would attend every other week. Pembroke would have bi-weekly convocations on Tuesdays. The choir would continue to perform. Compulsory attendance at the convocations was discontinued for all but freshmen at Brown at the beginning of 1968-69, and in November 1968 the taking of attendance at Pembroke covocations was ended. The convocations were later discontinued.
The title of Chaplain was created in 1942 for Dr. Arthur L. Washburn, who for some years had been performing the duties of the office. Dr. Washburn, rector of St. Martin’s Church in Providence, had been living among the students in Brunonia Hall, which was a privately operated dormitory. He was invited to remain after Brown purchased the dormitory. He gave up his parish and began to teach modern languages at Brown in 1929. He was a regular attendant at Chapel every morning and every day acquired a list of sick students and visited them in the infirmary or hospital. He became a Resident Counsellor in 1935 and Chaplain in 1942. President Wriston described Washburn’s appointment as Chaplain, “The position of Chaplain was not the creation of the Corporation but of a single man. He volunteered, he took on the job, an individual who perceived the need, defined it. Without the benefit of official status for a considerable period, without emoluments of salary, he undertook the work as a Christian citizen, to perform a service.”
When Washburn retired in 1947, his place was assumed by William J. Robbins, a Baptist minister, who joined the faculty of the Department of Biblical Literature and became its chairman in 1950. The Office of the Chaplain was created in 1952, and in July of that year Edgar C. Reckard, a Presbyterian minister, was appointed chaplain and assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies. The recommendations of a special committee on religion appointed by the Corporation at this time perceived the chaplain as an important official of the University, a spiritual counsellor to the entire student body, and an overall supervisor of all religious activities of the University including the chapel services and relations with neighboring churches. The Brown and Pembroke Christian Associations were brought under the Chaplain’s office with funding from the University. Reckard was succeeded in 1958 by Charles A. Baldwin, a 1950 graduate of Illinois College with a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale, who came to Providence as assistant minister of Central Congregational Church.
At the rededication in 1959 of Manning Chapel on the second floor of Manning Hall, Chancellor Harold Tanner announced that compulsory chapel would be discontinued in the fall of 1959. The newly renovated chapel became a place of worship for all religious groups. Chaplain Baldwin conducted daily morning worship in the Protestant tradition, and other chaplains were provided by local places of worship. Monsignor Arthur T. Geoghean celebrated Catholic Mass on Sunday; Rabbi Nathan Rosen led Jewish Sabbath Services on Friday, and Canon John Crocker celebrated Episcopal Communion on Thursday.
In 1954 Bishop John S. Higgins appointed Rev. Samuel Wylie the first full-time Episcopal chaplain to Brown and other local colleges, forming the Episcopal College Church. With his office at St. Stephen’s Church Reverend Wylie served until 1958, and was followed by Canon Crocker from 1959 to 1969, and Rev. Sheldon Flory from 1970 to 1974. Church services were held at an appointed hour at St. Stephen’s Church. In 1971 the Episcopal College Church merged with the Protestant congregation of Manning Chapel to form the University Church, which continued the services in St. Stephen’s. A difference over the ecumenical nature of the services caused the removal of the services to Manning Chapel in April 1974. Reverend David Ames became the new Episcopal chaplain in 1974 and brought the University Church back to St. Stephen’s in 1975, where it remained until 1980. Leaving this time because the facilities were needed by St. Stephen’s at the time appointed for the University Church, the student group returned once more to Manning Hall.
Catholic priests Edward Mullen and Daniel Kehew served as chaplains before 1967, when Father Howard V. O’Shea became the first full-time Catholic chaplain. He was given office space in Faunce House, living quarters in the Graduate Center, and a small budget provided by St. Francis Chapel in Providence. Local alumni founded the Thomas Beckett Foundation to raise funds to meet a challenge for a grant from the Diocese of Providence. In 1975 Miriam Wolcott was the first laywoman to be a full-time Catholic chaplain in Rhode Island. Later Catholic chaplains were Rev. David Inman, who came in 1976 and Rev. Richard Perry since 1991. Sister of Mercy Mary Lomax came to supply the Catholic chaplaincy in 1983, while David Inman was acting director of student activities. Gwen Hofmann became a Catholic lay chaplain in 1989.
Nancy Simons, who was director of religious activities at Pembroke, became assistant chaplain in 1965. Other chaplains who were appointed with special interest in women’s issues were Beverly Edwards, who was appointed a lay chaplain in 1969 and was ordained a minister of the United Church of Christ in 1976, Rabbi Cathy Felix appointed assistant chaplain in 1980, and Flora A. Keshgegian, an Episcopal priest, who was named associate chaplain in 1984.
Julius Scott, an ordained minister of the Methodist Church, came to Brown in 1963 as executive secretary of the Brown Christian Association, became assistant chaplain in 1965, and was acting chaplain during Chaplain Baldwin’s leave of absence in 1965-66, and left in 1967 to become assistant director of the Southern Fellowships Fund for Negro colleges. Rev. Bennett Owens was acting chaplain of the Episcopal College Church during Canon Crocker’s leave in 1965-66. Richard A. Dannenfelser, a Presbyterian minister, became assistant chaplain in 1967 and associate chaplain in 1970. He took an active part in protests against the Vietnam war and taught a course in topics of human sexuality. After he was terminated in 1980, when the staff of the Chaplain’s Office was reduced, he worked for a brief time in the office of the dean of student life. In 1971 Rabbi Richard Marker became an additional Jewish chaplain with his appointment financed by Brown, National Hillel, and the Jewish Federation in Providence. He was succeeded by Rabbi Alan C. Flam, who became director of Hillel and assistant chaplain in 1982.
The first chaplain for minority students was Geoffrey Black, appointed in 1974. In 1968 Reverend Herbert O. Edwards, then an assistant in the Religious Studies department, had informally served as a chaplain for black students. Later minority chaplains were Reverend Darryl Smaw, a Baptist minister appointed in 1978, and Daphne Wiggins, also a Baptist minister, from 1985 to 1991.
In 1983 a report on the chaplaincy concluded that the position of coordinating chaplain should be established and supported by the University, and that the University seek funding for chaplains with special responsibilities. A capital campaign under the leadership of Joseph Ress raised $1.5 million for endowment for both the University Chaplain and also for Episcopal, Jewish, and Roman Catholic chaplaincies. Chaplain Baldwin’s successor, Janet Cooper Nelson, ordained in the United Church of Christ, was appointed in 1990, becoming the first woman University Chaplain in the Ivy League.