Egyptology was established as a department of study in 1948 through the will of Theodora Wilbour, who had died in 1947, leaving $750,000 to start the department and endow a chair in Egyptology in memory of her father, Charles Edwin Wilbour 1854.
Wilbour had left Brown without graduating, and had apparently not maintained any connection with the University. In 1854 he went to work for the New York Herald Tribune. Helped along by Horace Greeley, he made friends, among them William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, who lured Wilbour away to work for the New York Transcript. Wilbour was also employed simultaneously by the city of New York as stenographer in the Bureau of Elections and in the Superior Court and also as Examiner of Accounts. When the Tweed ring was smashed in 1871, Wilbour and his family sailed for France. In Paris he met Egyptologist Gaston Maspero, and was encouraged to study Egyptology. In 1880 he began his visits to Egypt, and in 1886 acquired his own sailing dahabiyeh, named “The Seven Hathors,” in which he and his family sailed on the Nile in the winters. They spent the summers in Paris, New York, or Little Compton. Wilbour, although respected by his fellow Egyptologists, studied for his own pleasure and chose never to publish any of his research. He died in 1897. Professor Richard Parker was brought from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago to become the first Wilbour Professor of Egyptology. Parker left Luxor, Egypt, where he was field director of the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental Institute to come to Brown. In 1951 Parker instituted a visiting scholar program, which in the next ten years brought scholars from England, Egypt, Israel, France, and Belgium to Brown. In 1952 Ricardó Caminos, who had studied under Parker in Chicago, became the second member of the Egyptology faculty. Caroline Nestman Peck, who received the first graduate degree in Egyptology in 1958, was the third. Richard H. Pierce ’57 received the second graduate degree in 1963. Caminos became chairman of the department in 1972, when Parker retired, and was in turn succeeded by Leonard H. Lesko in 1981. The department offers courses in the language, history, religion, and culture of ancient Egypt.