Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Faunce, William H. P.

William Herbert Perry Faunce (1859-1930), ninth president of Brown University, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on January 15, 1859, the son of Reverend Daniel W. Faunce, a graduate of Amherst College and Newton Theological Institution and Mary Parkhurst Perry of Bristol. After high school in Concord, New Hampshire, he entered Brown in 1876. It is difficult to imagine a more maladjusted freshman, and equally difficult to imagine that he would in the future be president of the University for thirty years. On January 12, 1879 during the week of his twentieth birthday he wrote a twenty-page letter to his father, full of memories of past problems and uncertainty about the future:

“At home you kept me indoors, or I kept myself in, and I grew up ignorant of the sports of childhood.... But when I got here my eyes were opened. I was astonished beyond measure. Instead of finding the fellows devoted to study I found they cared nothing about study. The best fellow was the one who would pull the best oar or run the fastest in football or play baseball the best. ... I might have withdrawn closer into my shell, as many fellows in my class have done, and grown up alone, never catching the ‘spirit’ of college, never getting into college society, afraid of everybody, utterly unknown and obscure. ... That I did not become one of these, is largely due to Hardy. He was always independent and not over-careful of another’s feelings. He smiled at my greenness, laughed at my sensitiveness, called me an old maid when I deserved it, and yet stood by me as a true friend, and taught me how to act.... I acquired an intense admiration for physical strength and prowess. Yet I dared not go into the gymnasium, for all could beat me. Thus you see I had a peculiar time. I do not like to speak of it, for it is painful even now to think of. Yet still I was not on the whole unhappy. ...”
His popular roommates, first Henry Hardy and later J. Lee Richmond, a star athlete, helped him to advance socially, and his election to Delta Upsilon and to the Brunonian board, and capturing the first prize in declamation gave him confidence. He was worried about his future and continued in his letter, “I have always imagined that sometime I should be a minister. ... Then, to look at it negatively, what other calling could I enter? I am not keen enough to be a lawyer; I have no taste for medicine; teaching seems to be the general resort of people who are educated, but good for nothing else.... I am constantly finding out how little I know, and my ignorance increases faster than my knowledge.”

After graduation he taught freshman mathematics at Brown while Professor Benjamin F. Clarke was in Europe in 1881-82. He decided to be a minister and graduated from Newton Theological Institution in 1884. He was pastor of the State Street Church in Springfield, Massachusetts from 1884 to 1889. In 1889 he became pastor of the Fifth Avenue Church in New York City. Then in 1899 came the offer of the presidency of Brown University. Faunce still had his uncertainties about his abilities. He considered carefully what his decision should be by making two lists headed “Pro” and “Con.” Under the Pros he noted his interest in education, enjoyment of teaching, the opportunity for contact with and influence on young men, and the fact that his church had reached the maximum growth for a Baptist church in its location. He felt he could offer love of the college, power to conciliate, the confidence of the Baptists, and emphasis on character and religion. Also, “Brown University is the opportunity of a life-time. I must not decline it for want of courage.” The items under “Con” included his happiness in his present situation, a new work just undertaken, the risk of changing to another sphere at age 40, the thought that the Baptist cause in New York City would suffer, and the realization that his work involved far less anxiety and burden than the presidency of Brown. Still modest about his accomplishments, he wrote, “I am deficient in financial ability, in impressiveness of personality, in creative power.” Finally, he accepted. He was inaugurated on October 17, 1899.

Faunce’s administration was to span thirty years, the longest presidential administration in Brown’s history, and the change would be significant. The growth of the physical plant was extraordinary – a new president’s house in 1901, the Van Wickle Gates in 1901, an administration building in 1902, a modern engineering building and a swimming pool in 1903, Caswell Hall, a dormitory, in 1904, Rockefeller Hall, the student union, in 1904, the John Carter Brown Library in 1904, the John Hay Library in 1910, Arnold Laboratory for biology in 1914, Metcalf Laboratory for chemistry in 1923, an engineering laboratory in 1925, Marston Hall for modern languages and two more dormitories, Hegeman and Littlefield Halls, in 1926. On the campus of the Women’s College, Sayles Gymnasium was built in 1907, two dormitories, Miller Hall in 1910 and Metcalf Hall in 1919, and Alumnae Hall in 1927. The total assets of the University in 1899 when Faunce became president were $1,177,966; in January of 1912, they were $9,931,005. Faunce’s personal administration was interrupted several times. In 1912 he visited Egypt, India, and China, and in 1922 he went to Europe to address the English Speaking Union in London and the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches, and to be present at the opening of the League of Nations.

Meanwhile the condition of the University had been bolstered by two major endowment funds and threatened by the World War. As the University grew, so did the student body. In 1899 there were 631 undergraduate men, 152 undergraduate women, and 85 graduate students. In 1929 the undergraduates and graduates totalled 2,201, and there were 1,936 registrations in the extension courses. The teaching staff had grown from 68 faculty members and 21 other staff in 1899 to 230 faculty and staff in 1929.

Some of Dr. Faunce’s philosophy is expressed in these excerpts from his speech on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary as president:

“To me an institution is a biological unfolding, is a sacred living organism whose roots are buried deep in the past and whose branches spread out, always in unpredictable fashion, into the sky above. To cherish and nourish such a growth, now with the tears of anxiety and now with those of joy, is to have a part of life.... The first thing is to push out the horizon beyond the hat brim, to enable a man to survey more than his own dooryard.

“I believe in keeping the open mind, in facing facts in every quarter of the globe. I believe with James Russell Lowell that the world is fireproof and that it is safe to strike matches.

“Hence I have welcomed at Brown University men of every faith and every creed and ever shall. Many times I have heard men say from platforms at Brown things which I could never believe, and I have bid them go on. In the State founded by Roger Williams, the university will always stand for giving a platform to every man of whatever faith or creed who speaks with the proper courtesy and consideration for his fellow man. ...

“I wrote out my resignation a short time ago and tried to present it to the corporation. But a certain combination of finesse and filibuster prevented me from presenting it. It is written, and it is there any time they call for it.”

When the beloved president known to students as “Prexy” and “Willie Horse Power Faunce” retired in 1929 at the age of seventy, the Corporation wanted to provide a residence for him, and $40,000 was contributed by five friends to acquire the house at 41 Lloyd Avenue where he lived until his death on January 31, 1930. Vice-President James P. Adams reminisced about Faunce, “Dr. Faunce was the last President of Brown who could be affectionately described as ‘Prexy.’ He could easily be thought of in that way because he was a man who had fine relationships with members of he faculty but was a person of dignity. He always wore a morning coat in his office. His diction was superb.... I have seen him go into an assembly that was perhaps boisterous or a bit rowdy for the niceties of behavior at the moment. And I have seen him, without a gesture or an exclamation, bring the whole assembly to a quiet hush when he rose to speak.”