Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Hastings, William T.

William Thomson Hastings (1881-1969), professor of English, was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, on December 1, 1881. He studied at the Connecticut Literary Institution in Suffield, Connecticut. He entered Brown in 1899, following the footsteps of his father, Judson W. Hastings 1876, who had not planned to go to college at all, but had been persuaded by his principal at Suffield Academy, who was E. Benjamin Andrews 1870, later president of Brown. William Hastings graduated in 1903, and immediately began what was to be his life-long teaching career at Brown, being appointed assistant in English in 1903, instructor in 1907, assistant professor in 1912, associate professor in 1923, professor in 1935, and chairman of the Department of English from 1937 to 1949. He earned a master of arts degree at Brown in 1905 and a second master of arts degree at Harvard in 1907. His two years of study at Harvard were the only time that he was away from Brown in the 53 years from his arrival as a student in 1899 until his retirement in 1952. His two greatest interests were Shakespeare (he spelled it “Shakspere") and Phi Beta Kappa. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1902, he was secretary of Rhode Island Alpha from 1920 to 1951, vice-president from 1951 to 1953, president from 1953 to 1955, and chapter historian until his death. He served on the Senate of the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, and was national vice-president from 1952 to 1955, national president from 1955 to 1958, and national historian until his death. His last book, published in 1965, was Phi Beta Kappa as a Secret Society. He introduced the Honors Program at Brown and was chairman of the Honors Council for fifteen years. He was Secretary of the Faculty for twelve years. In 1948 he attracted attention by being the faculty member who was willing to introduce presidential candidate Henry Wallace when he came to speak on the campus. The purity of the English language was important to Hastings and the tendency toward the use of poor English disturbed him. He wrote, “No one acquires the command of good English without effort, but a person of strong intelligence, character and personality has a sizeable advantage of those less fortunately endowed.” His wife, Hester Mercer Hastings ’03 was housemother at the Slater Memorial Homestead. His two daughters followed academic careers, Hester Hastings ’31 as professor of modern languages at Randolph-Macon Women’s College and Elizabeth Thomson Hastings ’34 as professor of English and dean at Case Western Reserve University. Hastings died in Providence on December 18, 1969.