James Blaine Hedges (1891-1965), professor of history, was born in Bowling Green, Missouri, on November 19, 1891. He earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Missouri in 1915 and a master’s in 1916. He taught at the University of Oklahoma and Mills College while he studied under Frederick Jackson Turner at Harvard for his Ph.D., which he earned in 1924. He taught at Clark University before coming to Brown in 1930. He was appointed George L. Littlefield Professor of American History in 1931 and was chairman of the History Department twice, from 1938 to 1952 and from 1958 to 1960. Among his published works was The Browns of Providence Plantations, a valuable history of the Brown family business. His phenomenal memory was legendary. Colleagues told of his habit of doing research only during vacation, dropping his own work in September in the middle of a sentence, and, after devoting himself entirely to teaching for the semester, picking up his pencil to continue the interrupted sentence. As an avid baseball fan, he also had many years of batting averages on the tip of his tongue.
In the classroom he disliked a placid audience and challenged students to disagree. It was his custom to offer an A to anyone in his classes who could give a convincing statement about a real difference between the American political parties. Professor Edmund S. Morgan of Yale, formerly of Brown, once said that Hedges “is one of the most exacting scholars in the historical profession. He never forgets a fact, never loses perspective, never relaxes his standards. His scholarship is a reflection of the man, for his transparent honesty and keen insight give him a commanding position among his colleagues. He would be the last person in the world to impose his view on others – no man was ever better at minding his own business – but, when Hedges speaks, people pay attention.” He retired in 1962, but was still teaching a course in the spring of 1965. He died on October 13, 1965 in Providence.