Henry B. Brown, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of Henry B. Brown


The life of Henry B. Brown, President of the Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute, is a striking example of what can be accomplished by the intelligent union of varied human forces when applied to one of the most vital problems of modern civilization. Success is not so much due to the intrinsic merit of a course of action as it is to the wise, practical and systematic methods pursued to carry it into effect. Many men lose in professional and business life because they lack some of the essential elements of success; and likewise many undertakings of great moment are wrecked, not because they are without worth, but because they fall in the hands of incompetent advisers or promoters who either fail to grasp the whole situation or fail in the execution of some vital condition. A project of great magnitude and far-reaching results ordinarily embraces numerous conditions which are often refractory and conflicting and necessarily demand a management which shall be comprehensive, practical and effective. Not only must such a project be comprehensively viewed and wisely managed from known conditions, but it must be made to keep pace with new and obstructive conditions which spring up unexpectedly from a complicated and ever-shifting civilization. The management must be full of social tact and practical business expedients, must anticipate future events bearing upon the continued existence of the project, and must be able to unite all discordant elements and forces.

Unquestionably, the surprising success of the Northern Indiana Normal School is mainly due to the new and true view taken by its founder of the educational requirements of the times and to his executive ability in carrying this view into effect. Instead of following the old and beaten path which other educational institutions had pursued for hundreds of years, an entirely new order of things was inaugurated. It was seen by the founder from the start that the undertaking must be as much of a business success as an educational success, and must be sufficiently broad in scope to insure a large attendance and sufficiently thorough to guarantee a high standard of scholarship. And here the ability of Mr. Brown was displayed in laying so broad and sure a foundation. Many similar institutions had failed because of too rigid a curriculum; others because of unnecessarily severe restraining rules; others because of the worthlessness of an unfinished line of study; others because of not knowing how to use printer's ink; others because of too high a tuition or too large an incidental expense; others because of a limitation in the lines of study; and still others because of a lack of good business management. Mr. Brown was sagacious enough to avoid all of these pitfalls and a good enough judge of human nature to select able assistants and advisers. One of the wisest steps taken by him after the institution had been safely and surely established and the attendance had become permanent, was to call to his help a business man and educator of wide experience and exceptional j ability, to whom he sold a one-half interest in the institution. By so doing he divided the cares and perplexities and multiplied the probabilities of a continuance of the good management already begun. The wisdom of this course has been shown by the continued rapid growth of the school and by the permanency of the attendance and of the standard of scholarship. Two such business men and executives, two such scholars and disciplinarians, two such thinkers and workers, could not fail to make the enterprise, or any other human enterprise, a great and signal success. The steadiness of the attendance after the highest limit of school population had been reached, is convincing evidence of the wisdom of the management subsequent to the initial proceedings. A modern business man, familiar with the advantages of advertising, would be apt to assert that the institution owed much of its success to the unsparing and judicious use of printer's ink; a political economist would likely declare it was the logical outcome of throwing wide open the doors to students of limited means; a cautious critic would suggest it was due to the unusual range in the number of courses of study, whereby students could pursue supplementary lines through either a short or a prolonged scholastic course, as their future occupations should require; still others might insist that the excellent moral atmosphere enveloping the school, or the circumspect co-education of the sexes, or the rules governing cleanliness, health, diet and study, were the principal instrument of success. But what none of them would likely think, though it is nevertheless true, is that the school as it now exists, and has existed from the start, with its numerous and varied courses of study, its privileges to the student of entering or leaving at any time without loss of what has already been gained, its many lectures, illustrations, artistic features, special instructions and advantages, affords as good an example of the operations and benefits of university extension as any other educational institution in the United States. Of the large number who attend the school comparatively few graduate, and the reason is because they go there to secure such special instruction as they wish to make practical at once. Instead, then, of the lecturers' traveling around to instruct the students at their homes, as follows from the practical operations of university extension proper, the students flock here by the thousands to secure the special instruction desired. This gives great scope to the benefits afforded, and is one of the principal reasons of the wonderful popularity of the school. However, it may safely be concluded that the success of the school is due to all these causes combined, and the originator and developer of these causes is Henry B. Brown.

He traces his ancestry to Germany through his grandfather, David Brown, who came from Leipsic to America when a young man, about the year 1795, and settled in Knox County, Ohio, where he became one of the pioneers. He married Elizabeth Alder, a lady of Scottish descent, who bore him a family of four children, Silas, Stephen, Caroline and Thomas. He was a typical farmer and pioneer and cleared his farm of the dense forest covering it and became a substantial, well-to-do and useful citizen. He was a man of considerable force of character and espoused the cause of Democracy, though never devoting much time nor thought to politics.

His son Thomas was born May 3, 1812, on the farm in Knox County, and was there reared and there received such education as the pioneer school of the neighborhood afforded. In early manhood he married Rachel Mills, daughter of John Mills, a native of Scotland, who resided also in Knox County. This young married couple at once located on a farm in Knox County, where they resided until 1849, when they moved to Morrow County and there lived until 1860. At this date he moved to Wood County, where he continued to reside until his death, April 25, 1887. To these parents were born the following children: Elizabeth E., William T., Henry B., Emily A. (died in infancy), David B., Sarah C. and Mary E. Like his father, Thomas Brown became a good citizen and took particular interest in educational matters, and gave all his children better educations than were usually accorded the youth of that day. He served as school director for many years, and in religious belief was a Baptist, in the church of which he was long a deacon. For many terms he served as justice of the peace, and was universally esteemed for his incorruptible character and sound sense. His qualities were strong, earnest and irreproachable, and he reared his children to be honest, industrious and intelligent. He passed from life recently, but his aged widow, whose excellent influence on the minds and hearts of her family has borne such good fruit, yet lives on the old homestead in Wood County.

Henry B. Brown was born October 6, 1847, on his father's farm in Knox County, and was there reared and otherwise prepared for the struggle of life. At the age of fifteen years he attended high school at Fremont, Ohio, and the succeeding winter, 1863-64, taught his first term of school in Wood County four miles from his father's house, receiving for his pay one dollar per day and "boarding round." He taught four months and successfully managed and instructed the school, and at the conclusion of the term had saved every dollar of his wages, all of which he loaned to his father to assist him in paying off a mortgage on the farm. He returned to Fremont the following summer and continued his attendance at the high school, and the succeeding winter taught the same school for one dollar and fifty cents per day for a period of five months. Having in view a good education and the means now of commencing it, he entered the Freshman class of Wesleyan University at Delaware, Ohio, and took the regular course through to the end of the Sophomore year, teaching during the winter as before. By this time he had not only become well posted on all the ordinary branches of learning, but had become so attached to the work of teaching that he resolved to make it a profession. He therefore left Wesleyan University at the end of the Sophomore year and entered the National Normal School at Lebanon, Ohio, in which superior institution he remained diligently at work for three years, still continuing his work of teaching during the winter months, except in the last year, when he remained in the normal school during the entire time in order to get the full benefit of its most excellent polishings and training. He graduated with honor in 1871, and was immediately given the position of assistant teacher in the Northwestern Normal School at Republic, Ohio, where he remained two years as professor of mathematics.

For some time previous to this he had made up his mind to found a normal school of his own on the first occasion that presented a good opening. He learned from a student that Valparaiso, Indiana, presented just the opportunity desired, and he accordingly visited the place to investigate. The location with reference to Chicago and Lake Michigan, its healthfulness, and the hospitality and intelligence of its citizens, suited him and he determined to make the venture. By this time he was an accomplished scholar, a superior and enthusiastic instructor and an efficient disciplinarian, with his heart in his work and his work for life anxiously awaited.

The old Valparaiso Male and Female College had become defunct some time before, and the house was for rent. It was a suitable building to start with, and was accordingly rented and duly opened as the Northern Indiana Normal School on September 16, 1873. The first term opened with thirty-five scholars, eleven of whom, together with three teachers, had come with Prof. Brown from Ohio. During the first year a total enrollment of 227 students was secured. This, though small in the light of subsequent events, was nevertheless a flattering commencement, and was an index of the crowds that future years were to bring.

From the start Prof. Brown was an extensive advertiser. He issued circulars, cards and prospectuses, and called the attention of students far and near to the advantages of his school. He adapted liberal methods in all things. Instead of laying down arbitrarily rigid conditions and requirements he rather studied, as a business man, what would be most attractive to students of both sexes. He sought patronage, and hence in a large measure yielded many exactions to increase his attendance. For the same reason he opened the school to both sexes, lowered the tuition to the minimum, took personal steps to insure poor students suitable board and accommodations at the lowest possible rates; made it possible for a student to take one or a half dozen studies as he could master, and for him to enter and leave at any time without injury; greatly increased the scope of the school by affording thorough instruction in all branches of learning. These wise and practical efforts were successful in greatly multiplying the attendance. The second year 850 students were enrolled - a most gratifying increase. The citizens afforded Prof. Brown every encouragement, and the capitalists were unstinted in lending him money and credit at times when both were most needed. He bought the school building, 36 x 130 feet and three stories high, for $10,000, and was greatly assisted by Messrs. D. F. Skinner, G. Block, A. Freeman, A. V. Bartholomew, Joseph Gardner and others. The third year the school enrolled 2,100 students, employed a corps of ten teachers, and was on a substantial business and educational basis. Many new departments were added as demanded. The hill where the college sat had become transformed and was now covered with buildings to accommodate the many students. Stores were opened there, electric lights introduced, water works erected, sewerage constructed, streets graded, trees planted, and the hill assumed the appearance of a thriving educational center. Mr. Brown lost no opportunity, but kept pace in all things with the attendance and the demands; in fact he wisely anticipated both, and thus avoided complaints and loss of prestige.

In 1874 he built Hermitage Hall, a brick structure three stories high and 36 x 120 feet, which burned six years later and was rebuilt two stories high. In 1874-75 about twelve smaller buildings to serve as dormitories, each containing from twelve to fifteen rooms, were built. In 1875 brick additions 40 x 60 feet and three stories high were built to the old buildings, and one frame addition two stories high and 30 x 50 feet. In 1878 South Hall, which is used as a dormitory for ladies, and in 1880 Commercial Hall, were built. In 1881 twelve small buildings were erected to serve as dormitories, each containing twelve rooms. During the first half of the decade of the eighties many important additions were made. A library was established (including law), reading-room opened, museum started, and improved mechanical and philosophical apparatus purchased. In 1885 the musical department was made a part of the institution, and now forty pianos are in operation. In 1881 Prof. Oliver P. Kinsey from the National Normal School of Lebanon, Ohio, bought a one-half interest in the school, and himself and wife, both teachers of ripe experience and unusual skill and ability, were added to the corps of instructors, to the great benefit of the institution. Unquestionably, much of the success of the school in recent years is due to the efforts and intelligence of Prof. Kinsey and wife. As the various departments came into existence, the services of the most capable professors of art and letters were secured and suitable equipments were provided.

In the last half of the decade of the eighties great improvements were made in the dormitories. They were entirely refitted in suites of sitting-room and bed-room. In 1890 the new main building of brick and stone, two stories high, 60 x 120 feet, was built. The chapel on the second floor occupies the entire area of the building and will seat over 2,000 students. It is equipped as a stage and contains an $1,800 Knabe piano. The museum is on the lower floor. The campus comprises five acres. Besides the main school structures the institution owns about thirty other buildings used as dormitories. In 1892 a large bakery was added and a special butcher was employed. All supplies are bought at wholesale for cash. In this way students secure board at little advance above actual cost, at $1.40 per week. Seven hundred tons of coal are used annually and thousands of bushels of potatoes. In short, the whole hill is rife with everything necessary for the wants of the students.

It is estimated that nearly 100,000 students have attended this school since it was first founded. They have come from all parts of the United States, Canada and Mexico. All are witnesses of the practical nature of the instruction here afforded. In fact, the practical value of the institution is one of the principal boasts of Prof. Brown and one of the glories of the school. Another is the fact that many thousands of poor students who otherwise would have received no education were given a thorough schooling for such price as they could afford to pay. The present state school superintendents of Indiana and Idaho were graduates of this school. Several members of congress and scores of county school superintendents in all portions of the United States were educated here. In 1893 there were enrolled 4,300 students; there has been a steady increase from the start. The Normal is divided into twenty- seven departments, all complete schools within themselves, conducted by forty- two teachers who receive higher wages than paid in any other normal school in the United States. Religious services are attended regularly as one of the requirements. Literary and other societies afford suitable pastime and instruction, and the co-education of the sexes is here shown to be a signal success. The three large ladies' dormitories are under the personal supervision of Mrs. Kinsey. Experienced nurses are employed to care for the sick and reports are made daily to parents of the progress of the invalid. As a whole, the institution is the greatest normal school in the United States, and one of the greatest educational mediums in the world.

Mr. Brown, personally, possesses a striking face and figure, inspiring all with his dignity and influencing all with his magnetism. Ordinarily, though polite and cordial, he is somewhat reserved; but when mellowed by friendship or affection he is a charming and. trusted companion. He is an elder of the Christian Church, and is a member of the Knights of Pythias and Masonic fraternities. Politically he is a Democrat. On February 16, 1886, he was united in marriage to Miss Neva W., daughter of Elias and Phoebe Axe, of Valparaiso. They have three children: Helen, Henry K. and Ruth.

Source: Goodspeed Brothers. 1894. Pictorial and Biographical Record of La Porte, Porter, Lake and Starke Counties, Indiana. Chicago, Illinois: Goodspeed Brothers. 569 p.
Page(s) in Source: 23-30

This biography has been transcribed exactly as it was originally published in the source. Please note that we do not provide photocopies or digital scans of biographies appearing on this website.

Biography transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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