A Guide to the Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers, 1912-1946 Brown, Ralph Minthorne Papers Ms1970-002

A Guide to the Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers, 1912-1946

A Collection in
Special Collections
Collection Number Ms1970-002


Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Special Collections, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
Phone: (540) 231-6308
Fax: (540) 231-3694
Email: specref@vt.edu
URL: http://spec.lib.vt.edu/

© 2008 By Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. All rights reserved.

Processed by: John M. Jackson, Special Collections Staff

Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.
Collection Number
Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers 1925-1944
Physical Characteristics
6 containers; 2.3 cu. ft.
Papers of Ralph Minthorne Brown, Virginia Tech head librarian (1926-1947), amateur historian and naturalist. Includes materials on Virginia Tech and local history, including typed transcripts of sources gathered for an intended history of Virginia Tech. Also included are Brown's Blacksburg ornithological and weather observations, a bibliography of Matthew Fontaine Maury, and other writings.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from the Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers must be obtained from Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers, Ms1970-002 - Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Acquisition Information

The Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers were donated to Special Collections in 1970.

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement and description of the Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers commenced in January 2008 and was completed in May 2008.

Biographical Information

Ralph Minthorne Brown, head librarian of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) from 1926 to 1947, was born at Fort Shaw, Montana, in 1878. He graduated from Cornell University in 1901 and served as a librarian in Chicago and Buffalo, New York before becoming chief of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey's Division of Library and Archives in 1906. He remained in that position until serving as an ambulance driver in World War I. After the war, Brown worked as an editor for Rand McNally, then for Popular Mechanics , and finally as a librarian at North Dakota State College before arriving at Virginia Tech in 1926.

When not working, Brown indulged in his many personal interests, including poetry and genealogy; he was also an avid book collector, amateur historian and naturalist. During his time in Blacksburg, Brown actively collected and recorded the history of both Virginia Tech and the New River Valley, his chief accomplishment here perhaps being the compilation of V.P.I. Historical Index, 1872-1942 . Other projects included legislative histories of both the school and Blacksburg as well as a bibliography of Matthew Fontaine Maury. Brown's interest in nature led him to keep and compile notes on local ornithological and weather observations. He frequently presented talks on these and other subjects to campus and community groups.

Brown retired from Virginia Tech in 1947 and died in Tulsa, Oklahoma on November 30, 1958, survived by one daughter.

Scope and Content

This collection contains the papers of Ralph Minthorne Browne, head librarian at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (1926-1947), amateur historian, naturalist, and genealogist. The papers include such materials as transcripts of historical documents, notes, correspondence and printed materials.

(NOTE: Many of the folder titles in this collection contain two sets of dates (e.g., "'Volume I: Presidents and Boards of Visitors, 1872-1944' 1925-1944"). Where two sets of dates are shown, the first set of dates are those to which the material within the folder relates, the second date set shows the years during which the information was actually compiled.)


The collection is arranged in four series:

SERIES I: VIRGINIA TECH HISTORY, 1925-1944. This series contains materials relating to the history of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Largely gleaned from various published sources, the series contains typescripts of items Brown had apparently assembled in anticipation of a published history of the school and for ready reference in responding to questions about the school's history. The series is divided among the following subseries:

Subseries A: V.P.I. History, 1924-1944. This subseries contains typescript copies of material assembled by Brown in anticipation of a published history of Virginia Tech. It includes information about the board of visitors (both the body and its individual members), as well as a university chronology, bibliography, legislative history, and data gleaned from newspapers, university bulletins, and other published sources. Arranged in a rough chronological order.

Subseries B: V.P.I. Index, 1938-1946. Within this subseries are several versions of Brown's V.P.I. Index (eventually published as Bulletin of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute , vol. 35, no. 12) each containing handwritten updates and corrections. The index provides a history of the school, arranged by subject, and referrals to other sources for more information. Arranged chronologically by date of compilation or revision.

Subseries C: Subject files, 1872-1946. Arranged alphabetically, this subseries contains materials gleaned from various sources by Brown regarding various aspects of Virginia Tech history. The files relate not only to the school's institutional history, but specific topics as well, including buildings, funding, and legislative history. Of particular interest, perhaps, is a file relating to activities and programs on campus during World War II.

SERIES II: LOCAL HISTORY, 1926-1944. This series contains folders relating to various aspects of Blacksburg, Montgomery County, and Southwest Virginia history. As with Brown's Virginia Tech files, these materials consist largely of typescript copies of materials gleaned from various published sources. The folders relate to such disparate subjects as the Blacksburg town spring, Draper's Meadows, and the Jackson Ferry Shot Tower. Of special interest within the series is Brown's compilation of Blacksburg's legislative history and his historical directory of Blacksburg business and professional men, women and firms. Also of significance is a large collection of materials relating to the Wilderness Road. Arranged alphabetically by topic.

SERIES III: NATURE, 1926-1944. Brown's activities as an amateur naturalist are represented in several files relating to his bird observations in Montgomery County. Also included is a description of his 1941 South American bird-watching trip (in the October-November 1941 issue of The Raven ) and an essay titled "Antics of the Mockingbirds" by John M. McBryde. Also included is a copy of Brown's Blacksburg (Virginia) Weather, 1893-1944 (published as Bulletin of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute , vol. 38, no. 5) and texts from talks he delivered to local groups on nature-related subjects. The series is arranged by subject matter, then chronologically.

SERIES IV: GENERAL INTERESTS, 1930-1947. This series contains materials relating to Brown's other myriad interests. The series includes a file devoted to Matthew Fontaine Maury, including copies of both the first and second editions of Brown's work, Bibliography of Matthew Fontaine Maury (in Bulletin of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute , vol. 24, no. 2 and vol. 37, no. 12). Also included are texts of talks Brown presented on various topics, a bibliography of his works, and a compilation of his poetry.

Related Material

Brown's papers as head librarian of Virginia Tech may be found in Record Group 23/1. Several of Brown's works (mostly cataloged typescripts) may be found through an author search in the University Libraries' catalog.

Separated Material

Four files relating to Brown's official duties as Virginia Tech's head librarian were transferred to University Archives Record Group 23/1. File subjects included library inventories (1912-1939); library staff (1926-1946); supplies and equipment (1939-1940); and talks delivered by Brown on various library-related subjects (1933-1943).

Index Terms


  • Blacksburg (Va.)
  • Faculty
  • Local/Regional History and Appalachian South
  • Montgomery County (Va.)
  • University Archives
  • University History
  • Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute

Contents List

  • Subseries A: V.P.I. History 1924-1944
    • Box-folder 1-1
      "Volume I: Presidents and Boards of Visitors, 1872-1944" 1925-1944
      [3 folders]
    • Box-folder 1-2
      "Volume II: 1872-1889" 1925-1944
      [5 folders]
    • Box-folder 1-3
      "Volume III: 1890-1903" 1925-1944
      [4 folders][see also Box 2, Folder 1]
    • Box-folder 2-1
      "Volume III: 1890-1903" 1925-1944
      [see also Box 2, Folder 3]
    • Box-folder 2-2
      "Volume IV: 1904- " 1925-1944
      [5 folders]
  • Subseries B: V.P.I. Index 1938-1946
    • "V.P.I. Historical Index, October 1, 1872 to December 31, 1938" 1938
      Box-folder 2-3
      [typescript with handwritten revisions of [1939]]
    • Box-folder 2-4
      "V.P.I. Historical Index, October 1, 1872 to December 31, 1938" 1938
      [typescript with handwritten revisions of [1941]]
    • Box-folder 3-1
      "V.P.I. Historical Index, October 1, 1872 to December 31, 1941" [1942?]
    • Box-folder 3-2
      V.P.I. Historical Index, October 1, 1872 to December 31, 1941" 1942
      [includes handwritten revisions and accompanied by typescript errata and supplement]
    • Box-folder 3-3
      "V.P.I. Historical Index Supplement, January 1, 1942 to July 31, 1946" [1946]
  • Subseries C: Subject files 1872-1946
    • Box-folder 3-4
      Agricultural and industrial education history 1927-1932, n.d.
    • Box-folder 3-5
      Alumni association officers 1890-1944
    • Box-folder 3-6
      Athletics, Intercollegiate 1936
    • Box-folder 3-7
      Biographical references ca.1900-1930
    • Box-folder 3-8
      Block and Bridle Club 1936
    • Box-folder 3-9
      Buildings and grounds 1920-1941
    • Box-folder 3-10
      Chaplains 1891-1941
    • Box-folder 3-11
      Corps of Cadets controversy 1942
    • Box-folder 3-12
      Engineering (Norris, E. B., "A Short history of engineering at V.P.I.") 1939
    • Box-folder 3-13
      Entomology (Jefferson, Roland Newton, "The Teaching of entomology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute") 1942
    • Box-folder 3-14
      Federal and state receipts 1872-1946
    • Box-folder 3-15
      Federal and state allotments to VPI under the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act 1917-1938
    • Box-folder 3-16
      Interest and sinking funds 1896-1946
    • Box-folder 3-17
      Land Grant College Fund n.d.
    • Box-folder 3-18
      Legislative history, 1872-1945 1945
    • Box-folder 3-19
      McBryde, J. M. - letter to "Mr. Glass" 1904
    • Box-folder 3-20
      Necrology 1917-1942
    • Box-folder 3-21
      Phillips, Ulrich B., "The Historic civilization of the South" talk at V.P.I. 1931-1938
    • Box-folder 3-22
      Radford-VPI merger 1944
    • Box-folder 3-23
      Second Virginia Volunteer Infantry regimental band n.d.
    • Box-folder 3-24
      Serial publications 1872-1937
    • Box-folder 3-25
      Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College 1872-1894
    • Box-folder 3-26
      World War II 1940-1944, n.d.
      [see also Oversize Materials]
  • Box-folder 4-1
    "Augusta County deeds, 1749-1769" 1943
  • Box-folder 4-2
    Black family of Montgomery County n.d.
  • Box-folder 4-3
    "Blacksburg Business and Professional Men and Women and Business Firms, 1819-1941" 1942
  • Box-folder 4-4
    "Blacksburg legislative history, 1798-1934" n.d.
  • Box-folder 4-5
    Blacksburg miscellanea 1935-1944
  • Box-folder 4-6
    Blacksburg town spring 1932
  • Box-folder 4-7
    "Botetourt County deeds, 1770-1785" 1943
  • Box-folder 4-8
    Christiansburg history (Crush, Charles W., "Early Days in Christiansburg") 1940
  • Box-folder 4-9
    Civil War 1942, n.d.
  • Box-folder 4-10
    Coal mines 1942-1943
  • Box-folder 4-11
    Draper's Meadows 1926, n.d.
  • Box-folder 4-12
    "Fincastle County land surveys, 1772-1775" 1943
  • Box-folder 4-13
    Geology 1935-1944, n.d.
  • Box-folder 4-14
    "Montgomery County deeds, 1750-1800" 1943
  • Box-folder 4-15
    Montgomery County miscellanea 1935-1944
  • Box-folder 4-16
    Roads and trails 1937-1943, n.d.

    [see also Wilderness Road]

  • Box-folder 4-17
    Shot tower (Jackson's Ferry) 1936
  • Box-folder 4-18
    Smithfield 1931-1942
  • Box-folder 4-19
    Springs, Mineral 1932-1944, n.d.
  • Box-folder 4-20
    Virginia fairs 1937
  • Box-folder 4-21
    Wilderness Road 1931-1943
    [4 folders]
  • Bird observations
    • Box-folder 4-22
    • Box-folder 4-23
    • Box-folder 5-1
      1940-1946, n.d.
  • Box-folder 5-2
    Blacksburg (Virginia) Weather, 1893-1944 1945
  • Box-folder 5-3
    Nature camps 1940-1944, n.d.
  • Box-folder 5-4
    Talks and writings 1930-1944, n.d.
  • Box-folder 5-5
    Matthew Fontaine Maury 1930-1947
  • Box-folder 5-6
    Talks and writings 1930-1933
  • Box-folder 5-7
    "Verses [by] Ralph M. Brown" 1932
  • Folder 1
    U. S. war bonds poster 1944