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Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers

Identifier: Ms-1970-002

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 The papers include such materials as transcripts of historical documents, notes, correspondence and printed materials.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.)


  • 1872 - 1947


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

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.


2.3 Cubic Feet (5 boxes; 1 oversize folder)


This collection contains the papers of Ralph Minthorne Brown, Virginia Tech head librarian (1926-1947), amateur historian, and naturalist. It 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.


The collection is arranged in four series based on topic:

Series I: Virginia Tech History, 1872-1946. 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, 1925-1944. 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, 1926-1946. 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.

Source of Acquisition

The Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers were donated to Special Collections in 1970 and 1971.

Related Archival Material

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

See the Records of the Virginia Tech University Libraries, RG 23 for RG 23/1/1.

Separated Material

Four files relating to Brown's official duties as Virginia Tech's head librarian were transferred to University Archives Record Group 23/1/1. 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).

See the Records of the Virginia Tech University Libraries, RG 23 for RG 23/1/1.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

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

Ralph Minthorne Brown Papers, 1872-1947
John M. Jackson, Archivist
2008 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US