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Nina Elizabeth Browne Papers

Identifier: CA-MS-00384

Scope and Contents

The collection contains material documenting the student experiences of Nina Elizabeth Brown, Class of 1882, including undergraduate course work and photographs. The majority of her collection is dedicated to documenting Browne's professional life as a librarian and includes impressions of her experiences at Columbia College Library School [1887 - 1889]. This includes professional and personal correspondence, news clippings, financial records, obituaries, publications and research.

Dates of Materials

  • 1860 - 1956
  • Majority of material found within 1878 - 1954


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Smith College retains copyright of materials created as part of its business operations; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Smith College, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Nina Elizabeth Browne was born in 1860 in Erving, Massachusetts. She received her A.B. from Smith College in 1882, her A.M. in 1885. After teaching for a year she went on to the newly established School of Library Economy at Columbia College (now Columbia University) on the recommendation of a former classmate. The school was established in 1887 by Melvil Dewey, then the chief university librarian. Browne later noted that "when the trustees decided to have the library school, no one of them had a notion that women would come. Because women came, that rule forbidding a woman to enter a classroom forced Mr. [Melvil] Dewey to find a place for the newcomers. He found it in this old building hitherto used as a storeroom." (Browne, Nina E., "Reminiscences of the First Library School of Columbia University, 1887-89," New York Libraries vol. 15, no. 6 (February 1937): page 162.Box: 689, Folder: 11)

Columbia did not grant degrees to the classes prior to 1889 and the library program was moved to the University of the State of New York (now SUNY Albany). After being appointed State Librarian of New York in 1889, Dewey petitioned the university to offer a test to graduates from his early classes which required submitting to sixteen proficiency examinations, a compiled subject bibliography, and a thesis. Browne and one other student were the sole participants of this program. Browne was awarded a Bachelor of Library Science from the university in 1891.

She returned to Massachusetts and became an assistant librarian at Harvard and the Boston Athenaeum while working unofficially for the Smith College Alumna Association. A highly active advocate, she served as the Registrar for the American Library Association, compiling their portrait index and travelling to London for the International Conference of Librarianship.

In 1921, Smith College hired Brown as the first Archivist of the College in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the college. Much of the initial collection was acquired by Browne's mother during her daughter's time as a Smith student. Although the 50th anniversary project was completed in 1925, Browne continued to build and develop the historical collection. Active well into her 90s, she received her Litt.D. 1930. Partial blindness forced her retirement in 1937. Browne did not leave the position immediately; she continued to advocate the importance of a college archive and argued for a physical space. Margaret Storrs Grierson, then a professor, assisted Browne during this transition before ultimately being appointed the first College Archivist by Elizabeth Morrow in 1940. Browne passed away in 1954 at the Trinity Church Home in Jamaica Plain at the age of 94.


0.229 linear feet (1 container)

Language of Materials



Class of 1882. Librarian. Founder of the College Archives. Collection cContains news clippings, correspondence, essays, photographs, publications, and financial records documenting the student and professional experiences of Nina Browne.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source unknown.

Related Materials

Additional material may be found in the following collections:

Processing Information

Madison White, Class of 2016; Elizabeth Carron, Archives Specialist

Processing Information

Please note that prior to 2018, folder inventories were not always updated when new material was added to the collection. As a result, folder inventories may not be complete and folder numbers may be incorrect.
Finding aid to the Nina Elizabeth Browne Papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Finding aid prepared by Madison White (Class of 2016) and Daniel Michelson.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2018-11-01: Containers added and finding aid updated as part of College Archives survey

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063