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Reverend Dr. Barnas Sears, Commencement speaker

The Reverend Dr. Barnas Sears spoke at the 1852 Commencement ceremonies. At the time, he was secretary of the the Massachusetts Board of Education.

In August 1852, Dr. Sears attended the American Association for the Advancement of Education in Newark, New Jersey. The New York Times reported his "eloquent and polished" lecture on "Cultivation of Taste, and the uses of Imagination", in which he "inculcated the importance of a well-cultured imagination, and deprecated the pernicious literature which floods our country under the name of works of the imagination." His lengthy discourse explained that an "intellectual imagination" should dwell in the works of Plato, Luther, Jeremy Taylor, John Foster, and Dr. Chalmers.

At the convention, Sears also took part in a discussion on female education. His remarks on female education, reported in the New York Times, were typical of theories held at the time:

The subject [of Female Education should be viewed] from two points—the divine and human.  There is scarcely a subject which demands so much knowledge and practiced talent as this.  the Good Book says of Woman, that she is to be a keeper at home.  She is to be both the mother and teacher of the race.  She is, again, to be the companion of Man, the presiding genius of the social circle.... So long as the sexes keep in their appropriate spheres, Man will always accord a meed of respect to Woman, which will secure her from harm, and insure her independent condition.  The speaker reflected upon the absurdity of causing women to listen at the Bar, or elsewhere, to the repulsive details of crime.  How delightful to see females struggling for office in the dirty field of politics; to see, in the words of Addison, "a pair of stays ready to burst with sedition." But there is a radical difference in the natural strength of the male and female.  Man is formed to endure.  In the mind of woman there is a feminine tone which man can never acquire.  Though the minds of both are approached by the same means, there should be a difference in the modes of culture to which they are to be subjected.  Dr. Sears held that Woman should study things in the concrete; Man may pursue more abstract investigations.  In regard to the relations of the sexes, there are many things to be considered.  We must first possess a high sense of the truths and influences of Christianity.  The speaker referred to the degradation of Women in early times, to her idolization in the Middle Ages, and her remarkable devotion to Education in the sixteenth century.  In France, under the old régime, Woman had the highest position, socially. Now we have some women who ought to be men, and some men who ought to be women.  No one disputes the right of Women to the most perfect acquisition of knowledge. Woman in America has a noble sphere, a grand opportunity for development. Here she must and will be educated, liberally and nobly. [A delegate from] Boston moved that if this discussion be continued, the remarks of gentlemen be limited to ten minutes each.

Barnas Sears (1802-1880), fifth president of Brown University, was born in Sandisfield, Massachusetts, on November 19, 1802. He prepared for college and the ministry under “Parson” Cooley in East Granville, MA, and later attended the University Grammar School in Providence. He  graduated from Brown University in 1825, supporting himself by teaching school in the winter and building stone walls in the summer. His commencement oration was entitled “The Influence of Association Upon the Intellectual Character.” Sears then studied at the Newton Theological Institution (now Andover-Newton Theological School), and in 1827 was named pastor of the First Baptist Church in Hartford, Connecticut. He resigned in 1829, becoming professor of ancient languages at Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution. After studying  in Germany from 1833 to 1835, Sears was appointed professor of biblical theology at Hamilton, then professor of Christian theology at Newton Theological Institution in 1836. He taught at Newton until 1848, becoming its president in 1839. He published A Grammar of the German Language in 1842, The Ciceronian: or the Prussian Method of Teaching the Elements of the Latin Language in 1844, and collaborated with others in Classical Studies: Essays on Ancient Literature and Art in 1843. He was also editor of the Christian Review from 1838 to 1841. In 1848 he succeeded Horace Mann as secretary of the the Massachusetts Board of Education.

In September 1855 he was named president of Brown University. Even though his tenure was strained by a financial crisis of 1857-58 and the Civil War, his administration produced a new chemistry laboratory, increased the endowment, and founded student scholarships. He modified the curriculum and the rules that prohibited evening meetings of student societies. Alumni remembered Sears as a beloved President, whose students were led, rather than driven, to think for themselves.

Sears resigned in 1867 to become the general agent of the Peabody Education Fund, established by George Peabody for the promotion of education in the South. He died on July 9, 1880 in Saratoga Springs, New York, while attending the American Association of Teachers. His address, “Educational Progress in the United States for the Past Fifty Years,” had been read one day earlier.

Biographical information adapted from Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright ©1993 by the Brown University Library.

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