Brown, Norman Donald (1935–2015)

By: Henry Franklin Tribe

Type: Biography

Published: October 31, 2018

Norman Donald Brown, historian and educator, was born on June 28, 1935, and was the son of Donald M. (an insurance executive) and Regina (Koehler) Brown (a teacher), in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Young Norman grew up in Duquesne and attended the local public schools. After he completed his first year at McKeesport High School in Pennsylvania, Brown’s family relocated to Kokomo, Indiana, where his mother found employment in the Kokomo school system. A member of the honor society his senior year, Brown graduated from Kokomo High School in 1953.

Remaining in the Hoosier state, Brown excelled academically at Indiana University; he was elected Phi Beta Kappa in 1956 and earned his B.A. (1957) with honors. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was awarded his M.A. (1959) and his Ph.D. (1963) degrees in history. A Woodrow Wilson Fellow at North Carolina, Brown studied under Fletcher Green, a distinguished historian of the South. Brown’s thesis, “Daniel Webster’s Bid for the Presidency, 1833–1836,” and dissertation, “Edward Stanly: Federal Whig,” were topics that involved much of his efforts early in his career.

Brown accepted a position as an instructor of history at the University of Texas at Austin in 1962 and remained there for the next forty-eight years. At Austin, he taught courses in American history, the South, and Texas history. On April 2, 1966, Brown married Betty Jane Aldrich. They had two children, David Lawrence and Tracy Lynn. As a scholar, Brown made many contributions. Making use of his research as a graduate student, Brown authored “A Union Election in Civil War North Carolina” in the North Carolina Historical Review (Autumn 1966) and “Edward Stanly: First Republican Candidate for Governor of California” in the California Historical Society Quarterly (September 1968). He then published Daniel Webster and the Politics of Availability (1969) and Edward Stanly: Whiggery’s Tarheel “Conqueror” (1974).

By the mid-1970s Brown directed his interests more to Texas history. From 1975 to 1979, Brown served on the editorial advisory board of The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Turning his attention to Texas and the Civil War, he edited One of Cleburne’s Command: The Civil War Reminiscences and Diary of Capt. Samuel T. Foster, Granbury’s Texas Brigade, CSA (1980) and Journey to Pleasant Hill: The Civil War Letters of Captain Elijah P. Petty, Walker’s Texas Division, CSA (1982). His work earned accolades from organizations and scholars, such as Civil War scholar Gary Gallagher, who selected Journey to Pleasant Hill as one of his 100 best books on Civil War military history.

In the early 1980s Brown shifted the focus of his research to Texas political history. Robert A. Calvert recommended that a Brown manuscript be published as the first book in Texas A&M University Press’s Southwestern Studies series. In 1984 Brown authored Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug: Texas Politics, 1921–1928. In this massive well-researched and well-received study, he provided a narrative of Texas politics in the 1920s through the presidential election of 1928. As referred to in the title, Brown devoted much attention to the Ku Klux Klan, Miriam Ferguson, and prohibition. Brown was promoted to professor of history in 1983 and in 1984 was named the Barbara White Stuart Centennial Professor in Texas History; a chair he held for many years. In addition to his own research, he labored as the book review editor of The Southwestern Historical Quarterly from 1980 to 1993. Brown also held a seat on the advisory board of The Handbook of Texas as their expert on the period 1920–1940. In recognition of his contributions to Texas history, the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) selected Brown as a Fellow in 1990 and an honorary life member of the association in 1995. He served as president of the TSHA from 1999 to 2000.

Brown’s many memberships included the Southern Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Red River Valley Association, and the Austin chapter of the Civil War Round Table. His honors included the Earle R. Davis Award for Contributions to Texas-Confederate History, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis Medal, and the George Washington Honor Medal for Excellence. He was a Methodist.

As a historian, Norman Brown accomplished much as an academic during his long career. Colleagues and former students described him as a positive, gracious, and likeable person who was loyal to his family and his students. Brown retired from the University of Texas in 2010. On May 11, 2015, Norman Donald Brown died at the age of seventy-nine in Austin. He was survived by his son, daughter, and granddaughter. His wife Betty Jane preceded him in death. Brown was buried at the Assumption Cemetery in Austin.

Austin American-Statesman, May 13, 2015. Norman D. Brown Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. “Southwestern Collection,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 102 (April 1999). 

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Henry Franklin Tribe, “Brown, Norman Donald,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

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October 31, 2018