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Brooks, William Penn, 1851-

William Penn Brooks Papers

3 boxes 1.5 linear feet
Call no.: RG 003/1 B76
Depiction of Sapporo Ag. College students, 1881
Sapporo Ag. College students, 1881

Two years after graduating from Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1875, William Penn Brooks accepted an invitation from the Japanese government — and his mentor, William Smith Clark — to help establish the Sapporo Agricultural School. Spending over a decade in Hokkaido, Brooks helped to introduce western scientific agricultural practices and the outlines of a program in agricultural education, and he built a solid foundation for the School. After his return to the states in 1888, he earned a doctorate at the University of Halle, Germany, and then accepted a position at his alma mater, becoming a leading figure at the Massachusetts Experiment Station until his retirement in 1921.

Brooks’ papers consist of correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, an account book, and translations which provide rich detail on Brooks’ life in Japan, the development of Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University), and practical agricultural education in the post-Civil War years.

Biographical Note

William Penn Brooks was born in South Scituate, Massachusetts in November of 1851. He entered the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1871 and graduated with high honors in 1875. During his undergraduate years he participated in Dr. William Smith Clark’s famous experiments on plant physiology. Brooks remained at Massachusetts Agricultural College as a graduate student in chemistry and botany. During this time, Brooks accepted an invitation from the Japanese government to go to Sapporo to teach. Brooks arrived in Japan in January 1877 to continue the work begun by Clark to establish the Sapporo Agricultural School. Immediately after his arrival he began to deliver lectures on agricultural science and took charge of the directorship of the experimental fields. Brooks worked at the Sapporo Agricultural School for twelve years, four of which he served as the college president. Along with his teaching, Brooks made a great number of contributions as an agricultural advisor for the Sapporo provincial government. He introduced onions, corn, beans, forage and other plants to Japan.

In 1882, Brooks returned to America and married Miss Eva Bancroft Hall. They lived in Sapporo for seven years during which time they had two children. Their daughter, Rachel Bancroft Brooks, married Mr. George Drew in 1907. Their son, Sumner Cushing Brooks, married Matilda Moldenhauer while they were both students at Harvard.

Brooks returned to America with his family in October 1888. On leaving Japan, the government bestowed on him the Fourth Order of Merit and the Cordon of the Rising Sun. In 1920, the Minister of Education in Japan conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Agriculture.

In 1889, Brooks was appointed professor of agriculture at the Massachusetts Agricultural College, at the same time he began to serve as an engineer at the Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station. During this time he introduced soybeans to the United States. In August 1896, Brooks went to Germany with his family and studied at Halle for one year where he received his doctorate. After his return from Germany, Brooks became interested mainly in experimental enterprises. In 1906 he became director of the Station and he remained connected with the college soley as a lecturer. Brooks was an advisor to the Station until 1921. His contributions to agriculture have been mainly published as reports of the schools, the Experiment Station, the state agricultural department, and the societies to which he was connected. Brooks also authored a textbook in three volumes entitled Agriculture and a collection of his lectures were published under the title Science as Applied to Agriculture. In 1932, Massachusetts Agricultural College granted Brooks an honorary degree of Doctor of Agriculture.

In 1924 Brooks’s wife died; three years later he married Mrs. Grace Holden. Brooks cultivated his own garden in Amherst where he lived until his death on March 8, 1938 at the age of eighty-seven. In a letter written to one of his students Kingo Miyabe he wrote: “I was born in November, 1851, and to my pleasure I am still living in good health. I can still drive the automobile myself and do all the work in my garden. Nothing gives me more pleasure than cultivating vegetables, fruit-trees, and flowering plants and it is this work that is keeping me in such sound health. Now I have twenty odd kinds of hybrid tea roses and they have been in blossom since the middle of June.”

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The William Penn Brooks Papers consists of correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, an account book, and translations. The collection is arranged in three series: Correspondence, Biographical and Historical, and Photographs. The majority of letters are from William Brooks to his sister Rebecca Brooks during the period of time when he was teaching in Sapporo, Japan. The time span of the letters range from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, and describe in rich detail life in Japan from the perspective of an American teacher trained in agriculture.

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The collection is open for research.

Preferred Citation

Cite as: William Penn Brooks Papers (RG 3/1 Brooks). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

History of the Collection

Donated by Ben and Emily Drew and Cynthia Redman in October of 2004. Ben Drew and Cynthia Redman are descendants of William Penn Brooks.

Processing Information

Processed by Rachel Gugler, December 2004.

Additional Information



The following is a list of sources consulted during the preparation of this finding aid.

  • Maki, John M. William Smith Clark: A Yankee in Hokkaido. Hokkaido University Press, Hokkaido, Japan, 1996.
  • Miyabe, Kingo: “A Brief Biography of the Late Dr. Willliam Penn Brooks.”
  • Rand, Frank Prentice. Yesterdays at Massachusetts State College. The Associate Alumni Massachusetts State College, Massachusetts, 1933.

Series Descriptions

Brooks’s reflections on botany in Sapporo and on his teaching tenure at Sapporo Agricultural School can be found in his letters to his sister Rebecca. These letters frequently refer to Rebecca’s failing health and in them William Brooks offers advice to his sister regarding her well-being. It remains unclear what was the cause of Rebecca’s poor health, but there are mentions of digestive problems and the need for good nourishment and fresh air. Another topic documented in these letters is the description of life in Japan, including such details as the noise made by frogs, which were numerous in Sapporo, the construction of houses, and the organization of Japanese households. According to Brooks, the Japanese took down the walls of their houses during the day so that the inner arrangement of their houses was displayed. One letter refers to kite flying as a national past time and another letter describes Japanese theater as always based on an historical narrative. Brooks is attentive to plant life and the different kinds of food which are available in Sapporo.

In the letters of Eva Brooks to William’s sisters Rebecca and Martha, she writes of her domestic duties such as milking the cow, making butter, and a taking trip to various cities of Japan with her daughter Rachel. She itemizes the objects that she bought on this trip in order to bring them back to Massachusetts upon the completion of William’s tenure at Sapporo Agricultural School.


Contains an account book, probably kept by Eva Brooks, dated 1896 to 1923, with pages 16-25 and 46-49 removed. Other materials in this series are newspaper clippings, translations, the biographical sketches of Brooks and the Baron Shosuke Sato, a map of Hokkaido University, a Japanese poem translated into English by Brooks’s students, and a salary receipt for Brooks’s work at the Experiment Station.


The photographs consist of portraits of staff and graduating students from three classes at Sapporo Agricultural College as well as scenes of Japan and Massachusetts.

Contents List
Series 1. Correspondence
Incoming letters, card
1871-1887, 1918, undated
Box 1:1
Outgoing letter: Sam Brooks
1888 June
Box 1:2
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1885 July,1878 Apr, undated
Box 1:3
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1868 Nov
Box 1:4
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1872 Oct-1873 Feb
Box 1:5
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1877 Jan-Dec
(Contains some oversize items)
Box 1, 3:6, 1
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1878 Mar-Dec
(Contains some oversize items)
Box 1, 3:7, 1
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1879 Apr-Dec
Box 1:8
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1880 Mar-1881 Feb
Box 1:9
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1881 Mar-Nov
Box 1:10
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1882 Apr-June
Box 1, 3:11, 1
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1883 Jan-May
Box 1, 3:12, 1
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1883 July-Dec
Box 1:13
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1884 Feb-Nov
Box 1:14
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1885 Feb-1886 Feb
Box 1:15
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1888 Jan-Dec
Box 1:16
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1889 Jan-Aug
Box 1:17
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1890 Sept-1891 Oct
Box 1:18
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1894 Dec-1895 Dec
Box 1:19
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1896 May-1897 Dec
Box 1:20
Outgoing letters: Rebecca Brooks
1898 Dec-1899 May
Box 1:21
Letter: Kinya Machimura to Samuel Brooks
1938 June
Box 1:22
Letters: Eva Brooks to Martha Brooks and Rebecca Brooks
1887 Mar, undated
Box 1:23
Letter: Rachel Brooks to Rebecca Brooks
Box 1:24
Letters: Unknown correspondents
1882 Nov, 1885 Feb, undated
Box 1:25
Series 2. Biographical and Historical
Account Book
Box 2:1
Alpha Bits, published by Phi Sigma, Kappa
1936 May
Box 2:2
Biographical sketch of Brooks in Experiment Station Record
1938 May
Box 2:3
Biographical sketch and notice of death of Baron Shosuke Sato
1939 June
Box 2:4
Book cover: Eva B. Hall
1878 Jan
Box 2:5
Map of Hokkaido University
Box 2:6
Newspaper clippings
1863 June, 1884 Dec, 1885 Feb, 1905 June, undated
Box 2:7
Poem (Japanese with English translation)
1888 Oct
Box 2:9
Printed material (Japanese)
Box 2:10
Salary receipt for Brooks’s work at the Experiment Station
1918 Oct
Box 2:11
Stamp from Japan
Box 2:12
1884 Dec, 1885 Feb, undated
Box 3:4
Series 3. Photographs
Portrait of an unidentified woman
ca. 1860-1870
Box 2:13
Portrait of an unidentified man
ca. 1860-1870
Box 2:14
Mountain scene
ca. 1870-1880
Box 3:3
Bridge scene
ca. 1870-1880
Box 3:3
Street scene
ca. 1870-1880
Box 3:3
Street scene
Box 3:3
Box 3:3
Box 3:3
ca. 1880-1900
Box 2:15
Box 3:3
Staff and graduates Sapporo Agricultural College
Box 3:5
Staff and graduates Sapporo Agricultural College
Box 3:5
Staff and graduates Sapporo Agricultural College
Box 3:5
Published portrait of William Penn Brooks
Box 2:16


Agricultural colleges--Japan--HistoryClark, William Smith, 1826-1886Hokkaido (Japan)--HistoryHokkaid¯o DaigakuJapan--Description and travel--19th centuryJapan--History--1868-Massachusetts Agricultural College--HistoryMassachusetts State Agricultural Experiment StationSapporo N¯ogakk¯o--HistorySapporo-shi (Japan)--History


Brooks, William Penn, 1851-

Types of material

Letters (Correspondence)