Brainerd Mears, Williams Class of 1903, was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1881 to Leverett Mears and Mary V. Brainerd Mears. His parents moved to Williamstown two years later when Leverett joined the Chemistry faculty at Williams. Brainerd, or “Bray,” grew up in his father’s lab and graduated from Williamstown High School in 1898.
Mears enrolled at Williams in 1899 and became a dedicated member of Theta Delta Chi fraternity. While at Williams, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and tapped by the Gargoyle Society. Mears was also the best miler on the Williams track team during his career. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1903 and, two years later, received a master’s degree from the College. From his graduation in 1903 until 1906, Mears was an assistant instructor of Chemistry under the chairmanship of his father. He then attended Johns Hopkins University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and received his Ph.D. in 1908. He returned to Williams as a full professor in 1909 after a year at the University of Illinois and was named Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Chemistry. Brainerd replaced his father as department chair in 1917. He was a member of many scientific societies and was honored by the American Chemical Society as a fifty-year member. He retired from the College soon after World War II.
Besides being a long-time member of the faculty, Mears was also very active in the Williamstown community. He was elected to the School Committee and the School Building Committee in the 1920’s when his children were in school. In 1928, he was elected as town moderator, a position he held for 25 years. He used his chemical background for practical purposes like testing local water supplies and milk from surrounding farms for impurities. He also served on the Board of the Williamstown Savings Bank. He was first named a trustee in 1926 and was elected president in 1938, a position he held for 24 years. The multitalented Mears was also a volunteer firefighter for more than forty years and enlisted in the armed forces in both World Wars. During the First World War, he taught military skills to Williams students on campus. He was a Master of the local Masonic Lodge and helped to found the local Rotary Club and the Williamstown Historical Society. He was active in the First Congregational Church, was a trustee of the North Adams Hospital, and president of the Williamstown Welfare Society.
Mears was married to Sara Bliss and had two sons, who were both members of Theta Delta Chi during their time at Williams. When the fraternity turned over their house to the College in 1966, they dedicated it to Mears, their most distinguished alumnus and their alumni treasurer of 25 years. Brainerd Mears died in 1972 after a long illness, at the age of 91.
By Paul Friedmann (Williams Class of 2000)
“Prof. Brainerd Mears, 91 taught at Williams 40 years.”North Adams Transcript. 14 August 1972.
Theta Delta Chi file. Williams College Office of the President records. Williams College Archives.
Botsford, E. Herbert, ed.Greek letter fraternities at Williams, with the story of the Commons Club. 1933.