Elsie Melissa Brown was born May 3, 1897, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She was the daughter of Frank A. and Eva (McMillin) Brown. In 1878, Frank and his father, Colonel William H. Brown, moved to Grand Forks. Colonel Brown became the first mayor of Grand Forks in 1881. Eva McMillin was born in Lake City, Minnesota, in October 1863 to Alonzo and Elsie (Whipple) McMillin. On November 6, 1883, Frank married Eva, who was then living in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
Besides Elsie, Frank and Eva Brown also had a son, William J. "Joe" Brown. Frank owned a hardware store, functioned as city auditor of Grand Forks from 1895 to 1906, and was also secretary and auditor for the Grand Forks Herald. Frank Brown died July 20, 1926, while Eva passed away in 1931.
Elsie Brown graduated from Grand Forks Central High School, before attending the University of North Dakota (UND). She was a member of Alpha Phi sorority, and the director of Episcopal student activities. She graduated from UND in 1918.
In 1929, Elsie Brown was elected President of the North Dakota Girls Friendly Society, an international, non-profit organization affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The purpose of the group, still active within the Episcopal Church, is to provide fellowship and camaraderie among young women in the church who seek to serve God in worship, study, service and recreation. The Girls' Friendly Society (GFS) seeks to instill confidence and self-esteem in its members, limited to ages 7 through 21. In 1932, Elsie Brown was elected National Field Secretary, and moved to the GFS headquarters in New York. The extension work of the GFS, especially in rural areas, became an issue of critical importance to her. She visited many states, including Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina and Kansas. Brown held this position until her resignation on September 1, 1935.
Following her resignation, she returned to Grand Forks and became the first paid secretary of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. She worked for the organization during World War II, visiting locations in Idaho and Illinois. Following the end of the war, she held several secretarial positions in Chicago, before returning to Grand Forks permanently in 1953. At various times, she was employed by Herberger’s Department Store, the Carlyle Farming Company, and the Art Greenberg Farming Company. She lived for many years in a home on 601 South Fifth Street, which her grandfather had built. Elsie Brown was a lifelong member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grand Forks.
Elsie Brown died November 15, 1986, at Valley Memorial Home in Grand Forks. She was 89 years old.