Norma Lewis Brown was born in 1913 in Alcester, South Dakota, the daughter of Arthur H. and Blanche Sagen Lewis. She graduated from Alcester High School in 1933 and enrolled at USD the same fall to study journalism. Brown found time during her college years to be a corresponding reporter and feature writer for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and Sioux City Journal. During her senior year, she edited the Coyote yearbook and was a reporter for the USD news bureau as well as a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority.
Following her graduation in 1937, Brown ventured to Minneapolis to begin her career, but jobs in journalism, especially for women, were scarce during the 1930s. She accepted a position with the student health service at the University of Minnesota as a clerk and remained there until 1942, when she moved to Chicago to join the staff of the American College of Hospital Administrators, a national professional organization. While there, she met Daniel H. Brown, a native of Lead, South Dakota, and they were married in 1948. Her husband's career as a hospital administrator and independent consultant took the couple to a succession of American cities where she took occasional part-time positions, but never in the field of journalism.
Daniel Brown died in November of 1991, and Norma continued to live in retirement in San Diego, California, where she kept busy with volunteer activities until her death on August 23, 2002.
In providing for the scholarship endowment in her estate plan, Norma wrote in 1995 that she was doing so "in appreciation for the good memories and excellent training I received as a journalism major at the University of South Dakota." Brown reflected, "I ended up with a good life, but the job market in my era was limited for women in journalism. Therefore, I would like to give promising young female journalism students a chance to pursue their dreams through scholarships at the university."