Found! 1909 Physics Lab Reports

1909 Phycis Lab Covers

A few weeks ago, I attended a “book and paper show” in Austin, where booksellers from around the country gathered to sell old and rare books, magazines, sheet music, postcards, and similar items. Because most of the vendors were from Texas, there was an emphasis on books about the Lone Star State and the Southwest, and it was a good place to look for old UT stuff.

In the far corner of the back room, a gentlemen was unloading boxes of photos and papers, things he’d collected at estate sales over the years and were usually stored in boxes in his garage. It was a wide variety and completely unorganized; show attendees just had to hunt through it. After a few minutes, I hit upon a few things that were about to be thrown out: a series of lab reports from a UT physics class in the spring of 1909.

LeRoy Hamilton and A T Elliott

Above: Physics lab partners LeRoy Hamilton (left) and A.T. Elliot, sophomores in the Engineering Department.

The reports were all written by the same lab partners, LeRoy Hamilton and Aubrey Tinsley “A.T.” Elliott, who were then sophomores studying electrical engineering. Each report was handwritten – likely by Hamilton – and enclosed in a tan folder. Printed on the front was the “School of Physics,” and blanks to fill in student names, experiment and table numbers, and dates assigned and completed. Inside the cover were instructions for the lab class and guidelines for writing a report. The grade was marked on the top right hand corner. Hamilton and Elliot received mostly 8/10, but one was a perfect 10.

1909 Physics Lab Cover.Close up.

Above and below: The “School of Physics” lab folder. Close-up of the front and instructions on the inside cover. Click on an image for a larger view.

1909 Physics Lab.Inside Cover.

From the covers, it looks as if nearly 50 experiments were performed through the spring. Among them: to measure the radius of curvature of a convex lens, the absolute determination of the volt, to measure the resistance of a coil of wire at different temperatures, and to measure the EMF [ electromotive force – another term for “voltage” ] of a cell by the Potentiometer Method.

Old Main.1910s.Postcard.2.In 1909, the physics lab classes were held in the basement of the east wing of the old Main Building, where the UT Tower stands today. The department was scattered on several floors throughout the building until the early 1930s, when it moved into the new Physics Building, today called Painter Hall.

Below is the complete write-up for experiment 42: the absolute determination of the volt. It earned a perfect 10 points. Would you give it the same grade?

Physics Lab 42.Cover and Inside Cover

Lab Report


Dr. Battle vs. the Jitneys

Battle vs Jitney.2

It was a pleasant spring evening in Austin, just after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25, 1915, as Harry Benedict and Will Battle were sharing a jitney ride to a meeting downtown. Benedict was the dean of UT’s College of Arts and Sciences, while Battle had recently been named Acting President of the University after the departure of Sidney Mezes the year before. Their driver was a young man, about 18 years old, with a friend of the same age sitting in the front passenger seat.

Heading west on 11th Street, in front of the Texas Capitol between Congress Avenue and Colorado Street, the driver suddenly accelerated, swerved abruptly to the opposite side of the road, almost collided with a car coming from the other direction, and took aim at a group of small dogs loitering near the curb. Benedict and Battle gasped as their driver, “greatly to his own delight and that of his companion,” managed to hit and kill one of the dogs.


Ford Model T Assembly LineA century ago, the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914 triggered an economic recession in the United States, but out-of-work entrepreneurs discovered a business opportunity using Henry Ford’s Model T automobiles. Introduced in 1908 and regarded as the first car priced for the middle class, the Model T was famous for its mass production. By 1914, Ford’s refinements to his impressive assembly line in Michigan had reduced construction time to 93 minutes, and a new car rolled out of the factory every three minutes.  With the cost lowered to just under $400, thousands of Model T’s flooded the streets of America’s cities.

But the growing popularity of the automobile began to challenge the trolley as the traditional form of urban transportation. Late in 1914, some enterprising Model T owners in Los Angeles discovered they could offer seats in their private cars for the same fare as a trolley: a nickel, or in the slang of the time, a “jitney.” Riding in the comfortable seat of a car was preferable to the crowded trolleys, and the cars – dubbed “jitneys” to distinguish them from the higher priced taxi cabs – could reach their designated stops faster. As The Nation reported, “This autumn automobiles, mostly of the Ford variety, have begun in competition with the street cars in [Los Angeles]. The newspapers call them ‘Jitney buses.’ ” By December 1914, the city had issued more than 1,500 chauffer licenses to jitney operators. Within a year, the idea was popular from coast to coast, more than 62,000 jitneys carried millions of passengers daily, and the Jitney Craze was born. “From hence to thence for five cents!” was the popular slogan.

From 1915 to 1918, the jitney was the new, convenient, trendy way to get about town.  In some ways it resembled an unregulated taxi service, as jitneys often survived by siphoning off streetcar passengers. Full-time Jitney drivers followed the routes of the trolleys, pulled over wherever a group of people were waiting, filled the car with customers, and took off for the riders’ destinations. For others, it was the first form of a ride-share or carpool. Some drivers who were commuting or otherwise going into town anyway would pick up a passenger or two and make a little pocket change on the side.

The jitney fad inspired a series of popular songs, a new dance called the “Jitney Joy,” a Charlie Chaplin film titled “A Jitney Elopement,” and plenty of original fashions for women’s hats.

Jitney Sheet Music.

jitney Lunch ad

Above: The Jitney Craze brought with it new popular music. Click on the title to listen to “Gasoline Gus and his Jitney Bus.” Also above: The Jitney Lunch café opened in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1915. All items on the menu were purchased a la carte for five cents each – the price of a jitney ride.

Austin Jitney Ads

Above: Locally, Joe Koen Jewelers promoted the “Jitney Plan” to purchase pocket watches, while Scarbrough’s Department Store advertised the “Jitney Knockabout” hat for women. A century later, Koen’s is still in business on Congress Avenue, while Scarbrough’s closed its last store only a few years ago.

In Austin, as elsewhere, trolley operators and jitney drivers didn’t get along with each other, and were attentive of the others’ customers. For riders, choosing a jitney over a trolley, or vice versa, was potentially perilous. “The matter of transportation makes life one thing after another,” explained the Austin Statesman. “If one rides the jitneys and criticizes them, he cannot ride them anymore. If he rides the jitneys, the street car men take his name in a book and remember him afterward as a patron of that iniquitous automobile institution.”


William BattleHarry Benedict and Will Battle were understandably upset with their jitney driver, both for his reckless driving and for killing a defenseless canine. “I indignantly reproached him,” recalled Battle (photo at left) in a letter written to Austin Mayor Alexander Wooldridge, “and told him I was going to report him and asked his name.” The young man refused to identify himself, though Battle managed to get the license number. Instead, the driver demanded that Benedict and Battle exit the car. Since the two had already paid their nickel fares, they refused, and the unhappy driver was forced to take his passengers on to their destination along Sixth Street.

Two days after the incident, a description of what had happened, along with Battle’s written complaint, found its way into the Thursday morning edition of the Statesman.  “[Battle] did not necessarily determine that he would boycott the jitneys,” the newspaper cautioned. “He wanted them reformed for his own comfort.” The timing, though, could not have been worse for local jitney drivers, as the City Council was just then considering its first ordinance on jitney regulations.

AAS Headline.Jitney Gets Even

Thursday afternoon, while the news story was still part of the gossip of the day, President Battle and government professor Charles Potts were downtown along Congress Avenue. They stepped off the curb and waved to the nearest jitney for a ride back to campus. “Jauntily did [Battle] walk in to the street … with Professor C.S. Potts to get into a jitney,” reported the Statesman. “And just as jauntily did a jitney driver hail him with the salutation, ‘We know you!’ and leave the University president standing blankly in the street, controlling his temper perhaps, but probably not in the most satisfied mood in the world.”

Poor President Battle! Because of his note to the mayor, he was no longer a welcomed jitney passenger. Though Battle could still ride the trolleys, the newspaper stories let everyone know that Battle actually favored the jitneys. The offended trolley operators, then, had the name of the University president in their “book,” and gave him cold stares when he boarded.

In a few years, the jitney all but disappeared from the urban landscape. While streetcars were taxed and provided income to their host cities, jitneys initially had no such obligations, and because they took passengers away from the trolleys, city budgets were ultimately affected. An abundance of regulations, some legitimate – standards for qualified jitney drivers, the safety of passengers, and so on – combined with some less fair – jitneys were not allowed to deviate from trolley routes, could only operate at certain times, etc. – made the jitney less profitable. By 1918, more than 90% of the jitney services that opened in 1915 had ceased operations.

In the meantime, Dr. Battle continued to be a faithful rider of Austin trolleys and, later, the city bus system. Though he lived another 40 years after his jitney adventure, Battle never learned to drive a car.

The One Week Stadium


UT students planned and financed the first stadium, and built it in a week.

UT Football Player.1900sFootball stadiums have been in the news lately. The massive AT@T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, will host the first Championship Game of the College Football Playoff. In College Station, the entire west side of Kyle Field stadium was imploded and razed as part of a multi-year, almost half-billion dollar reconstruction.

Though it had a more humble beginning, Texas fans should know that UT students – not professional contractors – built the University’s first stadium. They did it in a week and for just under $800.

In the University’s infant years, Longhorn football was played on a 3 ½ acre vacant lot east of the original campus, just off the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway Streets, about where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Complex stand today. As the campus was too hilly for a proper athletic field, UT students “squatted” on the level plot starting in 1897 and used it for football and baseball games, along with inter-class sports contests. Two years later, the University officially purchased the land, and soon after it was named for the much-loved James Clark, UT’s first librarian, groundskeeper, registrar, bursar, academic counselor, and half-a-dozen other things, who was famous for the Christmas Dinners he gave at his expense to the students who couldn’t make it home for the holiday. Clark Field has since migrated about the campus; its third home is just south of the San Jacinto Residence Hall.

The 1897 UT Football Team

Above: The 1897 UT football squad was the first to use the vacant lot east of campus that would become Clark Field.

Initially, UT fans watched the games precariously perched on the 4-inch rail of the wooden fence built to enclose the field. But as University enrollment increased and football and baseball grew in popularity, the uncomfortable rail was abandoned in favor of standing.  When the field was purchased in 1899, a few small bleachers were hastily constructed along the west side that could accommodate a few hundred spectators, but important games were already attracting several thousand fans, most of whom had to stand four or five persons deep along the sidelines. To make sure onlookers didn’t accidentally intrude onto the playing field, a second fence, made of barbed wire, was erected to keep fans off the gridiron. Those standing in front had the best views, but were in danger of being pushed by the crowd into the wire.

The 1907 football season was a great success. The team played eight games, with the first and last against the A&M College of Texas. The opener was scheduled on neutral turf in Dallas as part of the Texas State Fair, but the UT train was delayed five hours because of a wreck on the tracks, and didn’t arrive in Dallas until more than an hour after the scheduled kick-off time. Texas had to hurry to the field, and with no time to warm-up, struggled against the A&M Farmers to a defensive 0 – 0 tie. This left unfinished business to be decided in Austin at the end of the season on Thanksgiving Day.

The only other road trip was a two-game visit to the Universities of Arkansas and Missouri. In Fayetteville, the Longhorns literally faced an uphill battle, as one end of the Arkansas field was 15 feet higher than the other. (The challenge of finding a level plot of land for football certainly wasn’t unique to Austin.) At a time when football games were played in two uninterrupted halves, the Texas offense faced downhill the second half and pulled away for a 26 – 6 win.

Missouri handed Texas its only defeat of the season, winning 5 – 4, but the trip to Mizzou wasn’t a complete loss. Just before the start of the game, Missouri students held a dedication ceremony for a new section of bleachers they had constructed and financed by selling “bleacher badges” around town. The Longhorn squad and the UT students who accompanied them were inspired by the Missouri students to undertake a rather ambitious project of their own: to increase the meager stands at Clark Field with comfortable seating for several thousand, and to complete it in time for the Thanksgiving Day bout against A&M.

Once back in Austin, the University community eagerly embraced the idea, and immediately set about the task of raising funds and drawing plans. The students turned to John Keen, a senior law student who also had construction experience. Keen proposed building 22 movable bleachers that would accommodate 120 persons each. When added to the existing stands, the capacity of Clark Field would be increased substantially to about 3000 seats. In the fall, the stands would be stationed along the east and west sidelines of the football field. Each spring, the east side bleachers would be transported to the north end zone to make room for baseball.

1907.Bleacher Badge

To finance the project, students borrowed an idea from their peers at Missouri and sold white ribbon ”bleacher badges” which bore an orange letter “T” and “Bleachers 1907” underneath. But wanting to do something more, the co-ed students living in the Woman’s Building – UT’s first residence hall for women – created a 3-by-6-foot banner to be auctioned at a University-wide rally. Made of white satin, it featured a bold orange “T” near the top, along with a large gold star, in the middle of which was a Texas football.

1907.Womans Building.Bleacher BannerOn Friday evening, November 15th, an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd assembled in the auditorium of the old Main Building. The group heard rousing speeches from the football team, engineering Dean Thomas Taylor and Professor Harry Benedict. College yells and songs were in abundance, and when the Woman’s Building residents entered with their banner, everyone stood for an extended ovation. “Texas college spirit … once more greets the Longhorns with the old-time cry of confidence and victory,” boasted The Texan student newspaper. As the auction began, bidding was by department, which at the time consisted of three: Law, Engineering and the Academic Department (Arts and Sciences combined).

The Laws opened with a $25 offer that was quickly countered by a $50 bid from the rival Engineers. The auction continued at a rapid pace until the price rose to $300. Interest was intense. Students quickly had to pool their resources to see how much they could afford. The bids continued to rise, albeit more slowly, until the Engineers won with a commitment of $325 to the bleacher fund.

When the rally had finished, 662 badges were sold at 50 cents apiece, and the banner auction had garnered $325 for a total of $656. A $132 contribution from the UT Athletic Association covered extra costs, which made the grand total $788, enough for the lumber and other supplies.

The following Thursday, November 21st, construction on the bleachers began in earnest, as Thanksgiving was only a week away. John Keen had organized the students into work crews by classes from the three departments, who would take turns in half-day shifts. By faculty consent, students involved in the project were excused from their classes that day. Senior engineers were first Thursday morning, Senior Laws took over in the afternoon, Senior Academic students (“Academs”) arrived Friday morning, and then on to the junior, sophomore and freshman classes.

1907.Building Clark Field Stadium

Above: Construction of the bleachers began on Wednesday, November 21st and was completed a week later, in time for the UT vs. A&M football game.

Below: Second year law students finished a section of stands and gave it a test run.

1907.Bleachers.Second Year Law Students.

For the next week, Clark Field was a bee hive of activity. “There was no such thing as loitering,” reported the Austin Daily Statesman. “Everybody working on the run, and an unpleasant surprise awaited anyone who thought he could go down and leisurely watch the work. A hurried and painful application of a plank always decided the leisured one to ‘shuck off’ his vest and ‘get in the game.’ The busy energy and varied costumes (everything from overalls to swell new suits) presented an interesting sight.”

1907 UT AMC.Thanksgiving Football AdIn the meantime, the A&M football team was also having a winning season, and the “Championship of the Southwest” was to be decided at the Thanksgiving Day game. Local newspapers claimed the Aggies were putting in three practices a day, with signal practice in the morning, full contact play in the afternoon after classes, and weight training in the evening.

The bleachers were completed by the following Wednesday, but a heavy rain overnight threatened to ruin all of the students’ plans. Thanksgiving morning, November 28th, Clark Field better resembled an aquatic park. “A great pond stood in the center of the field and another in the south goal, and the corridors were filled with long faces and grave speculations as to what the Farmers would do to us on a sticky field.” The students rallied, recruited volunteers to dig ditches that would drain the water, and then repaired the holes with sand and soil brought in by wheelbarrow. By the 3 o’clock kick-off, the field was in playable condition.

DT.Bleachers Completed.HeadlineAn estimated 5,000 fans attended the game, overwhelmed the bleachers and stood along the sidelines. As a show of good sportsmanship, the A&M supporters were given room in the west side bleachers, which were closer to the field’s main entrance along Speedway. UT students elected to fill the east stands, a seating choice that was passed on to the current stadium and continued for more than a century.

The game was a fierce defensive battle, but the Longhorns ultimately prevailed 11- 6.

Clark Field Entrance.1916.Through the next several years, UT students continued to add and renovate Clark Field. The west stands were covered in 1912, a “press box” built on the roof, and north and south seats were added. More than 18,000 fans attended the 1920 Texas vs. A & M football game, at the time a record crowd for the South.

Left: A colorful rendering of the entrance to Clark Field, at 23rd and Speedway Streets, in 1916. The ticket booths and covered grandstands were all constructed by UT students. Click on the image for a larger view.

250,000 Thank-Yous

UT History Corner.250 Thousand Visitors


Whew! As of yesterday, the UT History Corner has had 250,000 visitors from 104 countries since it opened in May 2012. A sincere “Thank You” goes to everyone who has stopped by to read, look, listen, and explore the history of the University of Texas. I hope you found something interesting and worthwhile!


How to Hang a Turkey


Ah, November! Harbinger of cool, crisp mornings, rusty autumn leaves, and the sweet aroma of fresh pumpkin pie. For UT students, November is a blur of mid-term exams and research projects, interrupted by Longhorn football on weekends. While the spring semester is neatly divided with a week-long pause in the middle, the fall term marches on relentlessly until the much-appreciated Thanksgiving break at the end of the month.

Of course, when Thanksgiving finally arrives, most students can’t wait to evacuate the campus. But not everyone – usually out-of-state or international students – gets to go home for the holiday. Though on-campus residence halls remain open, the break is a holiday for the kitchen staff, and the cafeterias remain closed.


Above: The Beauford T. Jester Center residential complex. On the right is the 14-floor Jester West, while the shorter, 10-floor Jester East is to the left. And take a look at the old-time UT shuttles parked in front – orange and white painted school buses!

In the 1980s, the Divison of Housing and Food wanted to ensure all students living on campus had an opportunity for a traditional Thanksgiving, and served a complete feast about a week before the holiday. The cafeteria in Jester Center, the largest on campus, went all out: table cloths, candles, full turkeys carved by the staff, dressing, plenty of healthy vegetable sides, and pumpkin pie for dessert. The cutouts of pilgrims taped to the windows might have looked a little cheesy, but the effort was appreciated by everyone.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Ad.State Theater

Above: Ad in The Daily Texan – Last night for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!

One year, the Thanksgiving meal happened to coincide with a dollar movie showing of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the State Theater on Congress Avenue downtown. A holdover from Halloween, it was the final night to see the horror classic.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Movie PosterAmong the freshman residents of the famed 12th floor of Jester West, Sharon – we’ll call her “Sharon” (because that’s her name!) – had recently become a great fan of scary films, but hadn’t yet witnessed the Massacre. After the Thanksgiving dinner, she recruited a couple of friends and went to see the movie.

While Sharon was at the film, a mischievous student (or students) paid a visit to the trash bins behind the Jester Center cafeteria and procured one of the leftover turkey carcasses. The identity of the person has never been discovered, though it’s rumored to have been a resident of the 14th floor, which was then well-known for harboring trouble-makers.

A few hours later, just after 10 p.m., an excited Sharon returned home to the 12th floor, eager to tell her fellow residents about the film. “It was soooo scary!” she declared, “I get goose bumps just thinking about it!”

To hear more, a study break was called, and the group decided to raid the Jester snack bar, a tiny, makeshift store then located on the ground floor. Everyone headed for the elevator lobby as Sharon pushed the call button.

Unbeknownst to anyone, the mystery student who’d acquired the turkey carcass had decided to hang it from the ceiling of one of the Jester Center elevators. As an added touch, a thick, frayed rope was used, and all but one of the fluorescent lights was removed. The remaining bulb was twisted so that the connection was erratic, and the light blinked eerily.

TurkeyDing! The elevator arrived. The door opened, and Sharon was to be the first to step inside. It’s unlikely the prank was intended for Sharon, or that the turkey was hung as a nod to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the combination of events could not have been brought together any better. The view inside the elevator: what was left of a once noble bird now dangling from a tattered rope, swinging slightly, dripping a little on to the floor, and illuminated by a faint, intermittent light, was a scene from the Massacre come to life. It was too much for Sharon and her goose bumps, who let out a a scream never heard before or since as she sprinted down the hall to the safety of her room.

No more was said to Sharon about the movie that evening, but the eats at the Jester snack bar were fine.


The Great Panty Raid of November 1961

1952 Michigan Daily. Panty RaidIt began with a trumpet. After months of freezing temperatures and snowy skies, University of Michigan students welcomed the first day of spring – March 20, 1952 – basking in sunshine and the comparative warmth of 57 degrees. It was a day to shed jackets, open windows, and stroll outside.

Following dinner that evening, sophomore Art Benford returned to his dorm room, picked up his trumpet, and played a few notes of Glen Miller’s “Serenade in Blue.” It was a chance to relax a bit before starting on the next homework assignment. But Benford soon found himself accompanied by a trombone player in the men’s dorm across the street. Two tubas joined the concert. A stereo speaker blared from a window. Someone owned a portable fog horn. Calls of “Knock it off!” were soon followed by residents exiting both dorms.

Notified of a disturbance, the Ann Arbor Police arrived to find 600 men gathered on Madison Street shouting at each other. But the appearance of the officers turned the students attention away from themselves and toward the police, who, not wanting to provoke anything further, wisely retreated to their car. “Perhaps the breaking of that one taboo – the defiance of the police, unanswered, ” wrote Michigan alumnus James Tobin, “put the crowd in the mood to break more.” Pent up for months after a long winter, the students needed to find an outlet for their energy, but what happened was completely unexpected.

The still-growing mob set off across campus to the women’s residence halls, and, against all University regulations, entered the buildings, went up the stairs, walked through the hallways, then moved on to the next dorm. Coeds were shocked; some filled waste baskets with water and poured them on the intruders from upstairs windows. At Alice Lloyd Hall, the largest of the women’s dorms, the men went one step further, entered bedrooms, and according to The Detroit News, snatched “items of lingerie as souvenirs.”

The crowd returned home two hours later, but it was now the coeds’ turn. A mass of women students marched on the male-dominated Michigan Student Union. Until that evening, it had been a longtime university tradition that no “unaccompanied woman” was allowed to enter the front portal of the Michigan Union, but the defiant girls surged into the entrance, through the building, and on to the men’s dorms next door. “Pandemonium broke loose,” reported The Michigan Daily. Not until Dean of Women Deborah Bacon arrived was order restored.

Though the student newspaper called it a “mass riot,” Dean of Students Erich Walter believed it was simply a “form of spring madness” and passed on any disciplinary measures. But the event received national press, and with it, imitators on other campuses. On April 8th, Penn State experienced a similar episode, as men marched on women’s dorms demanding “underthings” and the girls were happy to oblige. In the last two weeks of May, a pandemic of “campus riots” broke out at more than 50 colleges across the U.S. and Canada, and the panty raid fad was born.


Above: A panty raid  at the University of Southern California.

College administrators hadn’t seen anything quite like it and were utterly unprepared. At the University of South Carolina, a late night panty raid was accompanied by a lone bugler sounding Charge! Columbia University raiders set off firecrackers to cause confusion, those at Duke employed dynamite caps. To slow police response at the University of Miami, students let the air out of the tires of a dozen squad cars. As a proactive measure, the director of women’s housing at Indiana University set out a “barrelful of female undergarments in the hope that the males would help themselves and go home quietly,” while at Iowa State, students declared a “pantry raid” and scoured sorority houses in search of cookies and other eatables. The University of Arkansas football coach, Otis Douglas, tried to “good humor” students out of staging a raid: “If you guys had to worry about beating Texas next year like I do, you wouldn’t be out here.”  Police at the University of Minnesota resorted to tear gas to break up a rowdy mob, but misjudged the wind direction and accidently gassed themselves. And when more than 2,000 University of Missouri men marched and sang on their way to sorority row – the third target of a panty raid that evening – the police chief of the town of Columbia realized his 22-man force needed assistance. Near midnight, Missouri Governor Forrest Smith was wakened, told of the situation, and authorized the use of the National Guard, though by the time the Guard mustered, the students had spent their energy and returned home.

While the actions of the men received most of attention, in almost all cases the women assisted. They unlocked the doors to the dorms and sorority houses, cheered from upstairs windows, and sometimes defended their would-be raiders from the police. When 600 men at Columbia University besieged the residence hall of the all-female Barnard College next door, hundreds of coeds “waved undies from their windows and tossed water-filled bags as Columbia males fought with police.” Barnard’s dean, Millicent McIntosh, believed the women deserved an equal amount of the blame: “The Columbia boys could not be dispersed by the police because of the continued encouragement given them by the girls.”

At the University of Texas, only days after Dean of Women Dorothy Gebauer declared, “I’m sure our boys are too much of gentlemen to indulge in such antics,” the campus experienced its first bout of “Panty Raid Fever.” On the evening of Thursday, May 22, 1952, in the middle of spring finals, “a milling, mooing crowd of male animals shifted leaderless from various girls dorms and sorority houses” until 3 a.m. the next morning. The group of several hundred students was deterred by a coalition of Austin and University police, UT football players hastily recruited as bouncers, the sprinkler system in front of the Scottish Rite Dormitory, and a stern talk from Arno Nowotny, the venerated Dean of Student Life. Though the raiders went home empty-handed, future efforts would prove more successful.

Phone Booth StuffingMedia reports of the new “college craze” triggered responses that ranged from amused to horrified. Some thought panty raids were in line with the pre-World War II student fads of goldfish swallowing and flagpole sitting (and the soon-to-be 1950’s fad: telephone booth stuffing). “The nationwide rash of college boys in coed dormitories,” wrote Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist Hal Boyle, “strikes a cheerful and zany note in a mad and angry world.” While “blue-nosed gentry will surely see this as a new sign of moral decadence . . . [the panty raids] restore my faith in youth and higher education.” Boyle added that sometimes “college boys have to erupt and show they are something more than tame receptacles to be stuffed with stale knowledge. Just because they are working for sheepskins is no sign they enjoy the life of sheep.”

Photo above: One of Joe Munroe’s iconic photographs of the phone-stuffing fad in the late 1950s, this one at St. Mary’s College in Moraga,California. Click image for a larger view.

Sergeant Carlton Rutledge of the U.S. Army, a then participant in the American military action in Korea, strongly disagreed. In a letter to the editor published in the New York Times, Rutledge claimed to have read accounts of panty raids in Stars and Stripes. “What kind of young men are growing up in our country – the leading nation in the world, standing for democracy, civilization and refinement? . . . It was only a year or two ago that the papers back home were full of discussions on how to exempt these young morons from the draft so they might continue their education and become better men for our country.” Rutledge was direct: “My opinion is that such young whelps be drafted at once, given a rough training and sent to the front lines, to help there until the fighting has finished. . . I consider anyone who is so low as to act in the manner I read should have nothing less than a horse whipping.”

Bloomer Sooner.May 31.1952.As the school year ended across the country, so did the outburst of panty raids, which gave college deans and presidents time to act – or perhaps to overreact. New rules were created. Some students received warnings, others suspended, and a few were expelled outright. Two football players at the University of Oklahoma were dismissed for leading a raid on the women’s dorms, and newspaper headlines soon declared “Bloomer Sooner.” As a last resort (perhaps taking a cue from Sergeant Rutledge), the military draft was threatened. At Whittier College in California, the dean of students warned that the local draft board chairman would “try to draft any man involved in any panty raid.”

College newspapers sided with campus authorities and called the raids absurd, but were against the harsh penalties directed at a few students. “The responsibility of the raids is a collective matter and cannot be laid at specific individuals,” said The Minnesota Daily.  At UCLA, The Daily Bruin proposed that “book raids” in the library ought to replace the desire for panties with a passion for knowledge. In Austin, The Daily Texan dubbed the panty raiders “bloomer bandits,” applauded the police and football team who “quelled immature actions by a few students,” but joined other newspapers in “resisting the totalitarian edicts issued from college officials. . . . A student’s whole life is altered by dismissal from an institution for participation in a panty raid.”


UT Panty Raid.1962What happened? While student shenanigans have been a part of campus life for centuries, what was behind the panty raid? Some, like Dean Walter at Michigan, dismissed it as a case of spring fever on a grand scale. While there was an occasional broken window or damaged furniture, the raids were, for the most part, college fun: mischievous at times, not malicious. But they also had an undercurrent of real rebellion. Those who study such things have proposed that the students of the 1950s were challenging the concept of the university as in loco parentis – “in place of a parent” – the idea that a college should look after its students as if it were a legal guardian, setting limits in the form of dress codes, curfews, and so on. The post-war generation of the 1950s thought many of the rules outdated and irrelevant.  At UT, women were still required to wear dresses or skirts to class. Jeans were taboo, as were shorts. Coeds who had changed for P.E. classes in their dorm rooms had to cover up with trench coats as they crossed the campus on their way to the gym, or risk getting into trouble with the Dean of Women. Most girls thought the rule was pointless. Panty raids, then, provided an excuse to rail against the old-fashioned confines, and foreshadowed the more substantial social upheavals of the 1960s.


For the next year, panty raids were in short supply, likely deterred by the threat of expulsion or reminders that Americans were fighting in Korea. But after the Korean Armistice was signed in July, 1953, student antics didn’t seem so inappropriate. While the 1952 outburst was never repeated, panty raids were a regular campus feature for another 15 years, though they were always controversial.

UT Panty Raid.AAS.1956.05.03A little after midnight on Thursday, May 3, 1956, a group of 40 to 50 members of UT’s Kappa Sigma fraternity stormed the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house on University Avenue (where it is today). “They came from everywhere” said housemother Lucy Worthley. The men had brought paint ladders to gain access to the roof, and then entered through a window near the head of the stairs. Once inside, the front door was unlocked for others so as “to enter the house in one quick move.” Police were summoned. Two fraternity members were arrested, but later released, as they had appointments to meet with the Dean of Students the following morning. But the raid was a successful one. According to the Austin Statesman, “The known loss consisted of 13 pairs of nylon panties, four silk slips, three bras and eight pairs of socks.” Kappa Sigma, though, was required to make reparations with the girls.

1956 SMU Panty Raid.Panty raids persisted through the rest of the decade, but were often unpredictable, and campus administrators had to be creative with their responses. Cal-Berkeley experienced its first spring “uprising” on a hot afternoon in 1956, when a mass water fight between dorms turned in to a panty raid that involved 2,000 men and an equal number of coeds. A power outage in Huntsville, Texas interrupted study at Sam Houston State University, and without anything else to do, a panty raid was rumored. Quick-thinking President Harmon Lowman called out the university band and organized a pep rally in the middle of campus, which kept the students occupied until electricity was restored. A group of University of Michigan coeds staged a “reverse raid,” showed up en masse in front of a men’s dorm and chanted, “We want shorts!” The men complied by tossing garments out of windows. At Texas Tech, 250 masked students launched a panty raid to protest the formation of an emergency faculty committee dedicated to “hold down panty raids.” As United Press International reported, “The male students had little trouble in gaining access to the women’s dorms. The girls opened the doors for them and invited them in.”

Photo above: Sorority sisters of Zeta Tau Alpha dumped water-filled pots to slow would-be raiders at Southern Methodist University.

By the late 1950s, panty raids had evolved away from the potentially destructive entering of women’s residences to wooing the ladies from outside. Groups of men sang and chanted, and hoped to be rewarded by lingerie dropped from windows. As part of the fun, a co-ed might write her first name and a telephone number on the inside of an undergarment, and the gentleman who acquired the prize was obligated to return it by way of a blind date


It was a quiet, unusually warm Thursday evening in Austin on November 2, 1961. Just after 11 p.m., a fire ignited in a trash bin next to Moore-Hill Hall, which then housed UT athletes. Though the blaze was self-contained, because it was next to a residence hall, the city fire department erred on the side of caution and sent eight trucks to extinguish the flames. With such a commotion, the denizens of Moore-Hill, along with the men of Brackenridge, Roberts, and Prather Halls across the street, poured out of the dorms. The fire was easily doused, but once the students were outside and away from their books, they weren’t all that motivated to return. Instead, the group decided to take a study break and pay a friendly visit to the women’s dorms.

Setting off around the back side of Gregory Gym, the crowd continued to swell.  Students from the petroleum and chemical engineering buildings on the East Mall (today’s Rappaport and Schoch Buildings) joined the ranks, reinforcements came from the central library then housed in the Main Building, and still more as the group passed by the Texas Union. When the mob arrived at last in front of Kinsolving Residence Hall, some 2,500 to 3,000 men were chanting, “We want panties!”

Daily Texan.Panty Raid Headline

Above: Headline of The Daily Texan on November 3, 1961.

The coeds of Kinsolving smiled, giggled, and waved from their windows, but only one pair of panties was tossed from a third story window. The crowd changed tactics. Instead of the direct approach, the men began to serenade the ladies with The Eyes of Texas. This didn’t work either, and not wanting to waste the evening, the group moved across the street to try their luck at Blanton.

1961 Panty Raid.Littlefield DormBlanton residents were more cooperative. A single pair of undergarments appeared, quickly followed by “an airdrop of flimsies which rallied the troops.” The men below chanted and sang, and some would-be Romeos attempted to scale the second floor railings.

By now, the entire University Police force, along with 12 additional officers of the Austin Police, had arrived to break-up the proceedings. The crowd, though, was far too large, and the best the authorities could do was to keep everyone moving. The police charged. The longhorns stampeded. North to the Scottish Rite Dorm, where the girls were instructed to lower their window shades, and sprinklers were turned on to flood the lawn. West to the sorority houses and some limited success, and then back to the campus. At Andrews residence hall, some of the girls went up to the sun deck to “greet their worshippers.” Before long, even the statue of Diana the Huntress, in the center of the women’s quad, was sporting the latest in female lingerie.

Photo above: UT men climb the walls of the Littlefield residence hall (not recommended!) during the November 1961 panty raid.

1961 Panty  Raid.Longhorns Stampede

Above: The police charged. The longhorns stampeded.

“Why aren’t you taking part?” a UT student asked a police officer. “Just too old,” was the overheard reply.

Dean of Student Life Arno Nowotny arrived on the scene, collected Blanket Tax cards by the handful, and set up appointments for their owners to retrieve them the following morning. The cards, which proved students had paid their campus fees, were required to gain entrance to UT sporting events, especially football games.

“The riot ebbed and flowed from dorm to dorm for two scream-filled hours,” reported The Daily Texan. It wasn’t until well after midnight that the last cry of “We want panties!” was heard.

The Ghost of Old Main

Ghost in Old Main.2.

It always began precisely at midnight. The students knew it was coming and strained to hear.  Just a few tones at first. Faltering, random, described by one as “the shriek of a lost soul.” Gradually, the sounds found structure, became recognizable notes, but were always composed of sad, despondent phrases. It was “the most mournful music that ever fell upon the ears of man,” stated a listener.

In April 1903, the talk of the campus was about the mysterious “ghost” in the old Main Building. Two or three times a week, just as the clock struck twelve, someone – or some thing – began to play the piano kept on the stage of the auditorium.

Old Main Auditorium.Out from stage.

Above: The Old Main auditorium as seen from the stage.

The Victorian-Gothic styled old Main Building – “Old Main” – was the first structure on the campus, with a central tower, east and west wings, and a north wing that housed a basement gymnasium, the University library on the first floor, and a large auditorium above. The main floor seated 1,000, with room for an additional 700 persons in a balcony that wrapped around three sides of the room. Rows of tall, Gothic-arched windows along each side allowed for ample sunlight during the day, and the auditorium was outfitted for gas lighting at night. The stage at the north end was used for concerts, plays by the Curtain Club, convocations, literary society debates, and spring commencement. Raucous football rallies were also held here, though only the men were permitted to sit on the main floor. At the time, it was considered unbecoming for women to participate in such loud and spirited events. Co-eds were expected to quietly watch from the balcony.

Old Main Auditorium.Looking to stage.

Above: The auditorium view from the back row. The columns and stage are decorated for a Texas Independence Day convocation. Click on the image for a larger view, and you’ll find the piano on the right side of the stage.

The late night piano concerts were discovered in March when the music escaped through an open window and drifted across campus. Some of the melodies were familiar, but most was improvisation, and performances lasted about an hour. The trouble, though, was that the auditorium remained utterly dark, and attempts to discover the identity of the piano player had failed. Doors to the auditorium were always kept locked after hours. At the slightest sound of entry, the music ceased, and the room was found to be empty.

B Hall ResidentsBy April, 1903, the “ghost” in Old Main was becoming legendary, and catching the phantom in the act proved to be an irresistible challenge to the residents of B. Hall (photo at left), the men’s dorm just down the hill east of Old Main. On a weeknight near the end of the month, almost 50 B. Hall men organized an ambush. Sentries were posted at all of the Main Building entrances to prevent escape, and a few kept an eye on the auditorium windows. They waited quietly until midnight, when, right on time, melancholy tones once again began to emanate from the hall. Having borrowed a key from the night watchman, a dozen students rushed in to the auditorium, struck matches, and lit the gas lamps. The music stopped immediately. The hall was thoroughly searched and all of the potential hiding places checked, but to no avail. None of the sentries reported seeing anyone. Perhaps the piano player truly was a ghost.

Baffled, the students quietly appointed a committee of the bravest three to remain in the auditorium while the others returned to B. Hall. The lights were doused, the group made noises of giving up and going to bed, and the auditorium was evacuated, except for the three, who quietly found seats in the back row.

They waited for almost an hour and were about ready to retreat, when, out of the inky darkness, the piano began to play. “The music began so low at first as to almost not be heard,” remembered one of the committee, “and gradually came up just as the wind does through a pine forest.” With hair standing on end and beads of cold sweat on their foreheads, the three remembered their mission, struck matches, and rushed the stage.

The piano fell silent. Another search. But no one was there.

With the time approaching 2 .a.m., the committee, now more than a little spooked, decided to withdraw to the safety of B. Hall.

John Lang SinclairHalf an hour later, the B. Hall phone rang on the second floor. A groggy John Lang Sinclair (photo at right), still awake and finishing homework, answered. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?” asked an anonymous voice. “You can’t catch me!!”

“Is this the ghost?” replied Sinclair, who quickly realized the caller was probably at a phone booth installed in the rotunda of the Main Building. Bounding down the stairs, Sinclair found David Frank, who was also still studying.

“David! Get the phone and keep him talking!!” And Sinclair was out the door and running up the hill to Old Main. (Just a month before, Sinclair, who was known as the campus poet, had partnered with classmate Lewis Johnson and composed a new UT song they called The Eyes of Texas. It was to be performed in May.)

Frank picked up the phone. “Who is this?” The same response was repeated: “You all think you’re so smart, but you haven’t caught me!” Frank continued to keep the “ghost” busy on the phone until he heard Sinclair’s voice shouted into the speaker. “Hurry! I have the ghost trapped in the telephone booth!”

Frank hung up, bounced down the stairs two at a time, and yelled for other B. Hallers to come help. Within a minute, he was in the poorly lit rotunda, where he found Sinclair and the “ghost” locked in mortal combat. Together, Frank and Sinclair managed to subdue their captive and drag him out of the east entrance of Old Main. They continued down the hill toward B. Hall, where voices of others could be heard. This caused the “ghost” to panic. He made a final, desperate lunge, broke free, and ran into the night toward the southeastern corner of the Forty Acres.

Frank, a future editor of The Texan student newspaper, was also on the track team, and sprinted in pursuit, despite the danger of a precarious hill. (It survives today as the incline between Garrison Hall and the Graduate School of Business building.) Frank overtook his target, tackled him below the knees, and held on until others arrived. Surrounded, the “ghost” was summarily carried up to the fourth floor assembly room of B. Hall where a kangaroo court was organized and a trial commenced immediately.

B. Hall

Above: The original Brackenridge Hall – or “B. Hall” – just down the hill east of Old Main. The assembly room was on the top floor.

Who was the “ghost” of Old Main? No one seems to remember, other than his first name was Earnest and was a fellow resident of B. Hall. He was “looked upon as one of the most quiet and inoffensive men in the University,” recalled Frank, “and one that the average man would have thought too timid to go off in the dark by himself, much less play a prank causing the hair to stand up on the heads of even some of our most daring students.” Earnest was a musician at heart, somehow acquired a key to the auditorium, and went there late at night to ad lib on the piano. When he discovered others were listening and heard talk about a “ghost,” Earnest entered in to the joke, and deliberately played spooky music. He discovered that if anyone tried to enter the auditorium, he only needed to dive under the chairs near the end of a row, and in the shadowy light was almost invisible.

At 3 a.m., the B. Hall kangaroo court judged Earnest guilty of insanity, but was too tired to issue a sentence. Everyone went to bed.

Rumble at the Water Tank!

The infamous “feud” between engineering and law students began 110 years ago.

WaterTower2It arrived late in the summer of 1904, when a near-vacant campus was quietly wilting under the August heat. A stark-black, spindle-legged water tank was installed north of the old Main Building. It was supposed to be very temporary – a year or two at most – but its stay was extended to 16 years. An infamous campus landmark, the tank provided a backdrop for many campus shenanigans, and was the catalyst for a long-lasting rivalry between law and engineering students.

The need for a tank was born in 1900, when a cataclysmic spring flood brought down the seven-year old Austin Dam that had created Lake Austin. City water service was interrupted and remained sporadic for years, and the frequent water shortages forced Austinites to make emergency plans until the water supply was dependable once again.

Just before the start of the 1904-05 academic year, UT President William Prather ordered the elevated water tank constructed behind the auditorium of Old Main. Dubbed “Prexy Prather’s Pot” by the students (“Prexy” was slang for “President” at the time.), it towered 120 feet on four lattice supports and stood “in somber majesty on the open campus, in its coat of black paint.” The tank cost just over $11,000, but after it was ready and tested, the University discovered that the city could only provide enough water pressure to fill the tank halfway, making it almost useless. Even worse, the tank leaked, and a permanent pool of mud formed directly beneath it. Fortunately, the University didn’t experience a water emergency, but a lonely water tank on a college campus isn’t likely to be friendless for very long. It soon became the focus for student antics.

Main Building Water Tank043

Above: The water tank sat behind the old Main Building, fairly close to the north edge of campus at 24th Street, about where Inner Campus Drive passes the west side of Painter Hall today. Its height enticed students to climb up and enjoy the view, and to paint class numerals and other decorations.

On the brisk autumn morning of October 13th, about two months after the tank’s arrival, the campus awoke to find that the junior law class (the first-year law students) had scaled the ladder attached to the northwest support and decorated the sides of the tank with white paint. The initials of the 1907 Law Class – “0L7” – were boldly displayed, along with “Beware Freshie” and some derogatory remarks about freshmen, especially first year engineering students.

“Every time we viewed the shameful sight, it burned deeper into our seared vision,” wrote Alf Toombs, then a freshman engineer. While the junior laws’ handiwork taunted from above, the engineering freshmen huddled all day and plotted their revenge. Toombs acquired a large sheet of tough paper, and drew “by aid of a bottle of Whitmore’s black shoestring dressing, the silhouette of a jackass of noble proportions, and with the brand of the ’07 Laws on his flank.”

The choice of the animal wasn’t arbitrary. In 1900, law professor William Simkins was lecturing to his first-year Equity class in Old Main and had asked a student about the day’s lesson. Before he could respond, a mule grazing outside the classroom window brayed. “Gentlemen,” said Simkins above the laughter, “one at a time!” Thereafter, junior law classes were nicknamed “Simkins’ Jackasses,” or simply, the “J.A.s.”

WaterTankFightShortly after dinner that evening, the “clans of the engineers” gathered around the water tank, shouted class cheers and yells of defiance, and dared the law students to dislodge them. “Mars was the ruling planet in the horoscope for University students for several days,” noted The Texan campus newspaper. The junior laws responded accordingly, and amassed to face off against their campus rivals. Once begun, the freshman scrap sprawled over a half-acre and lasted almost an hour. “I entered the melee with a full wardrobe,” Toombs recounted, “and emerged minus a sweater, shirt, cap and part of my ‘munsing-wear,’ not to mention about four square inches of skin.” Though the junior law students were generally older and stronger, the engineers held a numerical advantage. As opportunities arose, unwary laws were captured and “baptized” in the mud pool below the water tank. The battle didn’t subside until the both groups were exhausted, and the muddy and overpowered junior laws had retreated, at least temporarily.

Flushed with their victory, the engineers recruited Toombs, along with fellow freshmen Clarence Elmore and Drury Phillips, to climb and redecorate the water tank. The ascent was a perilous one, as the ladder only went as far as the bottom of the parapet that guarded the service platform. Each of the three would have to grab the parapet, hang by their arms, and swing their legs up and over the railing to get a foothold. Since the law students had done this the night before, the three were certain they could “do all a miserable law could do,” and set out on their mission. Armed with white paint, paintbrushes and Toombs’ sign, the group brought along a pair of blankets each, as they planned to stay and guard their work through the chilly night.

The law students’ graffiti was replaced by a skull and crossbones, class initials “C.E. ‘08” and “E.E. ‘08” for the civil and electrical engineers, along with, “Down with the Laws,” and “Malted Milk for Junior Laws.” Toombs’ painting, “a meek, symbolic jackass, branded 0L7,” was hung in a prominent position. Before bedding down for the night atop the water tank, the three discussed what to do if the laws should return. As one of them had brought along some chewing tobacco, it was decided that if their “fort” was invaded, all of them would “chew tobacco for dear life and expectorate on the attacking party.” A late-night visit by four freshmen in the Academic Department caused some alarm, and the defense was employed. The pleading Academs insisted that they only wanted to add their own class initials to the side of the tank. After some heated deliberation, the engineers grudgingly consented. The rest of the night passed quietly, but it was a miserable one for Toombs. “You see, I was not a user of tobacco, and my gallant defense got the best of me. I was deathly sick for two hours.”

The tank’s revised appearance had the campus buzzing the following morning, and the talk continued for weeks. Engineers and Laws both claimed victory, and expressed their views poetically in “The Radiator” column of The Texan. The law students boasted:

Take your dues, ye engineers. Take a mudding mid the jeers of the ‘Varsity’s population –Simkins’ Equity is just. And the Laws will, when they must, give to you its application.

While the engineers parried:

That same night the Engineers, a noisy, noisome crowd, took lessons in high art at which no Law man was allowed. And those few Laws that hung around, knew not which way to turn. On every hand the enemy,whose need seemed to be stern.

President Prather, though, was not amused, and by mid-morning had hired someone to repaint the entire tank in gray and remove the ladder. Of course, this only provided an irresistible challenge to the students, and the water tank was regularly decorated through the rest of the academic year.

When Dr. David Houston succeeded Prather as president in 1905, he adopted a different strategy, and told the students they were welcome to paint the tank as often as they wished. This took all of the fun out of the deed, and the tank was neglected for years. William Battle, a Greek and Classics professor who had also founded the University Co-op and designed the UT Seal, rose through the academic ranks and in 1914 was appointed acting president. His attitude was “touch not,” which promptly re-ignited student interest. The tank was decorated once more, including a 1915 incident where several professors had to guard the tank overnight.

WaterTowerThe water tank remained on the campus through World War I. Along with the usual class initials and slogans, the tank sported the insignias of the military schools stationed at the University through the war, including a particularly well-done mural of a bi-plane painted by a soldier in the School for Military Aeronautics.

In 1920, the tank was sold to a Houston contractor for $2,000 and finally removed. Its passing was eulogized in the student newspaper: “Our old historic and beloved tank is no more. This old tank was to the University what the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York Harbor is to the lover of American democracy. It is the embodiment and emblem of all the splendid traditions, good or bad, of this still more splendid institution.”

Upcoming Tours for October

Moonlight Prowl.October 3 2014

Don’t forget!

The next Moonlight Prowl is scheduled for Friday, October 3rd at 8 p.m., and it looks like the weather will be clear and cool!

The Moonlight Prowl is a nighttime campus tour packed with anecdotes of student life, campus architecture, and UT history. With content drawn from newspaper accounts and the University Archives, the Prowl is intended to help personalize the University, explore its history, and have some fun.

You’ll find more info about the Prowl here.


Architecture Tour.Image

The UT Architecture Tour is an exploration of the architectural history of the University of Texas, from the first “Old Main” building set upon an almost barren forty-acre campus to Paul Cret’s grand master plan and iconic UT Tower. Along the way, we’ll investigate:

  • The UT campus of long ago.
  • Proposed campus master plans and what became of them.
  • The unique designs and uses of some of UT’s most prominent buildings.
  • Symbolism and meaning of campus landmarks and building decoration.
  • Landscaping on the Forty Acres.

Additional information about the tour is here.

How UT Students – and Eleanor Roosevelt – Integrated the Drag

In 1960, University students invented a form of protest that went national.

Texas and Varsity Marquees

Above: The marquees of the Texas and Varsity Theaters on Guadalupe Street.

The next time you’re on the “Drag” – that bustling segment of Guadalupe Street which defines the western edge of the campus – take a close look at the stores. Among the book dealers, coffee shops, fast food venues, and clothing outlets, two have squared, projecting covers over their entrances, framed by rows of lights and topped with curious bright orange signs. One reads “Texas,” the other, “Varsity.” What are they?  They’re replicated movie theater marquee signs, though smaller and much less glamorous than the originals. Today, they’re more like historical markers, reminders of a previous era when going to see a motion picture was one of the Drag’s popular charms. The Texas Theater, now converted into a drug store and a coffee shop, opened in the 1920s and initially showed silent films. Two blocks north was the Varsity Theater, with its distinctive Art Deco façade. Built in 1937, it kept up a brisk business until it was reluctantly closed in 1990.

Varsity Theater.NightFor decades, the Texas and Varsity theaters were familiar local landmarks. But in 1960, as the Civil Rights Movement began to bloom in Austin, the two movie houses, which had always been limited to white patrons only, were shoved into the national spotlight as part of a growing campaign for racial integration. The effort to open the theaters to everyone roused a significant portion of the University community, caused UT students to invent a new form of protest that was soon emulated nationwide, and received a little help from a former American First Lady.


Integration Cartoon.6“If you were one of the 200-plus Negro students at the University,” wrote Pat Rusch in a 1960 edition of The Daily Texan, “you would be living in the world of the 24-hour inferiority complex.” A decade before, the U. S. Supreme Court decision on the Sweatt v. Painter case required UT’s law school to admit African American Heamann Sweatt. Since then, the University had proceeded gradually to racially integrate the entire student enrollment. By the fall term of 1956, admissions policies had been revised to accept both graduate and undergraduate black students, but other restrictions stubbornly remained. (Above: editorial cartoon from The Daily Texan.)

“You name it, we can’t do it,” explained Huey McNealey, a UT student from Houston. “No matter how you try, going to pep rallies and things, you can’t get any real school spirit, especially when you think about everything that is denied you.” Though classrooms were integrated, the limited on-campus housing was not, and black students were prohibited from participating in many student activities, including athletics and theater productions. While attitudes were changing, the mood on campus wasn’t entirely welcoming. Sophomore Joan McAfee described her first – and last – Longhorn football game: “I was assigned a seat next to a white woman and her son, and every time I got up to yell for the team, she yanked her son close to her so I wouldn’t happen to touch him.”

Off limits, too, were most of the shops along Guadalupe Street. Cafes and nightclubs served white patrons only, along with barber shops, which required African American students to go to East Austin for haircuts. Clothing stores were open, but the use of fitting rooms was prohibited. Movie theaters were also “whites only.” This created a significant problem for black students in courses where professors required the viewing of a specific film as a class assignment.


“Integration is practically at a standstill in the University area,” declared UT student Chandler Davidson in November 1960, as he announced the formation of the Students for Direct Action, or SDA. Davidson, who was white, explained that the group’s purpose would be to publicize the difficulties encountered by black students and to “take peaceful, lawful, but definite action to remedy the situation.” The group had initially been formed as the Human Relations Council, under the auspices of student government, but Davidson and others thought the University’s regulations that oversaw student activities would eventually thwart their efforts.

Instead, the SDA wasn’t officially connected to the University. It met just off-campus in the YMCA building, then at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe Streets. Davidson hoped the group would “get around the formidable red tape which has hamstrung ‘official’ groups in the past.”

As the SDA began to meet, the integration of stores along the Drag quickly became a top priority. Efforts had already been made to open cafes to African Americans, but with little success, so the group turned its attention to the theaters.

Earlier that year, on February 1, 1960, four black students from the North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College in Greensboro entered a local Woolworth’s Department Store, and, after making a few purchases, sat down at the lunch counter which was labeled “whites only.” They were refused service, but remained in their seats for an hour in protest. The “sit-in” was born, and soon became popular as the Civil Rights Movement matured through the South. The first sit-ins in Texas occurred just a month later.

??????????As SDA members discussed plans to persuade theaters along the Drag to integrate, African American student Houston Wade made a suggestion. A variation on the sit-in, Wade called it a “stand-in.” Persons would line up at the box office, and when their turn came to purchase a ticket, would politely ask, “Is this theater open to all Americans?” When told it was limited to white customers only, the person would return to the end of the line and repeat the process. This had the effect of both raising the issue and clogging up the line.

The first stand-in was slated for Friday, December 2nd at just after 7:30 p.m. About 100 students, a biracial group with 20 African Americans, stood in line at the Texas Theater, which was next door to the YMCA. The line snaked down the sidewalk as the protest lasted an hour before the group returned to the Y.

The stand-in was deemed a success, and more were quickly scheduled. As the group grew to over 150, half stayed at the Texas Theater, while the remainder went to the Varsity. Mrs. Ludwema Wercham, the ticket seller at the Texas Theater who had to endlessly respond to same question, was presented a an orchid with a note signed, “With kindest regards for your long suffering patience.”


Dec 10 1960.Varsity Theater.Charles Root.ManagerWhen the stand-ins began, managers of the two theaters found themselves in an awkward situation and reacted differently. Both movie houses were owned by parent corporations: the Texas Theater was part of the Trans-Texas Theater chain, headquartered in Austin, while the Varsity was owned by ABC-Paramount in New York City. Despite endless questions and requests from the protesters, neither manager could alter the admissions policy at his discretion, but was bound to uphold the parent company’s directive.

The manager of the Texas Theater opened a second ticket office inside the lobby – while keeping the outdoor one open to “keep as near normal an operation as possible” – and tried to direct those who truly planned to see a film indoors. He instructed the protesters to remain on the sidewalk and not enter the building, and threatened to call police if the demonstrators became unruly.

But the Varsity Theater manager confronted the protesters. Most of the front entrance was roped off, while an employee used a bullhorn to instruct theater-goers to step past the demonstrators. The manager held a clipboard and demanded the names, addresses, and home towns of those involved in the stand-in. “I’ve been answering your questions,” he stated, “now it’s time for you to answer mine. I want to know who I am talking to.” Another employee was ready with a camera to take head shots. It was all a scare tactic, of course, and meant to intimidate. Instead, many of the demonstrators readily posed for photographs.

Above: The manager of the Varsity Theater tells students, “I’m not going to debate you.”


The stand-ins garnered a mixed reaction from the Drag’s merchants. All had grown up with segregation. As would be expected, some were uncomfortable with the notion of change; others were simply opposed to it. Just as important, though, were the merchants’ fears that integration might hurt their businesses. If stores were opened to everyone, white patrons might decide to shop elsewhere. “I was the first to serve Negroes on the Drag … about three years ago,” one restaurant owner explained in the Texan, “and I got a violent reaction. A majority of my customers didn’t want it – they wrote letters, and protested in person – so I changed back.” A store manager said of the student demonstrators: “They haven’t grown up. None of them have had to make a living for themselves. I thought the University gave them enough homework that they wouldn’t have time to tell a private businessman how to run his business.”


????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????On Friday, December 23rd, as the University was closing for the holiday break, the stand-ins received an unexpected endorsement. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who, at 76, was still publishing her “My Day” column in newspapers nationwide, wrote of the goings on in Austin. “Students of the University of Texas … have set themselves the task of picketing the Austin theaters … I am personally grateful to the Texas students for making the effort to bring about the end of this kind of segregation.” Roosevelt’s column helped to transform the SDA’s cause from a local issue into a national one, and gave it a wider audience. (The full text of Mrs. Roosevelt’s column can be found here.)


Texas Theater.Integration Picketers.As classes resumed in January 1961, so did the protests. For the next five months, the SDA organized two or three stand-ins a week with 100 – 150 participants. Picketers were added and carried signs which read, “Your money spent here supports segregation.” When the weather was chilly, coffee and donuts were available at the YMCA next door to the Texas Theater or at the University Methodist Church across the street from the Varsity. After a while, the protests developed into social gatherings. Songs were sung, student couples made it a cheap date, and occasionally a professor or two was spotted joining the lines.

At the same time, an upwelling of support from the University community appeared on the editorial pages of The Daily Texan. “Racial segregation is a drag on social progress,” one student commented. “What could be more absurd than a student showing a willingness to sit next to a Negro in a classroom, but refusing to sit next to him in a restaurant or theater?” Academic departments voiced group opinions. A dozen faculty and staff from the Department of Classical Languages declared segregation a “fundamental violation of human dignity.” A few days later, a letter signed by 66 members of the English department, including folklorist and department chair Mody Boatright, endorsed “the statement of our colleagues” from the classics department. “When we recommend a film or play by Shakespeare or Shaw … we want to be sure that such important experiences are open to all students.” Additional departments from across campus joined the chorus, along with informal groups of professors. “The undersigned faculty” stated one note, endorsed, with others, by government professor (and future graduate school dean and acting UT president) Bill Livingston, “wish to express their agreement with the objectives of students now seeking to integrate theaters on the Drag, and believe the peaceful, non-violent methods they are using are fully compatible with the accepted procedures of democracy.”


??????????To maintain interest and momentum in the cause, the SDA symbolically chose Sunday, February 12th – Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – for its most ambitious demonstration to date. Not only would the local stand-ins be larger, but SDA members had networked with like-minded college students in other parts of the country and asked for sympathy protests. The results were better than expected. On the appointed day, more than 400 persons crowded the sidewalk along Guadalupe Street, including a few students from Saint Edward’s, Concordia, and Huston-Tilitson Universities. Sympathy protests were held at the Universities of Michigan and Illinois, Oberlin College in Ohio, and at Harvard. But just as newsworthy, Houston Wade’s initial idea of the stand-in was being emulated nationwide. Corresponding stand-ins were held in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Shreveport, Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.


Pro Segregation Picket.Varsity Theater.Feb 12 1961Though efforts to integrate the theaters were, for the most part, non-violent, there was opposition. A student group that called itself the Foundation for the Advancement for Conservative Thought (FACT) distributed newsletters which argued a businessman should have the right to “make his own decisions in such matters as whom to serve” and not be “forced” to integrate. At the stand-in on Lincoln’s birthday, a small group of segregationists held signs which read, “I do not believe in the social or political equality of our two separate races,” and claimed – incorrectly – that the sentence was from Lincoln’s 1865 inauguration speech. (Instead, it paraphrased some of Lincoln’s statements from the 1850s.) On occasion, riders in cars along Guadalupe Street derided the protesters, and there was a single incident where two youths were arrested for spitting, pushing, and assaulting picketers.

On campus, at least one professor warned his graduate students against participation in the stand-ins, as it might harm their future careers. Rumors persisted that the University administration was pressuring The Daily Texan to cease coverage of the protests, and the YMCA reviewed a request to make its facilities available only to University-approved student organizations. As the SDA wasn’t officially connected to UT, it would have been left homeless. The YMCA politely declined.


Through the rest of the spring, while long lines and picketers had become a routine sight on the Drag, the effort continued to receive broad attention. Photos of the stand-ins regularly appeared in the Austin newspapers, TIME magazine and The New Republic printed articles, and venerated television and radio journalist Edward P. Morgan delivered a sympathetic commentary to his listeners nationwide.

Austin American.May 17 1961.On May 17th, 260 members of the University faculty and staff published a four-column advertisement in the Austin American, each person having contributed the price of a movie ticket. (Photo at left. Click on the image for a larger view.) The ad specifically requested the presidents of the two companies that owned the Texas and Varsity Theaters to revise their policies and open the theaters to everyone.

At the end of the spring term, when most UT students had left Austin for the summer break, a hiatus was declared for the stand-ins, though the SDA vowed their return in the fall. But as the integration of public schools, restaurants, playhouses, concert halls, and other venues were then making headlines nationwide, executives from Trans-Texas Theaters and ABC-Paramount sought a permanent solution.

A meeting was called for August 4th. Representatives from the theaters, Houston Wade from the SDA, English teaching assistant Claude Allen on behalf of the UT faculty, and Rabbi Charles Mintz of the Austin Human Relations Commission met for negotiations. If the stand-ins ceased, the theaters agreed to a one-month trial period in September where African American UT students (who would be required to show IDs) would be allowed into the theaters. After a month, if there had been no objections from other patrons and business was unaffected, the theaters would quietly open their doors to all persons.

The month-long experiment was, of course, a success. Within a year, most of the shops along the Drag had integrated as well.