To Serve the Nation

The University’s World War I service flag is 100-years old March 2nd.

Above: A century ago, on March 2, 1918, a hand-sewn, 10 1/2 x 16 foot World War I service flag was presented to the University.

It’s nine pounds of wool and grommets that tells a story like no other.

Among the extensive collections preserved by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, a 10 ½ x 16 foot relic from UT’s past is a poignant reminder of a time when normalcy on the Forty Acres was upended and replaced by a single-minded effort to aid the country at war. While universities have often described their missions in terms of education, research, and service, the First World War required the University of Texas to put almost everything else on hold and focus on its service to the nation.

One of the many wartime projects was the creation of an enormous University service flag. A team of faculty wives and UT co-eds carefully hand-cut and sewed more than 1,500 stars – on each side – to honor members of the University community enlisted in the armed forces. Officially presented on March 2, 1918 as part of UT’s Texas Independence Day celebration, the flag is a century old this year.


World War I was a defining moment for American higher education. Before 1917, colleges and universities were viewed by many to be frivolous or elitist, not as opportunities for social and economic mobility. Professors were rarely asked for advice on issues or problems of the day. Despite curriculum reforms to include more “practical” courses in science and engineering, and business — along with the more traditional Greek, Latin, and the classics — colleges in the early 20th century had failed to win widespread support from government, business, and the public. The world war changed everything.

Caught up in the patriotic fervor that pervaded the nation, male students rushed to enlist in the armed forces, which decimated college enrollments. At co-ed institutions like the University of Texas, women assumed leadership roles that had traditionally been denied to them. Professors who specialized in subjects useful for war were recruited for their expertise.

To avoid the closure of hundreds of male-only colleges, a national Student Army Training Corps was created, which allowed students to both remain in school and receive military instruction. Because the corps was open to any high school graduate, legions of young men who might otherwise have joined the work force found themselves on a college campus, and either graduated or returned after the war to finish their degrees.

By the end of the conflict, universities had firmly established themselves in the public eye as a national resource. The college campus became a place where American youth could be transformed into broadly-educated and valued citizens.


In Austin, the entry of the U.S. into the First World War on April 6, 1917, transformed campus life almost immediately. Unsure where to begin, the faculty promptly organized itself into a military company. Led by philosophy professor Al Brogan as honorary captain, 84 professors agreed to participate in one hour of drill and shooting practice three days a week. The group included honorary Private and UT President Robert Vinson. Senior members who were too old for active military training assisted history professor Eugene Barker with planting a war garden.

The faculty, of course, did much more than drill. Almost 40 professors were granted leaves of absence to engage in government service, often in officers’ training camps, hospitals, or intelligence. On campus, research in psychology, biology, and chemistry was directed toward the war effort.  Home economics professor Mary Gearing organized a widely-touted war college for Texas women that focused on food production and conservation, as well as women in wartime industrial roles. With funding from the Department of Agriculture, Gearing dispatched groups of UT co-eds to rural areas across the state to instruct farmers on the best methods for food preservation. At the same time, the University produced four widely-distributed bulletins with recipes to help conserve food staples.

Above: The “Save the Sugar” bulletin was one of four in a series. Other bulletins were filled with recipes – created and tested on campus – to conserve wheat, meat, and fat.

Most notable, perhaps, was chemistry professor James Bailey (photo at left). As a UT undergraduate, Bailey was better known as one of the authors of the University’s first yell, but after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Munich, he returned to Austin as a professor of organic chemistry. In 1915, when war broke out in Europe, medical supplies of the anesthetic drug Novocaine quickly ran short. The drug had been discovered in Germany, which wasn’t going to share the formula with its wartime enemies. Bailey volunteered to help, worked with Alcan Hirsch in New York, and “rediscovered” both Novocaine and a synthetic Adrenalin, a significant contribution to the war effort for all of the Allies.

In 1917, over 1,000 UT students rushed off to enlist, but with the advent of the Student Army Training Corps a year later, campus enrollment again swelled to accommodate those who were concurrently students and members of the U.S. Army. The Forty Acres was converted into an armed encampment, as students in uniform woke to the sounds of “Reveille,” marched in formation to meals, and followed a strict schedule that included both academics and military training. Sentries were posted at University buildings, and professors were required to present proper identification to enter their offices and classrooms.

Above: Members of the UT Student Army Training Corps fall in to formation in front of a row of wooden barracks along the west side of Speedway (where Waggener Hall and the McCombs School are today). On the hill to the right, Pig Bellmont, UT’s first live mascot, inspects the troops.

In late April 1917, President Vinson was appointed to the Council of National Defense and requested to attend a strategic conference in Washington, D.C. The meeting formalized an idea supported by President Woodrow Wilson to better involve universities in the war effort. In order to take advantage of existing college facilities and instructors, the U. S. government established special military schools for aviators at campuses throughout the country. Six colleges were initially chosen to host a School of Military Aeronautics (SMA), and the University of Texas was among them. The SMA was to provide basic technical instruction for beginning pilots before they moved on to flight training. An eight-week session included classes in the history and theory of flight, meteorology, astronomy, machine guns, aerial combat, and the use of signal flags in communication. Those attending the SMA were soldiers in a new branch of the Army known as the “Air Service,” later to become the Air Force, and were not considered university students. Instructors for the SMA included both army officers and UT professors.

Above: The official flag of UT’s School of Military Aeronautics is still preserved in the University Archives, a part of the Briscoe Center.

The SMA opened in June 1917. It was first housed in B. Hall, the first men’s dorm, but the SMA quickly grew from 50 students to several hundred. It was moved to more spacious quarters in buildings once used by the state’s Blind Institute, now called the “Little Campus,” just north of the Erwin Center, where Hargis Hall and the Nowotny Building remain. When the war ended, the SMA had expanded to almost 1,200 students. The largest in the country, it was given the nickname “West Point of the Air,” and was a prototype for the U. S. Air Force Academy.

Above: The School of Military Aeronautics in formation on the Little Campus. Only the building on the left remains as today’s John Hargis Hall, used for Freshman Admissions.

The success of the School for Military Aeronautics placed the university in good stead with the War Department, which assigned two additional schools to the Austin campus. The School for Automobile Mechanics opened in March 1918 at Camp Mabry in northwest Austin. Three hundred men at a time completed a six-week course before being sent overseas to the war. Like the SMA, instructors included members of the university faculty.

A month later, the School for Radio Operators was established on the campus. It took over the B. Hall quarters vacated by the SMA, but needed more classroom space than was available. To solve the problem, several rows of large canvas army tents were pitched in front of the old Main Building (photo at right), along what is now the South Mall. Once opened, radio students and their equipment were a common sight on the hilltops and in the valleys west of Austin.


One of the by-products of World War I was the invention of the service flag (photo at left). Designed by Robert Queissner, an Army captain from Cleveland, Ohio, the rectangular banner featured a blue star on a white background with a red border. Queissner initially created and displayed a pair of flags as a patriotic tribute to his two sons, who were in France fighting on the front line. But the idea quickly became popular nationally, and service flags were visible on front doors, in living room windows and on Main Street storefronts. Each blue star represented a son or daughter enlisted in the armed forces during wartime. If a person died in service, the blue star was covered with a gold one.

In February 1918, members of the University Ladies Club — spouses, daughters, sisters, and mothers of UT faculty and staff — decided that the University of Texas needed a service flag of its own, one large enough to display blue stars to honor all of the faculty and alumni engaged in the war effort. Spearheaded by the wife of engineering professor Ed Bantel, the Ladies Club recruited the Women’s Council, a student organization for UT co-eds, and discussed plans for an ambitious project.

Above: The University ladies Club and the Women’s Council work on the service flag.

The flag required a full two weeks of labor, with volunteers divided into 15-person shifts. Made from “a fine grade French flannel,” the entire flag measured 10 1/2 x 16 feet. The white center was 6 1/2 x 12 feet, and was initially filled with 1,570 blue stars. Each was 1 1/2  inches tall, individually traced, cut, placed, and hand sewn in meticulous straight lines. While Captain Queissner’s original service banner was intended to be hung against a wall or in a window, with the blue star visible only on one side, the ladies elected to make the university’s version a true flag, so that two star fields were created, attached back-to-back, and a two-foot wide red border sewn around it.

Above: The University’s service flag was presented on March 2, 1918.

Ready by March 2nd, the flag was introduced at the University’s Texas Independence Day ceremonies in the old wooden gym that pre-dated Gregory Gymnasium.  Following a rousing rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by the UT Band, Charlotte Spence, chair of the Women’s Council, formally presented the flag to the university. Space was left for 140 additional stars, and, instead of a gold-colored material, eight of the stars had white toppings to indicate those who had died. Before the war was over, the remaining stars would be added (more faculty and alumni served in the war than the flag could accommodate), and 85 stars would be topped in white.

Once completed, the service flag was a popular public symbol of the university’s commitment to the war effort, and was proudly displayed in the rotunda of the Old Main Building. On rare occasions it was attached to the outer brick walls of the old Main Building for commencement and other ceremonies.

Above: Patriotism Day on Nov. 14, 1919. The service flag is carefully lowered from the University’s flag pole. Click on an image for a larger view.

One year after the war ended, on Friday, November 14, 1919, the university held a “Patriotism Day” memorial. At noon, in accordance to “General Order No. 1 as issued by President Robert Vinson,” classes were dismissed, and all students, faculty and staff assembled in military style in front of Old Main, where, for the first and only time, the service flag had been hung on the university’s flag pole.

Engineering dean Thomas Taylor acted as commanding officer. The names of University men and women who lost their lives were read, “Taps” was heard, and as the band played “The Star Spangled Banner,” the flag was slowly lowered, folded, and solemnly carried into the Library (now Battle Hall) to be stored in the archives.


The Alumni Room

The message was direct, succinct, and dire.

“The Alumni Association,” wrote Houston lawyer Ed Parker (right) in 1910, “has not possessed that vigor essential to practical achievement . . . [It] has at this time no complete records, no fixed habitation, no funds, no really effective organization. That such a condition should not be permitted to continue does not admit of argument.”


Founded in 1885 by the 34 members of UT’s first two graduating classes (one with a B.A. and the rest with law degrees), the University’s new alumni association seemed full of potential. By 1891, the Association boasted 250 members, and a committee led by Robert Batts met with the faculty and Board of Regents to explore ways the alumni might be of service.

The following year, the Association announced plans to help build a YMCA building near the campus. At the turn of the 20th century, YMCAs – with meeting rooms for student groups, cafeterias, study lounges, and gym facilities – were popular among colleges as a precursor to student unions. The project was eventually realized with the opening of the University YMCA (above left) at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe Streets.

In 1899, the alumni raised nearly $1,000 to pay one-third of the cost of UT’s first athletic field, later named for Proctor James Clark. A year later, another $1,000 was pledged for a pair of marble busts – of former Texas Governor Oran Roberts and Sir Swante Palm – sculpted by Austin artist Elizabeth Ney. As governor, Roberts had ensured the passage of the 1881 legislation that created the University, while Palm, a Swedish immigrant who lived in Austin, had bequeathed most of his 12,000-volume personal library to UT.

Above: The alumni association’s first tangible gifts to UT were two marble busts of Oran Roberts (left) and Swante Palm. Today, they’re on display in the research room of the Briscoe Center for American History.

Scholarship fundraising had also begun, with the first $100 awarded in 1899. Soliciting donations, though, was strictly informal. For several years, members of the scholarship committee personally wrote or visited with their fellow alumni in cities and towns throughout the state, asking for one dollar contributions.

So, too, was the observance of Texas Independence Day on March 2nd. Since 1897, when UT students legally borrowed a cannon from the Capitol and fired it in front of the old Main Building (left), celebrating the birthday of the Texas Republic had become a favorite campus tradition. At the Association’s annual meeting in 1900, Bob Saner from Dallas suggested that the alumni should continue the custom. A special proclamation was created and received unanimous approval. It stated:  “Wherever two ex-students of the University of Texas shall meet on March 2, Texas Independence Day, they shall sit and break bread together and pay tribute to the founders of the Republic of Texas who made our education possible.” The tradition continues today, chiefly among the Texas Exes chapters, who often use their March 2 parties to raise funds for scholarships.


But by 1910, as the Association was completing its first quarter century, the group seemed to have lost momentum. Most of the activity centered on the annual meeting in June, in conjunction with spring graduation, and the agenda was primarily about electing new officers and appointing the following year’s alumni commencement speaker. Concerned voices were raised. The Austin Statesman reported that the 1903 meeting evolved into a general discussion on “why the alumni showed such a lack of interest in the affairs of the association.” Speeches were made, a committee was organized to look into the issue, but a definitive solution was elusive.

As for the 1910 gathering, Parker was unable to attend, hadn’t planned to run for an office, and didn’t know he’d been elected president until his predecessor, Will Crawford, personally visited with Parker months later. Completely surprised, he asked about the state of UT’s alumni affairs and was appalled. While dues were supposed to be a dollar a year, no one bothered to pay them, and there’d been no money in the Association’s treasury since 1905.

Above: The UT campus and University Avenue around 1910.

Parker agreed to take on the role as president anyway, and then requested his fellow officers – the Executive Council – to attend a Thanksgiving Day meeting in Austin. He proposed a significant and ambitious overhaul for the group, and with the Council’s input, established some short and long term goals. A month later, on December 20th, Parker sent a three-page circular letter to about 2,000 known alumni, effectively telling everyone, “We need to get our act together.”


Parker’s message was timely. Alumni associations for American higher education had been around since at least 1821, when the graduates of Williams College in Massachusetts founded a “Society of Alumni.” But it wasn’t until the 1900s that campus administrators widely began to realize the value of an organized alumni group as a part of the university community. There was fundraising, of course, but alumni were also contributing members of advisory committees and governing boards, advocates in political matters, promoters of higher education in their local schools, mentors and professional connections for students, and more.

The University of Michigan’s alumni group hired a full-time “alumni secretary” to assist the organization. Other colleges soon followed, and a national association of alumni secretaries was being organized to share ideas. At the same time, alumni newsletters and magazines, some of them published weekly, were becoming more common and connecting alumni in new ways. If Texas had waited much longer, it would have found itself behind.

Above right: Princeton University’s Alumni Weekly was first published in 1900.


In his letter, Parker outlined five objectives:

  • To encourage stronger attendance at the annual meetings and to better connect the alumni with each other, official class reunions would be held. In 1911, UT’s first 10 graduating classes, from 1884 – 1893, would be featured. The 1912 meeting would highlight the second 10, and 1913 – the University’s 30th anniversary – would showcase the last 10 classes. In lighthearted fashion, the oldest group was dubbed the “Ancients,” the middle group called the “Medievals,” and the most recent graduates were the “Old Timers.” “Out of these reunions will spring close class organizations,” Parker wrote, “and it is suggested that arrangements be made by each class to meet in Austin every fifth year.”

Right: A ribbon worn by one of the “Medievals” at the 1912 annual alumni meeting and reunion. 

  • As the Association needed an operating budget, the rule of paying dues was to be enforced. Members were to “have the privilege of paying each year annual dues of $1.00,” but those who chose to contribute $50 at once (or $10 over five years) would be considered Life Members.
  • An alumni magazine would be established and sent to all dues-paying members. (The birth of the Alcalde magazine will be the subject of a separate blog post.)
  • An alumni secretary would be hired “who shall be immediately charged with the execution of such plans as the Association may adopt.”
  • With the University’s help, a room on the campus would be reserved for the Association. As Parker envisioned, “The Alumni Headquarters will soon become a comfortable, convenient, and popular resort for all members.”


Above: As part of the 1911 annual meeting, an alumnae reception was held in the Woman’s Building – the University’s residence hall for women – which stood where the Flawn Academic Center is today.

Parker’s letter was well received. One person claimed it would transform the Association “from a wishing organization into a working organization.” Through the spring of 1911, Parker sent several more messages to the alumni, inviting them to the June annual meeting, while UT President Sidney Mezes penned a personal note to the “Ancients” – the 1884 – 1893 graduates – encouraging them to attend the reunion.

Just over 250 alumni made the trip to Austin in June, which the organizers claimed was an “encouraging response.” An alumni barbeque at the Austin Country Club, a special alumnae reception on campus, the spring commencement ceremonies, and, of course, the class reunions, were all part of the schedule.

The business meeting was held in the second floor lecture hall on the east side of the Engineering Building, today’s Gebauer Building (right). There, it was announced that 815 of the approximately 2,000 known alumni had remitted their dues, which included 36 life members. John Lomax, an 1897 graduate, was introduced as the Association’s first full-time alumni secretary. Efforts to launch a magazine had been put on hold in favor of publishing an alumni directory. And of great interest to those present was the announcement of the “Alumni Room” as an official, on campus headquarters.

A new University Library building (known today as Battle Hall, image at right) was almost complete, and the first floor had been outfitted to house President Mezes and his staff. Since he was vacating his quarters in the old Main Building, Mezes presented his former office – room 119 – to the alumni. Outfitted with tables, chairs, a sofa, and even a private restroom, It would serve both as the office of the alumni secretary and a place for any visiting ex-students to gather and feel at home.

Above: The UT president’s office in Old Main was remodeled into the Alumni Room.

Along with furniture, the Alumni Room was filled with photographs and other items meant to encourage visitors to reminisce about their UT student days. Hanging on the wall next to the door was an image of the first, eight-person faculty from 1883 (left). Shelves on the west side of the room displayed the University’s first athletic trophies, along with a few team photos, and signed footballs and baseballs from special victories. In a cabinet were issues of the Cactus yearbook, and, later, extra copies of the Alcalde magazine. Elsewhere on the walls were individual portraits of alumni association presidents, a map of Texas that showed the enrolled student distribution by county, and an architectural rendering of a possible campus gymnasium. (For the alumni to build a gym was a longtime ambition of 1885 graduate Thomas Gregory. It was eventually reached in 1928, when Gregory, as president of the Association, launched the Union Project, a $600,000 fundraising effort to build today’s Texas Union, Gregory and Anna Hiss gymnasiums, and Hogg Auditorium.)

Above: Ex-Students visiting campus would enter Old Main through the south entrance, then turn east for a short walk down the hallway to the Alumni Room (highlighted).

Left: This water color rendering of engineering dean Thomas Taylor was drawn by 1905 graduate Ed Connor and was used as the cover for the third issue of the Alcalde magazine. Afterward, it was hung on the south side of the Alumni Room, in between a pair of windows, and remained there for years. Found today in the Alcalde’s offices in the present alumni center, it is, perhaps, the lone survivor of the Alumni Room. 




Sources: The John A. Lomax, Will C. Hogg, and Harry Y. Benedict papers in the Briscoe Center for American History; The University of Texas Record, July 8, 1911; 1914 Cactus yearbook; “The Alumni Room” by Fritz Lanham, Alcalde, February 1914; Austin Statesman and The Daily Texan newspapers.

Presidential Poetry for the Holidays

UT President Harry Benedict was a poet – and sure did know it!

Above: A Christmas greeting, authored by UT President Harry Benedict, was sent on a one-sided postcard to all University alumni in 1927.

In 1927, Dr. Harry Benedict was the first University of Texas graduate to be appointed its president. He served in that capacity for a decade, still the record for the longest sitting UT chief executive. Benedict’s involvement with the University was deep. He’d earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from UT (as well as a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard), then joined the faculty in 1899 to teach applied mathematics and astronomy. During his career, Benedict was chair of the Athletics Council, president of the University Co-op, and was twice elected president of the alumni association. He was the first Director of University Extension, and later served concurrently as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and as Dean of Men before the Board of Regents asked him to take on presidential duties.

Academically, Benedict’s interests were broad and varied. “Dr. Benedict can right now engage a specialist in any one of half a dozen different fields in conversation,” wrote good friend and Texas naturalist Roy Bedicheck. Benedict was well-versed in economics, sociology, anthropology, geology, and history, along with math and astronomy. He was an expert on Texas flora and fauna, collected bird eggs with a passion, and took fellow UT professors fishing and camping along Bull Creek in northwest Austin and in to the Texas Hill Country.

Benedict could also write, and as president enjoyed penning an annual holiday rhyme – from he and his wife, Ada – for his official UT Christmas cards. Because of his popularity on and off campus, the cards were often sent to faculty, staff, and alumni across the state. Here are a few samples, discovered several years ago at an Austin book and paper show. (See also: Found! 1909 UT Physics Lab Reports)

Above and below: The 1929 Christmas card featured a drawing of the Texas Capitol as seen from the Forty Acres, with Sutton Hall on the left. The artist was Professor Samuel Gideon in the School of Architecture. 

The 1930 card featured a photograph of a snow-encrusted old Main Building (where today’s UT Tower now stands) and some distinctly astronomy-themed verse (see below).

Click on an image for a larger view.   





The University’s Guardian Angel

James Clark’s Christmas Dinners for stranded students were legendary.

He was the youngest “old man” on the campus. The genuine friendships he forged with students and faculty were to him an elixir of perennial youth. For the alumni, he was among the most cherished memories of their college years. His kindness, humor, patience, and counsel, were invaluable, as was his courage to take on a staggering array of vital responsibilities. For more than two decades, James Benjamin Clark was the indispensable guardian angel of the University.


Born in North Carolina, raised in Mississippi, and an 1885 graduate of Harvard University (photo at right), Clark settled in Bonham, Texas in 1873 with his wife, Florence, and opened a successful law practice. A decade later, Governor John Ireland asked Clark to serve on the Board of Regents for the soon-to-be-opened University of Texas. He accepted, but didn’t remain a regent for long. Ready to move again, and excited at the prospect of being involved with the initial development of a university, Clark offered to take on the duties of proctor. His fellow regents agreed. In July 1885, Clark resigned as a regent, moved his family to Austin, and at 50-years old took up the only non-teaching position on the Forty Acres.

For $2,000 a year, Clark was, in practical terms, the entire University staff. Along with his formal duties as “Secretary to the Faculty and the Board of Regents,” Clark served as registrar, bursar, academic counselor, groundskeeper, and librarian. He was also the campus financial advisor. “Parents are warned against the serious dangers connected with extravagance in the supply of money to students,” cautioned the University catalogue, “and are strongly advised to deposit the funds of their children either in the hands of a discreet friend, or with the Proctor of the University.”

From his home at the corner of 26th Street and University Avenue – where the Student Services Building stands today – Clark looked after the University community as if it were his own family. A student who missed class because of illness often received a personal visit. “After I left you the other day on the street car,” Clark wrote in 1899 to regents chair Tom Henderson, “I found the student threatened with appendicitis up, dressed, and out of danger. At the next house I found my boy with the broken leg (done in a friendly scuffle) doing well, and the other two who had fever were able to enjoy some oysters I had taken to them. I took supper with the mess [a campus eating club] and spent an hour talking with them. They live pretty hard, but are of the right metal. There are a dozen of them, and they have a short debate every night. The dear fellows seem very grateful for any attention shown them, or interest manifested in their work. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to cheer and encourage the boys who are making a brave struggle with poverty for noble ends. And they will win the fight.”


Faculty, too, occasionally fell into trouble and needed Clark’s help. One of them was the rusty-haired Thomas Taylor (photo at left), hired in September, 1888 to teach applied mathematics as well as courses in mechanical drawing. His classroom in the old Main Building was on the third floor, directly above the library, and was outfitted with drafting tables, chairs, and a faucet and sink for cleaning the drawing equipment after class. Austin’s water works, though, weren’t always reliable in the 1880s, and the water pressure was often insufficient to make it to the third floor.

On the afternoon of May 2, 1889, near the end of Taylor’s first academic year on the campus, he turned on his classroom faucet, but no water was forthcoming. Since this had happened many times before, Taylor simply went downstairs in search of a place to scrub his equipment. This time, though, he forgot to turn off the faucet before he left.

Overnight, with most of the city’s residents asleep, the water pressure returned to normal levels, and the faucet began to run. Since the basin had been plugged, the water filled the sink, overflowed, and began to flood the room. By the next morning, much of the third floor was a large puddle, and water had seeped downstairs to the University library, where many of the books were ruined.

Taylor was more than a little upset, and was certain his short career at the University was over. But Clark reassured the young professor, quietly had the water damage repaired, and replaced some of the library books at his own expense. In a report to the Board of Regents, Clark minimized the harm done as “not so great as might be expected,” and took some of the blame himself for not checking the building more thoroughly that evening. The regents were reassured that steps had been taken so that a similar incident wouldn’t happen again. In part because of Clark’s intervention, Taylor remained at UT for more than 50 years, founded and developed its engineering program, became the first Dean of Engineering, and was one of the most loved and respected professors on the campus.

Above: A 1904 engineering survey class. Professor and Dean of Engineering Thomas Taylor is back row center, with the mustache. 


Along with his duties to faculty and students, Clark had to look after the grounds. When the University opened in 1883, the square, 40-acre campus was inhabited by the west wing of the old Main Building, a set of temporary outhouses down the hill to the east, and little else. Near the close of the Civil War in 1865, most of the trees on the future campus had been hastily razed and used to build Confederate defenses for Austin. By April 1882, as the regents considered plans for a University building, the grounds were cleared of remaining tree stumps, and a mile-long, white-washed wooden plank fence was erected around the perimeter of the campus, with gaps at the corners and at the south and west entrances.

Above left: The west wing of the old Main Building in the 1880s. The planted trees and graveled pathways were added by James Clark.

Clark re-sodded the areas damaged by the construction of the west wing, laid out graveled walks, and planted live oak, mesquite, and cedar trees. At his home he grew English walnut and pecan trees from seeds, and when the saplings were tall enough, Clark transplanted them to the Forty Acres. Florence assisted by planting flower beds around Old Main.

The greening of the campus, though, brought unwanted visitors. Austin’s family-owned cows, which wandered freely about the town, found the grounds a favorite place to graze, and made a special effort to eat the tender leaves of the newly-planted trees. While Clark denounced the cows as the “most ruthless of raiders,” their appetites were also a distraction to classes. Harried professors had to regularly interrupt their lectures en masse to herd noisy cattle away from classroom windows. To stem the bovine invasion, Clark filled in the gaps of the perimeter fence with turnstiles and gates.

Surprisingly, the turnstiles weren’t very popular with the students. “They are nuisances to the stranger who is out late on a dark night, to the young ladies whose dresses are easily torn, to the tardy student whose overcoat pocket “hangs him up,” and to our regiment of absent-minded poets who commune with the stars during their evening strolls.” Besides, the cows had somehow learned how to operate the turnstiles themselves. Gates replaced the turnstiles, but were almost always left open. By 1895, the gates had been removed entirely, and the fence had fallen into disrepair, but the town cows had since found other places to graze and weren’t a concern.

Above: The Forty Acres from the southwest in 1895. The old wooden fence can still be seen along an unpaved Guadalupe Street. 


Among his many contributions to the University, Clark was perhaps best known for his Christmas Dinners. For almost a decade after the University opened, only Christmas Day was allowed as a holiday. Students repeatedly complained, argued there wasn’t enough time to travel home and return to campus before classes resumed, and petitioned the faculty for a week-long holiday. In 1891, the faculty at last acquiesced. Most of the students fled the campus for home, but there were still a few, all of them residents of B. Hall – the men’s dorm – who didn’t have the funds for a train ticket.

Clark came to the rescue and invited the “leftovers,” as he called the stranded students, to his home for dinner. “There was turkey at one end of the table and ham at the other,” recounted Clark’s daughter, Edith. “We had individual stuffed squabs, cranberries, plum pudding, and everything that goes with Christmas dinner.”

Above: B. Hall as seen from Speedway Street. The dining room was on the ground floor in the central part of the building.

As the University’s enrollment grew, so did the number of leftover students, and within a few years, Clark’s Christmas Dinners had to be moved to the ground floor dining room in B. Hall. By 1900, more than 50 students attended, and the event lasted several hours. Guests traditionally arrived by 2:30 in the afternoon, where a complete Christmas banquet awaited them. “After the feast there was a flow of soul,” reported the Texan newspaper. “It was announced beforehand that every good looking person present would be expected to respond with some toast, and so there was a great rush to secure recognition from the toastmaster. Of course everybody spoke, and everybody covered himself in glory – even the freshmen.”

“Clark,” the Texan continued, “in his inimitable way, kept the audience in convulsions with witty anecdotes and sly humor sandwiched in between the speeches. He also favored the boys with an eloquent address on the University which called forth much enthusiasm. Among other things, he pleaded strongly for a proper understanding and confidence between Regents, Faculty and Students.”

While the University president sometimes attended and offered to share the cost, Clark was adamant on providing for the dinner himself.


Above: The entrance to Clark Field, UT’s first athletic field, named for Clark in 1906.

“Editor of the Texan: I suggest the name of ‘Clark’ Field,” began an anonymous letter published in the student newspaper in the spring of 1905. “Judge Clark is a lover of sport and by his own testimony is a trained athlete. The name is easy to remember and is one we all love. If no better name can be found, I move we adopt it.” The note was authored by David Frank, The Texan’s editor, who had actually written the note to himself. Frank had been on the newspaper staff since his freshman year, and later remembered, “When I first went to the University in 1901, Alex Deussen and the editors who followed him were constantly referring to the fact that at other schools the athletic fields had definite names, whereas at the University of Texas people merely spoke of it as the athletic field.”

The field in question was a lot just east of the Forty Acres, about where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Computer Science Complex are today. The University purchased the land in 1899 to use as an athletic field.

Frank’s idea to name the field after Clark quickly found traction on the campus. Letters from fellow students appeared, and Frank began to refer to the grounds as “Clark Field” in print. His successor continued the effort. By the fall of 1906, the Athletic Council approved the name, and the Board of Regents quickly made it official.

Above: The present day Caven Lacrosse and Sports Center at Clark Field is managed by the Division of Recreational Sports.

Through the years, Clark Field has wandered about the campus. When the original athletic field was closed in the 1920s in favor of the present DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, the name Clark was assigned to a new baseball facility where the Bass Concert Hall now stands. Baseball moved to its present location in 1975, and the old “Freshman Field” along San Jacinto Boulevard was renamed for Clark and placed under the management of the Division of Recreational Sports.


On December 6, 1908, James and Florence Clark arrived at the auditorium of the old Main Building to hear a speech by William Jennings Bryan, the three-time presidential nominee. Clark smiled and waved to his many friends, and the couple took their usual seats on the front row. Just minutes before the start of the program, Clark’s head dropped, and his shoulders slumped forward. Florence knew immediately that something was wrong. Clark was hurried to his office while a doctor was summoned, but it was too late. At the conclusion of Bryan’s speech, Bryan himself learned, and then announced, that the University’s beloved proctor of twenty-three years had passed away.

Two days later, an enormous crowd that included UT President Sidney Mezes, the Board of Regents, the entire faculty and student body, and many alumni and friends in Austin, gathered at the Clark residence. With a horse-drawn cart to carry Clark’s coffin in front, the assemblage formed double lines and quietly followed for more than two miles to Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery, where Clark was interred.

Efforts to memorialize Clark were numerous, and among them was one written by Dean Thomas Taylor: “For nearly a quarter of a century he was the guardian angel of the University, and his life here was a benediction to the students, faculty and alumni. The night was never too dark for him to go to the help of a student or professor in need. He was the associate of the distinguished men that have shed glory on the University of Texas – Mallet, Humphreys, Roberts, Dabney, Gould and Waggener. The places of these great men have been filled with able men, but until the world produces another prophet Samuel, the place of James B. Clark will never be filled.”

Above: The senior class of 1909 donated a stained glass window in memory of James Clark. It was initially installed in a place of honor, above the south entrance of the old Main Building. In the 1930s, when Old Main was razed and replaced by the current Main Building and Tower, the window was preserved and can be seen just inside the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies on the first floor.

The Tower Gold Rush

A recent discovery adds to what we know about the UT Tower.

Above: The rim and hands of the UT Tower clock are gilded with gold leaf. A recent discovery has found that the Tower originally had much more gold.

Behold a room of treasures. Tucked away on the ground floor of Battle Hall is the Alexander Architectural Archives, a vast collection of more than a quarter-million drawings, tens of thousands of photographs, letters, and building models. It is the largest resource of its kind in the state.

For those interested in UT’s architectural history, this is the mother lode. The archives preserves the designs, blueprints, and correspondence for most of the University’s buildings, including those that have long since disappeared from the Forty Acres.

There are hundreds of drawings for the Main Building and Tower alone. Some are of more pragmatic details: the schematics for the plumbing, for example, or the parts of a window. But others are highly-detailed, hand-drawn, breathtaking designs, and often in color. They took days or weeks to prepare, the shading on a building added one meticulous pencil line at a time.

Above: The reading room of the Alexander Architectural Archives. On the table in front is a color rendering of the Tower clock at half scale, while framed in the back is drawing number 100, a detailed look at the top of the Tower.

Of these, one of the best-known is listed as “drawing number 100” (photo at right). It’s a 5 x 3 foot view of the top of the Tower, with all of the ornamental features intended by architect Paul Cret carefully labeled. Because it’s is so admired, it has been specially framed and usually sits on a dolly toward the back of the reading room. After more than 80 years, UT officials still consult it.


One of the drawing’s more curious details is the use of gold leaf. As anyone who’s seen the Tower knows, the rims and hands of the clock faces are gold. From articles found in The Daily Texan, the gold leaf was applied in October 1936, just a few months before the Main Building was officially dedicated in February 1937.

A closer inspection of the drawing, though, shows that gold leaf was also planned to highlight the limestone carvings around each of the clock faces, along with the belfry at the top of the Tower. Similar instructions for gold leaf appear on other drawings.

Above: A close-up of drawing 100 in the area just below the clock. The term “gilded” can be seen in the lower left with arrows pointing to the highlighted parts of the carving. Click on any image for a larger version.

Above: Just above the belfry, more sections are labled “gilded,” including the capitols of the Doric columns, and the areas around the carved bunting along the top.

Was all of that gold leaf actually applied? For years, the general consensus was no. There didn’t seem to be any record of it in the archives, though there weren’t any accounts of placing gold leaf on the clock faces, either, and we certainly know that happened. It may be those records were lost. But there was also no trace of the gilding on the Tower. While the weather may have removed most of it over the years, there ought to be some remnants still present in the protected nooks and crannies of the limestone carvings. The Tower, though, was clean. Given the evidence – or lack of it – it was natural to conclude that when the Main Building opened in 1937, the gold leaf was limited to the clock faces.

Earlier this fall, I was researching another UT history topic and happened upon a 1943 film about Austin on the Texas Archive of the Moving Image web site. Produced by the Chamber of Commerce, it was titled “Austin, the Friendly City” and relayed the experiences of a fictitious family who had just moved to the Texas capital. The film was a little grainy and the colored was faded, but about halfway through (at the 16:10 mark), there was a shot of the Tower’s observation deck and the clock. It didn’t look quite right.

Above: A screen shot from the 1943 film “Austin, the Friendly City.”

The scene was filmed in the late afternoon, but there were pieces around the clock face that were “shiny,” and reflected the sun differently from bare limestone. They were also gold in color, while the rest was a light gray. I compared a screen shot from the film with a copy of drawing 100, and the gold areas matched just right. Since the film was made just six years after the Tower opened, the film might be the earliest color close-up image we have, and if gold leaf was used, it would still be readily apparent. To be certain, though, more evidence was needed.

A search through the Alexander Archives was disappointing. As mentioned above, any documentation of the use of gold leaf on the clock faces or elsewhere had either been lost or were hiding in an unexplored folder. Instead, the hunt led to the Briscoe Center for American History, home of the UT Archives and another impressive collection of photographs. One day, while combing through a massive folder of images of the Main Building, magnifying glass in hand, I stumbled upon a 1938 black and white photograph of the Tower on a partly cloudy day, and where the angle of the sun left the side of the Tower in the image in shadow (image at left). Most of the pictures had been in full sunlight, and the bright white limestone made it difficult to tell if it had been highlighted with gold leaf. But in shadow, the differences between limestone and gold were unmistakable. Once I learned how to search for it, the gold leaf was apparent in other images, too. The University had indeed followed through with Paul Cret’s designs; the Tower once sported a great deal of gold leaf.

Above: Surprise! When the UT Tower was dedicated in 1937, it was fancily dressed in gold leaf around the clock faces and up by the belfry, all according to architect Paul Cret’s original designs. Click on the image for a larger view.

Above: A close-up view of the clock face.

What happened? The rough Texas weather took its toll. A review of photographs after 1938 show the gold leaf lasted for about 20 years, but by the late 1940s was already becoming spotty. It had disappeared entirely by the mid-1950s.

In the spring of 1966, both the Main Building and Welch Hall were sandblasted clean before objections were raised about the damage sandblasting would do to the limestone ornamentation. It likely erased any remaining traces of the original gold leaf, but we still have the photographic evidence to show us how UT’s iconic Tower originally appeared.

Left: A photo and caption from the May 15, 1966 issue of The Daily Texan. Click on the image for a larger view.






  • The Paul Cret drawing of the Tower – “drawing number 100” – is officially referenced as: Main Building and Library Extension, Drawing 100, The UT Buildings Collection, Alexander Architectural Archives, The University of Texas at Austin.
  • The 1938 image of the Tower is credited as: Prints and Photographs Collection, di_11166, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Texas Engineers Know How to Party!

The Thanksgiving Eve Engineering Reception drew capacity crowds.

Above: The Engineering Building, today’s Gebauer Building.

It was the social event of the fall term. Everyone wanted to attend. For a decade on Thanksgiving Eve, students, faculty, staff, and alumni donned their finest attire, gathered on the Forty Acres, and headed straight for – of all places – the Engineering Building. There, they were dazzled by the electric lights, amazed at the science exhibits, laughed at the variety show, enjoyed the plentiful refreshments, sang along at the rooftop concert, and danced into the wee hours on the top floor.

Thanksgiving could wait. This was the Engineering Reception!


Starting in 1900, Dean of Engineering Thomas Taylor (photo at right) hosted an annual banquet for his students. Held at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, Taylor scheduled the event near Thanksgiving to ensure his engineers enjoyed a feast, as most wouldn’t make it home for the holiday. University students were inclined to remain in Austin for Thanksgiving. There was always a home football game scheduled that afternoon, usually against the A&M College of Texas. Besides, Friday was a class day, and there usually wasn’t enough time to make the trip to home and back.

By 1907, the engineers had exceeded the capacity of the Driskill. “On account of the marvelous growth of the engineering department,” announced The Texan newspaper, “the annual Engineers’ Banquet had to be abandoned this year.” The students met to discuss the issue, and “it was the unanimous choice of those present to hold a reception, smoker, roof garden party, and dance.” It was ambitious idea. The Engineering Building, newly opened in 1904, was to be transformed into the venue they needed, and they planned to invite the public to celebrate with them. Thanksgiving Eve was chosen as the date, as engineering alumni would be in town for the football game and could attend as well.

Above: The top floor of the Engineering Building was a drawing studio that would serve as the main dance hall. The desks were pushed together to create a stage for the band. Courtesy Alexander Architectural Archives, UT Buildings Collection, Box 249.5

As they began to plan, the students soon discovered that their Engineering Building, though full of classrooms, a library, and labs, would be a great place to host a party. The roof offered a grand view of the campus and the Texas Capitol to the south. The top floor, a single, well-lit open room, was the drawing studio, and was easily the best choice for a ballroom. A lecture hall along the east side of the second floor was a natural for a planned variety show and smoker, and other rooms in the building could be remade into lounges.

The reception opened at 7:30 p.m. and guests were treated to a building thoroughly transformed from basement to roof. The stairways and rooms were draped with holly, imported by train from East Texas, along with orange and white bunting and large Texas pennants. Newfangled electric lights of various colors, powered by a basement generator in the electrical engineering lab, were strung across the ceiling of the top floor ballroom.

Everyone received a printed program for the evening, which included a well-crafted welcome message:

For the first hour-and-a-half, the focus of the reception was in both the second floor classroom and on the roof. The classroom was the scene of a variety show, where the students performed skits – which often poked fun at the faculty or rival law students – sang songs, and led the audience in some UT yells. Upstairs, Besserer’s Orchestra, a popular Austin band, played a roof top concert of familiar tunes. The crowd was invited to sing along.

Above: It was standing room only to watch the skits, songs and yells of the variety show on the second floor. Click on an image to see a larger version.

At 9 p.m., the formal dance began on the top floor. The drawing tables had been shoved together in a corner on the west side as a makeshift stage, Besserer’s Orchestra descended from the roof, and everyone had dance cards inside their programs. Each dance for the evening was listed – a waltz, two-step, schottische, or others – with a blank where the name of the dance partner could be written. At the time, it was the usual social custom to reserve dances in advance. The reception’s earlier entertainment was, in part, intended to give the gentlemen time to ask the ladies for dances and fill in their respective cards.

Those who chose to sit out a dance would find refreshments on the east side of the top floor, and could either return to the roof to rest and talk, or join the post-variety show smoker on the second floor. Traditionally, smokers were for the men. (It was considered unladylike for a woman to smoke, especially in public.) Cigars were provided, and it was here that many of the engineering alumni settled to reminisce with their fellows and relay stories of their time on campus to the students who visited.

In addition to the roof top lounge, the four engineering classes – freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior – had each decorated a room in the building to serve as additional sitting rooms. A contest was declared, a committee of faculty obliged to be judges, and the junior class room was declared the best.

Above: The Junior Room was dubbed the best class-decorated sitting room at the reception. The walls were covered with hanging carpets, UT and other college pennants attached to the carpets, and the room outfitted with couches and pillows. 

Dancing continued until 1 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, when the guests, tired but happy, returned home. The affair was considered a complete success. Over the next decade, the Engineering Reception attracted capacity crowds, the decorations and planning became more elaborate, and a pre-reception Open House was added in the afternoon for visitors to explore the basement laboratories and enjoy science and engineering demonstrations. In 1917, with the onset of the First World War, the tradition was reluctantly discontinued.

Above: Program covers for the Engineering Reception were elaborate. From left, a Thanksgiving turkey on a survey, the entrance to the Engineering Building (now the Gebauer Building), and an image of the original Alec, patron saint of the Texas Engineers. Click on an image for a larger version.

Above: The farewell message from the last page of the Engineering Reception program.

The Dinosaur Club

Above: The 1952 hand-drawn logo of the Die? No, sir! Club.

They’re nearly 600 members strong. They travel the world, provide scholarships for UT students, are regulars at local cultural events, and are experts on the ever-expanding Austin culinary scene. They work out at RecSports, play bridge at the alumni center, and volunteer on campus to help with everything from spring commencement to UT Remembers.

For the past 35 years, a busy Retired Faculty-Staff Association, or “RSFA,” has been keeping its members connected to each other and to the University.

Above right: RFSA members gather for banquet each semester.

The idea of an organization for UT retirees first originated with John Calhoun (photo at left). A 1905 graduate, Calhoun joined the mathematics faculty in 1909, later served as the University’s comptroller, and was appointed president ad interim from 1937 – 1939.

Calhoun was perhaps best-known for his passion for live oak trees, and was primarily responsible for their prominence on the Forty Acres. Calhoun started with four live oaks – transplanted from nearby Pease Park – that still grow on the south side of Sutton Hall. The oaks that shade the walks near and along Guadalupe Street were planted in 1928, and in the 1930s, Calhoun successfully argued for more live oaks on the West Mall, South Mall, and around the Main Building. He later drew a map of every tree on campus with detailed descriptions of those with interesting histories. It’s still consulted by the University’s Landscape Services.

When Calhoun retired in 1942, he wanted to continue to associate with his longtime UT friends, and created the “Die? No, sir!” or “Dinosaur Club.” The group’s purpose was simply to prevent its members from “fossilizing prematurely.”

Members included all UT faculty and staff over 70 years old, or were retired or on modified service “whether they desired membership or not.” Curiously, though, the group was limited to men.”No woman ever reaches the age of 70,” Calhoun joked. “Anyhow, men and women tend to see too much of each other.” (Perhaps Calhoun was trying to escape a long list of “honey do” projects that were waiting for him at home.)

Calhoun drew up a constitution for the club.There were no dues and only one officer, the secretary, who acted as “president, secretary, corresponding secretary, recording secretary, and treasurer.” It was the secretary who called meetings and kept a roll of the members. As for being treasurer of a group without dues, Calhoun specifically wrote that “he shall have no duties, no emoluments, and no responsibilities.” Since Calhoun was UT’s comptroller for 12 years, this part of the office was likely the most appealing and why he included it in the by-laws.

Above: A few members of the Dinosaur Club pause for a group portrait. Chemical engineering professor Eugene Schoch, second from left, also founded the Longhorn Band. William Battle, fourth from left, taught Greek and classical studies, designed the UT seal, started the University Co-op, and was an important chair of the Faculty Building Committee. John Calhoun is on the right.

The group was low-key and informal, and its members seemed to like it that way. The club usually met for lunch at the Texas Union and discussed current affairs on the Forty Acres, though they were sometimes used as a resource by the University administration. After all, the combined membership had given more than 1,000 years of service to UT, and they were happy to share their experience and advice.

The Dinosaur Club continued for several decades. In 1982, under the guidance of UT President Peter Flawn, a more formal Retired Faculty-Staff Association was organized – and open to both women and men!

The Star Machine

In the 1930s, the University built a one-of-a-kind planetarium.

Few could claim to have moved the heavens, but Ernest Keller was one of them.

At his command, 4,000 stars in dozens of constellations were kindled. Nine planets and 26 moons stirred, then raced along their orbital paths. Brilliant comets with their long tails careened through the Solar System. And all of it was sped up so that the events of a year could be viewed in a minute.

In the 1930s, under the guidance of Professor Keller, the University of Texas invented a planetarium not quite like anything yet seen.


Astronomy at UT is as old as the University. The Board of Regents, at its inaugural meeting in November 1881, wanted an astronomy professor on the original faculty, but funding issues forced a delay. No matter. When the University opened two years later, Physics professor Alex McFarlane and math professor George Halstead, teaching in the west wing of the old Main Building (photo at left), incorporated some astronomy topics in their courses. A few students took more than a passing interest, including William H. P. Hunnicutt, who was awarded a special Certificate of Proficiency in Astronomy by the regents in 1887.

Above: Brackenridge’s telescope gift was recorded in the handwritten minutes of the Board of Regents’ April 1896 meeting: “To the School of Physics – An equatorial telescope, five inch object glass, mounted on a tripod.”

A decade later, in the spring of 1896, Regent George Brackenridge of San Antonio presented the UT physics school with a five-inch refracting telescope, mounted on a tripod. “Now that we are provided with the means for work, why not organize such a class?” urged the Alcalde, a student newspaper that preceded today’s Daily Texan (and not to be confused with the alumni magazine of the same name). The telescope was stored in the regents’ meeting room in Old Main, but without an astronomer on the faculty, nothing more could be done. A month later, the Alcalde prodded, “The telescope recently given to the University by Mr. Brackenridge is still reposing in the regents’ room.” It would repose another three years before it was finally put to use.

In 1899, Harry Benedict was hired as an instructor of applied mathematics and astronomy for an annual salary of $1,200. A University alumnus, he was already well-known on the Forty Acres. Benedict earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering at UT, but had also been bitten by the astronomy bug, and in 1894 left Austin to join the staff at the prestigious McCormick Observatory at the University of Virginia. After two years, friends urged him on to Harvard, where he completed a Ph.D. in mathematical astronomy in 1898.

“Dr. Harry Y. Benedict, Instructor in astronomy, has been at the University for the past month getting his work in hand for the next year,” reported the Austin Statesman in September 1899.” He has overhauled the handsome telescope of the University, and has it in good condition for making observations.”

Though he was officially on the faculty of applied mathematics, Benedict was, in effect, a one-man astronomy department. For the next quarter century, he taught a series of astronomy courses, gave public lectures (some illustrated by lantern slides), and was the go-to expert for the local press. Benedict often invited classes to his home just north of campus to view the night sky through the Brackenridge telescope, and sometimes hosted telescope parties on the campus. It wasn’t long before his branch of the faculty was renamed the Department of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy. Left: A 1910 announcement for a public astronomy lecture, held in the auditorium of Old Main.

Along with his teaching duties, Benedict proved to be an able administrator. He was promoted to full professor, served as the first Director of University Extension, then concurrently as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Dean of Men before the regents named Benedict to the post of University President in 1927, the first UT graduate to become its chief executive.


Once Benedict moved into the president’s office – then located on the first floor of Sutton Hall, in what today is the architecture graduate student lounge – it quickly became apparent that there would be little time for astronomy. Instead, Ernest Keller (photo at right) was hired in 1928 to take the reins.

A newly minted Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Keller was excited about teaching astronomy on the Forty Acres. For those potentially intimidated by mathematics, he added a nearly math-free, popular astronomy course which quickly filled with 200 students. The old Brackenridge telescope, though, was still the only one available, and it was clear that the University needed to upgrade.

In 1933, a new Physics Building – today’s Painter Hall – was opened along 24th Street. Located between the Biological Labs Building to the west and chemistry’s Welch Hall to the east, the three became known as UT’s “science row.” At the insistence of President Benedict, a three-room, $15,000 observatory was installed on the roof. Its centerpiece was a 12-foot long refracting telescope with a nine-inch objective lens, a significant improvement from Brackenridge’s 1896 donation. Keller was named Director of the Student Observatory, and the new instrument was a boon for his astronomy courses as enrollment continued to climb.

Above: The newly opened Physics Building – today’s Painter Hall – with its copper-domed observatory on the roof.

Left: The nine-inch telescope was produced by the Warner and Swasey Company from Cleveland, Ohio..

With new momentum behind the astronomy program, Keller went in search of a teaching tool to augment his classroom, something that would vividly illustrate the motion of the planets and their relation to the stars. A planetarium would be ideal.

The modern version of a planetarium, a domed theater where the night sky is optically projected on the ceiling, was invented in Germany in the early 1920s. It quickly became popular throughout Europe, and the following decade crossed the Atlantic to the United States. Keller took a keen interest in the opening of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago in 1930, and read about others being planned or under construction in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York.

Above: The Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

A planetarium for the University was unlikely. The funding troubles that had confronted the Board of Regents in 1881 were again an issue, though in the 1930s the source was the Great Depression. For two years, from 1933-1935, wages for all state employees, including UT faculty and staff, were reduced as the Texas Legislature struggled to balance the budget. Keller’s $3,000 salary was lowered to $2,100. A planetarium was considered a luxury.

No matter. Keller approached President Benedict with a proposal to build something less ambitious on a slim budget. The idea was really an elaborate “orrery,” a mechanical model of the Solar System (photo at right). Keller’s version would be vertically mounted on a large board, with the planets moving in their orbits along grooved tracks, but with the addition of thousands of stars, drilled into the board and illuminated from behind, of both the northern and southern constellations. From the front, he proposed projecting the images of comets to demonstrate how they passed through the solar system. (The term “orrery” comes from 18th-century Britain, when Charles Boyle, the Fourth Earl of Orrery, commissioned what is considered the modern version of the device.)

Benedict lent a sympathetic ear to Keller’s idea, and not simply because of the president’s own passion for astronomy. A few years earlier, Texas banker William McDonald left an unexpected $800,000 gift in his will for UT to build a formal observatory. Through a partnership with the University of Chicago, Keller’s Alma Mater, the upcoming McDonald Observatory was under construction on Mount Locke in West Texas. When completed, it would house the second-largest telescope in the world, and was certain to boost interest in astronomy on the Forty Acres.

At the same time, the University had been asked to participate in the upcoming Texas Centennial Celebration in 1936.  From June through December, the campus was to become an enormous exhibit hall, with detailed displays in various buildings on Texas culture, history, fine arts, and science. (Gregory Gym was transformed into a natural history museum, with a model of a dinosaur standing guard out front.) The planetarium, along with an exhibit on the McDonald Observatory, could be a major attraction, and further showcase UT’s efforts to become a world-class research university.

Benedict approved the project with a $1,500 budget. The planetarium was to be located in the reading room of the old Library – today’s Battle Hall.

Top: The planetarium was assembled in the old Library Building, today’s Battle Hall. Above: The Daily Texan headline isn’t quite correct. The planets, not the stars, would be in motion in the planetarium.


Keller recruited mechanical engineering professor Alex Vallance to help with the design, and construction began on the chilly and cloudy Wednesday, January 23, 1935. Over the next eighteen months the project involved the University carpenter, painter, cabinet maker, physics department machine shop, several faculty members, and more than 20 students hired part-time through a Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) grant, one of the many New Deal programs created by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Above: The planetarium, still under construction, on the south end of the reading room. When completed, it was provided with a nicer base and framed by green curtains. The Greek statuary was relocated to the north end of the room.

The planetarium was placed on a square vertical board, 20-feet on a side, and painted a deep blue. Just over 4,000 holes, from ¼ to 1/32 of an inch in diameter, were drilled into the board to display stars seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The holes were lit from behind by 62, 60-watt bulbs encased in light-tight containers. “The stars of the planetarium are not made by projecting beams of light onto an interior dome, as in the Adler Planetarium,” reported The Daily Texan, “but by projecting light through the plane of the system by reflecting it along glass tubes from a central source.” Divided into a dozen sections, all of the stars could be lit at once, or only those seen from the Earth on a particular night.  A revolving switch allowed the lit stars to vary by month once the planets were set in motion.

In the center of the board was the Sun, a bright, 500-watt bulb, around which nine planets (including Pluto) and 26 known moons both rotated on their own axes and revolved about the Sun on tracts. The planets were made to scale out of thin glass spheres coated with mercury, which better reflected the “sunlight” and could be easily seen. “The smallest spheres are clearly visible, when illuminated, at a distance of a hundred feet,” Keller wrote in a special article for Popular Astronomy magazine. The largest planet, Jupiter, was seven inches in diameter.

Right: The primary drive that powered the planets on their orbits around the Sun. 

Behind the scenes was a ¾ horsepower motor central drive, along with smaller motors to operate each planet and its moons. Dozens of brass and steel gears and sprockets, all custom made on campus, along with more than 400 feet chain were required. Larger rotating parts were mounted on rubber bases to reduce vibrations and potential noise. The planetarium had two speeds. A year could be made to pass in a minute, or at a faster pace, in 20 seconds.

From the front, Keller designed a “comet projector.” He described it as an optical device “which projects a portion of a lantern slide of a comet in such a manner that the tail of the comet extends outward from the miniature Sun as the comet traverses its orbit.”

Above: Still under construction, chalk was used to outline constellations before star positions were drilled into the board. In this photo, the smallest “ring” is the orbit of Jupiter, which can be seen in the upper left. Saturn is the next planet and easily visible at lower left. The inner planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, are washed out in the photo by the 500-watt bulb acting as the Sun. 


The planetarium was debuted to the University Science Club and faculty on May 3, 1936, before it publicly opened the following month with the campus-wide Texas Centennial Celebration. Three nights each week – on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday – two showings were held, at 8 and 9 p.m. “The lecture makes the heavens take on a new and brighter aspect,” reported the Austin Statesman. Much of the presentation was centered on the motions of the planets and comets over the previous century, from 1836, when Texas became an independent nation, to the 1936 centennial year.

Along with the planetarium, visitors were treated to an intricate, electrically powered, working model of the McDonald Observatory (photo at right). Built by the Warner and Swasey Company in Cleveland, Ohio, 4 ½ feet tall by 50-inches in diameter, it was shipped to Austin in four boxes with express instructions not to touch anything until a company representative arrived to unpack and assemble it. (Today, the model resides at the McDonald Observatory’s visitor center.)

Next to the observatory was a replica of Mount Locke, with the layout of the buildings, equipment, and roads planned for the observatory site. It was built by students in the School of Architecture, and funded with a National Youth Administration grant, another New Deal program.

Following the planetarium show, everyone was invited to stroll over to the Physics Building to look through the nine-inch telescope.  Jupiter, with its colored bands and four bright Galilean moons, was in the right place in the sky for easy viewing.

Above: A model of the McDonald Observatory on Mount Locke, created by students from the School of Architecture.

Keller’s planetarium was a great success. Crowds through the summer averaged 150 persons each night, and while public attendance tapered off once school began in the fall, it continued to be popular until the Texas Centennial exhibit closed in December. For the next several years, the planetarium was used for its intended purpose, as a teaching tool for astronomy classes.

Keller, though, didn’t remain at the University. In 1940, with the threat of the United States becoming involved in a second global conflict, he was hired as a consulting mathematician for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, then the largest producer of military aircraft in the nation. With Keller’s departure, and with the University soon focused on World War II, the planetarium was neglected and fell into disrepair.

Years later, in 1946, a Texan reporter took note of the forgotten machine. “On the second floor of the old Library Building, surrounded by bulletin boards and diligent art students, rests a weird-looking object of yesterday’s fame – a planetarium.” Too large to relocate to the Physics Building, Keller’s creation was eventually dismantled. The heavens moved no more.

Football Traditions a Century Ago

Above: The 1915 University of Texas football team poses at the north end of old Clark Field. The house behind them is now the site of the Patterson Labs Building.

October is here, and the fall semester is hitting its full stride. Mid-terms, papers, and lab reports. Concerts, plays, and intramural sports. The campus is bustling and humming well into the night.

For the Longhorn nation, fall brings with it the familiar sights and sounds of the stadium, from the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign to the singing of the “Texas Fight!” song. There was a time, though, when hand signals and fight songs didn’t yet exist, when Alpha Phi Omega’s giant Texas flag or the Texas Cowboys’ “Smokey the Cannon” weren’t yet a part of Longhorn football games.

What were some of the University of Texas football traditions a century ago?

Football Rallies

Above: The old Main Building, where the UT Tower is today. A north wing in back housed a 1,700 seat auditorium, regularly used for campus football rallies. 

Football rallies were regularly held on the Friday evenings before games in the auditorium of the old Main Building. Following the social mores of the time, only the men were allowed to yell, and found seats on the main floor. It was considered “un-ladylike” for co-eds to get too rowdy; they watched from the second-floor balcony.

The program included rousing speeches by the head coach and team captains, UT president, and several deans. Students performed skits that often poked a little fun at the faculty, and the yell leaders directed the group (sorry, ladies – men only!) in cheers. “Texas Fight!” and “Go, Horns, Go!” were not among them. Instead, one of the most popular was the Rattle-de-Thrat Yell:

Listen to some of the old UT cheers recorded at the 2007 Big Yell.

To make sure everyone knew the words, pocket-size yell books were printed and distributed, especially to new students, at the start of the fall term.

Clark Field

Because much of the original Forty Acres was on a hillside, space was limited for outdoor sports. In the 1880s, baseball games were played on the relatively flat northwest corner, where the Texas Union stands today, and students waiting to bat rested under the trees now called the Battle Oaks.

By the 1890s, students were using a 3 ½ acre vacant lot just east of campus along 24th Street, but in 1899, the owner, a Mr. de Cordova, asked that the University either purchase the field or it would be divided and sold for private residences. A $3,000 price was negotiated. Students collected $1,300 among themselves, faculty donated $1,000, and the alumni contributed the rest. Intercollegiate football and baseball games were played there, along with informal intramural contests.

In 1906, at the students’ request, the Athletics Council formally named the field after the beloved James Clark (photo at right), who initially served as the University’s proctor, librarian, registrar, bursar, academic counselor, and groundskeeper, all at once. A friend to everyone, Clark was known to bring soup to students who were ill at home, and personally funded an annual Christmas banquet for those who were stuck in Austin for the holidays. A Clark Field still exists on the campus, just south of the San Jacinto Residence Hall.

The following year, 1907, students raised funds and constructed wooden bleachers in time for the annual football game with Texas A&M (see The One Week Stadium), then continued to add seats, roofing, and a press box over the next decade. By the late 1910s, Clark Field could accommodate about 20,000 fans, the largest in the South.

Above: A view of Clark Field from the east stands, with the Forty Acres across Speedway Street and up on the hill. Buildings from left: Law Building, B. Hall (men’s dorm), Old Main, the smokestack of the old power station, and the Engineering Building on the right (today’s Gebauer Building).


Above: A sunny kick-off for the Texas vs. Rice University game in 1916. Looking south across Clark Field, with the Texas Capitol in the distance.

“A custom which is never forgotten is cheering in the bleachers,” wrote UT student Rupert Robertson, who was a UT track letterman in the 1910s. “When the teams trot out upon the field, the rooters give ‘Rattle-de-Thrat,’ and as soon as the game begins, they sing ‘The Eyes of Texas are Upon You.’ So much noise is going on all through the game, you can hardly hear your ears.” As with the football rallies, yelling was generally limited to the men until the mid-1920s. Women were permitted to applaud, sing, and wave Texas pennants, but anything too raucous would bring a stern warning from the Dean of Women. Before the addition of a public address system, UT yell leaders, dressed in white to be easily seen, coordinated the cheering through hand signals that had been explained and rehearsed at the Friday evening football rally.

“Now and then a man on the opposing team gets through Varsity’s line for a few yards,” Robertson continued. “He generally receives applause, because we know that it takes a good man to break through Texas’ mighty wall of defense.”

Above right: The October 1916 cover of the student-published Longhorn Magazine displayed the latest in co-ed football fashion.


Above: The 1916 version of the University of Texas Band (with a junior mascot).

While today’s halftime tradition is to enjoy a performance by the Longhorn Band, the custom a century ago was the reverse. The band, usually under thirty-members strong, remained in the stands and provided musical accompaniment as fans left their seats for a “snake dance,” and ran single file in a tortured course up, down, and the length of the field. It was meant to show enthusiasm and support for the team, and was a great source of amusement for the ladies who watched from their seats.

Above: A 1923 version of the halftime snake dance. Modern halftime performances of the Longhorn Band began soon after the opening of Texas Memorial Stadium in 1924.

The Longhorn Pen

 Above: The Longhorn Pen was located just inside the Speedway entry to Clark Field.

The first concession stand at Clark Field opened in 1916 as the “Longhorn Pen,” just past the main entrance to the field near Speedway Street. Managed by six UT students hired by the Athletics Council, lemonade, soft drinks, candy, peanuts, popcorn, and cigars were sold, and the profits helped pay the students’ college costs.  “The addition of this feature will remove the objections many have found with the concession holders of the past, “reported the Austin Statesman, “and will at the same time enable six worthy boys to pay their expenses at the University.”


Rupert Robertson’s favorite football tradition was at the end of the day. “When the game is over, the rooters tumble over the fence below the bleachers, grab the heros of the game, and carry them from the field upon their shoulders. They portray true Texas spirit here, because this is done whether we win or lose.”

“Of the customs this last one is best,” Robertson explained, “because the act within itself drives away all ill feeling that might have existed during the game.”

Above: The main gate to Clark Field, near the corner of Speedway and 23rd Streets.