Shakespeare-palooza!

A century ago, the University went all out to celebrate William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Tercentery.The Winters Tale

Above: UT students portray characters from The Winters Tale for a campus-wide Shakespeare pageant.

 Shakespeare.1623 Folio.Harry Ransom CenterForsooth! This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. For the occasion, the University’s Harry Ransom Center presented a special exhibit of its extensive Shakespeare collection, including three copies of the 1623 First Folio (left), considered by many to be the most important collection of English literature ever published.

On the anniversary date – Saturday, April 23rd – the UT campus was relatively quiet. There were no ceremonies to honor William Shakespeare. No speeches, parades, songs, dances, revels, or plays performed to remember the Bard from Stratford. That might sound a little over the top, but a century ago, the entire University community turned the 300th anniversary, the Shakespeare Tercentenary, into a five day Shakespeare-palooza.

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Shakespeare at WinedaleMention Shakespeare and the University of Texas in the same sentence and the conversation inevitably turns to the Shakespeare at Winedale program. Begun in 1970 as a summer class by English professor James Ayers on the premise that the best way to explore Shakespeare’s plays is to perform them, the program has grown into a year-round effort that reaches students from elementary school through college. Most performances still take place in a now iconic nineteenth-century barn at the Winedale Historical Complex east of Austin, in the tiny town of Round Top. Though it’s an unlikely setting, both students and audiences alike swelter through the Texas summer heat to immerse themselves in Shakespeare’s works.

Leslie WaggenerThe Bard, though, has long been a welcome figure on the Forty Acres. Leslie Waggener (photo at left), one of the University’s original eight professors and a longtime Chair of the Faculty, inspired students in his English classes to organize a Shakespearean Club in 1885, during UT’s third academic year. When time allowed, he often presented lectures about Shakespeare to appreciative audiences across the state. “People who went to the opera house last night were entertained far beyond their most sanguine hopes,” gushed the Fort Worth Gazette about a talk Waggener delivered in 1887. AAS.1905 headlineInternationally known Shakespeare scholar Mark Liddell taught at UT in the late 1890s and mesmerized students with his occasional in-class performances. Liddell published an essay titled “Botching Shakespeare” in the October, 1898 Atlantic Monthly that’s still referenced in the current debate over whether to translate Shakespeare’s plays into modern English. In 1905, the Ashbel Literary Society, a ladies-only student organization, surprised everyone with a performance of A Curtain Club Logo.1909Mid-Summer Night’s Dream that featured an all-female cast, a reversal from Shakespeare’s time when women were prevented from appearing on stage and all of the roles were played by men. The show was such a hit, the Ashbel staged As You Like It the following year. In 1909, the Curtain Club was founded as the University’s first formal dramatic association. It was named for the Curtain Theater, one of several commercial stages – along with the Globe – that were operating in London during Shakespeare’s career.

Shakespeare on Main Building

Today, “Shakespeare” adorns the University’s Main Building. Constructed in the 1930s to serve as the central library, the names of fourteen literary giants – Aristotle, Homer, Cervantes, Moliere, and Mark Twain, among them – were symbolically engraved in limestone along the east and west walls. Shakespeare was placed in the northeast corner. And, just in case more UT-Shakespeare connections were needed, Paul Cret, the architect of the Main Building and Tower, was also the designer of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.  Cret was finishing his plans for the Shakespeare Library just as the University hired him to be its consulting architect.

Folger Shakerspeare Library

SouthMallColorAbove and left: Two buildings which share the same architect. In 1928, oil magnate Henry Folger hired Paul Cret, then head of the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania, to design a library and theater in Washington, D.C. to make Folger’s extensive collection of rare Shakespeareana available to the public. Two years later, as Cret was finishing the project and construction was about to begin, the University of Texas appointed him as its consulting architect. Cret completed his campus master plan for UT – which included the Main Building and Tower – in 1933, the same year the Folger Shakespeare Library opened. Click on an image for a larger view.

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Drama League of America.PamphletIn 1914, at its annual conference in Chicago, the Drama League of America discussed the upcoming 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916 and voted to bring about   “a great national Shakespeare Tercentenary Celebration.” The group didn’t have the resources to coordinate a single, coast-to-coast effort. Instead, it encouraged local events organized by communities, schools, and colleges. It held press conferences, contacted civic organizations, and published pamphlets filled with ideas for parades, day-long Shakespeare festivals, music and steps to old English dances, and ideas for easily-made Elizabethan costumes (image at right).

The Drama League’s efforts were incredibly successful. Despite the anxiety of an economic recession and a heated debate over whether the United Sates should enter the war in Europe, much of 1916 was given over to a national veneration of Shakespeare. The New York Times sponsored a weekly supplement devoted to the Bard, the city of Saint Louis Shakes Tercentenary.U Iowaboasted five performances of As You Like It with a cast of 1,000 persons, the University of Iowa organized a well-attended outdoor festival (photo at left). Commemorative parks were dedicated, schoolchildren learned Morris dances, and Shakespeare parties were a national fad.

Most organizers took their cues from the Drama League and sponsored one or two of the published suggestions: a parade and performance of a play, for example, or an academic lecture as part of a library exhibit. But Shakespeare was especially welcome in Austin. The University of Texas did them all, and more.

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UT Campus.1916

Above: The University campus in 1916. “Old Main” in the center has been replaced by the current Main Building and Tower.

For UT, Shakespeare fever arrived in 1915 at a spring meeting of the faculty, when English professor Reginald Griffith proposed a campus-wide celebration. A PhD graduate of the University of Chicago, Griffith came to Austin in 1902 for what would be a fifty-year career.  Passionate about rich libraries and rare books, he initiated with UT president Robert Vinson – and enabled by a generous $200,000 gift from George Littlefield – the 1917 purchase of the John Wrenn Library in Chicago, the first step in creating a world class literary research center at the University. Just before his retirement, Griffith spearheaded the effort to found the University of Texas Press in 1950.

AAS.1915.07.15.Headline.Program AuthorizedThe faculty approved the idea unanimously. An organizing committee of five, with Griffith as chair, was appointed, including Latin professor Ed Fay, history professor Ed Barker, Aute Richards from zoology, and faculty secretary (and noted cowboy song collector) John Lomax. By mid-July, the initial plans were announced in the Austin Daily Statesman, but were decidedly tame and traditional. There would be an exhibit in the University Library, distinguished scholars would be invited for guest lectures, and a professional troupe would be hired to present several Shakespeare plays “for the delight and instruction of the students and faculty.”

Griffith, though, wasn’t satisfied. Just as the future Shakespeare at Winedale program was built upon the tenet of understanding Shakespeare through performance, Griffith sought to involve as much of the University community as possible, and not as mere spectators. He prodded the committee for more ideas and sought advice from friends and colleagues. By the end of the 1915 fall term, plans for a far more ambitious Shakespeare Tercentenary had emerged.

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Eunice AdenFor several years, Eunice Aden, as Director of Physical Training for Women (photo at right), had organized an annual spring exhibition of games, exercises, and dances by hundreds of participating co-eds. Held at the University’s athletic field  (old Clark Field, about where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Computer Science complex are today), it was meant, in part, to promote the still not-completely-accepted idea of women in sports. Griffith approached Aden about substituting a nighttime Shakespeare commemoration for her usual program, making it instead an evening of old English folk dances, along with an original artistic tribute to the Bard. Aden, who as a UT student had starred as Orlando in the 1906 Ashbel Society production of As You Like It, readily agreed. A dozen sections of the men’s gym classes were recruited to be partners with the girls.

A performance of sixteenth century English dances, though, needed a proper setting. Phi Alpha Tau, a professional fraternity whose membership then drew from the campus literary, debate, and dramatic clubs, volunteered to design and build a replica of an English village that would stretch across the far side of the football field as a backdrop. The idea quickly expanded into a full Bartholomew Fair, what amounted to the first Renaissance Fair in Texas. Spectators would watch the dance performance seated in the stands, and then be invited on to the field to join in the fair afterward.

Clark Field.West Stands

Above: Clark Field, looking toward the covered west stands. A Bartholomew Fair was constructed along the east half of the field.

As Clark Field wasn’t lighted, physics professor LeRoy Brown offered to supervise a group of science and engineering students that would install spotlights as temporary illumination, along with special lighting effects for the fair. Music professor Frank Reed took on the responsibility for the live music needs for the evening, found the scores to English folk dances and other appropriate tunes, and recruited the University band and singing groups.

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Thus far, more than a thousand of the University’s 2,600 enrolled students were involved.  What about the rest? Inspiration came from home front, as Griffith’s wife, Alice, had been researching previous Shakespeare celebrations, particularly the first Shakespeare Jubilee that took place in Stratford in 1769. Among the many scheduled events was a pageant, a parade of costumed characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Though rainy weather had cancelled the 1769 pageant, it was included in future Shakespeare celebrations and had long been popular. Why not stage a pageant on the campus?

Before long, a pageant committee had organized, chaired by home economics professor Mary Gearing and composed of faculty, wives of professors, and friends of the University. The committee created a dozen parade units, depicting either scenes from plays or snapshots of Shakespeare’s life, and assigned each to an academic department or student organization. To visually distinguish each group, the committee went so far as to select “color schemes” for the costumes.

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With the inclusion of a procession, plans for the University’s Shakespeare Tercentenary were at last complete. A five-day celebration, from April 22 – 26, would include a library exhibit, lectures by visiting academics, performances of Shakespeare plays by a professional troupe from New York City, an Elizabethan Revel with folk dances, a Bartholomew Fair, and, to start off the festivities, a great Shakespeare Pageant. For UT, it was the most ambitious project yet attempted.

Theo BellmontFunding all of this, of course, quickly became an issue. The University could afford to bring visiting scholars and hire a professional troupe, but had limited resources to provide the lumber, nails, and paint for the Bartholomew Fair, or the materials and labor needed to create thousands of Elizabethan costumes. Concessions were to be sold at the pageant and the fair, and a planned twenty-five cent admission to Clark Field would all help cover the costs, but the money was needed beforehand. To the rescue again came Dr. Griffith, who fronted the needed funds, a sizeable risk for an associate professor earning a $2,200 salary. So that Griffith could concentrate on the tercentenary program, UT athletic director Theo Bellmont (image, above right) volunteered for business manager duties.

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UT Library.Battle Hall

Above: The University of Texas Library, currently the Architecture and Planning Library in Battle Hall, site of the 1916 Shakespeare exhibit.

By February 1916, much of the campus community was actively preparing for the tercentenary. Massive rehearsals for folk dances took place in the women’s gym, then housed in a temporary wooden structure about where the Texas Union stands today. University Librarian John Goodwin assembled an exhibit in a room on the first floor of the library (Battle Hall), with books, maps, photographs, and other materials about Shakespeare and Elizabethan England.

The exhibit, though, quickly became a critical resource, heavily consulted by the members and friends of Phi Alpha Tau as they designed and built their English hamlet for the Bartholomew Fair. Home economics students, under the advice of Professor Mary Gearing, used the exhibit to study Elizabethan textiles and fashion, and sketched dozens of historically accurate costumes that were posted on bulletin boards all over campus.

DT.1916.03.22.Note from Mrs Schoch

Left: Throughout the spring, notices about meetings and rehearsals for the Shakespeare Tercentenary regularly appeared in The Daily Texan student newspaper.

 

The costumes were, by far, the most time consuming. Thousands were needed. Materials for hats and suits were purchased at wholesale prices. Along with student volunteers, every tailor and dressmaker in Austin was employed. Even the sinks in the chemistry lab building were commandeered to dye endless pairs of stockings just the right shade.

In the meantime, the University advertised the upcoming celebration in newspapers throughout the state. Many of the hotels in Austin were filled.

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Shakespeare Tercentery.Merry Wives of Windsor

Above: Pat Holmes (in the wheelbarrow) stars as Falstaff as fellow social science students recreate a scene from The Merry Wives of Windsor in the Shakespeare pageant.

At precisely 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 22nd, a trumpet fanfare, played in front of the Victorian-Gothic old Main Building, heralded the start of the Shakespeare Pageant. The mile-long parade route started on the east side and moved counter-clockwise along the walkway that enclosed the square, forty acre campus. Twelve flags were spaced evenly on the course to mark the stops where the pageant groups would perform.

According to the Austin American, “The last rays of a brilliant sunset, reluctant to retire beyond vision of such a resplendent scene, shed multi-colored rays over the rollicking actors in the pageant. On every hand minstrels darted, jesters chided and bantered, and apple-sellers and sandwich peddlers adjured the crowd to purchase their wares. Twelve groups of players composed the main body of the pageant, portraying some dramatic moment of one of Shakespeare’s plays. Minstrels preceded each group, joyously rendering ballads and accompanying themselves with mandolins and guitars.”

Shakespeare Tercentery.As You Like It

Above: With Grace Denny as Rosalind (far left), natural sciences students portray As You Like It. All are holding young corn stalks, meant to depict the trees in the forest of Arden.

The Department of Social Sciences took on The Merry Wives of Windsor, decked out in “biscuit colored outfits in red trim,” while natural science students chose As You Like It in costumes of “forest green and brown.”  Appropriately, the law department reenacted the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice. Ancient languages claimed Julius Caesar. Modern languages went with Taming of the Shrew, education students opted for King Richard III, home economics selected The Winter’s Tale, and the engineers boldly chose Hamlet.  The remaining groups depicted scenes from Shakespeare’s life. At the end of the procession was the Bard himself, played by Dr. Tyler Mather, chair of the physics department.

Shakespeare and Mather

Above: Good casting? Dr. Tyler Mather (right), chair of the physics department, played Shakespeare in the tercentenary pageant.

An estimated 10,000 spectators gathered to see the parade, more than half of them sporting their own, homemade Elizabethan costumes. They stayed well after sunset and watched the parade by the light of electric lamps only recently installed along the walk.

Program Cover.Shakespeare TercentaryThe pageant concluded, the crowd hurried to fill the west stands of Clark Field for the 8 p.m. Elizabethan Revel. Under the gaze of special lighting and accompanied by the twenty-piece University band, hundreds of UT students performed a series of English folk dances: Morris dances, the Sailor’s Hornpipe, and others. Next, the all-girl advanced modern dance class presented an interpretive, original piece which depicted an aging Shakespeare, retired from the stage, returning his literary gifts to each of the Nine Muses. “The various young ladies and their attendants captivated the audience by the gracefulness and beauty with which they danced their respective parts,” reported the Cactus yearbook.

After the dance program, the audience was invited on to the field for the Bartholomew Fair. The Boar’s Head “Tavern” served shepherd’s pie and family-friendly libations. Puppet shows, mock sword fights, wrestling matches, and fortune telling provided entertainment, and fairgoers could try their own hand at archery, lawn bowling, and folk dancing. The Austin Daily Statesman called it a “gorgeous jollification,” and the party continued well into the night.

Sunday, April 23rd, was the anniversary date of Shakespeare’s passing, but also turned out to be Easter Sunday. The University, along with most of Austin, was closed for the day.  No matter. Caught up in the spirit of the weekend, most of the city’s clergy found a way to weave Shakespeare into their Easter sermons.

Dr Wendell LectureThe tercentenary continued through the following Wednesday, as UT president William Battle suspended classes each day at noon so as many students as possible could attend lectures by visiting scholars in the Old Main auditorium.  Addresses were delivered by John Manly of the University of Chicago, Barrett Wendell of Harvard, and former UT law professor and regent Robert Batts. In the evenings, the Cliff Deveraux troupe from New York performed Shakespeare plays outdoors in the southeastern corner of the campus, the audience sitting on the hillside where the Graduate School of Business building now stands. Wednesday afternoon, the campus was given over to the children of the Baker, Winn, and Wooldridge elementary schools who held their own Shakespeare pageant and a Maypole dance.

DT.1916.04.22.Shakespeare ArtworkOne last fling was held Thursday evening. An all-University dance in the women’s gym provided an excuse to don those Elizabethan costumes a final time. Class attendance Friday morning was reportedly a bit sparse.

“Never before has a single activity been more enthusiastically participated in by a larger number of our student body than the Shakespeare Tercentenary,” reported The Daily Texan student newspaper. “Its influence educationally was great. The institution was imbued with a new sense of the artistic and cultural. It has done a lasting good.” Professor Griffith, who was fully reimbursed from the earnings of the Bartholomew Fair, was praised from all corners of the campus. “He shouldered the whole responsibility, financial and otherwise,” lauded the Texan. “Such loyal public service cannot be commended too highly.”

 

A Flag Full of Stars

The story of the University’s World War I Service Flag

World War One Service Flag.March 2 1918

Above: With more than 1,500 stars, a hand-sewn, 10 x 16 foot service flag was presented to the University on March 2, 1918.

World War I was a defining moment for American higher education. Before 1917, colleges and universities were still 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 modern languages, science and engineering — 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.

World War I.Recruitment.Uncle SamCaught 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 returned after the war to finish their degrees.

By the end of the war, 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.

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In Austin, the U.S. declaration of war on April 6, 1917, transformed university life almost immediately. The faculty organized into a military company. Led by philosophy professor Al Brogan as honorary captain, eighty-four professors agreed to participate in one hour of drill three days a week. The group included honorary Private and UT President Robert Vinson. Senior members who were a little too old for active military training assisted Dr. Eugene Barker from the history department in planting a war garden on a section of vacant land near the campus.

Women War College

The faculty, of course, did much more than drill. Almost forty 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 and their spouses on the best methods for food preservation.

UT Professor James BaileyMost 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 PhD 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 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.

WWI Baracks with Pig Bellmont

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.

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.

WWI Little Campus.School of Military Aeronautics.1.

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.

WWI.Radio Operator Tents on South MallA 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, 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.

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Blue Star Service FlagOne of the by-products of World War I was the invention of the service flag. 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.

WW1 Service Flag.Ladies Club Sewing

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.

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. (See photo at the top of this post.) 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.

Flag Hangs in Rotunda

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.

Loayalty Day Nov 14 1919

Above: Patriotism Day on Nov. 14, 1918. 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. Nearly a century later, the Briscoe Center for American History, which houses the UT Archives, still carefully preserves the service flag.

World War I Service Flag.Table View

Above: The University’s World War I service flag is preserved in the University Archives, it’s colors still vibrant after almost a century. As there were no tables large enough, the flag could only be safely opened half way for this viewing.

World War I Service Flag.1.

Above: Made of a “fine grade French flannel,” the flag measures 10 1/2 x 16 feet.

World War I Service Flag.2.

Above: With more than 1,500 hand-sewn stars – on each side – 85 of the stars are covered by smaller white stars to designate members of the University community who died in the war.

 

The Great Jester Center Food Fight

John Belushi.Animal House

Above: “Food Fight!” shouts John Belushi as the irascible John “Bluto” Blutarsky in the film Animal House by Universal Pictures.

It was stress time. For UT students in the spring of 1982 – as it is today – the dreaded last week of classes was about as popular as an Oklahoma Sooner at a Longhorn tailgate.  Professors smiled as they distributed yet another round of tests (Don’t forget your blue books!), semester-long projects and research papers were due, and final exams loomed just over the horizon. The harried inmates of Jester Center, the University’s largest and at the time only co-ed residence hall, were up at all hours and bleary-eyed, living off caffeine as they sprinted to the end of the academic year.

That’s when the flyers appeared.

They were everywhere. Posted along the hallways, in the elevators, on the bulletin boards, in the bathroom stalls, no one could miss them. And in those ancient and primitive times before email, the internet, and social media, flyers were one of the best ways to get the word out about something. Students took notice.

Food Fight Flyer“Don’t be left out in the cold. NOW’S THE TIME.” With great fanfare, the flyers announced the first annual John Belushi Memorial Food Fight, set for Thursday, May 6th on the second level of the Jester Cafeteria. Belushi, famous for his performance as the college degenerate John “Bluto” Blutarsky in the film Animal House, had died two months previously in early March.

A food fight?! In the Jester cafeteria? This didn’t seem like the usual program the dorm’s resident assistants (RAs) would organize. But there it was, plainly printed on the bottom right hand corner of the flyer: “Sponsored by the Jester Division of Housing and Food services.” That sounded official. And how thoughtful for the housing office to provide a way for students to let off a little steam before final exams.

Above: The infamous food fight flyer, created by cutting out words from magazines and newspapers, taping them to a sheet of paper, then running off copies at the nearest Xerox machine. Old school technology. Click on the image for a larger view.

Of course, the housing office had not organized, approved, sanctioned, endorsed, or in any way condoned a food fight in the cafeteria. Most of the flyers were removed post haste. Most, but not all. The RAs did their best to spread the word that food fights were a definite no-no. But college students, especially those cramming for tests, sometimes have selective hearing.

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Jester City LimitsToday, the Jester Center eatery is divided into two facilities. Downstairs, the Jester City Limits resembles a food court at a posh shopping mall, and offers a broad selection to satisfy the choosiest of appetites. (Check out today’s menu here.) Upstairs, “J2” is an all-you-can-eat buffet style cafeteria with an expansive salad bar. As college fare goes, today’s Housing and Food Services does an outstanding job.

In the early 1980s, though, Jester’s dining options were decidedly more limited. Students trudged through one of eight cafeteria lines – four on each floor – and chose between two entrees. One line on the second floor served greasy hamburgers as the lone culinary alternative. Around campus, the Jester potato balls were the stuff of legend, and everyone was wary of the unpredictable and mysterious effects of the Jester chili-mac.

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On the appointed day, a much larger crowd than usual gathered for dinner on the second floor. Some students arrived with umbrellas or in ponchos, even though it was a clear, sunny day. One couple unabashedly showed up in matching garbage bags with holes cut out for heads and arms. Everyone had an appetite, or at least their plates were full. The salad bar could barely keep up with the demand. Spectators loitered along the second floor open hallway outside the cafeteria, trying their best to look nonchalant even though they were three persons deep.

Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink! At precisely 5:30 p.m., the sound of a lone knife clinking against a glass was heard in the northwest corner, soon joined by others until a cacophony swelled through the dining hall. Heads were on swivels, eyes alert for a surprise attack. Once the first biscuit was launched, the armistice was over, and for one brief, shining moment, the Jester Center cafeteria was a scene from Animal House.

DT.1982.05.07.Jester Food Fight

Above: Headline in the Daily Texan.

Not an all-out battle, it was a quick series of skirmishes. Students dove under tables with their ammunition and then fired when they thought it safe. Chicken wings found flight one last time. A spoonful of corn became scatter shot. Garbonzo beans were surprisingly accurate. The crowd outside the dining hall roared with approval. Amidst the confusion, RAs braved the cross-fire and rushed to confiscate the student IDs of anyone doing more than just ducking for cover.

It was all over in a few minutes. Some of the participants faced stern disciplinary action with the Dean of Students, and at least one of the authors of the flyer was asked to take a semester off from the University and elected not to return. Why be in a food fight? “I couldn’t help it,” was the popular reply. “I was under the influence of Jester chili-mac.”

 

The First UT Senior Ring

1927 UT Senior Class Ring

Above: The design of the 1927 UT senior ring. The Bachelor of Arts degree is displayed in its Latin form as Artium Baccalaureaus, or “AB.” Click on the image for a larger view.

Rings have been a part of university culture for centuries, dating back to the 1200s when the University of Bologna presented gold rings to students who had completed their doctor’s degrees and earned their licentia docendi, or “licenses to teach.” The practice continues at a few universities in Europe. The idea of a class ring began with the United States Military Academy, when the Senior Cadets of 1835 designed and wore a common ring as a show of class unity and to remind them of their West Point days after graduation.

At the University of Texas, the senior ring tradition arrived early in the spring of 1927, when the senior class voted to have one and solicited designs from fellow students. By mid-February, the class had chosen the entry from Amy Jackson, a student who worked part-time as a technician in the zoology department.  Made of 10-carat gold and with a red garnet stone, orders could be placed at the  University Co-op; men’s rings cost $13 each, co-ed rings were $10.50. Sales were sluggish at first. By mid-March, only 26 rings had been purchased. But when the UT Students’ Assembly (today’s Student Government) approved the design as the “official” senior ring of the University for future years, interest grew swiftly. Rings ordered by April 20th were ready in time for spring commencement in early June.

1927 Senior Ring Headline

Teeming with Texas and University symbols, the Daily Texan described it:

“One one shank appears a Longhorn head with a lariat draped from one horn around under the nose and up to the other horn. The number ’27’ is just above the head, and a lone star is just below the nose. In a semi-circled wreath below the star is a group of Texas cacti.

“On the other shank is the degree and crest with a scroll bearing the words Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis. [The Latin motto on the University seal, translated as ‘Education is the safeguard of democracy.’] Corresponding to the cacti on the first shank is a wreath of bluebonnets.”

Commencement Seal and Banners

Above: The University of Texas Seal, with its Latin motto, is prominent at Spring Commencement and an important symbol on the senior ring.

In Search of Women’s Basketball

1901 Whitis Basketball Team

Above: The victorious Whitis Team, which won the first basketball game played on the Forty Acres. Gym instructor Pearl Norvell is in the center with the basketball.  

It’s been a banner season for the UT women’s basketball team, which reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 2003. With all of the buzz surrounding the Erwin Center this spring, a question was posed: when was the University’s first intercollegiate women’s basketball game? A recent attempt to solve the mystery left the problem unanswered (though the author seemed to profess an aversion to any sources not online). Several UT History Corner readers have since asked about the issue. My advice to anyone who wants to explore some history is to not fear the paper. Searching through the archives, holding the actual documents in your hands, is a big part of the fun and often leads to discoveries and surprises.

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Women’s basketball is almost as old as basketball itself.

James NaismithAs most fans of the sport know, basketball was invented in December 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, (photo at left), then an instructor at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, about 90 miles west of Boston. Newspaper accounts of the new game reached Sendra Berenson, a newly-hired physical training instructor at nearby Smith College for women. Looking for new activities that would interest and engage her students, Berenson introduced basketball the following spring, though she thought the style of play used by the men to be too rough. With Naismith’s help, Berenson adapted the rules for a women’s version of the game, which permitted five to ten players on a side. The court was divided into three equal sections; each player was assigned a section and couldn’t move beyond it. To speed up the pace, girls were limited to three dribbles each and could hold the ball for only three seconds before passing it to a teammate. The game relied more on passing and shooting skills than full court sprints or fast breaks.

1901.Three Court Drawing

Above: Sedra Berenson’s three-court design, which appeared in a 1901 guide for women’s basketball.

Another early advocate for the game was Clara Baer, who taught at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans. Baer published a handbook for women’s basketball in 1895 and advocated the one-handed shot not used by the men until thirty years later. Baer, though, also devised her own rules. Taking Berenson’s three-court idea to an extreme, Baer divided the court into as many squares as players on a team. Players usually didn’t have to run more than a few steps, which might have been preferable as Baer also kept the girls in long dresses in corsets, while Berenson opted to keep her teams in loose-fitting bloomers.

Both versions were in response to the prevailing attitudes about women and sports at the time, that young ladies who exercised too much might “break something” and risk their futures as mothers. “You can over-exercise, become too much excited over contests in the gymnasium, use up force to such an extent that your womanly functions become weakened,” explained Dr. William Howard, whose cautions in the early twentieth century were widely accepted. “No girl with a nervous temperament should go into any athletic contest. Such a girl should not play basketball; nothing, in fact, which calls for a strain upon the nervous system.”

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AAS.1899.12.23.Athletic Young Ladies Headline

Pearl Norvell.1901At the University of Texas, basketball arrived in the fall term of 1899 with the hire of Pearl Norvell (left) as the physical training instructor for women. Norvell had attended the highly-regarded Sargent School for Physical Training in Cambridge, Massachusetts (now Sargent College, a part of Boston University), and had learned about basketball directly from Sendra Berenson.

Along with Norvell’s arrival, the University renovated the largest room in the west wing of the old Main Building, initially used as the library, to serve as a new women’s gymnasium. Previously, in 1896, UT’s first gym had been constructed in the basement of the building with student support and a timely donation from UT regent George Brackenridge, but the facility wasn’t considered suitable for young women. The new ladies gym was outfitted with its own locker room and equipped with, among other things: fifty pairs of dumb bells, a vaulting box, a set of parallel bars, two climbing ropes, twenty-five pairs of fencing foils, and “one pair of basket ball goals.” Classes were mandatory for freshmen women, but were soon popular among all of the coeds. “The young ladies gym at the University is being liberally patronized,” reported the Austin Daily Statesman, and Miss Norvell is fast improving the young ladies, physically speaking.” The University Calendar, one of several student newspapers that pre-dated the The Daily Texan, agreed: “There is not a young woman in the ‘Varsity who is not proud of the gym and its charming instructress. We wonder which section will play the best basket ball.”

1900.Girls Gym in Old Main Library

Above: The first women’s gym in the old Main Building. The tall pole in the center is a basketball hoop. Click on an image for a larger version.

Norvell had organized four basketball squads, and taught the game through the fall term using Berensons three-court rules that she’d learned in Massachusetts, with one point awarded for a basket or a free throw. Games would be played starting with the winter term.

On the cloudy and chilly afternoon of Saturday, January 13, 1900, the first basketball game on the University campus was held between the Whitis and Ideson teams, named for their captains: Gertrude Whitis and Margaret Ideson. With seven players on a side, the game was divided into four 10-minute quarters.

A few spectators were allowed to watch – women only! – though it was “with difficulty that they restrained their feelings.” According to The Ranger (another one of those early student newspapers), “As the game was called, each face was earnest and each eye eager.” The match was a spirited but low scoring one. In the third quarter, with the tally 2 – 1 in favor of the Whitis team, a foul was called and the Idesons were given a free throw. Miss Laura Kritser, “took her stand, amid breathless excitement, aimed cooly, and made her goal.” The tie lasted until late in the fourth quarter when Whitis scored again, and despite the “superhuman” efforts in the final minutes, won the game 3-2. Women’s basketball had made its official debut, and was instantly popular.

1902 Cactus.Womens Basketball Team

Above: The 1902 women’s basketball squad, with Pearl Norvell in the center.

Norvell continued to develop the program over the next several years. From the inter-class teams she selected a University squad that played against the “Town Girls” from the Austin Y.W.C.A., and traveled to local high schools, but didn’t engage in intercollegiate competition.

Despite the enthusiasm of the students, numerous concerns about too much exercise were soon raised among members of the faculty. To help allay any fears, Norvell scheduled an open house in March 1901, and invited the professors’ wives so they could witness the activities for themselves and “report back to headquarters.” The gym was decorated with orange and white streamers and flowers, students demonstrated some of the exercises they did in their classes, and the coeds and faculty wives mingled in a reception “with the daintiest refreshments.” Norvell’s efforts helped, but progress was slow.

Womans BuildingIn October 1903, the Woman’s Building (photo at left) opened as the University’s first residence hall for women. Positioned west of Old Main (about where the Flawn Academic Center is today), it, too, was controversial. As the Texas Legislature considered a $50,000 appropriation for the building’s construction, many lawmakers believed college women would be better supervised if they stayed with Austin families rather than in a dorm. A tie vote in the House required the Speaker to cast the deciding ballot and approve funding.

Womans Building Gymnasium

Above: The basement gym in the Woman’s Building. The elevated running track doubled as a gallery for basketball fans, though only women were allowed entry. Click on an image for a larger view.

Outfitted with an elegant dining room, full kitchen, parlor, and an elevator, the basement of the Woman’s Building was reserved for a gym. A step up from the cramped quarters in Old Main, the gym included a small pool for swimming lessons, an open area for exercises, dance classes, or basketball, and an elevated running track that doubled as a gallery to watch basketball games.

DT Headline.Apr 6 1904Along with the new building came a new instructor. Pearl Norvell was succeeded by Louise Wright as Director of Physical Training for Women, and immediately set out to expand the basketball program. In the spring of 1904, the first season in the new facility, UT hosted its first out-of-town squad, the girls from Belton High School, about 60 miles north of Austin. The Texan printed a headline that labeled the game as being between Texas and Baylor, which has led some to think it was the first intercollegiate game. But the article, and other reports in the Austin Daily Statesman, are clear that the opponents were from the high school. What’s going on here?

Baylor was chartered in 1845 by the Congress of the Republic of Texas and first located in the small town of Independence. After a few years, in 1851, the university divided into two campuses for men and women. The men relocated to Waco, the women to Belton, where it became the Baylor Female College (today’s University of Mary Hardin-Baylor). The connection between Belton High School and Baylor isn’t clear, though it’s possible the two coaches for the high school squad were on the  Baylor faculty.

AAS.1904.04.01.Ad for UT vs Belton Game

The game was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, April 2nd, with a 25-cent admission, half of which would go to the Belton team to cover their traveling costs. Texas won the game easily, 12 to 6. “The girls won many new admirers,” reported the Texan, “and it is to be hoped that those who have opposed such sports before will have had their eyes opened to the many admirable and beneficial features of the game.” The Texas team did a “zig-zag march” across campus to mark their victory; today the women’s basketball team probably celebrates in a different way.

Along with hosting an out-of-town team for the first time, Wright helped the coeds to formally organize a Women’s Athletic Association to better coordinate all on campus women’s sports,and successfully petitioned the University’s Athletic Council to award letters in tennis. While none of the female sports  programs were intercollegiate, women’s tennis appeared on the campus first and was better established. Letters, though, were smaller than those given to the men, and were worn on the sleeve of a letter sweater. In 1906, the Athletic Council formally approved a men’s basketball team, and at the same time approved letters for women’s basketball as well.

1906 Womens Tennis.

Above: The 1906 women’s tennis team, The two girls in the center, team captains, are sporting the letter sweaters then approved for women’s sports.

When, then, was the first women’s intercollegiate game? One source has claimed it was 1906, when the renown Clara Baer brought her squad to Austin from Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans. Similar to the Baylor Female College, Newcomb was the “women’s department” of Tulane University. But while scheduling a game between Texas and Newcomb was suggested, the contest never actually took place. Baer was still using her own rules, different from the three-court game played in Austin, and she was ardently opposed to intercollegiate competition.

1907.Womens Basketball

Above: The 1907 UT women’s basketball team.

Instead, the first recorded intercollegiate game for UT women’s basketball was held the following year, in the spring of 1907, when Texas hosted a squad from Southwestern University on Monday, February 18th. “A better exhibition of the game was never seen in this city,” declared the Austin Daily Statesman, “both teams were well trained and were selected from the best material in the respective schools. The gallery above the court was full, “the visiting girls having numerous supporters mingling with the fair wearers of the orange and white,” and the score was close through all four quarters. But in the end, Southwestern scored the final, and winning, basket, handing UT its first defeat 19-18. A post-game dance was held for both teams in the parlor of the Woman’s Building as “the young ladies from Georgetown were given a good sample of ‘Varsity hospitality.”

AAS.1907.02.19.UT Women Lose to Southwestern

While the initial game was a loss, today’s Longhorn basketball faithful might take comfort in knowing that UT’s first baseball game, played April 21, 1885, was also against Southwestern and was a 22-6 rout, though the colors orange and white made their first appearance.

The University’s experiment with intercollegiate women’s basketball didn’t last long. Bowing to the common belief that competitive sports for college ladies was too stressful (though some universities, such as Ohio State, regularly played local colleges, while high school girls teams were vying for state interscholastic titles), UT limited the game to intramural leagues. Not until 1967, when a group of UT students petitioned the Department of Physical Training for Women, was a squad allowed to participate in newly created college tournaments in Central Texas. The team, though, was still considered a club. Coaches were faculty volunteers, and the players sewed their own uniforms and paid for travel expenses. Not until 1974, after Title IX was enacted and Donna Lopiano hired as the Athletic Director for Women, was intercollegiate women’s basketball formally established on the Forty Acres.

 

Moonlight Prowl: Friday, April 29th

Moonlight Prowl.2016.04.29

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

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Do I need to RSVP? An RSVP is appreciated but not required. You can RSVP via Facebook event here or send me a message here.

Where do we meet? We’ll gather on the Main Mall in front of the UT Tower.

Prowl.B Hall.When does the tour begin? The Traditionally, the Prowl begins at 8 p.m. when the Tower bells peel their last for the day.

How long is the Prowl? The Prowl is a 1 1/2 – 2 hour walking tour, with “sit-down” stops along the way.

Photo above: Prowlers gathered on the East Mall steps to hear about the student antics in old B. Hall, the University’s first men’s dorm, where The Eyes of Texas was written.

Can anyone attend? Everyone is welcome. But parents who want to bring small children are cautioned that the wee ones generally get bored quickly, and want to either race down the South Mall or jump into Littlefield Fountain. Parents wind up chasing after their future Olympians and miss out on the tour.

Is there a prerequisite? Lots of UT courses have prerequisites – why not the Prowl? To attend the tour, all Moonlight Prowlers must be able to point to the UT Tower and say, “That’s the UT Tower.”

Prowl.Waggener Hall.What if it rains? If at all possible, the Prowl will go on rain or (moon)shine. Some of the best Prowls have taken place under a steady sprinkle. If it’s raining, bring umbrellas and we’ll adjust the tour stops to be mostly indoors. If there’s a severe storm at Prowltime, or one is imminent, we’ll look at rescheduling.

Photo above right: Moonlight Prowlers learn about the symbolism behind the ornamentation on campus buildings.

Do I need to bring a flashlight? Nope. I’ll bring the Official Prowl Flashlight, known around NASA as the “OPF.”

Is this an “official” UT program? No, the Moonlight Prowl is not sponsored by the University of Texas. Think of it as a hobby that’s gotten out of control. I enjoy learning about the University’s history and sharing what I’ve discovered, and conduct the tour as a volunteer.

Prowl Links:

Austin Chronicle.Best of Austin 2000This will be Prowl number 621! A little history about the first tour is here.

The Daily Texan covered the 500th Prowl here.

In 2000, the Moonlight Prowl was a “Best of Austin” choice in the Austin Chronicle here.

 

See you on April 29th!

Jim

Prowl List

 

Half a Million Thank Yous

UT Seal.North Side of Main BuildingThe UT History Corner has passed the 500,000 visitor mark. A sincere and humble thanks goes to everyone who has taken time to read, look, listen, or just browse through some of the history of the University of Texas. I hope you found something here worth your time.

Jim

Tower Clock to become Digital

Digital Clock.Paul Cret Drawing

Above: Campus planners have been consulting the original architectural drawings of the UT Tower for a significant renovation to the clock. (University Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archive)

These days, the University of Texas campus is undergoing a serious transformation. The Dell Medical School is entering its final phase of construction, a 2,000 space parking garage is rising just west of the UFCU Disch-Falk Baseball Stadium, a new 12-court Texas Tennis Center is under construction east of Interstate 35 – where the old UT Press building once stood – and the long-planned pedestrian renovation to Speedway Street is underway. Now, campus planners have released details of another change, one that’s likely to be controversial: modernizing the 80-year old UT Tower clock for a digital display.

1937_Tower Clock ConstructionInstalled in 1936 when the Main Building and its iconic Tower were under construction, each of the four faces of the clock are 12-feet in diameter, with the rims, numbers, and clock hands gilded with gold leaf. The white, translucent face is back-lit for nighttime viewing. But when viewed in the bright Texas sunshine or lit at night, there have always been complaints about reading the time, as the location of clock hands isn’t always easy to see. University officials hope to solve the problem with a digital display.

The 20-by-8 foot displays would be installed over the existing clock faces and given gold-colored borders to best harmonize with the Tower’s architecture. Easily visible during the day and brightly lit at night, campus planners feel the clock will be easily seen and a vast improvement over the original.

Digital Clock from South Mall

Above: A digital display will be easier to view from more of the campus. Click on an image for a larger version.

Such a drastic change to the UT Tower, of course, will likely be controversial. Historical concerns have already been raised, and less-than-serious comments on whether the time and temperature might be displayed are already making their way across campus.

A completion date has not yet been announced, but full details about the Tower clock modernization project can be found here.

Tower Clock

Above: End of an era for the UT Tower clock? Full details here.

UT’s First Conference Call

One hundred years ago today – a first-of-its-kind telephone call had the UT president speaking through “3,000 miles of wire.”

Austin.Congress Avenue.ca 1915

Above: Congress Avenue in downtown Austin around 1916.

A century ago, in 1916, Texans viewed March 2 – Texas Independence Day – as something like a national holiday. School children had a break from classes. Most of the stores, banks, and even the U. S. Post Office, were closed.

University Avenue.1910s

Above: The University of Texas campus in the 1910s, seen from University Avenue.

Old Main Auditorium.March 2On the University of Texas campus, Texas Independence day was a little less noisy than in years past, when a cannon was borrowed from the Capitol grounds and repeatedly fired in front of the old Main Building, which almost shattered the windows. Instead, a 10 a.m. convocation was held in the auditorium of Old Main. The University Band provided music, the senior class – decked out in the caps and gowns they would wear for graduation in a few months – attended as a group, and speeches were made in appreciation of the history of Texas. Thomas Taylor, the Dean of Engineering, spoke on behalf of the faculty about “The mission of the University of Texas,” and quoted former Republic of Texas president Mirabeau Lamar about the necessity of having a well-educated populace. Taylor commended the students and declared they were “pioneers of the colleges of the world” in establishing student self-government “in the independent Texas spirit of 1836.” The assembly ended with the singing of The Eyes of Texas.

Above right: The auditorium in Old Main, decorated for the March 2nd convocation.

1916 Pushball.Class of 1918After the convocation, the crowd went directly to Clark Field, the University’s first athletic field, then located at the southeast corner of Speedway and 24th Streets (about where  the O’Donnell  and Gates-Dell Buildings are today), where the popular pushball contest between the freshman and sophomore classes was just getting underway. Introduced in 1912 as a new University tradition, the pushball was a six-foot diameter round leather ball, often compared to an overgrown soccer ball, which weighed about 65 pounds when fully inflated. Played on a standard football field , the object was to push, carry, roll, toss, or by some other means move the ball across the opponent’s goal line. Blocking and tackling were allowed, holding and fighting were illegal.

Above left: The sophomore class of 1918 marches past the old engineering building (today’s Gebauer Building) on their way to the pushball contest with the freshmen.

1916 Pushball

Above and below: The 1916 Pushball Contest on old Clark Field.

1916 Pushball.Free for AllWith a large crowd watching from the stands, the pushball contest was divided into four 10-minute quarters. The first quarter permitted every male freshman and sophomore student on the field, more than a thousand persons all at once. (Sorry, ladies. In 1916, while women were playing tennis, basketball, and field hockey on campus, pushball was considered too rough for UT co-eds.) The second quarter was limited to 100 persons on a side, then reduced to 50 persons for the third quarter, and the final period was once again a free-for-fall for everyone. Though the first and fourth quarters were scoreless, the sophomores managed a goal each in the second and third periods, and won the game 2 – 0.

At noon, the Austin chapter of the UT alumni association met at the Driskill hotel downtown for its usual Texas Independence Day lunch. More than 80 alumni enjoyed speeches and songs, and received telegrams from alumni chapters in Fort Worth, Lubbock, and Chicago, who were meeting at the same time.

Driskill Hotel

Above: The Driskill Hotel on Sixth Street.

The most publicized event, though, was in the evening, when the Dallas and New York alumni chapters met for their annual March 2nd banquets in each city. Developed from an idea that originated with the New York alumni, the two events were to be connected through a long distance telephone call, and linked to Austin as well.  “The small matter of 2300 miles of space,” reported the Austin Daily Statesman, “will not prevent the University of Texas alumni associations of Dallas and New York from holding a joint session on the evening of March 2nd to celebrate the independence of the Republic of Texas.” While there had been long distance calls between New York and San Francisco, and President William Taft had once addressed a group of Yale alumni in New Haven from the White House, what was about to be attempted had never quite been done. The 30-year old American Telegraph and Telephone Company loaned “about a million dollars’ worth of equipment” to the effort.

As the attendees of both banquets arrived – about 200 persons in New York and 300 in Dallas – they discovered a “watchcase receiver” next to each setting. About the size of a pocket watch with a wire attached, the receiver was held up next to the ear to listen to the telephone conversation. Promptly at 8 p.m. in New York (and 7 p.m. in Dallas), the telephone line was opened. Three guest speakers each from Dallas and New York briefly addressed both groups. Among the trio from New York was Sidney Mezes, the immediate past president of the University.

William BattleAt about 7:40, UT President William Battle (photo at left), sitting in Room 2 in the Driskill Hotel and surrounded by a few local alumni, joined in on the conversation. “Dr. Battle was seated at a table talking just as a guest in the hotel would talk from his room, without the seclusion of a telephone booth,” marveled a Statesman reporter. Battle chatted with Mezes about the day’s events and who won the pushball contest, and then segued into a formal address to both groups. Battle spoke about the ongoing war in Europe (one the United Sates would join the following year) and the importance of universities to train public leaders and protect democracies in troubling times.

“Did you hear me all right,” Battle asked when he finished his address. “Just fine,” was the answer in New York, “Fifteen Rahs for Dr. Battle!” The alumni in both cities cheered, and then said good night.

Moonlight Prowl: Friday, March 4th

Moonlight Prowl.2016.03.04

It’s Prowl season again! The Moonlight Prowl is a nighttime walking history tour of the University of Texas packed with anecdotes of student life, UT traditions, campus architecture, and University history. Everyone is welcome to attend.

All of the details can be found here.

RSVPs are appreciated but not required. You can use the Facebook event here.

See you on march 4th!

Prowl List