Why is it “Commencement?”

For the University of Texas, it’s the most important event of the year, the signature public affirmation of the University’s academic enterprise. Greater than any other college tradition, spring commencement is more than simply a rite. As is so often said about Texas, commencement is a state of mind. For two days in May, it casts a wide spell and seems to have a hold on everyone.

Right: Steven Hardt, a 2007 communication graduate, arrives on the Main Mall with an orange Tower perched on his mortar board.

~~~~~~~~~~

Above: The Academic class of 1894.

First held in June, 1884, the University’s earliest graduation ceremonies were modest affairs, staged in the un-air conditioned Millett Opera House downtown. They were scheduled either in the morning or later in the evening to beat the early summer heat. Gentlemen arrived in three-piece suits, Ascot ties, and bowlers, while the ladies sported colorful bustle dresses and fashionable bonnets. Graduates were identified by the black- tasseled mortar boards on their heads.

Along with the presentation of diplomas, the ceremony was augmented by a pair of speeches delivered by members of UT’s two literary societies, the Rusk and Athenaeum. In 1885, Thomas Watt Gregory’s (left) half hour address made quite an impression as he optimistically described the march of social and scientific progress through the nineteenth century. “His speech from the beginning to the close was a grand and masterly one,” reported the Austin Statesman, “eschewing from his discourse the tinseled vaporings which generally characterize commencement efforts.”

When the auditorium in the old Main Building was completed in 1890, commencement moved to campus, and over the next decade grew into a week long celebration. Parties, dances, picnics, luncheons, and, occasionally, a symbolic textbook burning in front of Old Main all preceded the diploma ceremony. The alumni association held its annual meeting at the same time, elected officers for the next year, and organized class reunions.

In 1901, the senior Academic students – what today might be considered arts and sciences – voted to wear traditional caps and gowns to commencement for the first time. The law students, though, had been left out of the discussion, and, unhappy that they weren’t consulted, refused to conform to the new dress code.  After UT President William Prather insisted that the law graduates wear some type of distinctive insignia, they opted to don light-colored suits with wild Texas sunflowers pinned to their lapels. Plentiful in the open fields around Austin, the sunflowers were at their peak in mid-June. A Daily Texan editor added some meaning to the choice: “As the sunflower always keeps its face to the sun, the lawyer turns to the light of justice.” A tradition was born. Today, UT law graduates still wear sunflowers.

Commencement moved outdoors in 1917. The state’s fire codes had recently been upgraded, and the auditorium was unexpectedly forced to close because of too few proper exits. Held on the warm and humid Tuesday morning of June 12th, just over 350 degree recipients – UT’s largest graduating class to date – gathered in front of the ivy-draped, Victorian Gothic old Main Building. The ceremony started bright and early at 8:30 a.m., before the Texas sun became unbearable.

Among the graduates were UT’s first nine recipients of the Bachelor of Business Administration degree. As with their law school counterparts, the business students decided to shun the cap and gown, and instead sported white linen suits with sweet peas as lapel flowers. (The McCombs School celebrated the 100th anniversary of the BBA program this year; 2017 is the 101st BBA class.)

Above: 1937 Spring Commencement in Gregory Gym.

Over the next few decades, commencement roamed about the Forty Acres. It was held in the Texas Memorial Stadium in the 1920s, moved to Gregory Gym when that facility opened in 1930, and then returned to the front of the new Main Building and Tower in the late 1940s, when returning World War II veterans nearly doubled UT’s enrollment in just a few years.

In 1995, UT President Bob Berdahl asked that the University-wide commencement ceremony be re-invented. While participation was still strong for the college and school events, attendance for the Main Mall graduation had suffered, in part, because the emphasis on hooding the Ph.D. candidates seemed to leave out the undergraduates. A separate ceremony was created for the Graduate School, and the University-wide event was refashioned to better include everyone, with more pomp and pageantry, and with the notable addition of fireworks. Within a few years, more than twenty thousand graduates and spectators annually converged on the Main and South Malls.

Above left: The 1980 Spring Commencement.

~~~~~~~~~~

To the undergraduates, for whom their own commencement is often the first one to be witnessed, the modern ritual can pass as a blur of color, music, oratory, and pyrotechnics. The tops of mortar boards are decorated with UT icons, messages of future aspirations, or heartfelt thanks to parents. Deans brag with abandon about their schools and colleges. “If you have to go to a hospital,” chides the Dean of the School of Nursing, “you should hope that you’re being treated by a UT nurse!” “Our degree programs are ranked in the top ten in the country!” boasts the business school dean. All of it is loudly approved by the graduates. Throughout the night, the Main Building and Tower is bathed in a variety of special lighting effects until it bursts with color in the long-anticipated fireworks finale.

Much of the ceremony will seem deliberately out of touch with the twenty-first century, a purposeful nod to the medieval European ancestry of the modern university. Today’s caps and gowns are holdovers from the cappa clausa, the required academic dress centuries ago at Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge. The tassels hanging from mortar boards and stoes draped over gowns are different colors, set by an agreed-upon international standard, to designate various fields of study. White is used by liberal arts, scarlet for communication, green for geosciences, citron for social work. Faculty members, most of whom earned their Ph.D. degrees from other universities, don the academic garb of their Alma Maters.

College maces, symbols of authority that were first used in the thirteenth century graduation processions of Oxford and Cambridge, are still carried at UT commencement. For each school and college, a pair of faculty marshals with maces conveys a single-file line of graduates up to the Main Mall at the start of the ceremony. Made from oak and brass, most of the University’s maces were created in the 1960s, and each bears images and emblems connected with a particular college. A mortar and pestle sits atop the College of Pharmacy mace, teaching certificates adorn the one used by the College of Education, and Alec, patron saint of the Texas Engineers, proudly stands on the mace for the Cockrell School.

Prominently hanging above the entrance to the Main Building is a large color rendition of the University of Texas seal, itself a longstanding tradition, when medieval universities needed official seals in order to conduct legal affairs. (The seals of a dozen other universities are permanently displayed on the Main Building.) Its Latin motto, Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis, comes from an 1838 speech by Mirabeau Lamar, a president of the Republic of Texas, who declared that a “cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy.” The use of Latin is a reminder of when the language was studied and spoken by university students in the Middle Ages.

Why is graduation called “commencement?” The word reflects the meaning of the Latin inceptio – a “beginning” – and was the name given to the initiation ceremony for scholars in medieval Europe. The original college degree certified that the bearer could instruct others in a given academic discipline. As part of the graduation ritual, which usually included a feast given by the graduate as a thank you to his professors and friends, the newly-minted scholar delivered his first lecture as a legitimate teacher. Commencement, then, means “commencing to teach.”

~~~~~~~~~~

It’s a relatively straightforward task to describe the tangible features of the day: the colorful procession, the advice dispensed, and the cheers that accompany the fireworks launched from a bright orange Tower. But as mentioned before, commencement also casts a less definable spell. For the graduates, there is the excitement of a goal well-achieved, balanced with nostalgia as they become alumni. For the parents, it’s a joyous time with an undercurrent of relief. For the faculty and staff, the satisfaction of a job well-done, seen in the confident eyes of their former students who are about to go out into the world. All at once, it seems, youthful exuberance meets the sentiment of age.

And for everyone, surrounded by the symbols and traditions of ages past, there is a sense, if only fleeting, of sharing in the timeless succession of learning. From the ancient schools in China, India, and the Middle East, to the famed Library of Alexandria along the northern coast of Africa, to Plato’s Academy, and then on to the more modern progression of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge, across the Atlantic to Harvard, and finally, on to  Austin.

Perhaps the true meaning of commencement, so deeply rooted in history, is that it still carries with it an eternal promise of new beginnings.

Note: Some of the images from recent UT commencement ceremonies are courtesy of the UT Austin account on Flickr and were photographed by Marsha Miller.

Operation Gopher

In the 1950s, UT engineering students dug a basement for a study lounge.

Above: UT engineers gather around Patrick “Digger” O’Dell, the live mascot of Operation Gopher. Patrick was renamed Christine when the students discovered their mistake.


W
hen Texas engineers get hungry, they go digging.

In the 1950s, the University’s College of Engineering was sprawled around the East Mall. The petroleum and chemical engineering buildings – opened in 1942 and today are the Rappaport and Schoch Buildings – were placed along either side of the mall at Speedway Street. The petroleum building (image at left) was of particular pride; UT was first in the nation to offer a petroleum engineering degree, as well as devote an entire facility to the subject.

Just to the north was Engineering Building, later named Taylor Hall for Thomas Taylor, the college’s founder and first dean. It housed the mechanical, civil, aeronautical, and architectural engineering departments, research labs, administrative offices, and a newly expanded library on the second floor.

Above: Two views of Taylor Hall. Opened in 1934 as the headquarters for the College of Engineering, it has since been replaced by the Dell-Gates Computer Sciences Complex.

While the structures were modern, they didn’t include a study lounge for students or, more important, a place to eat. The nearest dining facilities were at the Texas Union on the other side of campus. Hungry engineers, or those just looking for a cup of coffee, had to hike up the hill, go past the Tower, and then down the West Mall to the Union’s commons. When time was limited, the trek was a lengthy and inconvenient one. More than a few students opted to bring lunches and coffee from home.

Above: A 1938 image of the UT campus. Engineering students in Taylor Hall (upper right) had to walk to the Texas Union (far left) for the nearest food service.

As the fall 1952 semester began, five engineering students – Charlie Anderson, Dick Bailey, Tommy Fairey, Jerry Garrett, and Charlie Mills – approached Professors Leonardt Kreisle and Carl Eckhardt with two proposals.

The first was to establish a governing body for the engineers, one that would both represent the interests of students and bring the professional and honor societies under a single umbrella. The result was the founding of the Student Engineering Council (SEC), separately incorporated by the State of Texas. Charlie Anderson was selected as its first chair, and Kreisle and Eckhardt volunteered as faculty advisors.

The second was to create a study lounge and snack bar, which the SEC chose as its initial project. As Anderson explained to The Daily Texan, “We don’t have a place to meet. It is so bad that even our library has turned into a bull session room.”

Finding a place for a lounge was tricky, as all of the engineering buildings were well occupied. There simply wasn’t a means to shift or combine offices and classrooms to provide enough space, and there certainly weren’t funds for a separate facility. The SEC then offered a novel solution: why not create a basement underneath Taylor Hall? Kreisle and Eckhardt studied the idea and found that it was structurally possible. The support piers for the building were deep, and a basement could be safely installed with the piers left in place.

There were numerous hurdles to overcome. University monies wouldn’t be available, and the estimated cost for the project was $48,000. Alumni might help with fundraising, but what would the students contribute? Anderson suggested that the students provide the labor to excavate the basement, which would save $20,000, and that engineering alumni be asked to donate the construction cost.

Plans were drawn. Dubbed “Taylor’s T Room” in honor of the first dean, the basement would be 174 feet long by 43 feet wide, and dug to a depth of eight feet. It would include meeting spaces for student groups, a lounge and recreation area, and a small cafeteria managed by the University’s Housing and Food Service. The T Room would be available to the entire University community. “Our purpose is to bring engineering students in contact with other students,” said Anderson.

Left: Thomas Taylor, first engineering dean.

Above: The layout of Taylor’s T Room. Click on the image for a larger view. From left, meeting rooms for the SEC and other engineering groups, a study lounge with sofas, a dining area with tables, chairs, and booths (blue seats with white tables), and a kitchen (white counter tops with tan floor tile) that would provide lunches, snacks, and beverages. The black squares are support piers for the building.

With patience, the students acquired the approval of the engineering faculty building committee, Dean W. R. Woolrich, Dean of Students Arno Nowotny, the University’s Development Board, and Acting UT President James Dolley.

Initially, there was some pushback from the Texas Union, when concerns were raised over how the T Room might affect business in the Union’s commons. Director Jitter Nolan met with the SEC and was convinced that any loss of customers would be slight. He applauded the engineers for their initiative. The Union’s Board voted to support the project, and donated $75 to help with mailing costs for alumni solicitations.

Above: Dean W. R. Woolrich addresses the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony.

G-Day, or Groundbreaking Day, or, to some, “Gopher Day,” was slated for Thursday evening, December 11, 1952. More than 500 attended the ceremony, heard talks by Dean Woolrich and Professor Emeritus Ed Bantel, saw the first shovel of dirt preserved for posterity, and sang “Hi Ho Balls”, a favorite tune among UT engineers in the 1900s . (The song’s main character, Alexander Frederic Claire, became the patron saint of College of Engineering.) “A Hole lot of time and effort went into it, but Operation Gopher is ready for groundbreaking,” announced the Texan, “Engineers won’t be able to tell their new lounge from a hole in the ground.”

The students boasted they would have the basement completed by the end of the academic year, in June 1953, but soon discovered that removing almost 60,000 cubic feet of soil, rocks, and solid Austin chalk – an estimated 600 truck loads – would require significantly more time.

Shovels, pick axes, jackhammers, wheelbarrows, and a conveyor belt were all loaned by local construction companies, while students organized themselves into work crews of 25 volunteers each. In order not to disturb classes, digging was scheduled from 7 – 10 p.m. in the evenings on weekdays, and at various times on weekends. To remove the material, an access tunnel – the “gopher hole” – was dug just outside Taylor Hall and then sideways into the basement. At least once a week, a dump truck and a loader, also donated for the cause, dropped by to pick up what the students had excavated.

To help pass the time, a transistor radio was employed to play the latest tunes by Dean Martin, Patti Page, Perry Como, and a popular new song by Hank Williams: “My Cheatin’ Heart.” The Engineering Wives Club (yes, there was one, but that’s a different story), along with UT sororities, often dropped by to boost morale with coffee and soft drinks.

Right: Members of the Chi Omega sorority bring cold drinks to engineers working on Operation Gopher.

A live gopher mascot was obtained from the zoology department. Named Patrick “Digger” O’Dell, engineers had to change the name to Christine when they discovered their error. Kept in a cage, Digger was present for every work session until she was gopher-napped in early March 1953. Law students, longtime campus rivals of the engineers, claimed responsibility, but the real culprits turned out to be some prankster zoology students. A rescue party was quickly organized, and Digger soon resumed her duties

For the next two years, until January 1955, the SEC continued to organize volunteers and slowly dig out the basement. The effort required nearly 3,000 students and faculty.

In the meantime, the UT Development Board took on the task of soliciting engineering alumni for the estimated $28,000 needed to install the floor, walls, utilities, kitchen, and furniture. The alumni responded generously, and the fundraising campaign was completed ahead of schedule. Once the basement was ready, construction began immediately.

On Monday evening, May 13, 1957, nearly five years after its inception, Taylor’s T Room was formally dedicated. Governor Price Daniel (photo at left) addressed an assembly of 350 persons, “As Governor of Texas, I offer my congratulations to you engineers for your valuable contribution,” and credited University of Texas engineering alumni for much of the technical development of the state. “Taylor’s T Room will ever have a great claim to permanence for its dedicated use as envisioned by the Student Engineering Council in 1952,” Dean Woolrich wrote later. Most of the volunteers graduated before they were able to use the lounge. “It was a gift to engineering posterity, to the student generations to come.”

Hermes in the House!

Above: The image of Hermes, patron saint of the business school, is displayed on the west side of the Texas Union building, along with the patron saints of law and engineering.

 Choosing a patron saint can be complicated. Just ask the business school.

~~~~~~~~~~

Business classes were first offered on the Forty Acres in 1912, initially organized as a department under what was then the College of Arts and Sciences. But after a decade of rapid and prosperous growth, it was time for the department to leave the nest and fly on its own. In early April 1922, department chair Spurgeon Bell learned that UT President Robert Vinson planned to recommend a separate School of Business Administration to the Board of Regents. The regents’ approval was assured at their upcoming July meeting, and Bell would be named the school’s first dean.

Bell shared the exciting news with his students, who quickly set about planning a celebration. With Bell’s encouragement, the business students met Friday, April 7th in the auditorium of the old Law Building (where, perhaps appropriately, the Graduate School of Business Building stands today). A committee was appointed to organize the first annual business administration banquet, to be held in early May. A second committee addressed the issue of a business school identity.

Above right: The old Law Building, near the corner of 21st and Speedway Streets, where the Graduate School of Business Building stands today. The houses in the upper right have been replaced by the Perry-Castaneda Library, and the field in the upper left is now the Jester Center Residence Hall.

~~~~~~~~~~

By 1922, the University’s engineering and law schools had mascots – “patron saints” – around whom their respective students and alumni had developed a healthy espirit de corps. The law school’s Peregrinus, or “Perry,” (image at left) was invented on a chilly afternoon in December 1900, during a class in equity. The professor was lecturing on Ancient Rome and the praetor peregrinus, a traveling magistrate who administered justice in the less populated regions of the Roman Empire. An unprepared student in the class was quizzed on the subject. “I don’t know,” he mumbled. “The peregrinus was probably some kind of animal.” The class burst out in laughter, but fellow student Russell Savage, sitting in the back of the room next to a chalk board, doodled a likeness of the imaginary creature that was later adopted as the law school mascot.

With four legs, a bushy tail, and a long beak, “Perry” was meant to symbolize the prowess of lawyers in their chosen profession. A wooden likeness of the Peregrinus was commissioned, and fashioned by local woodcarving master Peter Mansbendel. Kept secure, it made special appearances and attended the law banquets where it was ceremoniously passed from the graduating seniors to the juniors.

Above: Senior law students carry the Peregrinus at spring commencement. 

Meanwhile, the engineers have claimed Alexander Frederick Claire, or simply “Alec”. Once a character in a popular song, Alec took on physical form in 1908. A group of engineering students visited a local beer garden, discovered a five-foot tall wooden statue of a medieval Falstaff, and decided to permanently “borrow” him. (See: The Thrilling Adventures of Alec!)

The patron saints of engineering and law had storied histories, helped to fuel an ongoing campus rivalry between the two schools – both mascots had been kidnapped by the “enemy” – but most important, they provided a symbol of pride and common loyalty. The business students wanted to join the fun, and sought an icon they could call their own.

~~~~~~~~~~

Initially, the mascot committee considered using the shark. “Because of the prevalence of calling students in the [business] department sharks,” explained The Daily Texan, “it was suggested that an insignia of a shark be used to denote the department.” It was an obvious choice, as much of the campus had nicknamed business students “sharks” for years. But it provided no central character around which the school could rally, and, quite frankly, the label wasn’t always a positive one. Professor Bell urged his students to try again, and look for a mascot that represented the best in business endeavors. For the next several weeks, the committee agonized over the decision.

On the evening of Monday, May 8, 1922, business students and faculty gathered at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel for their first annual banquet. As part of the proceedings, the mascot committee revealed their final recommendation: Hermes, the Ancient Greek god of commerce, who was noted for his eloquence, speed, shrewdness, and wisdom. The idea met with the instant approval of everyone, and a framed “rough copy” of the new patron saint was placed on the head table.

Over the summer, as expected, the Board of Regents officially created the School of Business Administration. “Mr. and Mrs. Texas University announce the arrival of a new son, B. A. School,” reported the Texan. “The rapid development of the business training classes has been phenomenal. With the creation of a separate school, this division of the University will have greater opportunities for growth and improvement.”

In October, as the academic year began, business students pursued a better representation of their new patron saint. They contacted Peter Mansbendel, the same master woodworker who had helped the law school with the Peregrinus.

Several designs were considered, including one of Hermes sitting on a pot of gold, but the most popular was a standing Hermes with an American Bald Eagle at his feet. Mansbendel fashioned a miniature prototype out of clay that was officially approved and accepted at a business school assembly on November 28th. Fundraising for the final version began in earnest with the spring, but the needed monies weren’t acquired in time for Mansbendel to complete the project for the 1923 banquet. Instead, Hermes was readied over the summer, and then spent many months safely locked in a vault owned by the American National Bank in the Littlefield Building downtown. He finally made his debut at the May 12, 1924 business banquet, and was the star of the show.

Above right: The original clay rendering of Hermes.

Thirty-eight inches tall and made from pine, Mansbendel’s Hermes wears winged sandals as a symbol of his swiftness. With his left hand near his heart he holds a caduceus, a staff with two entwined snakes that was a symbol of commerce to the Ancient Greeks, and declares Hermes the authority of strategic negotiations. In his right hand he carries a bag of gold, a trophy of his successful commercial transactions. An eagle sits at his feet, evidence that the business school’s Hermes is “one hundred percent American” despite his distant origins. For UT business students, their patron saint is a symbol of strength, success, innovation, and efficiency in the commercial enterprise.

Above: Peter Mansbendel’s rendering of Hermes.

While Hermes was kept safely out-of-sight for most of the year, other schools, perhaps jealous, schemed to capture the patron saint for themselves. At the1927 business banquet, a contingent of law and engineering students conspired together, and rushed the banquet floor with the intent to steal Hermes away for their own evil purposes. A brief but raucous wrestling match ensued, and the unified business students managed to repel the invasion force. Since then, no one has dared to attempt a patron saint-napping.

For another two decades, Hermes was a regular guest at the annual business banquet, but after World War II, when a wave of returning veterans nearly doubled UT’s enrollment in just a few years, the event became impractical. Instead, Hermes was placed on display in Dean J. Anderson Fitgerald’s office in Waggener Hall. Through the 1950s, the patron saint could be seen on the senior rings of business students (photo at left).

Today, Hermes is still a proud tradition of the McCombs School of Business. He stands in the undergraduate student office, surveying his dominion, and inspires business students to be their best in leadership, innovation, ethics, and entrepreneurship.

Above: Pals forever. Business Dean J. Anderson Fitzgerald and Hermes in 1947.

Thinking of Margaret

Margaret Catherine Berry: August 8, 1915 – April 9, 2017

To my fellow UT students, she was the “cacciatore lady.” I soon discovered why.

In the 1980s, Margaret Berry, who claimed to have retired from her career at the University of Texas, was still an active volunteer advisor for several student organizations – the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and the Orange Jackets women’s service society, among them – and every semester loved to invite each group to her house for dinner. It was at one of these gatherings that I, along with so many others, fell under Margaret’s spell.

Her oak-shaded north Austin home on Greenflint Lane was immaculately tended. She personally met each student, greeted them with a genuine smile, and invited them to explore the house and backyard. “My cat, Benji, is here, somewhere. Probably hiding under the bed!” And then she hurried off to the kitchen. “Is anyone hungry?”

Margaret, as usual, served baked chicken cacciatore, deftly handling multiple casserole dishes in and out of the oven, and spooning out large portions onto orange Wedgwood plates that featured detailed images of the University campus: the old Main Building (pictured), Gregory Gym, the UT Tower, Littlefield Fountain. Only later did we learn that the plates dated from 1937 and were actually expensive collectables. “What building is this?” someone would ask. “That’s old B. Hall, Margaret explained. It’s not on campus anymore, but let me tell you about it.”

Along with endless helpings of cacciatore – “Getcha some more. There’s plenty!” – Margaret provided salad and green beans. Bottles of soft drinks, cups, and ice were lined up on the kitchen counter, “and there’s tea in the refrigerator. Remember, T-sips drink tea.”

After dinner, the group gathered in the den to hear Margaret relate a bit about her student days at the University, her time as Associate Dean of Students, and give unsolicited but well-received advice. “Get involved on campus. Take on leadership roles in your group,” she encouraged. “Get to know your professors!” she admonished. “It’s a big university; explore every part of it you can,” she counseled. To her thirty to forty student guests, she was greeter, hostess, chef, historian, advisor, and life coach all at once. And she played each role effortlessly, and with a sincerity that left her guests inspired. “Dr. Berry is quite a lady,” one of my student friends remarked on the way home.

~~~~~~~~~~

A fourth-generation Texan, born August 8, 1915, Margaret Catherine Berry was raised in the tiny town of Dawson – about 30 miles northeast of Waco – and showed her academic prowess early by graduating from high school as co-valedictorian. Along the way, Margaret also learned well what it meant to be Texas friendly, something she shared in abundance with everyone.

Above: The UT campus in 1933, Margaret Berry’s freshman year. The old Main Building still stood on the top of hill, while the Littlefield Fountain was new.

A freshman on the University of Texas campus in 1933, some of Margaret’s first semester classes were held in the old Main Building, just before it was closed and razed. Along with her studies, she joined the Y.W.C.A., Mortar Board, and was especially active with the Orange Jackets. Four years later, in the spring of 1937, Margaret graduated with a degree in history, having witnessed the dedication of a new Main Building and Tower just months beforehand.

Above: Margaret Berry’s senior photo in the 1937 Cactus yearbook.

For a few years, Margaret taught in public schools along the Gulf coast – El Campo, Freeport, and Galveston – while spending summers at Columbia University in New York to complete her master’s degree in education. One summer she worked for Newsweek magazine and seriously considered remaining in the Big Apple, but Texas beckoned for her return.

In 1947, she was appointed Dean of Women and an instructor of history at Navarro Junior College, and then became Dean of Women at East Texas State Teachers College (now Texas A&M University – Commerce) in 1950. For the next decade, Margaret was a legendary figure on East Texas State campus, She was called the “lean dean,” or the “mean dean” – depending on the circumstances – and knew each coed’s GPA, whom they were dating, and if they’d violated any dorm curfews.  At the same time, Margaret took a deep interest in the education of her students and strived to be a role model for everyone.

In 1961, Margaret finally returned to Austin and juggled three responsibilities. She’d been appointed Associate Dean of Women at the University of Texas, was caring for her aging parents, and decided to complete her doctorate degree in education at Columbia.

Above left: Margaret Berry at a 1967 Texas Union event. That’s a straw hat on her head with “Hook ’em Horns!” in large letters. 

Margaret finished her dissertation in 1965, Student Life and Customs at the University of Texas: 1883-1933. It was the first survey of UT student life, required many hours of research in the University’s archives, and instilled a deep understanding and appreciation for the University of Texas. “What is a university? Like any living thing, an academic institution is comprehensible only in terms of its history,” said former Harvard president James Conant. Margaret understood this all too well. Her dissertation later became the foundation for her book, UT Austin: Traditions and Nostalgia, a staple in bookstores along the Drag for decades.

As part of the Dean of Students office, Margaret was best-known for her course “Self and the Campus Society.” It was intended to prepare UT students for leadership positions on campus and after graduation, but her infectious enthusiasm for the University, and the example she set as doing her best and always thinking of others, garnered Margaret a legion of adoring fans. “I thought you were the quintessence of a lady and a scholar,” wrote one of her students many years later. “Indeed, you have become my living definition of those two words, and my highest aspiration is to be a fraction of the example you set.”

Above right: Margaret Berry, as Associate Dean of Students and Developmental Programs Director, posed in front of Battle Hall in 1973.

In addition to her course, Margaret created the first telephone counseling service for UT students, authored the first handbook of student rights and responsibilities, was a regular speaker at the summer Honors Colloquium and freshman orientation, and volunteered as an advisor for student organizations.

In the 1970s, former UT Chancellor Harry Ransom asked Margaret to assemble an illustrated history of the University. The book, published by the UT Press, appeared in 1981. She also authored Brick by Golden Brick (a resource compilation on UT buildings), UT History 101, and The University of Texas Trivia Book, as well as histories of the Scottish Rite Dormitory and University United Methodist Church.

Though she officially “retired” in 1980, Margaret continued to be a popular personality on the Forty Acres and in Austin. She served as president of the Austin Woman’s Club and the Retired Faculty-Staff Association, was indispensable on the Texas Exes Scholarship Committee and UT Heritage Society, and was an active volunteer with the University United Methodist Church. In March 1981, the men of the Tejas Club, a student organization, asked her to be the guest speaker at the first annual Texas Independence Day Breakfast for faculty and students. The tradition continued through this year, when Margaret led the assembly in a “Toast to Texas.” (A decade ago the Club made her an honorary member.) In 1995, at the request of the provost’s office – and at the spry age of 80 – Margaret agreed to teach a freshman seminar from 1995–2002.

Above: March 2, 2017 – a 101-year old Margaret Berry is surrounded by members of the Tejas Club after the Texas Independence Day breakfast to honor UT faculty and students.

Her contributions didn’t go unnoticed. Both the Orange Jackets and Texas Exes have endowed scholarships named for her, and she was awarded the Arno Nowotny Medal, given to staff of the Division of Student Affairs “who render meritorious service.” In 1996, Margaret was a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Awards, the highest honor afforded by the Texas Exes, and in 2004 was dubbed Austin’s Most Worthy Citizen. In April 2012, the atrium in the newly-completed Student Activity Center was named in her honor, and at the dedication ceremony, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell officially declared it “Margaret Berry Day” in the city.

In April 2012, the Longhorn Band, UT cheerleaders, and an overflow crowd attended the dedication ceremony of the Margaret Berry Atrium in the Student Activities Center. Margaret is seated with UT President Bill Powers on the left, and Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell on the right.

~~~~~~~~~~

On August 8, 2015, Margaret Berry marked her 100th lap around the sun. Hundreds of former students, University colleagues, and Austin friends gathered at the alumni center to help her celebrate. Like a Christmas Santa at a shopping mall, everyone waited in line to take a turn, sit with Margaret for a photograph, and tell her how much they loved her and the positive impact she’d had on their lives. As part of the formal program, UT President Greg Fenves arrived with a surprise. Margaret had planned to leave the University a $50,000 bequest to endow a scholarship in religious studies named in honor of her parents, but her friends had been busy and raised more than twice that amount. President Fenves officially announced the creation of the Lillian and Winfred Berry Endowed Presidential Scholarship.

Above: Margaret Berry at her 100th birthday party, August 8, 2015.

Margaret approached the podium and, with tear-filled eyes, said “thank you,” but, truly, it was the University community and her many friends, generations of UT students touched by her spell, who, collectively, were trying to express their gratitude to her.

Yes. Dr. Berry was indeed quite a lady.

1952: A Handbook for Greenhorns

Browse the 1952 Freshman Orientation Guide

~~~~~~~~~~

April has arrived, and the University’s Office of New Student Services is busy finalizing plans for this summer’s orientation program for incoming freshmen and transfer students. Each of the six, three-day sessions will be packed with information about life on the UT campus, Longhorn traditions, academic advising, registration for classes, and plenty of advice for new students. (My own advice for freshmen is here.)

Recently, I acquired a copy of the 1952 freshman orientation booklet: A Handbook for Greenhorns. Authored and illustrated by a student committee, its pages provide an interesting glimpse of campus life more than six decades ago. Below are just a few excerpts, including registration in the un-air conditioned Gregory Gym, 8:30 p.m. curfews for freshmen women, a free “charm school” in the Texas Union, and a new “no smoking” rule in classrooms.

  • From Student to Student . . .

“You’re a University student now. But you’re not a University of Texas student. You haven’t got that knot inside that makes you a Longhorn. You don’t know what it is now, but you will.

“Maybe it’ll come to you when you’re strolling across the campus under a star-laden sky; or maybe in the evening when you short-cut across the southwest corner and hear the crickets; or maybe at a football game; or maybe it’ll just grow on you.”

“Try to keep two things in mind.

“First, be aware. Aware of the way you feel the minute you feel that way – -of the kicks at the game, the laughs at a student comedy, the inner passion inspired by a symphony, the warmth of a friendship, the simple pleasures of living a college life.

“Other thing is, cash in while you can. The best you can hope for at any college is to continue learning – – not to conclude your learning, but to continue it. If you cash in now – –  cash in on the knowledge that’s here for you – – then later on, you’ll have the knack of knowledge and go right on getting it; and maybe, still later, wisdom.”

  • First Daze at U.T.

“Yes, with your first look around the Forty Acres, everything seems big – – if not a little confusing.

“Everybody has a tough time getting through first registration.  . . . The simplest way to get out of a jam is the best way. Just walk up to somebody and ask them what to do, where you should go, or whom you should see. Folks are naturally friendly at the University, like everywhere else in Texas. Collar somebody and start talkin’.”

  • Gotta Place to Live? . . . Where You Hang Your Hat

“All undergraduates will live in University approved residences unless special permission is granted to live elsewhere.

“You women will have certain housing rules which must be followed –

“First-term freshman women may have 3 nights out a week after 8:30. Any evening spent out after 8:30, even though you were studying in the library or attending a club meeting, is counted as a night out. Your residences will be closed at 11 o’clock every night except Saturday when 12:45 is the deadline.

“You men should be familiar with these rules, too, because it will be part of your responsibility to get your date in on time.”

Above: Mezes, Batts, and Benedict Halls – along the east side of the South Mall – were constructed as a single project and opened in 1952.

  • Hard Cash . . .

“In order to give you an idea of the probable expense of going to the University, let us assume that you are a Texas resident, taking one lab course. You live in a rooming house, and eat your meals at the Commons [the Texas Union]:

“You must remember that this is a minimum, and does not include money for clothes, dating, cigarettes, cokes, and other ‘necessary’ expenses.”

  • What Students Do

“It is important to be a member of some groups, meet new people, and go to their social function – – but, take it from an old hand, choose your clubs carefully and only join those in which you have time to participate actively and which interest you most. There are more than 250 clubs of every description on campus.”

 

  • Student Sports

For men –

“The boys puff out their manly chests when they say the University is generally recognized as having one of the best all-round intramural programs for men in the entire country. The latest addition is lights for the Intramural Field. And to brag some more: These are the only ones of their type in this section of the country. Spectators who shout loudly and clap obnoxiously are welcome at all games.”

And for women –

“Besides regular gym classes, any girl with the required health grade can try out and perhaps become a member of a UTSA (University of Texas Sports Association) club.

“What’s your choice? There’s Bow and Arrow (archery), Canter Club (riding), Orchesis (modern dance), Poona (badminton), Racket Club (tennis), Strike and Spare (bowling), Tee Club (golf), Touche (fencing), Tumbling, and Turtle Club (swimming). UTSA is under guidance of Miss Anna Hiss, Director of Women’s Physical Training.”

  • Students’ Association

“The Students’ Association elects representatives for its student government both in the fall and in the spring. Assemblymen are elected in the fall, whereas the most colorful election is the one in the spring, when the president and other student body executive and judicial officers are decided. Colorful campaigning, with signs, stunts, and serenading add to the spirit of elections.”

Above: For several weeks each semester, the all-grass West Mall was filled with enormous – and creative – campaign signs for student government. Click on an image for a larger view.

  • ‘tenshun!

“The University of Texas is one of the few colleges in the country which has ROTC units of all three branches of our Armed Services: Army, Navy and Marine Corps, and Air Force.

“The objective of the ROTC programs is to develop the attributes of character, personality, and leadership which are indispensable to every college graduate, whether he remains a civilian upon graduation, or makes a career of the service.”

 

Left: The cartoon scene in this section of the freshman handbook wasn’t entirely fictional. From World War II until the 1957 completion of the ROTC Building on the East Mall (later named Russell Steindam Hall and now replaced by the Liberal Arts Building), the Naval ROTC was headquartered in the Littlefield Home, with a pair of anti-aircraft guns placed on each side of the front entrance. And in full view of the Tower.

 

 

  • Student Life Centers . . .

“You will find a ‘home away from home’ here at the center of student activities. Just a few of the conveniences offered a Lost and Found department, free dance classes, ping pong, chess, card playing, checking service, and television. In addition Pep rally dances, Friday Frolics, Talent Nights, and weekly movies are given free throughout the school year. Your Union offers bridge lessons, pop lectures, student-faculty discussions called Coffeorums, and frequent appearances of nationally known speakers.

“Students plan all activities through the work of ten committees. The Charm Committee offers a co-ed charm school and style show each semester. The Free Dance Committee handles the dances. The Talent Committee keeps a file of campus talent and provides programs for various groups.

“Besides offering numerous activities, you can find popular magazines, soft drinks, candy, cigarettes, and newspapers from all over the state. You paid your dollar Union fee this semester for the use of all of these facilities.”

Above: Opened in 1933, the Texas Union was the original campus center of student activities. Much of the first floor housed the “Commons,” a large University-wide cafeteria.

  • Traffic Regulations

“Since the 40 acres small parking on the campus is limited to those holding permits. These parking privileges are restricted are restricted to the faculty, staff and disabled students. Parking after 4:30 Friday, after 1:30 Saturday, all day Sunday is open to anyone who can find a place to park.”

 

  • There is a Place to Walk . . .

“This last year, many feet of side walk were put down so that you would be able to walk from place to place without getting your feet muddy (or ruining the grass). These walks were planned so that you will be able to get from one place to another without crossing any shrubs, flowerbeds or the like. In many cases they were laid over paths that students had worn through finding the shortest distance between two points. So as you establish your paths from building to building, conform to the walks and help keep our campus beautiful. “

  • And a Place to Smoke!

“You may be one of those students who feel uncomfortable without a smoke in your hand. If so, start curbin’ that desire as a rule was passed this last year prohibiting smoking (or beverage drinking) in the class rooms and other specified areas. So look before you smoke!”

  • Longhorn Yells and Songs

Above: As lights weren’t installed at the football stadium until 1956, home games were usually held at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon. From the right seat, a Longhorn fan watched the game framed between two Austin landmarks: The UT Tower and the Texas Capitol.

Along with “The Eyes of Texas” and “Texas Fight,” UT students in 1952 had several favorite college yells. A pair of them – the Tex Fight Chant and Color Yell – were later incorporated into the Texas Fight song.

Moonlight Prowl on March 31st!

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.

~~~~~~~~~~

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

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


When does the tour begin?
 Traditionally, the Prowl begins at 8 p.m., when the UT Tower chimes have sounded 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.

May 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.

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.”

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

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 Moonlight Prowl number 655. 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 March 31st!

Jim

Mud Men

pushball-1924

Above: In the 1920s, Texas Independence Day was reserved for pushball!

Texas Independence Day – March 2nd – has long been celebrated on the University of Texas campus. In 1897, a group of law students formally borrowed a cannon from the Capitol grounds and fired it repeatedly in front of the old Main Building. In recent years, the Tejas Club has annually hosted a 7 a.m. breakfast to honor seniors, faculty, and UT administrators, and toasted the state that provided for the founding of the University. Texas Exes chapters worldwide have traditionally gathered for what is often the main event of the year, and raised funds for UT scholarships.

1895-pushball-at-harvardIn 1912, the usual firing of a cannon and a formal Texas Independence Day assembly in the auditorium of Old Main was expanded to included a new activity: a pushball game. The sport was invented by the Norton, Massachusetts Athletic Association in 1895, and quickly found a following at nearby Harvard University. “It looks comic, but it has its good points as well,” declared the Austin Daily Statesman. (Image at right.) 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 with eight men on a team, 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. At Harvard, students played pushball several afternoons a week with formal contests held during the halftime periods of football games. “It bids fair to rival football in popularity,” the Statesman claimed. Over the next several decades, the sport did receive some national attention and was played at universities as far away as Stanford, but it never seriously challenged football for recognition.

University of Texas students, though, were keenly aware of the new game and eager to give it a try. By 1909 The Texan was calling for it to be played on the Forty Acres. “Those who have watched Push Ball contests at other colleges and know of the great sport connected with these exhibitions cannot but wonder why the Push Ball has not reached Texas.” During the spring, students had initiated a movement to purchase a pushball and hold a game before the end of the term. Unfortunately, the cost was nearly $250, a monstrous sum at the time, easily more than the total expenses a UT student would incur over an academic year. Pushball was placed on hold, but not for long.

In the spring of 1912, Professor Carl Taylor took on the added responsibility as coach of the UT Track team. He’d played pushball as a student at Drake University in Iowa, knew of the interest in the sport in Austin, and convinced the Athletic Council to purchase a pushball for University use. It arrived about February 1st and was on display in the Co-op, then housed under the massive oak staircase in the rotunda of the old Main Building. The first contest was set for Saturday, March 2nd – as part of the Texas Independence Day festivities – between the freshmen and sophomores.

1912-first-pushball-contest

Above: A view of the inaugural 1912 pushball contest on Clark Field, about where the O’Donnell Building and Gates-Dell Computer Science Complex stand today, with the dome of the Texas Capitol in the background. 

It had rained all morning, but a large crowd of curious onlookers gathered at Clark Field, UT’s first athletic field, on the appointed day. Just after 3 p.m., the male contingent of the freshman class arrived first and gathered at the south goal, their faces daubed with red paint to distinguish them from their opponents. The sophomore class soon followed, marched into the stadium in a double line, and took up residence on the north end of the field. Both groups heard pre-game speeches from their captains. Grady Niblo addressed the sophomores, while Louis Jordan, the only freshman selected to play on the Longhorn football team, was chosen to lead the first-years. After class yells were shouted, the pushball, accompanied by the University Band, was rolled onto the grass and ceremoniously placed on the 50-yard line. The freshmen and sophomores lined up en masse behind their respective goal lines, Coach Taylor raised his starter’s pistol, pulled the trigger, and – bang! – an estimated 370 students surged onto a thoroughly muddy field and sprinted for the ball waiting at the center.

1912-pushball-headline“A fleet sophomore hit the ball first,” reported the Statesman, but several freshmen arrived an instant later. “For a minute or two it seemed as though it was an impossibility to make the ball budge one way or another. Slowly but surely, though, the freshmen succeeded in forcing it toward the sophomore goal inch by inch.” Suddenly, the ball was raised into the air and “spectators witnesses one of the most thrilling sights that it is possible to see on an athletic field.” For the next twenty minutes, the ball was either rolling on the ground or flying through the air, prodded, pushed, and lifted by mud-caked students who were either trying to get to the ball or blocking someone from the other class. The freshman had moved the ball to within fifteen yards of the sophomore’s goal when time was called. After a short intermission, a second period was played, though limited to twenty players on a side. In the end, neither class scored and the contest was declared a tie, but all agreed that the pushball game was fun.

For the next fifteen years, pushball continued as a Texas Independence Day tradition on the campus, though the sophomores almost always won. It was discontinued in the late 1920s after the ball itself was worn out and a series of injuries to participants raised concerns.

1923-pushball

Above: The 1923 Pushball game had some students climbing the goal posts.

1925-cactus-pushball-cartoon

Above: A 1925 cartoon of the annual pushball game. Students who participated wore old or worn out clothes, as few shirts or pants escaped being muddied or torn.

The UT Tower Turns 80!

texas-ranger-march-1938-cover-1

Above: The cover of the March 1938 issue of the Texas Ranger, a UT student magazine. The drawing incorrectly labels the Tower as a WPA project. A grant from the Public Works Administration (PWA), a New Deal program during the Great Depression, provided the funding for the construction of the UT Tower.  

Officially dedicated on February 27, 1937, next Monday, the University of Texas Tower will become an octogenarian!

To celebrate, the Alexander Architectural Archives is sponsoring an exhibit of original drawings of the Main Building and Tower in the reading room of Battle Hall. The exhibit will run until August, but the opening event is Monday, February 27th at 5:30 p.m.

Come celebrate the UT Tower’s 80th birthday. There’ll be cake!

For all the details, CLICK HERE.

tower-consruction-1935-a

650,000 Thank Yous

ut-tower-texas-mountain-laurel

Above: The Texas Mountain Laurel are in full bloom on campus, and the bees are loving it.

Spring has come to the Forty Acres, and so has another milestone for the UT History Corner, which just passed the 650,000 visitor mark since it opened in May 2012. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by, and I hope you found something worthwhile!

Jim

“Coats on in the Library!”

battle-hall-1916-reading-room

Above: Before 1917, coats and ties were the customary dress in the University Library, regardless of the weather.

1915-university-library-battle-hall

It was a fine day for a rebellion.

Friday afternoon, May 25, 1917, was bright, sunny, warm, and humid. The kind of late spring day that usually precedes a long, steamy summer.

For University of Texas students, the academic year was coming to a close. Term projects were due, along with one last round of quizzes, before final exams and then commencement ceremonies in mid-June.

The University Library – today’s Battle Hall (photo above left) – was a popular place this time of year.  Opened in 1911 and partly inspired by the Boston Public Library, its spacious
reading room was a great improvement over the too-crowded previous quarters in the old Main Building.  At a time before the invention of air conditioning, architect Cass Gilbert 1914-university-library-entrance-screen-doorsdeliberately positioned the library just to the west of Old Main, near the top of the slope in the middle of the Forty Acres. Facing east and with the reading room on the second floor, the tall, arched windows could be opened to catch the southeastern breezes from the Gulf of Mexico, and help to mitigate the heat in the warmer months. To further help with air circulation, customized screen doors were created and fixed to the front entryway. (Photo above right.)

On this particular Friday afternoon, a small group of male UT students arrived for some late day studying, but looked decidedly different from their fellows. While there was a firm classroom dress code of suits and ties for men and dresses for women, the library wasn’t a classroom, and on this warm day, the students decided to leave their jackets at their west campus boarding house and visit the library in shirt sleeves.

After just a few minutes, Wilson Williams, officially the library’s Supervisor of Gifts and Exchanges, but better known on campus as the “silence restorer” of the reading room, swooped down upon the group with the peremptory command, “Coats on!”

1920-university-library-and-old-main

Above: Architect Cass Gilbert placed the library just west of the old Main Building.

As the students had left their jackets at home and couldn’t comply, they attempted a parley. Williams explained they had violated a well-established guideline of dress. The students asked whether the rule might be overlooked this one time, saving them the trouble of having to trudge home just to don jackets on a hot day.

Unmoved, Williams insisted, but the students persisted, and finally demanded to see the written rules that governed library dress and conduct. Williams reluctantly admitted that there was no formal regulation that required jackets be worn, but it had been a longstanding custom since the University opened in 1883.

To the students, though, practicality outweighed an unnecessary tradition. The group, confident in their victory over the library administration, remained at their seats in shirt sleeve comfort. Within a few minutes, a dozen other UT compatriots had peeled off their jackets, and before the library closed for the day, every male student had joined in the uprising. For the hapless Mr. Williams, a longstanding custom was no more. But for the students, a new tradition was born. Coats and hot days were not to meet in the library again.

1920-battle-hall-reading-room

Above: After 1917, UT students in the library studied in their shirt sleeves on warm days. Click on an image for a larger view.