One Hundred Thirty-Six

Above: The earliest known image of the UT campus, taken in 1883 at the present intersection of University Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The west wing of the old Main Building – where the present Main Building and Tower stand today – is the only structure.

The arrival of the University of Texas wasn’t greeted with trumpet and fanfare, but with neighs and whinnies.

At 10 a.m. on a sunny, sticky, Saturday morning, September 15, 1883, nearly three hundred persons gathered for the opening ceremonies in what was the unfinished west wing of the old Main Building. The audience sat on chairs arranged on a makeshift floor of undressed lumber, surrounded by unpainted walls. The incomplete windows were open to the elements, and required the day’s speakers to compete with the brays and snorts of the many horses hitched outside.

The west wing sat near the center of a square, uneven, 40-acre campus, initially dubbed College Hill. It was almost devoid of flora, save for a thicket of mesquite trees and a handful of live oaks, some festooned with Spanish moss. A great gulley extended from the top of the hill to the southeast, dry most of the time but a quagmire in wet weather. According to Halbert Randolph, who earned his law degree in 1885, the ornamental shrubbery consisted of “cactus sporting its full-grown fruit, looking like the ripe nose of a drunkard.” For a few weeks in the spring, the campus was aglow with a blanket of Texas Bluebonnets, and the pitiful state of the landscape was temporarily forgotten.

Above: The west wing of the old Main Building, about 1885, surrounded by newly planted hackberry trees. Plumbing for the building was incomplete. Out of sight and behind the hill to the right was a temporary lavatory.

To the east, beyond the University grounds, lay vast tracts of pasture and open prairie. Just to the west, along a dusty and unpaved Guadalupe Street, stood two grocery stores, a dry goods shop, and a saloon.

The sprawling town of Austin filled the view to the south, its 11,000 inhabitants still abuzz over the local telephone service that was installed two years earlier. Austin won the privilege to host the main campus of the University after a hotly contested state election, and as it was already the seat of Texas government, civic leaders predicted Austin would soon be the “Athens of the Southwest.” Fortunately, there were no proposals to change the city’s name accordingly. (Through much of the 19th century, as the United States expanded westward, colleges and universities were desired assets of newly founded, up-and-coming towns with lofty ambitions, and communities sometimes renamed themselves to reflect their goals. It’s no accident that two of Ohio’s state universities reside in towns named Oxford and Athens, that students enrolled at the University of Mississippi travel to Oxford, or that the University of Georgia is located in Athens.)

Ashbel Smith, a 76-year-old physician from Galveston (photo at left), was selected to chair the first Board of Regents, and was entrusted with the Herculean task of creating the new university. A graduate of Yale, Smith was a secretary of state for the Republic of Texas and served multiple terms in the state legislature. The University of Texas was Smith’s passion in the final years of his life, and his top priority was to recruit the best faculty possible. He traveled extensively, visited colleges throughout the country, and spent many late nights devoted to University-related correspondence, often scribbling letters by candlelight.

After nearly two years of effort, Smith and the Board of Regents selected eight professors. Six of them formed the Academic Department, and most were assigned to teach multiple disciplines: English, literature, and history; chemistry and physics; mathematics; metaphysics, logic, and ethics; ancient Greek and Latin; and Spanish, French and German. The remaining two composed the Law Department. Salaries averaged $2,500 per year, a generous sum in the 1880s.

Most of the professors hailed from Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. To save on travel expenses, Smith convened the first faculty meeting in May 1883 not in Austin, but at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Above: The University’s first faculty. From left: John Mallet, professor of physics and chemistry; Leslie Waggener, professor of English language, history, and literature; Robert Dabney, professor of mental and moral philosophy and political science; Robert Gould, professor of law; Oran Roberts, professor of law; Henri Tallichet, professor of modern languages; Milton Humphreys, professor of ancient languages; and William LeRoy Broun, professor of mathematics.

The initial entrance requirements were determined by the faculty. Candidates for the Academic Department were expected to know elementary Greek and Latin, though French and German could be substituted for those planning to pursue science or literature. Competency in algebra and plane geometry, English composition, history, and political geography were also required. Admission to the law department did not yet require a bachelor’s degree, though candidates were urged to have a strong background in reading and writing English, and a “familiarity of the history of the United States and England.”

In the weeks before the University was scheduled to open, college-aged youth made their way to Austin to present their credentials and be interviewed by the faculty for admission. In a state where 90 percent of the population was classified as rural, many of the candidates were from farms and ranches, the children of pioneers, raised in log cabins with few luxuries. They were practical and self-motivated, but their preparatory education was incomplete. Many did not possess high school diplomas, and the standards for admission were too high. One prospective student who hoped to study mathematics, when asked how much math he had taken, proudly responded that he’d completed a class in “discount and bankruptcy.” Though hindered by a lack of formal education, the young Texans managed to impress the faculty. According to chemistry professor John Mallet, “Boys whose spelling and arithmetic were much behind their years, talked and thought like grown men of house building on the prairie, of cattle driving, even of social and political movements.” At the end of the first day of entrance examinations, the faculty met, discussed the situation, and with a collective shrug decided not to rigidly enforce the “grade of scholarship” established for admission, due to the “limited advantages for education in this state.”

From the beginning, the University was open to women, a progressive statement at a time when opportunities for women in higher education were rare. That UT would be co-educational was the result of a compromise in the state legislature as it debated the bill to create the University. Some members of the House who were opposed to female students were also political opponents of Governor Oran Roberts, and they feared that Roberts, whose term in office was coming to a close, would be named UT’s first president. In order to support the inclusion of women, the legislators demanded that the University be modeled after the University of Virginia, which was then led by a faculty chairman instead of a chief executive. An agreement was reached. Women were admitted as students, but for its first decade, University affairs were the responsibility of the elected head of the faculty. Roberts was denied the possibility of serving as UT’s president, but he was appointed one of the two initial law professors.

While the 1876 Texas constitution mandated the creation of the University, it also required the legislature to “establish and provide for the maintenance of a College or Branch University for the instruction of the colored youths of the state,” which implied that the campus in Austin wouldn’t be open to everyone. It would take another 70 years, starting with the 1950 enrollment of Heman Sweatt in the School of Law, for the University to truly become of and for all Texans.

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Among the speakers for the opening ceremonies was Dr. John Mallet (photo at left). Hired away from the University of  Virginia to teach chemistry, Mallet was elected by his fellow UT professors to be the first Chair of the Faculty.

Mallet cautioned those present not to expect too much too soon, and prophetically compared the progress of a university to the growth of a tree. “It must have a fruitful field . . . but you will be disappointed if you expect it to grow from the seedling to the proportions of a stately tree in a single night. And more will you be disappointed if, in your efforts to hasten its growth, you pluck it up by the roots to see how much the roots have grown.” Mallet also spoke of the students, “to whom the faculty look with peculiar interest and hopes,” and then, directly to the students in the audience.

To the students: “We ask you to be fellow workers with us. You should try to understand your true relations to the University. You frequently hear the phrase used, ‘coming to the university,’ not remembering that you are the university. More than the faculty – more than the Board of Regents – more than all else – it is the students that make the university. It is not the crumbling stones of Oxford, nor the memories of its hundreds of able teachers that make it the great university of England, but it is the never dying intellectual and moral life of the five and twenty generations of men who have gathered there as students. The students are, in the highest and truest sense, the university themselves. If Texas is to have a university of the first class, worthy of the name, the work of the faculty can form but a small part in its success. Its development must be the result of the united efforts of the people of Texas, of the State government, of the Board of Regents, of the faculty, and above all, of the students of the university.”

With an incomplete building, sitting on a mostly barren campus, boasting an inaugural faculty of eight professors, and joined by 221 students, the University took its first, tentative steps upon the stage of Academe.

The Misadventures of Bevo’s Head

For the burnt-orangest of Longhorn fans, the story of the first Bevo mascot is as familiar as the scent of fresh breakfast tacos on game day morning, and the sight of an orange tower that night.

In 1916, UT alumnus Stephen Pinckney, with some help from fellow alumni, purchased a West Texas longhorn steer and had him shipped to Austin on a train in time for the Thanksgiving Day football bout between the University and the A&M College of Texas. The steer, chosen because of his orange-shaded hide, was presented to the students at halftime (photo above) and then taken to a South Austin stockyard for care and safekeeping. Texas went on to win the game 21 – 7.

The steer was named “Bevo.” It was likely a play on the word “beeve,” which is both the plural of beef and a slang term for a cow or steer, followed by an “o,” though it was also the name of a non-alcoholic beer introduced by the Anheuser-Busch Company at the same time. (Think of it as “Beeve-o” or “Beef-o.”)

An on-campus debate ensued over what to do with the steer. Some wanted to brand Bevo with a “T” on one side and the winning “21 – 7” score on the reverse. Others thought that was animal cruelty and advocated for putting the steer out to pasture. The discussion was settled months later on February 12, 1917, when a group of Texas Aggies broke in to the stockyard and branded Bevo with the numbers “13 – 0,” the score of the 1915 football game A&M had won the previous year. With rumors swirling that the Aggies planned to return and kidnap the steer outright, Bevo was hurriedly moved to the Tom Iglehart Ranch west of Austin.

Six weeks later, in early April, the United States entered the First World War, and thoughts of mascots quickly took a back seat to the war effort until the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

When peacetime again returned to the campus, University officials considered the Bevo situation, and declared the steer was simply too wild to attend football games. Besides, many UT students had lost interest in Bevo; he had, after all, only made a single public appearance two years previously, and those who remembered him thought the mascot had been “ruined” by the 13 – 0 brand still on his side. Besides, the students already had a huggable, pettable live mascot in the form of Pig Bellmont. As it was costing 60 cents a day to keep an unsuitable Bevo on a ranch, the athletics department decided to make the animal the barbecued main course of the January 1920 football banquet for the 1919 Longhorn team.

Both Pickney and Iglehart attended the event, along with a delegation from A&M. “The branding iron was buried and the resumption of athletic relations, after an unhappy period . . . duly celebrated,” announced the Longhorn magazine, a monthly published by UT students. “The half of the hide bearing the mystic figures 13 to 0 was presented to A and M with appropriate ceremonies.” Bevo’s head and horns were mounted by a taxidermist in New Braunfels, and it and the other half of the hide were to be kept on the Forty Acres.

So, whatever happened to Bevo’s head?

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Above: The Victorian-Gothic Old Main Building.

A visitor to the University of Texas campus in the 1920s would have discovered a jumble of buildings whose disparate styles sent a mixed message for what was supposed to be a “university of the first class.” At the top of the hill stood the Victorian Gothic old Main Building, stately and elegant, its pointed windows and rooftops softened by the deep-green ivy that draped its walls. Nearby, the library and education building (today’s Battle and Sutton Halls), along with the Biological Laboratories and Garrison Hall, boasted Mediterranean facades with red-tile roofs, a style the Board of Regents thought was both appropriate for the bright Texas sun and honored the Spanish heritage of the state. Decorations on these buildings ranged from ancient classical symbols to contemporary images, and brought an air of sophistication to the Forty Acres.

And then there were the shacks.

Starting in 1911, with the University expanding faster than its funding allowed, and without monies for conventional classroom buildings, UT President Sidney Mezes had cheap, temporary facilities constructed. They were made from pinewood, without proper foundations, and outfitted with potbelly stoves for heat. Mezes ordered the “shacks” – as they were informally known – to be left unpainted in the hope that their appearance would be so embarrassing, the state would quickly replace the shacks with adequate buildings. It didn’t work.

Entire academic departments were housed in the shacks, which were summarily labeled with letters of the alphabet. Professor Spurgeon Bell, the founder and first dean of UT’s business school, taught his initial accounting classes in “G” Hall (photo at left). On chilly winter days, in order to warm the classrooms before students arrived, Bell’s daily routine began by stoking the coals in the stove left by the custodian the night before, and then hauling in firewood from a stack behind the building. The visible contrast of unpainted shacks standing next to the library or Old Main was striking, and was certainly not the impression UT administrators hoped to convey for an aspiring first class university.

In 1918, during the First World War, a row of additional shacks was built along the eastern edge of the Forty Acres next to Speedway Street. They were first used as barracks for the Student Army Training Corps as part of the University’s war effort (see “To Serve the Nation”), but were re-purposed as classrooms and offices after the war.

The shack at the south end of the row, perched on the corner of 21st and Speedway (where the business school is headquartered today), was “Z” Hall, home to UT’s Department of Men’s Athletics.

Above: A row of pinewood shacks on the east side of campus, where Waggener Hall and the business school are today. Speedway Street runs behind the buildings. Closest, at bottom right, is part of “Z” Hall, used by the athletics department.

The front door was on the west side, and upon entering, a visitor first encountered a long corridor filled with displays of banners and trophies, as well as footballs, baseballs, basketballs, and track relay batons from important contests. Here, too, were rows of team photos and framed portraits of those who had earned varsity letters (“T” Men), with a special section for athletes who’d lettered in three or more sports.

Above left: One of the trophy displays in “Z” Hall. 

Past the coaches’ offices, whose walls were crowded with still more team photos, action shots, and Texas pennants, a suite of rooms in the rear of the building was reserved for Athletic Director Theo Bellmont. Along with space for an executive assistant and Bellmont’s own office, an adjoining conference room was used for Athletic Council meetings. Here, mounted on one of the conference room walls, was the head and hide of the first Bevo.

By the mid-1920s, Bevo was largely forgotten by the University community. Few, if any, of the students were on campus when the steer made his 1916 debut or knew of his integral contribution to the football banquet a few years later. Bevo, though, wasn’t simply gathering dust. In “Z” Hall, a place overflowing with awards and mementos, the steer’s four-foot two-inch horns were put to good use. From each horn, a prized football was hung. One was the ball used at the 1923 Texas vs. A&M game, still splattered with mud from Kyle Field in College Station, when the Longhorns won 6 – 0 to cap an 8 – 0 – 1 season. The other football was saved from the A&M game of the following year, on Thanksgiving Day 1924, when the new Texas Memorial Stadium was formally dedicated. The Longhorns earned a 7 – 0 victory over the rival Aggies.

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“Texas spirit, which by many had been acclaimed a thing of the past,” announced the Cactus yearbook, “was officially revived this year by an exceedingly capable yell leader.”

In the fall of 1928, Lynwood Boyett (photo at left) was full of new ideas. Elected head yell leader in the campus-wide elections, Boyett worked hard to improve the measure of Longhorn spirit around the Forty Acres and at football games. He tapped in to the energy of the freshmen class and created a special “Rooter Section” in the stadium just for the greenhorns. So that the section would be unmistakable, Boyett asked the frosh to wear uniforms of long-sleeve orange shirts and bright white suspenders, with the traditional freshman class green caps. The University Co-op agreed to sell the rooter uniform at cost, and by the first game of the season, hundreds of first-year students had registered for the rooter section and purchased their uniforms. Along with leading the rest of the stadium in the Rattle-de-Thrat and Lollapaloose  yells, Boyett had the freshmen perform “card stunts,” better-known today as a flash card section.

Above: The freshmen rooter section performs a “card stunt.”

Boyett also hoped to add some pizazz to the football rallies, which were then held at the campus Open Air Theater, an amphitheater just north of the old Law School. (Today, it’s the hill just north of the Graduate School of Business building that leads up to Garrison Hall.) He bolstered the line-up with more speakers and performers, and worked to increase attendance not only of the students, but of local alumni and Austin citizens.

Before he was elected head yell leader, Boyett had served two years as an assistant yell leader. He’d dropped by “Z” Hall to see the Athletic Director Bellmont many times, attended meetings in the Athletic Council conference room, and learned the history of the steer hanging on the wall. As head yell leader, Boyett wanted Bevo to be a part of the football rallies by mounting him on the wall at the back of the stage. Having the original longhorn mascot on the backdrop, where everyone could see him, would certainly add to the atmosphere of the event, and it would elevate Bevo out of obscurity to a more “mainstream” University tradition. Boyett approached Bellmont about the idea.

Bellmont was hesitant at first.  Moving the steer head could damage it, or, away from the protective confines of Bellmont’s office, something worse might happen. He eventually agreed to allow it for the rally set for Friday, October 19th at 7:15 p.m., the night before Texas opened Southwest Conference play against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Above right: Yell leaders address the crowd at the football rally before the UT vs. Arkansas game.

The rally was a great, standing-room-only success. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) news reel crew recorded it and Saturday’s game, and highlights of both were later shown in movie houses nationwide. (Unfortunately, the film hasn’t survived.) Texas defeated Arkansas 20 – 7. Two weeks later, Boyett again received permission to borrow Bevo for the “Smash S.M.U.” rally slated for Friday, November 2nd.

It was the largest rally of the fall and featured baseball coach Billy Disch, who made his first speaking appearance of the season. “If you will just do your share tomorrow,” Disch told the cheering students, “the team will go forward to victory. The very atmosphere seems to spell it. You are going to help put the boys over the top!” A quartette from the UT Glee Club performed, Longhorn team captain Rufus King gave a pep talk, and the assembly practiced their yells for Saturday’s game against Southern Methodist. All the while, Bevo looked out to the crowd from his mount on the stage backdrop.

Above: The Glee Club quartet performs at the “Smash SMU” football rally, with Bevo mounted on the stage backdrop.

When the rally was finished and the lights turned off, Boyett and a student helper – identified only as “Freshman Harkrider” – were to carry Bevo to the law school library in the Law Building, just a few steps behind the stage. The athletics offices were already closed and locked, and the library staff volunteered to keep the steer safe until the next morning, when he could be returned to his usual haunt in the conference room.  The Daily Texan, though, needed a quick interview to complete a story on the rally before the newspaper’s deadline. Instead, Boyett and Harkrider, with Bevo in tow, headed north to the Texan’s offices, finished the interview in a few minutes, and then left for the Law Building shortly after 9 p.m..

Half way to their destination, Boyett and Harkrider were ambushed in the dark by five men. Bevo was wrestled away. The abductors made their escape in a car that Boyett could tell “had a rumble seat” and went the wrong way on the single-lane campus drive.  It exited the Forty Acres near the present day Littlefield Fountain and sped off into the night.

Boyett and Harkrider ran back to the Texan to report what had just happened, phoned the Austin police, and then went downtown to inquire at the hotels. No one had seen Bevo. It was a clean getaway. To add to the misery, the Longhorns lost to S.M.U. 2 – 6 on Saturday.

For the next two weeks, rumors swirled about the location of Bevo. A witness in Waco claimed to have seen an overcrowded car heading north to Dallas the Sunday after the game. Someone in the rumble seat had an orange Texas blanket covering “something suspicious.” An S.M.U. fraternity was allegedly openly boasting it had the kidnapped Bevo. The abductors were rumored to have been five freshmen – possibly fraternity pledges – who were ordered to drive to Austin and steal the steer. The S.M.U. student newspaper, The Daily Campus, printed a pair of articles: one claimed that engineering students were behind the Bevo heist, the second reported the steer had been seen at S.M.U.’s football rally before its game against A&M. All the while, Dallas area alumni were quietly making inquiries and reported what they learned back to the athletics department.

On Friday, November 16th, as the football team and yell leaders arrived in Fort Worth for Saturday’s game against Texas Christian University, word reached Boyett that Bevo was being held in a rooming house near the S.M.U. campus. A quick excursion to Dallas proved to be fruitful, as a rescue party composed of the yell leaders and a few local alumni safely recovered the steer without incident.

Bevo was triumphantly shown at a pre-game gathering of Longhorn fans on Saturday, and Texas won out over T.C.U. 6 – 0. After his brief “tour” of North Texas, Bevo at last returned to the serenity of the Athletic Council conference room, permanently retired from football rallies.

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Above: An almost-completed Gregory Gymnasium in 1930.

At 11 a.m. on Friday, April 11, 1930, the Longhorn Band met in front of the old Main Building, then proceeded to march down what today is the South Mall, turned left on to 21st Street, and continued to the corner of Speedway. Several thousand students, faculty, and staff followed along, as UT President Harry Benedict had declared classes cancelled for the rest of the day. The occasion was the official dedication and open house of Gregory Gymnasium.

The gym was the first of phase of the “Union Project,” an ambitious and unprecedented $600,000 fundraising campaign by the Texas Exes to build Gregory and Anna Hiss Gyms, the Texas Union, and Hogg Auditorium. The project was launched in 1928, but the stock market crash the following year and ensuing Great Depression made the going difficult. Some alumni were only able to contribute a single dollar, as that was all they could afford, while others wrote that they’d skipped meals in order to save enough for pledge payments.

Gregory Gym was intended to be both an athletic facility and auditorium, and it initially served UT and the citizens of Austin. In its first decade, jazz greats including Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller performed for all-University dances (photo at left), but so, too, did the Austin symphony and opera. The gym was home to the men’s swimming and diving, and basketball teams, and was headquarters for UT’s intercollegiate athletics, recreational sports, and physical education. The coaches and staff in “Z” Hall were happy to vacate the old shack and move across the street.

In the main foyer, glass cases were filled with trophies and photos, and Bevo, removed from his confines in the conference room, was reverently hung above the center doorway, where everyone could look up and see him as they passed through the foyer and entered the gym. There he remained for over a decade.

“Again calamity and shame have befallen on Bevo I,” announced the Texan on Wednesday, November 24, 1943, just a day before the Thanksgiving football game with Texas A&M. The University community discovered at the stadium and near the Tower “there was evidence that someone had been quite busy with generous amounts of whitewash.” The anonymous painter had left messages on how badly Texas would lose to the Aggies in College Station on Thursday.

Worse, though, was the outright destruction found in Gregory Gym. The horns of Bevo’s mounted head had been physically torn off, leaving only ragged edges. Whitewash can be cleaned; this was permanent damage to something irreplaceable.

“We do not know who is responsible for either prank; they left no clues,” wrote Texan associate editor Marifrances Wilson (photo at left). “Those who played these tricks were moved by a theory which is now out-of-date on this campus. They thought that by doing these things they could make the University of Texas students mad – fighting mad. They thought that they could dig up out of the dirt some of the old worn-out traditions – the same old UT – A&M hatred, reprisal vandalism, fights at the game, and so forth.”

At the time, the people of Texas, along with the rest of the nation, were thoroughly enmeshed in the effort to win the Second World War; a cross-state rivalry took a back seat. The football game was to be broadcast on short-wave radio to U.S. Armed Forces everywhere. “There isn’t time this year to hold old grudges,” Wilson continued, “it just isn’t worthwhile when we remember that all over the world, on fields other than Kyle, Aggies and Longhorns are fighting together.”

Texas won the game 27 – 13, and what was left of Bevo’s head was removed and rumored to have been placed in the storage area underneath the front stairs of Gregory Gym. Both the head, and the hide, have long since disappeared.

The Hall of Noble Words

On the University of Texas campus, it’s a place like no other. A room where the ceiling seems almost anxious to speak with visitors, to offer a nugget of wisdom, share a spiritual proverb, or proffer encouraging advice.

Here, over 80 years ago, the University’s faculty and staff came together hoping to inspire the students of their day and future generations.

When you visit, be sure to look up. It’s the best way to appreciate the Hall of Noble Words.

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Opened in 1934, the hall was part of the first phase of construction of the Main Building as the new central library (see “How to Build a Tower“) and one of a pair of spacious reading rooms. Embellishing the ceiling with quotations was the brainchild of Dr. William Battle, the chair of the Faculty Building Committee. Battle joined the UT faulty in 1893 as a classics professor, and had served as Dean of the Faculty (what today would be called the provost) and as Acting President. Along the way, he founded the University Co-op and was responsible for the design of UT’s official seal.

Above left: William Battle (left), poses with UT’s consulting architect Paul Cret (center) and supervising architect Robert White. 

With construction of phase one well underway, the Faculty Building Committee met in May 1933 and heartily approved of Battle’s idea for the east reading room, and then compiled a list of possible of citations as a starting point, “to serve as a basis for discussion.” It was hoped that the quotations on the ceiling would provide a source of inspiration for students studying below, who might occasionally glance up during breaks in their studies. The committee, though, wanted input from more of the campus, so that the final result was truly a University-wide effort.

Above right: Construction of phase one of the Main Building and Tower. The future Hall of Noble Words is on the second floor of the east side – the far side in this photograph. Click on an image for a larger view.

In early June 1933, Battle sent mimeographed copies of a letter to selected members of the faculty and staff. “Dear Colleague,” wrote Battle, “As a part of the decoration of the ceiling of the east reading room of the new library, the Building Committee contemplates the use of noble and inspiring utterances appropriate to the function of the room as an educational agency. The concrete beams offer long, broad surfaces well adapted for such a purpose . . . We might, with propriety, call the reading room The Hall of Noble Words.”

“The Committee would be greatly pleased if you would suggest utterances that seem to you appropriate,” Battle continued. “Perhaps the thoughts expressed may occasionally find lodgment in the minds of users of the reading room.”

Battle didn’t have to wait long for submissions, and they arrived from all parts of the campus. “I am much pleased by your suggestion for the use of noble utterances,” wrote accounting and management professor Chester Lay from the College of Business Administration. “I have myself often remembered and pondered such a quotation in the main reading room of the Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago:”

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.” – Roger Bacon

“I like the idea of using inspiring inscriptions,” responded home economics professor Lucy Rathbone, “The thing that impressed me most in the Library of Congress was the quotations carved on the columns.” Rathbone offered:

“The strength of a man’s virtue is not to be measured by the efforts he makes under pressure but by his ordinary conduct.” – Blaise Pascal

History professor Ed Barker submitted Martin Luther’s “Heir stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.” (Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.) Anthropology professor James Pearce suggested an Issac Barrow quote: “He that loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter.” And Mattie Hatcher, an archivist in the University Library who specialized in the Spanish and Mexican eras of Texas history, provided a regional offering with a quote from Stephen F. Austin: “A nation can only be free, happy, and great in proportion to the virtue and intelligence of the people.” All of the above quotations found their way onto the beams in the reading room.

Above: The quote from Republic of Texas President Mirabeau Lamar’s 1838 address, “Cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy,” became the University’s motto and appears in Latin on the official UT seal as Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis, or “Education is the safeguard of democracy.”

Architect Paul Cret also offered his support. “The idea of inscriptions on the beams of the east room is excellent.” He encouraged the use of bright, intricate, and interesting designs to accompany the words, and counseled, “Do not be afraid of having the color scheme too high in key at first. It will become subdued with age – like all of us.”

Of course, Battle received far more suggestions that could be used, and the Faculty Building Committee spent the month of July making difficult choices. The end result, though, was a list that was both varied in content and well-represented across the Forty Acres.

Eugene Gilboe, the celebrated Dallas painter and interior designer, perhaps best-known for his murals in theaters throughout the state, was recruited to paint the ceiling. He used stencils for the letters and freehand for the surrounding designs. On campus, Gilboe was also hired to paint the beams in the Texas Union Presidential Lobby and the ceiling of Hogg Auditorium.

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In the Hall of Noble Words, each side of the eight ceiling beams has a designated theme, under which appropriate quotations are grouped. Freedom, education, and wisdom are among the topics, along with friendship, determination, law and mercy, and the value of books. Citations from Shakespeare, Tennyson, Kipling, Aristotle, and the Bible are here, as well as a passage from Alice in Wonderland.

The side of one beam was designated “Appeal of the University of Texas” and displays a single quote from Yancey Lewis, an 1885 UT law graduate (right):

“Let us in this University strike hands with the ancient and goodly fellowship of university men of all time . . . and pledge ourselves, as university men and Texans, to love the truth and seek it, to learn the right and do it, and, in all emergencies, however wealth may tempt or popular applause allure, to be sole rulers of our own free speech, masters of our own untrammeled thoughts, captains of our own unfettered souls.”

The brackets that support the beams display printers’ marks from the 15th and 16 centuries. Among them is the Aldine Press, founded by Aldus Manutius of Venice, Italy. Known for publishing Greek, Roman, and Italian classics in their original languages, Manutius was famous for his new italic typeface, emulated by his peers across Italy.

Aldus’ printer mark (left) displays a swift-moving porpoise wrapped around a ship’s anchor with the cautionary motto “festina lente,” or, “Make haste, slowly.”

Above: A quote from Sa’di of Shiraz (Saadi Shirazi), a distinguished Persian poet and author from the 13th century. To the lower right, the bracket displays the printer mark of Antonio de Espinosa, who immigrated to Mexico City from Spain in 1550 and founded one of the first printing houses in North America. Click on an image for a larger view.

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The Hall of Noble Words opened to rave reviews in 1934, though students sometimes complained that the chandeliers didn’t provide enough light in the evenings. In the 1950s, fluorescent lights replaced the original fixtures (photo at right), though the new lights were installed directly on to the painted ceiling. Just over half a century later, in 2007, the room was restored much as it was in the 1930s, with new – and brighter – chandeliers, though the removal of the fluorescent lights left permanent scars.

Left: The Hall of Noble Words soon after its 2007 restoration. Click on an image for a larger version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How George Washington came to the University of Texas

Mary Frances Campbell – known as “Frances” by her friends – was the daughter of a successful cotton merchant who brought his family to Austin in 1876. Two years later, Frances wed Thomas S. Maxey, an up-and-coming attorney also new to the community, who would later be appointed by President Grover Cleveland as the federal judge of the Western District of Texas. Judge Maxey would serve 28 years and be counted among the prominent citizens of Austin.

In the meantime, Frances became involved with the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), as well as the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the nation’s first historic preservation group, dedicated to the promotion and conservation of George Washington’s home along the Potomac River (image at left). Though Mount Vernon was more than 1,500 miles from Austin, Frances didn’t let the distance get in her way. By the 1890s, she was the Texas representative for the Association’s governing board, and was determined to contribute.

An opportunity presented itself with the popularity of electric trolley systems during the last decade of the 19th century. Faster and more reliable than the old horse-drawn trolleys, the new mode of transportation brought with it a swell of thousands of sightseers to the Mount Vernon grounds. It quickly became apparent that a main ticket gate was needed to handle the ever-increasing crowds.

Frances decided that Texas would provide the facility. She organized a state-wide grassroots fundraising campaign, where school children donated nickels and dimes to the project, while members of Masonic lodges arranged for larger donations. The “Texas Gate” was dedicated in 1899. More than a century later, it still serves as the main portal to the Mount Vernon estate for millions of visitors.

Above: The Texas Gate at Mount Vernon, from the early 1900s (left) and in more recent times, has welcomed millions of visitors to George Washington’s estate.

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In 1924, a news report declared that Texas was the only state in the Union without a statue of George Washington. Surprised and dismayed, Frances knew she had to do something about it. The issue stayed in the back of her mind for years until discussions began within her DAR chapter on how best to observe the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth, coming up in 1932. Frances had the answer.

At their July 1930 meeting, the Board of Regents of the University of Texas unanimously approved the idea of a “suitable monument honoring the memory of George Washington,” and “cordially invites the daughters of the American Revolution to place the monument on the campus of the University.” The goal was to unveil the monument on February 22, 1932, Washington’s 200th birthday. Details of the project would be coordinated with Dr. William Battle, then the chair of the Faculty Building Committee, and newly-hired architect Paul Cret, who had just begun work on a campus master plan for the University.

The immediate questions were about design, cost, placement, and an artist. By early 1931, the DAR had decided upon a replica of an existing, well-known Washington statue, rather than create something new. Their first choice was the Washington equestrian monument on the Place d’lena in Paris, France (photo at left), sculpted in 1900 by American artist – and appropriately named – Daniel Chester French.

Paul Cret, who was born in Lyon, France, studied architecture at the lauded Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, immigrated to the United States, and was then head of the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania, heartily approved. He provided a drawing of campus with several possible locations, but the obvious and favored spot was on the proposed plaza directly in front of a new Main Building, facing toward the Texas Capitol.

Above: Architect Paul Cret’s original scheme for the Washington memorial. An equestrian statue was placed on a high pedestal near the front of the Main Mall (look closely at the lower right). Click on the image for a larger view.

The estimated cost was an ambitious $60,000. Frances hoped to recreate the fundraising strategy that worked so well for the Texas Gate. “It is the plan that this monument,” reported The Daily Texan, “be paid for by the school children of Texas. Each child will be given the opportunity of contributing whatever he wishes through his school.”

However, the rules had changed since the 1890s, and state regulations no longer permitted fundraising of this kind. And the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression that followed were being felt in the state. The DAR’s fundraising efforts earned only a few hundred dollars at a time, far short of what was needed.

To have something dedicated on the target date, the DAR arranged for a large, five-foot tall granite boulder to mark the spot of the future Washington statue. Attached to the boulder was a bronze plaque which read: “The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution on February 22, 1932, has marked this site on which will be erected a monument of affection and gratitude to George Washington, who is the father of our country, and has given the world an immortal example of true glory.” (The plaque can still be viewed, installed in the sidewalk directly behind the base of the statue.)

University President Harry Benedict found the idea droll. “I have to thank them for a boulder!” he scribbled in a note to Dr. Battle. Benedict would later call the boulder the world’s only “monument to a monument.”

Above: The dedication ceremony for the boulder marker for the Washington statue, with the Texas Capitol dome in the distance.

February 22nd was cloudy and chilly, but a generous-size group huddled in front of the old Main Building to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington and dedicate the site to a future monument. The Longhorn Band played patriotic tunes, President Benedict’s nine-year old son, Harry, Jr., was dressed in a Washington costume, and Frances, now elderly and frail, made the journey from her home just north of campus to personally unveil the boulder.

Above left: The boulder on the future Main Mall marked the site of the Washington memorial, with Garrison Hall in the background. 

As the Great Depression dragged on, the project lost momentum. The monument was revised from an equestrian statue to a less expensive standing Washington. The boulder, with permission of the DAR, was moved in 1934 when construction began on the Main Mall, to a place better favored by Cret at the head of the South Mall. Frances passed away in 1938, which left the monument without its initial champion. In 1941, Dr. Battle received a letter from the DAR: “In regards to the Washington memorial, the Daughters of the American Revolution will not proceed at the time because of world conditions . . . when conditions are more favorable, they will again consider the matter.” Fundraising was suspended for the duration of World War II.

Above: The view of the South Mall from the UT Tower observation deck. At the bottom center of the photo is the Washington statue boulder.

Not until the post-war, economically improved mid-1950s did interest in the statue return. Enough money had been collected for a Washington likeness, and Pompeo Coppini, the Italian-born sculptor who produced the University’s Littlefield Gateway was recruited to add one more piece to the South Mall. The 85-year old Coppini had already sculpted two George Washington statues: one for Mexico City and the other for Portland, Oregon. He spent four months crafting the Washington monument for the University of Texas. It would be his last project to close out an extensive and highly distinguished career.

Above left; Artist Pompeo Coppini, in his San Antonio studio, works on the statue of George Washington. 

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Thirty-one years after Frances Maxey had learned that Texas didn’t have a bronze likeness of George Washington, the statue was officially dedicated on February 20, 1955, still the first in the state. Coppini, who attended the ceremony, had cast Washington as he appeared on the day he was made Commander-in-Chief of the American Continental Army in 1775.

Dr. Battle, who retired in 1948 but was still professor emeritus, spoke at the proceedings. “I take special pleasure in congratulating the Daughters of the American Revolution on the completion of their movement to present to the University a statue of George Washington.  . . . Certainly the first function of the University of Texas is the development of high ideals of citizenship in the young men and women who study here and who will be the leaders of the coming generation. As an effective aid in this task I welcome the conception of keeping constantly before the eyes of students a noble presentation of the man to whom, more than anyone else, is due the existence of the nation, and who embodied in himself the highest qualities that a citizen of the Republic ought to posses.”

Photo of Coppini at work on the Washington statue is by Carl J. Eckhardt and found in the William J. Battle Papers, di_11305, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

 

 

Third Base Lemonade

The 1911 Faculty vs. Senior Class Baseball Game

The mighty faculty baseball team was supposed to be unstoppable, but no one was prepared for Gene Harris’ lemonade.

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“The date for the henceforth-to-be-annual Faculty-Senior game has been set at Thursday, May 18,” announced The Texan student newspaper. The 1911 spring term had only a few weeks to go before final exams, followed by commencement week in early June. “Everybody talk it up,” the Texan continued, “Let’s make this one of our best annual ‘doings.’ It’s going to be a hard, fast contest, and everyone should turn out!”

The idea for a faculty vs senior class bout apparently originated with first-year baseball coach William J. “Billy” Disch, who had organized something similar at his previous coaching post at Saint Edward’s College (now University) in South Austin. As many present-day Longhorn fans know well, Disch remained head coach for 28 years, won 465 collegiate games, 22 conference titles, and molded the UT baseball program into a national powerhouse. But in 1911, Disch was a rookie on the Forty Acres, and was looking for ways to be involved on the campus.

Above: The 1911 University of Texas Baseball Team. First-year coach Billy Disch is on the right in the middle row.

The faculty team wasn’t going take it easy on the graduating seniors. The squad included physics professor Bill Mather, who’d played shortstop for Amherst College, and German professor (and former UT football coach) Bill Metzenthin, who’d been a center fielder for Columbia University. Dan Penick, a Greek professor, tennis coach, and UT alumnus, had earned three baseball letters during his undergraduate years. Also on the team was education professor Caswell Ellis, botany professor Frank Heald, philosophy instructor John Keen, education professor Bill Sutton, zoology professor John Patterson, and Alex Krey, a Medieval history instructor who reportedly played “like a big leaguer.” Disch was to play catcher, and for more than a week, after regular practice with the UT team, Disch worked with the faculty squad to get them ready.

The seniors, meanwhile, weren’t allowed to include any members of the baseball team on their roster, and struggled to find comparable athletes who also had time to practice. With the end of the academic year approaching, term projects, research papers, and upcoming final exams were higher priorities. Prospects for the senior class were grim.

No worries. Gene Harris had the solution.

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Above: A 1908 view of the UT campus, with the newly-opened Law Building at lower right. It was replaced by the Graduate School of Business building in the 1970s. 

Eugene L. Harris hailed from Ysleta, Texas, then a small town just southeast of El Paso. In the summer of 1906, after graduating from El Paso High School, Gene boarded a train for the nearly 700 mile ride through Marfa, Del Rio, San Antonio, and finally north to Austin.

Harris planned to enter the University of Texas and earn a law degree, at the time a Bachelor of Laws and Letters (LL. B.). While the study of law then required only two years, University officials highly recommended “pre-law” students take two years of general studies in the Academic Department (arts and sciences) to gain a stronger background in history, government, and English. Harris completed his academic studies and entered the Law School in 1908, only to discover that he was part of the first class to be admitted to a new, three-year law program that had recently become the national standard. Though Harris’ time on the Forty Acres had been extended by a year, he could take some comfort in knowing he was also among the first to occupy a new Law Building in the southeastern corner of the campus.

Above: The Law Building, dedicated in 1908, as seen from the top floor of Old Main. 

Outgoing and jovial, Harris was well-liked and respected by his fellow students. He was active in the Students’ Assembly, joined the Athenaeum Literary Society, and participated on the UT Debate Team. He was editor-in-chief of the Texan newspaper for the 1907-08 academic year, and for four years served as the University’s Head Yell Leader. A highly-prized, elected position, the yell leader was considered to be the caretaker of UT’s college spirit. While the students had an established tradition of yells and cheers, Harris invented a few of his own, including the “Long Hey” yell:

Harris, though, also had a mischievous streak, one that often ran afoul of the faculty. A talented voice impersonator, Harris would telephone a newly-hired faculty member, claim to be University President Sidney Mezes (photo at left), and demand the young professor “be at my house at 8 p.m. tonight to discuss a serious matter.” More than once, Mezes was surprised to find an anxious college instructor at his doorstep, hat in hand, at the appointed time.

Over the course of his student career, Harris “accepted” multiple invitations to appear before Dr. Mezes and the Faculty Discipline committee. He participated in too many freshman-sophomore class rushes, painted the water tank behind the old Main Building one night that led to a skirmish between rival law and engineering students, and his ability to imitate the president over the phone was eventually discovered. At one point, the faculty planned to suspend Harris for three months. It took a great deal of pleading by his friends to save Harris from an enforced vacation from the Forty Acres.

As a senior law student, Harris kept his head low as he wanted to graduate, but the Faculty vs. Senior Class Baseball Game provided an irresistible opportunity. The underdog seniors needed help to win the game, and Harris knew just how to provide it.

Above: Congress Avenue and downtown Austin in 1911.

On the morning of May 18th, Harris took the electric trolley downtown to Graham’s Drug Store and purchased a gallon of Citrate of Magnesia, a quick and effective laxative to the uninitiated. (Harris would later recall the genuine look of concern on Dr. Graham’s face.) At Weilbacher’s Confectionary, Harris acquired a bag of sugar and several dozen lemons. Elsewhere, he found two pails, a pair of tin cups, and ice, and proceeded to make a special kind of lemonade with rather serious side effects. To one of the pails, Harris attached an anonymous note: “For the Faculty, from an admiring friend.”

The game was to be held at old Clark Field, about where the O’Donnell Building and Gates/Dell Computer Science Complex are today. Harris arrived a few minutes before the first pitch and gave the pails full of spiked lemonade to a youngster, with instructions to place them next to third base.

Above: The original Clark Field, UT’s first athletic field, was used for both football and baseball. Up the hill to the right is the old Main Building, where the Tower stands today.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon, and a large crowd was on hand to witness the home field senior class take on the faculty. President Mezes and engineering dean Thomas Taylor helped to officiate, and Dr. Mezenthin took the pitcher’s mound. Two pails of lemonade, so thoughtfully provided for the faculty, waited for those who made it as far as third base.

As expected, the professors scored early. Dr. Ellis, the team’s shortstop, hit a stand-up triple, and was the first to sample the refreshments. He scored when Coach Disch, to the delight of the fans, knocked the ball toward left field for a home run. Dr. Patterson (for whom Patterson Labs are named), surprised everyone with a beautiful slide into home to score in the fourth inning. As the game continued, though, more and more of the faculty availed themselves of the lemonade, whether or not they’d made it to third base.

The determined seniors fought back, but by the seventh inning stretch, the score was 11 – 7 in favor of the faculty.  Suddenly, Dr. Ellis hurriedly left the field without a forwarding address. As the team huddled to discuss his replacement, the entire outfield went missing. The rapid exodus continued until Dr. Mezenthin, alone atop the pitcher’s mound, was the only player left for the faculty. The game was over prematurely, for no matter how closely lemons, sugar, and Citrate of Magnesia might taste like lemonade, it doesn’t act like lemonade. The senior class promptly declared victory by default.

Above: The old Main Building. President Mezes’ office was on the first floor.

Thanks to a tip from pharmacist Graham, President Mezes soon uncovered the truth and determine the culprit, and issued an “invitation” for Gene Harris to come to the president’s office Friday morning in Old Main. Harris arrived to find Mezes alone; much of the Faculty Discipline Committee had played baseball the day before.

Mezes was livid. Harris had violated just about every rule possible, had disrupted the academic work of the University, and had caused members of the faculty extreme discomfort and embarrassment. And Harris was a law student. After an extended and stern lecture, Mezes asked the customary question: “Mr. Harris, what action to you think should be taken?”

Harris panicked, confessed his guilt, and then blurted out that the faculty had already taken all of the action possible or necessary.

The usually staid president stared for a moment, then chuckled, and finally leaned back and roared. He rose, extended his hand, and said that he’d enjoyed their relationship, and thought Harris not as bad a person as his actions might appear. A stunned Harris was ushered out of the office with a final “Good luck!” and graduated a few weeks later.

Life in Cliff Courts

The G. I. Bill more than doubled UT enrollment in three months.

Above: Post World War II class change on the Main Mall. 

When the war ended, the invasion began.

On June 22, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, more commonly known as the “G.I. Bill.” (Photo at left.) With millions of veterans returning home from the Second World War, and with limited employment and housing opportunities to greet them, the legislation was meant both to ease the transition to civilian life, and mitigate the surge of jobseekers on the economy.

The G.I. Bill provided a variety of assistance from which a veteran could choose: a year of unemployment benefits, low interest loans to start a business or buy a house, or stipends for tuition and living expenses to attend a vocational school or a four-year college or university.

Designers of the bill added the education benefit both to allay concerns that too many of America’s youth had missed college because of the war, and to delay some veterans from entering the job market immediately. As the war was ending, surveys of the troops indicated that about 200,000 planned to enter college, but the actual number surprised everyone. Just over two million veterans – more than ten times the estimate – opted to continue their education.

Universities scrambled to accommodate the flood of new students. Additional teachers were hired. Congress authorized $75 million for a Federal Works Administration Project that transported what were then unused barracks and other buildings from military bases to college campuses as makeshift dorms and temporary classrooms. But the issue was more complicated than just finding room for everyone. As students, the veterans were unlike any of their predecessors.

Traditional college undergraduates had long been between 18 and 22 years old, just out of high school, and living on their own for the first time. The veterans, though, were older, more mature, and the war had provided many of them with significant life experiences. They were serious about completing their degrees, asked more questions in class, and usually earned higher grades than their younger counterparts.  “The returning service men and women who now fill our institutions of higher learning to overflowing are by far the ablest students American college teachers have been privileged to instruct,” lauded Chancellor Bill Tolley of Syracuse University. “Thousands of college professors dread the approach of that inevitable day when they will be back among the eighteen-year-olds, and once more must measure their strength against the resisting medium of the adolescent mind.”

Some of the veterans were also married. Before the GI Bill, a married student was still a campus rarity; at some colleges it had been grounds for dismissal. And a size-able number of married students had already started families. For the first time, baby carriages, diapers, and high chairs were a part of the American collegiate scene.

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While the University of Texas had prepared for an influx of veterans, the full effect of the GI Bill created something of a campus emergency. Enrollment at the end of the spring 1946 semester was 6,794. Three months later, 17,108 students arrived for fall classes, of whom almost 11,000 were veterans. (Over the next decade, over 25,000 World War II vets would attend UT.) Some academic departs doubled or tripled in size overnight, while the law school increased ten-fold, from 78 to 797 students.

Class registration, to put it kindly, was a challenge. Students crowded the loggia at the south entrance to the Main Building to pick up registration time cards (photo at left) before waiting in extensive lines at Waggener Hall to complete forms, present medical records, and sign up for placement tests. Registration itself was held in the un-air conditioned Gregory Gym, where tables for academic departments were arranged in rows and students placed their names on class rosters. The more popular courses and class times filled up early; those who waited to start the process at the Main Building had fewer choices.

Above: Class registration in a crowded Gregory Gym.

Living off limited government stipends, most veterans couldn’t afford to replace their entire wardrobe with civilian clothes right away, and instead sported the military apparel they still owned. The campus teemed with flight jackets, naval pea coats, and Eisenhower jackets (or “Ike jackets”). All were worn with the ubiquitous gold discharge lapel pins (photo at right). For a time, it was impossible to enter a store on the Drag and not hear veterans sharing their war stories.

As expected, Veteran-related student organizations proliferated. The Ex-Servicemen’s Association was, by far, the largest group on campus, along with the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Navy Pilot Club, Canopy Club (Army parachutists), Semper Fidelis Club (Marines), Disabled American Veterans, and even a group for former prisoners of war.

Above: With a table in front of Gregory Gym during class registration, the Ex-Servicemen’s Association recruits new members.

Sprinting just ahead of the flood of new students, University administrators raced to add 176 full-time teaching positions and revamped the class schedule to run continuously from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., while lab classes continued until 11:30 p.m. Additional classroom space was provided through 14 surplus military buildings transported from Camp Wallace in Galveston. One was placed on the South Mall – where Parlin Hall stands today – to serve as the campus offices of the Veterans Administration. The others housed 36 classrooms, four chemistry labs, an engineering workshop, faculty offices, a student health service annex, and a cafeteria.

Above left: Temporary classroom facilities installed on the East Mall as seen from the UT Tower observation deck. Look close! Two more are on either side of Gregory Gym. Click on an image for a larger view.  

What used to be a longstanding, campus-wide lunch break from 1 – 2 p.m. was abandoned, in part, because there simply wasn’t room for everyone to dine at the same time. The Texas Union’s Commons could accommodate 2,000 persons, and cafes along the Drag and just south of campus could handle another 1,500. Most students either went home or brought lunch with them.

The greatest concern, though, was housing. Residence halls, boarding houses, and apartments filled quickly. Soon, there were veterans living in attics, basements, garages, or any nook that might hold a bed and a desk.

The University’s three men’s residence halls – Brackenridge, Roberts, and Prather- temporarily increased the usual two persons per room to three  room. Eight, two-story Bachelor Officers’ Quarters – or “BOQs” – were acquired from Louisiana and placed along San Jacinto Boulevard as additional men’s dorms.To accommodate some of the married students, UT constructed the Brackenridge Apartments on the Brackenridge Tract southwest of campus near Lake Austin.

Above: This photo of the 1963 groundbreaking for the alumni center includes an image of one of the two “BOQs” placed on the site as temporary dorms. In all, eight BOQs were positioned along San Jacinto Boulevard. 

Perhaps the most unusual housing arrangements were 150 hutments. Pre-fabricated, 16-foot square units, they were originally built for Higgins Industries, a large, prolific defense contractor based in New Orleans. The hutments were to house employees but never used, and acquired by the University through the Federal Emergency Housing Administration. Grouped in to three “mini-neighborhoods” on campus and at the Brackenridge Tract, each unit housed up to four persons. Furnished, with electricity, running water, heat, and with a bathroom (though no kitchen, air conditioning, or telephone service), rent was $22.00 per month, split among the residents. To better serve the students, the University connected the hutments with sidewalks, and added clotheslines, storm drains, and trash bins.

Above: The University constructed three neighborhoods of hutments: at Little Campus, where the Collections Deposit Library now stands; on the northeast corner of campus, the site of today’s Law School; and on the Brackenridge Tract. 

At the last minute, 33 additional “double hutments” were ordered. These were twice the size (16 x 32 feet), divided into a study area on one side, and with sleeping quarters and a bathroom on the other. Arranged in four rows, the hutments were placed just south of Prather Hall, about where the RecSports outdoor basketball courts are today. The location was atop a short cliff that overlooked present day Clark Field, and was named “Cliff Courts.” Rent was slightly higher, $30.00 per month, divided among roommates.

Above: An overhead view and map of the Cliff Courts area. Gregory Gym, Brackenridge, Roberts, and Prather Halls, as well as the stadium, can be seen along the top. To the left, the intramural field is the present site of Jester Center residence hall and the Blanton Museum of Art. The open field to the right is today’s Clark Field. In the middle, the four rows of pre-fabicated huts that were cliff Courts.

The hutments were meant to be a makeshift housing solution and expected to last three years. But while the other hutment communities had disappeared by 1950, Cliff Courts remained for over a decade.

Isolated from the busier areas of campus, the “Cliff Dwellers,” as the residents came to be known, created their own community. As veterans, they shared their war experiences, helped each other through the trials of returning to school, and formed lifelong friendships. While they were serious about completing their degrees, more than one Cliff Dweller noticed that the Courts were much closer to Scholz’ Beer Garden than to UT’s main library, then in the Tower.

The residents found ways to dine together (either by using electric hot pots to cook simple meals or going together to one of the off-campus cafes), fielded intramural sports teams, and organized their own social events. The group’s first dance party was held in the Roberts Hall lounge. Refreshments were provided, music was courtesy a borrowed record player, prizes awarded to the best waltzers and jitter-buggers, and “card tables, ping-pong tables, and other amusements” were available. When warm weather made sleeping in the un-air conditioned hutments difficult, the Cliff Dwellers moved their beds outside, next to the overhang above today’s Clark Field, and slept under the stars, taking advantage of the southeastern breezes that arrived from the Gulf of Mexico.

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Over the years, as the surge of returning veterans eased, Cliff Courts remained as an inexpensive housing option for more traditional UT students. Rent was raised slightly, to $45 per semester for each resident, to help with the rising costs of maintenance on the hutments. It was, in the long run, a losing battle. The structures were meant to be temporary, but the constant upkeep made it economically difficult to operate them. Besides, the lack of conveniences, especially of telephone service, made the Courts less popular.  In 1960, after a 14-year run, Cliff Courts was closed and the hutments sold.

Above: An aerial view of the Cliff Courts area. Waller Creek and San Jacinto Boulevard are lower right, next to today’s Clark Field. Cliff Courts was perched on the shallow cliff above the field, just south of Prather Hall.

To Serve the Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alumni Room

The message was direct, succinct, and dire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The UT campus and University Avenue around 1910.

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

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

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

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

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In his letter, Parker outlined five objectives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Presidential Poetry for the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on an image for a larger view.   

 

 

 

 

The University’s Guardian Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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