Myth-Conceptions: Some UT Campus Myths

Have you heard? The main library at Indiana University is sinking into the ground at the rate of an inch a year. The fault lies with the building’s designer – a graduate from rival Purdue – as he didn’t take into account the extra weight of the books on the shelves. At Iowa State University, any student who carelessly steps on the bronze zodiac inlaid on the floor of the student union building is thereby “cursed” to flunk their next exam. Undergraduates at Princeton warily avoid exiting through the Fitz Randolph Gate at the campus entrance before they graduate. Otherwise, they may never complete their degrees. And at Columbia University in New York, the famous statue of Alma Mater has an owl hidden within the gatherings of her robes. Incoming freshman are told that the first person to find the owl will become the class valedictorian.

Above: The Alma Mater statue at Columbia University. Looking for the owl? Check the robes just behind the left leg.

These are all campus myths, of course. They’re as endemic to college life as all-night study sessions during final exams. The University of Texas has its own collection of myths and lore. Some have been rooted on the campus for decades, while others are relative newcomers to the Forty Acres. Below is a sampling.

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Myth: When viewed from an angle, the UT Tower looks like an owl because it was designed by a Rice University graduate.

This myth is as old as the Main Building. When the top of the Tower is seen diagonally, two of the faces of the clock appear to be a pair of owl’s eyes, while the pointed corner of the observation deck suggests a beak. This is intentional, as the story is told, because the Tower was designed by a graduate of Rice University, whose mascot is the owl. The same myth has been extended to Austin’s Frost Bank Building downtown. Apparently, Rice alumni are very busy.

Actually, the architect of UT’s Main Building and Tower was Paul Cret, who was born in Lyon, France in 1876 and graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then considered the finest place in the world to study architecture. When he was hired as consulting architect by the University in 1930, the 44-year old Cret had immigrated to the United States, was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and had his own private practice with offices in downtown Philadelphia.

In 1933, Cret completed a campus master plan that influenced the University’s architecture for decades. The South Mall and its “six pack” of buildings, the West Mall guarded by the Texas Union and Goldsmith Hall, the East Mall with the Schoch and Rappaport Buildings, Hogg Auditorium, Mary Gearing Hall, and Painter Hall are all among the products of Cret’s directions.

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Myth: The Perry-Castaneda Library was designed in the shape of Texas.

University librarians were fielding questions about the shape of the Perry-Castaneda Library well before it opened in 1977. The PCL – informally known as the “PiCkLe” – was planned by the San Antonio architecture firm Bartlett, Cocke and Associates, Inc. and proactively designed to ease the pedestrian traffic around it. Instead of a traditional square or rectangular footprint, corners were trimmed to allow for diagonal pathways in front and behind the building. Other parts were extended to make the best use of available area. The end result was actually meant to better resemble a pinwheel, not the Lone Star State. The Board of Regents approved the plans in March 1974, along with $17 million for construction. (For more about the PCL, see: Forty Years on Forty Acres.)

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Myth: The campus purposely has no North Mall as a Southern snub to the “Yankees.”

This is one of several North vs. South-themed myths which have pervaded the Forty Acres for decades. Another one claims that George Littlefield, the original owner of the Littlefield Home and a Confederate Major, donated the original land for the University campus but stipulated that no building be allowed to face north. None of this is accurate.

A North Mall was indeed planned for UT, a feature of Paul Cret’s 1933 campus design. Extending north from Mary Gearing Hall, where University Avenue can be found today, the mall was to have been the centerpiece of an intended Women’s Campus and bordered by women’s residence halls, Mary Gearing Hall (then used for the home economics department), and the Anna Hiss Women’s Gym. The mall was to have been longer than its counterpart to the south.

Above: An architectural rendering of the women’s campus north of the Tower, with the Alice Littlefield Dorm for freshmen women at far left and Anna Hiss women’s gym toward upper right. In the center, extending north from Mary Gearing Hall, was the proposed North Mall.

Funding issues delayed the mall during the Great Depression in the 1930s and again when World War II diverted the University’s priorities to the war effort. After the war, the needs of the campus had drastically changed. Returning veterans on the G.I. Bill flooded colleges across the nation; UT’s enrollment more than doubled in just three months, from 6,800 students in June 1946 to more than 17,100 the following September.

The land along University Avenue was needed for other purposes, including a Student Health Center at the corner of University Avenue and Dean Keeton Street (opened in 1950 and since replaced by the Biomedical Engineering Building) and a new facility for the College of Pharmacy, which was sharing an overcrowded Welch Hall with chemistry. With the additional traffic, University Avenue was needed for access and parking, and when the Blanton Residence Hall opened in 1955 on the west side of the street, a grand North Mall no longer seemed feasible.

Above: A 1958 view from the Tower Observation Deck. What was to have been the women’s campus now has a Student Health Center (top right) and a Pharmacy Building on the east side of University Avenue, and the Blanton residence hall to the west. The needed parking prohibited the development of a North Mall.

Why isn’t there a mall on the north side of the Main Building? The reason is a boring, practical one. The Main Building and Tower were completed in 1937 as the new central library, and while malls do extend directly from the building to the east, west, and south, one side needed to be left available for deliveries and emergency vehicles.

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 Myth: The Board of Regents refused to name the East Mall Fountain, “Peace Fountain.”

As the story goes, when the East Mall and its fountain were completed in 1969, UT students, many of them engaged in anti-Vietnam War protests, asked the Board of Regents to label the new water feature “Peace Fountain.” Allegedly, the regents sarcastically responded by naming it “Pease Fountain” after Elisha Pease, the 1850s Texas Governor who strongly advocated for the founding of the University of Texas. There is some truth here, but only with the first half of the tale.

Completed in May 1969, the East Mall Fountain was an instant hit on the campus, and briefly became something of a mini-Barton Springs. Bathers, waders, and floaters were common in the shallow pools, while others sat along the upper level with legs dangling over the cascade, or lounged and sunned on the grassy expanse of the East Mall. In true Austin style, skinny dippers were occasionally spotted in the fountain late at night.

At 2 p.m. on the sunny afternoon of August 3, 1969, several hundred “hippies, would-be hippies, and clean-cut American kids” gathered at the fountain. Organized by the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, a brief ceremony  dubbed the structure “Peace Fountain” before the group took full advantage of the cooling waters on a hot summer day. The event was reported in both The Daily Texan and The Austin American.

Less than two weeks later, on August 14, the Board of Regents voted to ban all wading and swimming in any of UT’s fountains. There were numerous complaints of trash, including beer bottles, left in an around the East Mall Fountain. The glass covers of the underwater lights had been removed and broken, and electrical wires torn out, which created a hazardous situation. There were also genuine concerns over someone falling from the fountain’s upper level.

Though wading was prohibited, the unofficial name “Peace Fountain” remained, and the new campus landmark often became a focal point for anti-war activities. When the LBJ Presidential Library was dedicated in May 1971, and with Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon at the ceremony, members of Veterans Against the Vietnam War tossed their military medals and ribbons into the fountain as a protest.

There was never a student request to rename the East Mall Fountain, but “Peace Fountain” was the preferred campus moniker for almost a decade. The Texan regularly used it as late as 1978.

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Myth: The window pattern on Burdine Hall resembles a punch-out computer card because the building was supposed to house the computer sciences department.

Certainly, the window pattern on Burdine is unusual, and this kind of thing is ripe for a campus myth, but it’s not true. Burdine Hall was opened in May 1970 for the departments of Government and Sociology. It’s named for John Alton Burdine, a longtime government professor who also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (which has since been separated into several colleges and schools).

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Myth: Destined to be cut down for a construction project, the Battle Oaks were saved by Professor William Battle when he sat in one of the trees with a shotgun and defied the administration.

Not a chance. In fact, using a shotgun at all would be very much out of character for the bookish Dr. Battle.

A native of North Carolina, Battle was a newly-minted Harvard Ph.D. when he joined the UT faculty in 1893. A professor of Greek and classical studies, he quickly rose through the academic ranks, served as Dean of the University (today called the Provost), and was appointed President ad interim. Along the way, Battle founded the University Co-op through a $2,300 personal loan (his annual salary was $2,500), compiled the first campus directory, and designed the University Seal.

Perhaps Battle’s greatest contribution to UT was his tenure as chair of the Faculty Building Committee, which oversaw the development of the campus. Battle headed the committee for nearly three decades, from 1920 to 1948, and he took great care to ensure that campus designs and buildings were both appropriate to their setting in Texas and reflected the high aspirations of the University.

Above left: A 1932 photo of Dr. William Battle with a bundle of drawings for the future plans for the campus.

In the early 1920s, plans emerged to build a Biological Labs facility at the southeast corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets, which would have required the removal of the University’s oldest live oak trees. Students and alumni raised concerns, while a faculty group  presented Battle with a formal petition. Battle agreed that the trees should remain, took the matter up with the Board of Regents and convinced them to move the building farther east, where it stands today. The oaks were later named for their champion.

Above: The Biological Labs building under construction. It opened in 1924.

A potential source of this myth can be found in the UT archives. Among those who advocated for preserving the trees was former law professor (and future Board of Regents chair) Robert Batts. In a letter to Battle, Batts passionately wrote that he would “come down to Austin with a shotgun, if necessary” to save the oaks.

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Myth: The George Washington statue is on the South Mall because Washington appeared on the Seal of the Confederacy.

A decade ago, there were six additional statues along the South Mall as part of the Littlefield Gateway, and four of them were of persons with direct ties to the Confederacy. It’s understandable that a visitor back then might think the likeness of Washington was connected to the same undertaking. It was centrally positioned, surrounded by the other statues, and was sculpted by the same artist. A closer inspection of the dates and inscriptions, though, shows the Washington statue was a separate project with a very different intent.

The statue of George Washington was the dream of Austin resident Frances Campbell Maxey, an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the first historic preservation group in the nation, where Maxey served as the Association’s Texas representative for 36 years. The main visitor gate to Mount Vernon, opened in 1899 as the “Texas Gate,” was built because of Maxey’s fundraising efforts in the Lone Star State.

Maxey read a 1924 newspaper report that claimed Texas was the only state in the Union without a likeness of George Washington. The issue remained with her for years until the D.A.R. began discussions on how to best observe Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932. At Maxey’s suggestion, the D.A.R. asked the University if it might donate a sculpture of Washington for the campus. The UT Board of Regents “heartily” approved of the idea at its September 1930 meeting.

The intent was to have a statue installed by the Washington bicentennial in February 1932, but the Great Depression made fundraising difficult, as well as the Second World War that followed. (The same affected construction of the North Mall as discussed above.) Not until the 1950s was fundraising completed and artist Pompeo Coppini, who’d sculpted the Littlefield Fountain and other South Mall statues, secured for the project. The statue was dedicated in 1955.

While a likeness of Washington did appear on the Confederate seal, it wasn’t the motivation behind the statue on the Forty Acres. (For more about the Washington statue, see: How George Washington came to the University of Texas.)

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Myth: Bevo was named because of the Aggies.

Some myths are stubborn. This legend was debunked more 20 years ago but continues to be told, especially by football fans in College Station.

For decades, the claim was that Texas A&M was directly responsible for naming the University’s longhorn mascot “Bevo.” The steer was a gift from UT alumni, presented to students at halftime of the 1916 Texas vs. A&M football game in Austin. The Longhorns went on to win 21 – 7, but several months later, in February 1917, a group of Aggie pranksters snuck into town late at night and branded the steer 13 – 0, the score of the 1915 game in College Station when A&M prevailed. Thus far, this is accurate.

Aggie fans, though, went on to assert that, in order to save face, UT students altered the brand. The “13” was changed into a “B,” the dash into an “E,” a “V” inserted before the “0,” and thus was born the name “Bevo.” This is a myth.

First, there is ample printed evidence soon after the football game that the steer was already known as “Bevo,” both in the Alcalde alumni magazine and in newspapers around the state. One of the articles was dated December 12, 1916 – less than two weeks after the game – and published in the Bryan-College Station Weekly Eagle (left), the hometown newspaper for Texas A&M!  This was two months before the steer was branded.

Second, there’s no record that the brand was ever changed. No photo of the mascot with “Bevo” on his side, no mention in any newspaper or any other published source. Some might argue, “well, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” but history requires evidence. Using the same line of thought, we could also claim that Bevo was abducted by space aliens; the lack of supporting proof doesn’t mean it didn’t happen!

Besides, there are several accounts that describe the UT mascot as sporting his original brand. Perhaps the most important is from the Longhorn Magazine, published by UT students. It ran an article about the January 1920 football banquet – in honor of the 1919 team – where the steer, too wild to bring to football games and too expensive to maintain, wound up being the main course for dinner. A delegation from A&M was invited to attend and the history of the mascot was told. The magazine specifically mentioned the original, unaltered brand: “The half of the hide bearing the mystic figures 13 to 0 was presented to A and M with appropriate ceremonies.”

The steer was called “Bevo” months before he was branded and the brand was never changed. (For the story oft he first Bevo mascot, go here.)

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Audio Comes to the UT History Corner

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With a battered and worn cover after more than seven decades, Songs of the University of Texas contains early recordings of UT favorites, along with some tunes that haven’t been heard on the campus since the 1950s.

The UT History Corner is more than a blog; it’s intended to be an expanding resource for those interested in exploring the University’s past. To compliment the traditions, images, and resource areas already on the web site, a new audio section has been added.

Songs of the University of Texas is a three-record set of 78rpm discs recorded sometime in the mid-1940s. Curiously, the songs weren’t performed by a UT student group, but arranged and recorded in New York City by the Republic Glee Club, whose members were often heard on popular national radio shows. E. William Doty, the first dean of UT’s College of Fine Arts (and who held the post for 34 years), is listed as “Musical Advisor.”

A pair of tunes will be familiar: The Eyes of Texas and Texas Taps (better known today as Texas Fight!). While the songs were arranged specifically for the New  York performers, the age of the recording still might tell us a little as to how the songs were initially sung.

The other three selections are: The Clock on the Varsity Tower, Hail to Thee our Texas, and The Victory Song. John Young, a 1940 fine arts graduate, wrote Clock as a ballad to his sweetheart. The two met on the Main Mall in front of the Tower, and the clock chimed just as they were introduced. The composer of Hail to Thee is unknown, though the song has the feel of a traditional, Ivy League college piece, sung by an a Capella choir in a grand auditorium. The upbeat Victory Song by George Hurt was used as a second UT fight song, and was a staple at football rallies and games into the early 1960s before it disappeared.

1940 Songs of the Forty Acres

Along with the recordings, a 4 x 6 inch pamphlet, titled Songs of the Forty Acres, was printed at about the same time. It contains about 20 tunes, many of them Texas folk favorites – including Git Along, Li’l Dogies – but the music and words to the UT songs on the records are also included. Those pages have been scanned and posted to the audio section, so listen, sing along, or find a piano and play these old college songs yourself!

To listen to Songs of the University of Texas, click here.

The University of Texas Seal

University of Texas Seal

Go to any UT library, pull a book off the shelf, open the front cover, and you’ll find it. Run afoul of the University police (well, hopefully not!), and you’ll see it on the shoulder patches of their uniforms. Stroll into the Gregory Gym annex and you can see it inlaid on the floor. It’s printed on every UT degree, carved in limestone on campus buildings, and displayed prominently on the Main Building for commencement. It’s the official seal of the University of Texas.

What we think of as the modern university made its first appearance in 12th century Europe as a well-organized union of teachers and students. It was an “academic guild,” similar in many ways to the trade guilds that were an important part of medieval towns. An aspiring tradesman would learn his craft first as an apprentice, and progress to a journeyman. When he had fully developed his skills, his final test was to produce a “masterpiece,” usually an object that showed his best skills and all that he had learned. If it passed inspection, he was declared a master tradesman by his peers and allowed to teach others. Academic degrees grew out of this same process. But instead of a masterpiece, a modern-day Ph.D. candidate writes a doctoral dissertation and defends their thesis in front of a faculty committee.

From the beginning, academic insignia and dress were an integral part of university culture. Congregations, lectures, examinations, and graduations all included ritual words, objects, music, and required forms of dress. A scepter or mace carried by the rector identified him as the leader of a university, graduating doctors often received gold rings with their degrees, and hooded capes, which evolved into the modern cap and gown, were worn to identify university members to the public, with special colors and designs for both students and teachers.

The most prized symbol of a university was its seal. Only granted by a pope or monarch, the seal officially recognized a university as a corporation that could conduct legal affairs, and whose members had special rights and privileges different from ordinary townsfolk. The seal was so valuable, often the original carving was kept in a special chest with a triple lock, and several university authorities were required to be present to open it.

Early university seals were usually intricate, elaborate designs: a student at a desk reading a book, the rector in academic garb holding a mace, or an image of a saint special to the university. A Latin inscription, the “motto,” was almost always included, and was sometimes considered the most important part of the design. Later, as knights were permitted to have seals that resembled their personal shields, university seals began to sport coats of arms of their own.

In November 1881, the newly-appointed Board of Regents of the University of Texas convened in Austin for its inaugural meeting. Among the many items on the agenda, a sub-committee of the Board was asked to create a seal for the university. They completed their task in a single afternoon.

The original UT seal borrowed liberally from the seal of the State of Texas, with a five pointed star framed on the left by an oak branch, representing strength, and on the right by an olive branch, signifying peace. Placed within a circle, Universitas Texana labeled the seal as belonging to the University, with the motto Non Sine Pulvera Palma. A well-known Latin phrase, the motto may be translated as, “The prize cannot be won without effort,” or in more modern terms, “Do your best.”

Money was set aside to purchase an embossing stamp, but the University seal wasn’t very popular. Its use limited to decorating degrees and a few other official documents, though a mural of the seal was painted on the wall of the history lecture room in the old Main Building. (See photo above, on the wall to the right. Click on the image for a larger version, and did you notice that all of the co-eds sit toward the front?).

In 1901, Dr. William Battle, a well-known and popular professor of Greek on the Forty Acres, took it upon himself to design a new, more distinctive seal for the University. He may have been prompted by the 1900 vote by students and alumni to recognize orange and white as UT’s official colors, and thought the time was right. Of the original seal, Battle declared, “Except for the word Universitas, it might just as well have been the emblem of the State Penitentiary.”

Battle was thorough. He purchased books on heraldry, and requested copies of seals from universities across the U.S. as well as from Oxford and Cambridge in England. At his own expense,Battle hired a leading firm in heraldic design – the Bailey, Banks and Biddle Company of Philadelphia– as consultants and to sketch prototypes according to his directions.

The process went through several versions, all of which are still preserved in the UT archives at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Battle himself changed the motto to Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar’s famous quote, “A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy,” which at the time regularly appeared on the inside covers of most University publications. Battle’s Latin translation of Lamar was Mens Instructa Civitatis Custos, but this sounded a bit clunky. Instead, Battle conferred with friend and colleague Dr. Edwin Fay, head of UT’s Latin Department, who suggested, Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis.

In its final version,Battle described the University seal:

“In conformity with general usage, the design adopts as its central feature the shield form that shows the origin of its heraldic arms. The shield is divided into two fields, the upper white, the lower orange, the University colors. In the lower and larger field are the historic wreath and star of the Great Seal of the State of Texas; in the upper field is an open book, fit symbol of an institution of learning. The shield rests within a circle of blue, the color of sincerity, containing the motto, Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis. This is Professor Edwin W. Fay’s rendering of the apothegm of President Mirabeau B. Lamar, “Cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy. Around the disk of blue is a larger disc of red, color of strength, bearing the words, Sigillum Universitatis Texanae.

Battle presented his seal to UT President William Prather in 1903. Two years later, on October 31, 1905, the Board of Regents officially approved Battle’s proposal, though the words, Sigillum Universitatis Texanae, were changed to the English, “Seal of the University of Texas.” Within a year, the new seal appeared on library bookplates, invitations and programs of University events, and, of course, diplomas.

Images: The Seal of The University of Texas at Austin; Seal of the University of Bologna, Italy, among the earliest of European universities; the history lecture room in the old Main Building, from the 1900 Cactus yearbook; an early version of the UT seal, found in the William J. Battle Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

Of Regents and Women

Combing through the minutes of the UT Board of Regents can be a tedious process. They’re a great resource for University history, though all too often, what had to be some lively and animated debates are either boiled down to a few dry sentences, or only the final decision was recorded. But sometimes, there’s a peek into the manner and attitudes of the regents, and of their times.

On July 12, 1917, the regents met in Austin to, among other things, meticulously review the University’s budget. The United States had entered World War I the previous April, and the Board was looking to financially trim what it could to help with the war effort. Most salary raises were placed on hold for the duration. Before the war was over, UT would partner with the War Department to host three military schools. The School for Military Aeronautics (SMA) was stationed at the Little Campus. Hargis Hall and the Nowotny Building just north of the Erwin Center are all that’s left of a larger complex. The SMA was called the “West Point of the Air,” and was a prototype for the Air Force Academy. The School of Automobile Mechanics was stationed at Camp Mabry, where instructors included members of the UT faculty. And the School of Radio Operators was located on campus and set up shop in rows of canvas army tents that lined what is today the South Mall.

While meeting in the old Main Building – in an Austin summer and without air conditioning – the regents’ review came to the Department of Home Economics, today’s School of Human Ecology. The department’s proposed budget for the 1917-18 school year was $13,800, most of which went to faculty salaries. (Department chair Mary Gearing was to be paid $3,000.) Two of the regents, John Mathis and William Love, moved to eliminate the department outright. Regent George Littlefield spoke up to defend it, but thought “the salaries were too high for women.” His fellow regents must have agreed. As a compromise, the Board decided to reduce all of the teaching slaries by 20 per cent.

Four years later, Governor Pat Neff appointed Mary McLellan O’Hair as the first woman regent. A vocal supporter of women’s suffrage, and an active member of both the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Mrs. O’Hair would likely have had her own opinion on how much women should be paid.

Photo above: The 1923 Board of Regents meets on campus. Mary McLellan O’Hair, the first woman on the Board, is fourth from left. UT President William Sutton is seated on the far left.

UT’s First Gymnasium

The idea of a campus gym is almost as old as the University “We need a gymnasium,” moaned a student editorial in an 1886 issue of the Texas University Magazine. “We want no weak-eyed, stoop-shouldered youths to go forward as a result of University of Texas training. We want to send out no soured cynics, vilely compounded of dyspepsia, acetic acid and classic lore.” When the north wing of the old Main Building was completed in 1889, most of the basement was reserved for storage. Students and faculty alike thought the space might be put to better use.

At their meeting in June 1896, the Board of Regents heard a proposal from law professor Robert Batts to convert the basement into a gymnasium. Given the University’s meager finances, the regents were unsure they could cover the cost of outfitting the basement with locker rooms, showers, and weight training equipment. They also wanted some assurance that if the money were found, the students would indeed utilize the room. In a bargain with the regents arranged by Batts, three students agreed to sign a guarantee for the estimated $500 cost of the weight training “gymnasium apparatus” on behalf of the student body, though whether they had the authority to do so was never actually determined.

But the task of remodeling the basement itself remained an issue, as enough funds simply weren’t available. “The suspense was terrible,” recorded a witness at the meeting, “until a friend of the University volunteered to pay for these preparations.” The unnamed friend was George Brackenridge, a wealthy banker fromSan Antonio who had served on the Board of Regents since 1885. Brackenridge wanted to remain anonymous “because he prefers to give quietly and unostentatiously,” but his identity didn’t remain a secret for long.

Brackenridge contributed $600 to the cause, and the renovation began almost immediately. The ground in the basement was excavated to deepen the floor and create an eleven-foot ceiling, and locker rooms with showers were installed at the north end. The students ordered exercise equipment from the Narragansett Machine Company in Providence, Rhode Island, one of the most popular suppliers of “gymnasium apparatus” in the country at the time.

By November, the gymnasium was ready, and had cost almost $1500 to construct. Completing, and exceeding, their part of the bargain, the students were able to raise $900 to add to Brackenridge’s donation and finish the project. The gym was open to students who joined the newly formed Athletic Association, but as there was only one locker room, men and women were to use the facility at separate times. Part of the dues to the Association, along with a locker fee of one dollar per year, was set aside to pay for new equipment, general maintenance, and a gymnasium superintendent.

Once the gym was opened, however, the regents’ fears were soon realized, as few students took advantage of the facility. The chief reason cited was the lack of a formal gym instructor. By February 1897, the treasury of the Athletic Association was empty, and the gym temporarily closed.

The University took over the facility the next fall term, hired Homer Curtiss as the men’s instructor, reopened the gym, and required male freshmen to enroll in “physical culture” courses. Classes were held twice a week for an hour, either from11am to noon or from 3 to 4pm. Regulation gym clothes consisted of an orange and white striped sleeveless jersey, black tights or shorts, and “tennis slippers.” Sessions usually began with thirty minutes of pulley-weight work or “dumb-bell drill,” some practice on a gymnastics apparatus, a half mile run outside, and finished with a series of deep breathing exercises.

The basement, though, was never an ideal place for a gymnasium, “A large part of the space is taken up by twelve large brick pillars,” grumbled Curtiss. “The presence of these pillars prevents any marching or playing of games and greatly inconveniences the working of the classes.” While the locker facilities and office had a concrete floor, the main room had “a rather damp dirt floor covered with a layer of sand.” There were constant complaints about the air quality, in part because of poor ventilation, and “from the fact that sand is kicked up by the running and jumping.”

A separate gymnasium building was proposed in 1901 (pictured above). With an estimated cost of $25,000, it was to be placed at the southwest corner of 24th Street and Speedway, where the older part of Welch Hall stands today. It would have been just across the street from the University’s new athletic field, and was to contain a larger gym for basketball and seating for fans, an elevated running track, swimming pool, separate locker facilities for students in classes and UT athletic teams, and a trophy room.

While there was interest in the new gym, the Board of Regents had to place academic needs ahead of athletics. An engineering building (built in 1904 and now called the Gebauer Building) and a new home for the law school (completed in 1908, but razed in the 1970s to build the Graduate School of Business building) were higher priorities. A full-fledged gymnasium had to wait almost three decades until Thomas Watt Gregory, an 1885 UT grad who had served as U.S. Attorney General under Woodrow Wilson, chaired a fundraising drive with the Texas Exes to construct  the Texas Union, Hogg Auditorium, and Gregory and Anna Hiss gyms in the 1930s.

Why is UT in Austin?

A statewide election placed UT in Austin. Or was it in Tyler? You decide.

1908 Postcard.Old Main with bluebonnets

On the final day of March, 1881, Governor Oran Roberts signed the bill that formally established the University of Texas. Among its provisions, the campus was to be placed “at such locality as may be determined by a vote of the people.” though it allowed, if the voters chose, to separate the medical department from the main university. Roberts called for a special election on September 6 and declared the city of Austin a candidate. But while the capital city was an acknowledged favorite, history had taught its citizens to be wary of competition.

Above: Austin in 1881. The view up Congress Avenue to the old Capitol building.

Austin was founded in 1839 to serve as the capital of the Republic of Texas, but when Texas joined the Union in 1845, its status as a state capital had been provisional. It wasn’t until 1872, when the city defeated Houston and Waco in a statewide election, that it formally became host to state’s government. In order to win the University, Austinites knew they would have to campaign.

Alexander Penn Wooldridge (known as “A.P.” to friends) was the young and energetic lawyer chosen to lead the Austin effort. Born in New Orleans, educated at Yale and the University of Virginia, Wooldridge arrived in Austin in the 1870s and quickly established himself in social and legal circles. He was the driving force to organize the city’s public education system, chaired the first Austin School Board, and would later serve as Austin’s Mayor. A 14-person committee assisted Wooldridge in the effort.

In early May, the group published an open letter to all Texans in the state’s newspapers and argued that the capital was an ideal place for a University. It was central, granite and limestone quarries existed nearby for university buildings, and students could observe the state’s government in action while acquiring their own education. Even the “healthfulness” of Austin was promoted as “its mortuary report showing the smallest death rate of any city in the South or Southwest.”

Along with ads in newspapers, Austin promoted itself on bills hung on the walls of county courthouses and post offices, an effective medium at the time. Supporters state-wide sent lists of friends and acquaintances to committee members in order to compile an enormous mailing list.

By June, as the summer sun warmed the state, the temperature of the location debate also began to rise. Along the heavily populated Gulf Coast, Galveston and Houston worked together to convince voters to divide the campus, then competed against each other for the prized medical department. Galveston’s campaign was more aggressive, and it published a letter to voters similar to Austin’s address. As the largest city in Texas at the time, Galveston bragged about its two hospitals where medical students could receive practical experience and “closely watch the progress and treatment of different diseases.” The city already had a small medical school, the Texas Medical College, and its facilities were to be turned over to University. Because Galveston was a port city, it also “boasted” of having a greater variety of illnesses to observe.

Houston’s chief spokesman, State Senator Charles Stewart, countered by pointing out that his city was a major railroad depot, and was therefore subject to a greater number of visitors. “I can safely say,” Stewart crowed, “that there are ten, nay perhaps a hundred railroad travelers to one by ship.” The senator also mentioned the frequency of injuries suffered by railroad workers, and declared it would be “God-giving charity for Texas to locate her University where these men could receive proper care and treatment.” Fortunately for Texas, tourism wasn’t yet a major industry. The contest between Galveston and Houston as to which was the most disease ridden and injury prone wouldn’t have fared well in a vacation brochure.

Among the rivals to Austin, Waco was the most vocal. It also touted a central location and easy access by railroad, along with “cheap and abundant fuel, excellent water,” and its “highest degree of healthfulness.” Waco wasn’t afraid to fire a shot at Austin: “While exempt from the noise, bustle and confusion of a commercial metropolis, Waco is free from the distracting scenes, corrupting influences and fevered excitements of a political capital with its multitudinous temptations to allure the young into paths of vice.” The chair of Waco’s campaign committee was a popular lawyer and former city attorney named William Prather, who would later serve on the Board of Regents, and then was appointed by his colleagues to be the University’s president. President Prather was well-known for ending many of his speeches to students with the phrase, “and always remember, the eyes of Texas are upon you.”

The town of Tyler, about 200 miles northeast of Austin, was another candidate for the main campus. It was ready to contribute the unused ten acres of the defunct Charnwood Institute, and offered its own opinion of the capital city. The Tyler Courier warned not only of the “din of drunken legislators” in Austin, but declared the city’s white limestone buildings were “so blinding to the sight that green goggles are peddled like peanuts upon the streets, and that sore eyes and blindness are the frequent result.” Tyler’s citizens were understandably upset. One of their favorite residents, Governor Roberts, was publicly supporting rival Austin.

Not to be outdone by the larger cities, several small towns also submitted bids to host the University. The Cleburne Chronicle advocated placing the campus at Caddo Peak in north central Johnson County, because it was a “moral place” and far away from the “busy haunts of man – and woman.” Thorp’s Springs, just south of Fort Worth, declared that “no intoxicating liquor will be allowed within four miles of the University,” as soon as it got it.

As its final task, the Austin campaign committee was charged with designing, printing, and distributing the ballots for the election. The committee was aware that most voters in the state favored a separate medical branch, but many of those who supported Austin also wanted the entire University. To complicate matters, Governor Roberts’ proclamation had announced the capital only as a candidate for an undivided campus. This posed a serious problem. Voters who favored a separate medical school might choose a town other than Austin for the main site. If Austin was to receive enough votes for all or part of the University, the ballot had to be skillfully worded.

Wooldridge devised a ballot that presented to the voter all of the possible choices, but was decidedly biased for Austin. Approved by the committee, the ticket read, “For” or “Against” separation of the departments and, “For Austin for the Main Branch.” Blanks were included to write-in a choice for the location of the entire campus, and, if needed, the preferred city for a separate medical department. But to vote for another city for the main branch, the word “Austin” had to be physically marked out and another written in its place. The committee suspected the ballot might upset Houston and Galveston, as it allowed for the possibility of an undivided campus, but hoped Austin’s supporters would be content with the design. Instead, Austinites thought the committee had cleared the way for the separation of the University. No one was satisfied.

As expected, Houston and Galveston cried foul, and charged Austin with selfishness for wanting the entire campus. By early August, rumors reached the capital that an alliance had formed between the gulf cities and Tyler to deny Austin any part of the University if it should, directly or indirectly, oppose a detached medical branch. If the Austin committee’s ballot was used in the election, Houston and Galveston threatened to vote for Tyler for the main campus. Despite the high visibility of the campaign, voter turnout for the special election was expected to be small. The danger of a coalition against Austin was real.

The Austin committee sought a legal interpretation as to the form of the ballot and tabulating procedures, and addressed an inquiry to the State Canvassing Board. The Board consisted of Governor Roberts, Attorney General James McLeary, and Secretary of State Thomas Bowman.

On August 19th, the Board released its opinion, which was a lengthy and divided one. Roberts and Bowman concurred, while McLeary dissented. McLeary argued that if separation won, votes for an undivided campus should be ignored. Roberts and Bowman declared that if the voters opted to separate the medical branch, the votes cast for both the main branch and the entire university would be counted, and the city with the largest combined total would win the main branch.

Turnout for the election on September 6th was indeed sparse. Less than eighteen percent of eligible voters cast ballots. When the results were announced, Austin was declared the winner of the main branch and Galveston the seat of the medical school. Out of 56,480 votes, 38,117 were in favor of division to 18,363 against. Austin received 16,306 votes for the main branch and 14,607 for the entire university, for a combined total of 30,913. Tyler was second with 18,420 votes for the main branch, but acquired only 554 for the entire campus, for a sum of 18,974. Galveston and Houston had remained true to their word. If the canvassing board had dismissed the ballots for an undivided campus, the University’s main branch would have been located in Tyler.

Happy Birthday to the Eyes of Texas

Yesterday was the 109th anniversary of the first performance of The Eyes of Texas. Written by John Lang Sinclair and Lewis Johnson, the song poked fun at UT President William Prather, who frequently ended his speeches to students with the phrase, “and always remember, the eyes of Texas are upon you.” It was also a two-year project for Johnson, who wanted a song that University of Texas students could call their own. A more complete history of the origins of the Eyes is here.

Photo above: The scribbled original version of The Eyes of Texas (not the one sung today) written by Sinclair on a piece of brown laundry paper. It is currently on display in the Alumni Center.