It Was There Before The Tree, Obviously: The Story of Mrs. Hubbard’s Hidden Flag Pole at the ABL


Pictured: The Struggle Between Nature and Tall, Metal Objects

An existential question for you on this Flag Day: Is a flag pole still a flag pole if it’s no longer flying a flag? (Short answer: yes, it’s just not living up to its potential.)

Here’s another, related, question: What’s up with the 50-foot flag pole currently hidden by a giant oak tree on the west side of the Armstrong Browning Library? (Short answer: it started with a donation, and some trees grow really tall.)

It All Started (For Me) With A Post-presentation Walk

One sunny spring day, after attending a presentation at the beautiful Armstrong Browning Library, I walked out the building’s side door and ran smack dab into a flag pole I’d never seen before, which was weird, because it was 50 feet tall and topped with an eagle; kinda hard to miss, right? Normally, you’d be right, but allow me to set the stage with a little photographic evidence of its camouflaged-ness.

pole_and_treeAnd, waaaay up top: the eagle.

eagle_atop_poleCurious, I drew nearer to the mystery pole and found at its base a plaque with some intriguing – if not completely illuminating – information on it. To wit:

flag_pole_plaqueThis of course lead to a whole series of questions: Who was Robert M. Hubbard? How was he connected to Baylor? Why would a flag pole dedicated to the “Founder of the Texas Highway System” be found outside the Armstrong Browning Library? Where the heck is New Boston, Texas? And so on.

To find the answers, I went digging into the archives at The Texas Collection, the Armstrong Browning Library and – of course – Google. The story has ties to former Texas governor (and Baylor president) Pat Neff; a man obsessed with the lives of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; and a prominent location on the (then) frontier of the campus.

Who Was Robert M. Hubbard?

Robert M. Hubbard – Rob, to his family and friends – was born in Cooper and grew up in Paris, Texas. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1894 and went on to gain a law degree at the University of Texas, graduating in the same class as (drum roll, please) Pat Morris Neff. Later, he married Berta Lee Hart. He went on to serve two terms in the Texas state legislature from 1930-1931 and served as state highway commissioner under governors William P. Hobby and Neff. Hubbard would die on November 6, 1934.

Hubbard oversaw the transformation of the state’s roadways from a series of barely passable, poorly planned backroads and county highways to one of the most advanced, innovative state highway systems in the country, earning him the nickname – you guessed it – the Founder of the Texas Highway System.

Mrs. Hubbard’s Gift

While R.M. Hubbard was busy serving the state both in Congress and in the highway commissioner’s chair, the Baylor University campus had a monumental task of its own: creating a collection and, eventually, a library related to the lives of Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The idee fixe of English faculty member Dr. A.J. Armstrong, the development of an on-campus resource focused on Browningiana took hold in Armstrong’s mind after his participation in an auction of Browning materials held by Sotheby’s in 1913. Over the next several decades, Armstrong worked tirelessly to acquire Browning materials. In December 1951, his dream was realized with the dedication of the Armstrong Browning Library, a gala affair that drew a long list of attendees, including one Berta Hubbard.

Mrs. Hubbard and an acquaintance, a Mrs. Watley of Texarkana, attended the festivities and were greatly moved by what they saw. After some conversations with Baylor administrators, facilitated by D.K. “Dock” Martin and including Earl C. Hankamer and Dr. Armstrong, Mrs. Hubbard settled on making a gift to Baylor in her husband’s honor. In a letter to Martin dated January 23, 1952, Mrs. Hubbard wrote,

Three thousand dollars is a large gift for me at this time, but I feel that I would like to make a gift – and if the flag staff is the wise choice – I would like that. … Of course it would be in memory of Rob.”

Letter from Mrs. R.M. Hubbard to D.K. “Dock” Martin, January 23, 1952. From the W.R. White Papers at The Texas Collection. Emphases in original. $3,000 in 1953 translates to roughly $27,000 dollars in 2016.

Mrs. Hubbard’s check led to the design and manufacture of a 50-foot flag pole, topped with an eagle and featuring a memorial plaque, to be situated on the southwest side of the building. At the time, that represented the treeless boundary of the campus. In this photo from the dedication ceremony, you can see just how starkly it stood out against the 2-year-old building’s facade.

Flagpole Dedication 5For reference, here’s what that location looks like now, thanks to Google maps.

A (Lone) Star-studded Affair: Dedication Day

Planning for the flag pole’s dedication ceremony started small, with Dock Martin proposing a gathering of some 50 of Rob Hubbard’s closest friends to be held on Founders Day (February 1, 1953). However, at the encouragement of Baylor president W.R. White, the decision was made to “make a real Baylor occasion of it,” especially when former Texas governor William P. Hobby – under whom Hubbard had served as highway commissioner, you’ll recall – agreed to attend. The date was eventually changed to May 29, and Gov. Hobby served as the guest of honor.

Photos from that day show it to be a major ceremony indeed, including music, faculty in full cap-and-gown regalia, a contingent of U.S. military members and a sizable crowd present under a clear blue sky.

Flagpole Dedication 1

Gov. W.P. Hobby (left) with Mrs. R.M. Hubbard. From the archives of the Armstrong Browning Library.


Flagpole Dedication 3

Raising the Texas flag. Note the bugle player near the flag pole’s base; it is assumed he is playing “Reveille.” The presence of a piano also leads us to believe there was some form of special music presented for the occasion. From the photo archives of the Armstrong Browning Library.


Flagpole Dedication 6

The major players, from left: D.K. “Dock” Martin, Mrs. R.M. Hubbard, Gov. W.P. Hobby and Dr. W.R. White (Baylor University president)

The flag pole’s grand launch was a success, and its presence on the southern frontier of the ever-expanding campus was a daily reminder of the university’s inextricable link to the state it calls home. But over time, an innocuous bystander, present at the dedication, would grow to obscure and hide its legacy to all but the heartiest of campus visitors (or, as it turns out, curators out wandering the grounds after a presentation). I give you: The Obscurer!

Flagpole Dedication 3b


Yes, this hopeful little sapling will grow over the next 60+ years to become a mighty oak, with massive limbs and a propensity to consume. And at the time, it seemed so insubstantial, so full of promise, a future source of respite for an outdoor-minded Victorian scholar, not the dominant shade provider it would actually become.

Though it no longer bears a flag aloft in the shimmering south campus skies, the flag pole dedicated in honor of R.M. Hubbard – the Founder of the Texas State System – is a unique, endearing lagniappe to the legacy of the stunning architectural gem sitting just a stone’s throw away.  And without the vision and passion of one member of the university’s faculty, who’s to say what might have occupied this now-vibrant corner of campus? Certainly nothing as interesting as an oak tree that eats flag poles, that much is certain.

Long May She Wave?

We have it on good authority – current director and long-time faculty member Rita Patteson, at that – that at one point there was an ABL flag that flew from the pole some years ago, and while I wasn’t able to track down an image of it, I took the liberty of creating an artist’s rendition featuring Dr. Armstrong’s face and what I imagine to have been his personal motto, which may or may not have been tattooed on his left bicep (unconfirmed).

ABL_speculative_flagOh, and One More Thing

This is where the heck New Boston is.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 1.47.46 PM

We are thankful to Jennifer Borderud and Melvin Schuetz at the ABL for their help on this post, and to Benna Vaughan and the staff at The Texas Collection for their help with the W.R. White correspondence.


Battle Hymns and Passion Flowers: Julia Ward Howe And the 19th Century Women Poets Collection

howe-blog-post-headerA recently-released biography of Julia Ward Howe by Elaine Showalter titled The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe paints an intriguing picture of an early American abolitionist and feminist whose unhappy marriage bred two works of creative genius: The Battle Hymn of the Republic (1861-1862) and a less-well-known book of poetry called Passion-Flowers (1853). You can read an excellent review of The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe over at

In this post we will examine the first edition of Passion-Flowers made available online in our Digital Collections as part of the 19th Century Women Poets Collection, drawn from the holdings of the Armstrong Browning Library.

A Brief Biography of Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe around the time she wrote "Passion-Flowers." Image via

Julia Ward Howe around the time she wrote “Passion-Flowers.” Image via


Before we get into Passion-Flowers, it’s a good idea to get some basic facts about Howe’s life. She was born into a family of means in New York City and rubbed elbows with eminent persons of the day like Charles Dickens. She married Samuel Ridley Howe (known by his nickname, “Chav”) in 1843 and went on to give birth to six children. Her marriage was notoriously unpleasant for her, and she began writing poetry as a form of cathartic therapy; when her husband found out she was writing such explicitly negative and critical poetry about her marriage, the strain on their marriage increased.

Howe was inspired to write Battle Hymn of the Republic after meeting President Abraham Lincoln. She set the lyrics to the tune of John Brown’s Body and it became an instant sensation in the North and has been synonymous with the Civil War ever since. Upon her husband’s death in 1876, she discovered that nearly all the money she’d brought into the marriage from her father’s estate had been lost, squandered by Samuel on bad real estate deals.

In the last decades of her life, Howe became involved in the nascent women’s rights movement, ultimately serving or leading numerous groups in the fight for women’s suffrage and various Christian causes. She died in in 1910 at the age of 91. She was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and her home in Rhode Island, called Oak Glen, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. (To learn more about Howe’s amazing life, read her Wikipedia entry, from which many of these facts were gleaned.)


Inscription on inside cover of the ABL's edition of "Passion-Flowers." It is autographed by Howe and addressed to Mary C. Parkman

Inscription on inside cover of the ABL’s edition of “Passion-Flowers.” It is autographed by Howe and addressed to Mary C. Parkman


The copy of Passion-Flowers is asserted to be a first edition, based largely on the inscription found on its inside cover. Here, we see a dedication of the volume to Mary C. Parkman, signed by “J.H.” and dated December 22, 1853. This would mark the book as being part of the initial publication run and thus containing the unedited versions of the poems that would later be “toned down” after her husband’s angry reaction to the picture they painted of Howe’s domestic life.

The poem referenced in the review above, “Mind Versus Mill-Stream,” is a sharp criticism of a man’s belief that he can woo and marry a strong, willful women and then expect her to be docile and easily channeled into the role he sees her playing in the relationship. The whole notion is wrapped up in a metaphor about a miller who wants to harness a wild-running stream to run his mill, only to find the spirited body of water cannot be tamed for long. It is reproduced here in its entirety for your enjoyment.

“Mind Versus Mill-Stream”
Julia Ward Howe, 1853

A Miller wanted a mill-stream,
A mild, efficient brook
To help him in his living, in
Some snug and shady nook.

But our Miller had a brilliant taste,
A love of flash and spray,
And so, the stream that charmed him most
Was that of brightest play

It wore a quiet look, at times,
And steady seemed, and still,But when its quicker depths were stirred,
Wow! but it wrought its will.

And men had tried to bridle it
By artifice, and force,
But madness from its rising grew,
And all along its course

‘Twas on a sultry summer’s day,
The Miller chanced to stop
Where it invited to ‘look in
And take a friendly drop.’

Coiffed with long wreaths of crimson weed,
Veiled by a passing cloud,
It looked a novice of the woods
That dares not speak aloud.

Said he: ‘I never met a stream
More beautiful and bland,
‘Twill gain my bread, and bless it too,
So here my mill shall stand.’

And ere the summer’s glow had passed,
Or crimson flowers did fade,
The Miller measured out his ground,
And his foundation laid.

The Miller toiled with might and main,
Builded with thought and care;
And when the Spring broke up the ice
The water-wheel stood there

Like a frolic maiden come from school,
The stream looked out, anew;
And the happy Miller bowing, said,
‘Now turn my mill-wheel, do!’

‘Your mill-wheel?’ cried the naughty Nymph,
‘That would, indeed, be fine!
You have your business, I suppose,
Learn too that I have mine.’

‘What better business can you have,
Than turn this wheel for me?’
Leaping and laughing, the wild thing cried,
‘Follow, and you may see.’

The Miller trudged with measured pace,
As Reason follows Rhyme,
And saw his mill-stream run to waste,
In the very teeth of time.

‘Fore heaven!’ he swore, ‘since thou’rt perverse,
I’ve hit upon a plan;
A dam shall stay thine outward course,
And then, break out who can.’

So he built a dam of wood and stone,
Not sparing in the cost,
‘For,’ thought our friend, ‘this water-power
‘Must not be lightly lost.’

‘What? will you force me?’ said the sprite;
‘You shall not find it gain;’
So, with a flash, a dash, a crash
She made her way amain

Then, freeing all her pent-up soul,
She rushed, in frantic race
And fragments of the Miller’s work
Threw in the Miller’s face.

The good man built his dam again,
More stoutly than before;
He flung no challenge to the foe,
But an oath he inly swore:

‘Thou seest resistance is in vain,
So yield with better grace.’
And the water sluices turned the stream
To its appointed place.

‘Aha! I’ve conquered now!’ quoth he,
For the water-fury bold
Was still an instant, ere she rose
In wrath and power fourfold

With roar and rush, and massive sweep
She cleared the shameful bound,
And flung to utterness of waste
The Miller, and his mound


If you would marry happily
On the shady side of life,
Choose out some quietly-disposed
And placid tempered wife,

To share the length of sober days,
And dimly slumberous nights,
But well beware those fitful souls
Fate wings for wilder flights!

For men will woo the tempest,
And wed it, to their cost,
Then swear that took it for summer dew,
And ah! their peace is lost!

Friends, this is no subtle metaphor: a business-minded man seeks to tame a wild and free resource for the benefit of his work, and despite his best efforts, the nature of the stream is such that he is wrecked by its unbounded power. It’s no wonder that her husband – and, no doubt, the men in his social sphere – would be embarrassed and scandalized by its plain language, insinuation of marital unhappiness and allusions to a man losing control of his wife in a very public way.

Another poem that expresses both regrets and a subdued brand of hope is “Behind the Veil.” In this brief work, Howe tries to put into perspective the equal parts longing and dread that inhabit all human beings; the desire to know the future without having to suffer its consequences, and to seek a silver lining in the direst of circumstances.

“Behind the Veil”
Julia Ward Howe, 1853

The secret of man’s life disclosed
Would cause him strange confusion,
Should God the cloud of fear remove,
Or veil of sweet illusion.

No maiden sees aright the faults
Or merits of her lover;No sick man guesses if ’twere best
To die, or to recover.

The miser dreams not that his wealth
Is dead, as soon as buried;
Nor knows the bard who sings away
Life’s treasures, real and varied.

The tree-root lies too deep for sight,
The well-source for our plummet,
And heavenward fount and palm defy
Our scanning of their summit

Whether a present grief ye weep,
Or yet untasted blisses,
Look for the balm that comes with tears,
The bane that lurks in kisses.

We may reap dear delight from wrongs,
Regret from things most pleasant;
Foes may confess us when we’re gone,
And friends, deny us present.

And that high suffering which we dread
A higher joy discloses;
Men saw the thorns on Jesu’s brow,
But angels saw the roses.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Thoughts on Howe’s Poetry

In the review linked above, the reviewer makes a mention of the fact that Howe took some “swipes” at the Barrett-Brownings in her poetry, and from the text of a letter sent by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford on June 6, 1854 we can see that EBB had no little amount of criticism for Howe, as well.

Portion of a letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford dated June 6, 1854. EBB references Howe’s book “Passion-Flowers” and offers her thoughts on Howe’s abilities as a poet. From the Margaret Clapp Special Collections at Wellesley College via The Browning Letters project.


Mrs Howe’s [book, Passion-Flowers] I have read since I wrote last. Some of them are good—many of the thoughts striking, & all of a certain elevation. Of poetry however, strictly speaking, there is not much; and there’s a large proportion of conventional stuff in the volume. She must be a clever woman. Of the ordinary impotencies & prettinesses of female poets she does not partake, but she cant [sic] take rank with poets in the good meaning of the word, I think, so as to stand without leaning– Also, there is some bad taste & affectation in the draping of her personality–

You can read more of the Brownings’ correspondence that references Howe in the Browning Letters project.

The works contained in Passion-Flowers may not have risen to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s definition of “poetry,” but they certainly embodied a spirit and confrontational attitude that gained her some measure of fame and attention from a population of America’s women who saw her resistance to traditional gender roles as a way of pushing back against the lives they were expected to live, at least in the eyes of their male acquaintances. And while Howe would gain her greatest notoriety – and lasting fame – from the important lyrics she penned during the American Civil War’s earliest hours, her work in Passion-Flowers should also become required reading for anyone interested in the mindset behind one of America’s most influential 19th century women.

Read more books in the 19th Century Women Poets Collection here. Learn more about the correspondence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning in The Browning Letters project.


Jax and EBB Sitting ‘Neath A Tree / R-H-Y-M-I-N-G: On Sesame Street’s “Sons of Poetry” and the Brownings

What do fictional Northern California biker gangs, a beloved television institution and two Victorian poets have in common? According to this video from Sesame Street’s amazing line of pop culture parody skits, they share a love of rhyming couplets, of course.

In typical Sesame Street fashion, they’ve taken something decidedly adult – the hit FX show Sons of Anarchy, which features violence, drugs, adult themes and language aplenty – and reformatted it to teach pre-K kids about the importance of rhyming. Your tax dollars at work, America!

The setup is that Robert and Elizabeth, who are sitting under a tree (natch), are enjoying a beautiful day in nature, but Robert is having a hard time finding a rhyme to finish this little ditty:

Roses are red / violets are blue
Sugar is sweet / and I love …

Fortunately for our puzzled poet, the Sons of Poetry ride into town and do what they do best: glower, collaborate and come up with solutions. (If you ever watched the source program, which several of us did through all seven seasons, you’ll know that the SAMCRO gang spends lots of time doing the first two, and the third one usually involves someone getting killed in a creative but extra-legal way.)

Because there’s magic in threes – and because Sesame Street has a whole hour of airtime to fill every weekday morning – we get the Sons working through three options to finish Robert’s rhyme: shoe, moo and stew. Immediately, I wondered if any or all of them showed up in the full text of our Browning Letters Project, and it turns out two of them do! (It would have been quite a surprise if “moo” had turned up, of course.) And now, presented without context (because it’s more absurdist fun that way), are some times Robert or Elizabeth used the words “shoe” or “stew” in their personal correspondence!

I was thinking last night that when you come & drop the silver penny into my shoe, our dear Mr Kenyon might just as well be here to take his chance for a penny too! What do you think?

Page 3, letter from Elizabeth to Mary Russell Mitford, September 25, 1841

I am grateful to all my guardian “little spirits with shoe buckles,” who ‘preserve my life’ from grandeeism, & “company” in the general forms of it.

Page 8, letter from Elizabeth to Mitford, July  22, 1845

I thought, thought, thought of you,-& the books I took up one by one .. (I tried a romance too .. “Les femmes” by a writer called Desnoyers .. quite new, & weak & foolish enough as a story, but full of clever things about shoe tyes .. philosophy in small:) the books were all so many lorgnons through which I looked at you again & again.

Page 1, letter from Elizabeth to Robert, August 9, 1845

(See more examples of the poets’ use of word “shoe” here!)

I did not stand in reach just now of the temptations of mesmerism. I might have said that I shrank nearly as much from these ‘temptations’, as from Lord Bacon’s stew of infant children for the purposes of witchcraft– Well—then I am getting deeper & deeper into correspondence with Robert Browning, poet & mystic,—& we are growing to be the truest of friends–

Page 10, letter from Elizabeth to Julia Martin, ca. January 28, 1845

A German professor selects a woman who can merely stew prunes-not because stewing prunes & reading Proclus make a delightful harmony, but because he wants his prunes stewed for him & chooses to read Proclus by himself.

Page 1, letter from Elizabeth to Robert, August 12, 1846


Because Robert can’t get his act together, he ends up losing the girl to the leader of the biker gang, which has probably happened a lot more times throughout history than we’d care to think about, even if it is in opposition to the real life ending of the courtship between Robert and Elizabeth. But then again, we weren’t able to find any references to Robert having to fend of a band of gun-running narco-bikers to keep fair Elizabeth’s hand, so maybe he merely lived in simpler times than our Muppet friends.

Lastly, in case you’re not familiar with Sons of Anarchy, we thought you’d like to see how well the geniuses at Sesame Street were able to replicate a crew of hardened criminals using only felt, yarn and elbow grease. Enjoy!

tig clay Bobby JAX

You can read more letters by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in our Browning Letters Project. The entire 7-season run of
Sons of Anarchy is available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and you can watch Sesame Street at And if you want to see portraits and other artifacts related to the Brownings, be sure to visit the Armstrong Browning Library on the campus of Baylor University!


Small But Mighty: Introducing the Armstrong Browning Library Photographic Archive

Boy howdy, it’s been a few days since we last blogged! [Checks calendar, sees it’s been almost two months, feels regret.] Let’s make up for that today, shall we?

We’re excited to announce the launch of a new collection based on holdings of the Armstrong Browning Library. The new Photographic Archive will feature items digitized from the photographic holdings of the ABL, starting with the ten photos from the Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) Collection. The collection includes several images of Robert Browning, the son of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and family and friends of the photographer. A few examples can be seen below, or click here to view the entire collection in our Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections site.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 9.56.37 AMRobert Browning, 1865. Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 9.58.51 AMStella: Study of Mrs. Herbert Duckworth, 1867. Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 10.00.52 AMHallam Tennyson, son of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1864. Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron.

You can see the entire Armstrong Browning Library Photographic Archive in our Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections. We’ll be adding new content in due time, so check back often!

Browning Day 2014


The members of the Browning Letters Project gather for a tour of the RDC (from left): Roberta Rodriquez (BU), Anna Sander (Balliol, Ofxord), Ian Graham (Wellesley), Fiona Godber (Balliol), Darryl Stuhr (BU), Eric Ames (BU) and Allyson Riley (BU)

Several members of the DPG team were privileged to present at the Armstrong Browning Library’s annual Browning Day celebration this week. The event, held on Robert Browning’s birthday every year, celebrates the life, legacy and impact of the poet’s work and features receptions, guest speakers and more.

Assistant Director Darryl Stuhr and Curator of Digital Collections Eric Ames joined Ian Graham of Wellesley College and Anna Sander and Fiona Godber from Balliol College at Oxford (UK) to present an update on the Browning Letters Project. Longtime blog readers will remember that Baylor and Wellesley teamed up more than three years ago to bring a substantial collection of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s correspondence online via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections. Recently, we’ve been excited to welcome Balliol to the project. Their collection of letters will be digitized on-site in England and the digital files transmitted to Texas for inclusion in the project. This phase will take place over the next several months and represents the first international additions to the growing corpus of letters.

The team was also able to announced that the University of Texas at Austin will be added letters from their holdings to the project in the coming months as well, bringing the total number of project partners to five, with a combined collection totaling more than 5,000 letters between them.

Check out the photos of the event below and if you haven’t done so already, check out the Browning Letters Project today!


Darryl Stuhr (click to enlarge)


Darryl Stuhr


Ian Graham


Ian Graham


Anna Sander and Fiona Godber


Anna Sander and Fiona Godber


Eric Ames


Eric Ames