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.

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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.


Before There Was A “Lariat,” There Was The “Literary”

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 9.10.35 AMThe daily documentation of life at Baylor University began in earnest with the first issue of The ‘Varsity Lariat, the campus newspaper of record since 1900. But almost a decade earlier, Baylor students in the waning decade of the 19th century found their means of expression on the pages of the Baylor Literary. And now, almost 125 years after the first issue was published, the surviving issues of the Literary held by The Texas Collection have been digitized and are available online in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections!

Join us below for a tour of some highlights of the 167 issues available now!

The First (Digitally Available) Issue: March 1893

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The First Issue With a Photo on the Cover (and a Poem Called “The Thatness of the Somewhat” by Samuel Palmer Brooks): January 1897

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Some Notable Names Who Contributed to the

  • Samuel Palmer Brooks
  • Pat M. Neff
  • Dorothy Scarborough

The Final Issue in the Collection, dated May 1915:

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Our thanks to The Texas Collection for their work preserving these treasures, and to the students of Baylor University at the turn of the last century for their work creating them.


And Then There Were 9,601: A Big Update on the Spencer Sheet Music Collection

It’s a collection that’s been at Baylor University since the middle of last century, with items spanning back to the 1700s. There are more than 28,000 items in that collection including a first edition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Jingle Bells. And as of this week, it’s reached a milestone: more than 9,600 digitized items from the Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music are available online for free.

We’re closing in on 10,000 items, which will mean 30% of the total physical collection digitized. We thought we’d celebrate this milestone by putting some of the most interesting recent additions in this blog post. Feel free to click into the collection and explore each piece further, including looking at the lyrics for each.


There’s a lot more to this latest batch (422, to be exact) and we encourage you to take a look at them all. We’ll continue to update you as we add new content to this collection, and if the previous 9,000+ items are any indication, we’re in for quite a ride before this collection is completely online!

Learn more about the Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music at the collection’s homepage.


Guest Post: Celebrating Congress Week at the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM)

Poster_Small_330x242_(2016)This week’s blog comes to us from Zach Kastens, a graduate assistant at the Baylor Collections of Political materials. Welcome, Zach!

From April 1st—7th, the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress celebrates Congress Week, commemorating the month in which Congress achieved its first quorums in 1789. This year, the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (a founding member of the ACSC) highlights Congressman Chet Edwards’s defense of the First Amendment to memorialize the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

Chet Edwards PortraitThomas Chester “Chet” Edwards served as the representative for Texas’s 11th and (after redistricting in 2005) 17th districts from 1991 to 2011. During his 20-year tenure in the United States House of Representatives, Edwards championed legislation on veterans’ issues, education, technology, and senior-citizens. As a moderate Democrat representing a demographically Republican district, Edwards developed a reputation as a pragmatic, independent leader who valued his constituents’ concerns over partisan politics. His political talent and cross-party appeal earned him a spot on then-Senator Barack Obama’s Vice-Presidential shortlist in 2008.

Edwards HandshakeFor Chet, politics, service, and compassion were inextricable from one another. He often spoke of his duty to his district and his appreciation for men and women in uniform. Furthermore, Edwards strongly advocated for the personal freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. His willingness to listen to, consider, and learn from opposition was partially informed by his respect for the American Constitution and his own religious faith. As a Christian, Chet’s views on the separation of church and state carried considerable weight among his colleagues, so much so that he was considered by some to be the leading congressional voice on the issue.

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Click the image above to view the speech in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated June 12, 2001, Congressman Edwards responds to a quote from President George W. Bush decrying political opposition to Faith-Based Initiatives. This minute-long speech on the House floor held many political implications. As a Democrat representing a Republican district, Edwards toed a fine line when it came to criticizing the sitting Republican President. President Bush’s residence complicated matters; in 1999, before taking office, Bush purchased Prairie Chapel Ranch – a property approximately twenty-five miles from Waco, TX – thus becoming one of Edwards’s constituents.

Here, Edwards reiterates his personal respect for the President and “his right to offer his proposals,” but then gives a scathing critique of the President’s comments: “Challenging people’s religious faith because of public policy differences is not a way to bring Americans together. Rather, it is a prescription for religious divisiveness.” Edwards’s criticism echoes Thomas Jefferson’s remarks in 1802: “… I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore a man to his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” Both Jefferson and Edwards advocate for the separation of government and religion, believing that an American’s belief in the latter should never be made to conflict with the former.

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Click on the image above to view the video in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated February 5, 2004, Congressman Edwards and Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) debate the merits of Charitable Choice provisions. These provisions are found several pieces of legislation, such as the Community Solutions Act of 2001, the American Community Renewal Act, the Fathers Count Act, the Charitable Choice Expansion Act, and the Job Improvement Training Act.  Supporters of Charitable Choice provisions hoped to provide federal funds for religious social work programs to help administer addiction recovery and poverty relief without compromising the integrity of the religious organization’s mission.  Opponents, including Edwards, the Baptist Joint Committee, etc., argued that the provisions would allow religious organizations to discriminate in hiring for federally funded positions; they also feared that these provisions would allow the religious organizations, in effect, to use federal funds to proselytize to their clients.

Edwards argued that the language in the bill “subsidize[d] religious bigotry in America” due to the allocation of taxpayers’ money toward discriminatory hiring practices. He framed Charitable Choice provisions as the first step in the erosion of religious liberty, citing the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. For Edwards, religious liberty was not a bipartisan issue but a nonpartisan one, too sacred to be sullied by politics. He characterized the denigration of religious freedom as “wrong,” finding such practices “morally offensive as a person of faith” and “deeply offensive to the First Amendment.” Perhaps the most severe condemnation of Charitable Choice legislation comes when he refers to the Founding Fathers’ famous battles over federal and states’ rights as Representative Boehner attempts to adjourn the discussion to a later date: “If this was an issue important enough for Madison and Jefferson to debate for 10 years in the Virginia legislature, … then certainly it’s worthy of our discussion here on the floor.”

Since its 1791 addition, proponents of faith-based governance have attacked the First Amendment’s role as the primary defense of American citizens. However, those who believe in the sanctity of religious liberty have been defended by legislators who shared the vision of America’s Founding Fathers – a vision of a country ruled not by fear, oppression, or dogma but by its own citizens. For Chet Edwards, religious liberty struck at the heart of this vision. He believed in an America where every citizen is free to practice (or not practice) any religion they desire without fear or financial, governmental, or social retribution.

Learn more about the political career of Chet Edwards by visiting the Thomas Chester “Chet” Edwards Papers collection, and for more information about the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, please visit their website.

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.