“I will help you in every possible way to get before the people, to cultivate the students and reach a maximum of opportunity for you to develop in.”
Samuel Palmer Brooks wrote those words to Francis Gevrier Guittard in a 1902 letter asking for Guittard to come and lend his services to the students of Baylor University. Today Baylor faculty and staff today are given the same message—that Baylor will give them opportunities to develop professionally, while also helping them to cultivate students who will go above and beyond.
We see the fruits of this support from Baylor as we celebrate each graduating class. But some professors, like Guittard, offer an especially good example of what is possible. On this Commencement weekend, we offer the graduating class Guittard’s story as a model of lifelong learning and service.
Guittard’s beginnings are similar to that of many others who lived in late nineteenth century America. His father, Dr. Francis Joseph Guittard, had immigrated to the United States from France. The elder Guittard, who had renounced his parents’ desires that he pursue the Catholic priesthood, moved to America in search of a better life. He settled in Ohio, where he met his wife, Lydia. As the younger Francis came of age, his parents agreed that the economic prospects in Ohio were bleak. Thus, in 1886, the Guittards sent young Francis on a one-way trip to Texas with the hope that he would succeed and find financial success.
Now on his own, Francis decided that the medical profession his father had pursued was not for him. Instead, he wanted to teach history. In the early 1890s, Guittard attended Baylor University but was unable to complete his degree. Not to be deterred, he applied to the University of Chicago, one of the nation’s rising schools. It was here that Guittard earned his bachelor of arts in 1901 and his master of arts in 1902.
Armed with his new degrees (and following the letter quoted above), Guittard returned to Baylor University. His friend, Samuel Palmer Brooks, had just become President. Neither Guittard nor Brooks knew at the time just how long they would serve Baylor and her students. For over forty years, Guittard taught in the Baylor history department, serving most of these years as the department’s chairman. He also was an adviser to the debate team, offered input on Texas Collection acquisitions (including the Sam Houston piano pictured above), helped coordinate the first Homecoming, and made many other contributions to the lives of Baylor students.
If such devotion to his profession was not enough, Guittard’s pursuit of a doctoral degree was a testament to his belief in the value of education. Many would have become complacent with steady employment and raising a family, but not Guittard. (Brooks’ encouragement of his faculty to pursue doctoral degrees helped too.) In the 1920s, he began taking summer courses at Leland Stanford University (more commonly known as Stanford) in California. His dedication paid off in 1931, when Guittard, at the age of 64, earned his doctorate with his dissertation, “Roosevelt and Conservation.”
Dr. Guittard continued to teach at Baylor and cultivate young minds with a love for history until his passing in 1950. Even now, he continues to support the education of others through the Guittard Fellowship, a family-funded scholarship given to first-year history graduate students. (In fact, I was a grateful recipient of that fellowship.) Guittard showed how one can shape the future, even while preserving history.
The Francis Gevrier Guittard papers, which consist of 38 boxes, house the personal and professional papers of Dr. Guittard. Because of Guittard’s long tenure at Baylor University and his desire to remain relevant in his field, researchers can find a number of subjects to explore in his papers. Come to The Texas Collection and discover the legacy of a man who not only improved his own lot in life, but then went on to devote his time and energy to the education of the up-and-coming generation. And to the graduating class of 2013—remember to walk in Guittard’s footsteps and pursue lifelong learning as you shape the future.
By Thomas DeShong, Archival Assistant and Digital Input Specialist