Dr. A, Impresario and Tour Manager

One of Dr. Armstrong’s money-raising endeavors was leading group tours to England, France and Italy, in the footsteps of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (see “Dr. A. Travelin’ Man”). He and Mrs. A. founded Armstrong Educational Tours in 1912, the year that Dr. A. became English department head at Baylor. Dr. A., who loved to travel, served as well-informed tour guide to Great Britain, France and Italy — and other places — during more than 30 summers, while Mrs. A. served as business manager of the tour company, with offices in Waco and France. Profit from the tours helped the couple continue to build the Browning Collections,which they gave to Baylor in 1918. In 1924, a Browning Room was created for the collections in the Carroll Library, the University’s main library for many years. Armstrong Educational Tours, however, was not the only fund-raising effort by the Armstrongs.

Dr. Armstrong, more or less out of necessity, also became an impresario and tour manager. He was determined to enrich the lives of Baylorites (and Wacoans) by arranging for then-famous practitioners of various arts and humanities to come to the campus to perform or speak. In the early years of the twentieth century this was not easy to do. Waco, Texas (nicknamed “Six-shooter Junction” in the 19th century) was then well off the beaten track for poets, theater companies, opera singers, dance companies, lecturers, writers of fiction and nonfiction,etc.

As Dr. A. began to contact individuals and companies and invite them to visit Baylor some said, in so many words, that they would be glad to do so IF he could arrange additional appearances across the south-central or southwestern area of the country. Not one to duck a challenge, Dr. A. did that for many of the individuals and companies. For instance, he brought approximately forty poets to the campus, including Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Vachel LIndsay, Edwin Markham, Edgar Lee Masters, Amy Lowell, and the British poets John Masefield and Alfred Noyes. Poet/man-of-letters William Butler Yeats and his wife visited Baylor during the University’s Golden Jubilee celebration and Mr. Yeats gave a “modest, yet magnificent” address before an audience of eighteen hundred– some of whom had difficulty understanding his strong English accent. John Gould Fletcher was the thirty-seventh poet brought to Baylor. The imagist poet from Arkansas had won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1939.

Naturally, Dr. Armstrong did not just invite poets. He was interested in people who were successful in all literary and artistic fields and brought them to the University whenever possible.  In 1921, the Nobel prize-winning Indian philosopher and poet Rabindranath Tagore came to Baylor. Sinclair Lewis, American novelist, short-story writer and playwright came to Baylor in 1944. In 1930, Lewis had became the first writer from the United States to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. When he arrived, Lewis was quite negative about a Browning collection being developed in the United States, rather than in England. Later, he said the Browning collection was justified due to the philosophy of its builder.

Many other literary celebrities came to Baylor at Dr. Armstrong’s invitation, for instance: Richard Halliburton, then-famous chronicler of his own travel adventures; world-famous explorers Prince William of Sweden, who spoke and showed slides of his African adventures, Roald Amundsen, at the time the only man who had traveled to both the North and South Poles; and Admiral Richard E. Byrd; British playwright Hugh Walpole whose lecture was entitled “How to Write a Play”; Texas’ own J. Frank Dobie; and novelist and short-story writer Sherwood Anderson.

Due to his love of music, Dr. A. brought world-famous vocalists and instrumentalists to the campus: opera singers Luisa Tetrazzini and Amelita Galli-Curci; contralto Marian Anderson; tenor Roland Hayes; violinist Mischa Elman; harpist Alberto Salvi, and others. He presented performances by many stage companies and stage personalities. The famous Broadway actress Helen Hayes visited the University twice: first to portray Mary of Scotland(1935) and, three years later, to appear in Victoria Regina (1938). In 1934,Waco Hall, then the largest venue in Waco, was filled to capacity for presentation of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, with Katharine Cornell as Elizabeth and Basil Rathbone as Robert. Ms. Cornell was to perform the role of Elizabeth more than a thousand times.

Dr. Armstrong personally underwrote every performance he sponsored. None of his presentations was done at cost to the University.

 

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