By Randy Fiedler
For more than a century, three generations of the Guittard family have both shaped Baylor University’s Department of History and supported its continuing goal of educating students and launching the careers of future historians.
In 1902, a young historian by the name of Francis Gevrier Guittard arrived in Waco to accept a job teaching in the Baylor Academy –– where students quite not yet ready for university-level work were drilled in basic subjects. Guittard was a native of Ohio who had come to Texas in 1886 and taught in a number of small public schools to earn money for college.
By 1890, Guittard had saved up enough money to allow him enroll at Baylor, but was forced to leave after a few years of study to earn more money for college by selling books door-to-door, then by teaching school again. He finally completed his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Chicago in 1901 and added a master’s degree from the same school before accepting the offer to teach at Baylor.
Guittard’s intellect and teaching abilities helped him rise quickly at Baylor. Two years after starting in the Baylor Academy he was promoted to the main university as instructor of history and political science. In 1910, when history and political science became separate departments at Baylor, Guittard organized the history department and became its first chair, a position he would hold for almost 40 years.
During his time at Baylor it’s estimated that Guittard taught about 12,000 students. An article in a 1933 issue of the Lariat remarked upon his grasp of the details that make history a fascinating subject of study: “Does [Guittard] know his history? He can tell his classes about George Washington’s plum-colored satin pants and Frederic Barbarossa’s red beard.”
But history was not all Guittard imparted to his students. A tribute published after his death noted, “He attempted to show the students who came to him from various parts of the country that there is a cultural life every bit as important for happiness and good living as the materialistic life which they already knew.”
Another tribute noted, “His intellectual integrity and his simple dignity commended the respect of his students. His patience, his fine courtesy, his ready sympathy and his occasional flashes of humor won their lasting affection.”
Guittard also served Baylor outside the classroom. He was the chief marshal for commencement ceremonies for 46 years, and was one of a small group of campus leaders President Samuel Palmer Brooks called on to organize the university’s first Homecoming celebration in 1909. During the first Homecoming parade, which he called a “pageant,” Guittard served as assistant marshal. And when distinguished guests such as President Harry Truman and Vice President John Nance Garner were invited to the Baylor campus to speak, Guittard would often be the man who helped present them with honorary degrees.
When he wasn’t working, Guittard could be found indulging his passion for golf, which he played almost every day when the weather was good enough (and he found that almost every day was good enough for golf). He also played the cornet and took part in the school band at the University of Chicago and later in a faculty orchestra at Baylor.
At the age of 65 Guittard earned a PhD degree from Stanford University. He retired 19 years later as history chair in 1949, and was still teaching when he died on April 28, 1950. At the time, he was Baylor’s oldest active faculty member at age 83.
The impact of the Guittard family on the study of history at Baylor might have begun with F.G. Guittard, but it didn’t end there. Upon wife Josephine’s death in 1958, F.G. and Josephine Guittard in their will established a permanent endowment for scholarships awarded to graduate students in history at Baylor. The first two Guittard History Fellowships were awarded during the 1959-1960 academic year, and since then about 75 graduate students have received them.
Almost a half-century later in 2007, Guittard’s grandchildren Charles Guittard (BA ’64), John Guittard and Mary Guittard Voegtle added to the Fellowship, making it possible for Baylor to establish a PhD program in history in 2009. These contributions were made possible by a gift fund, for which grandson John Guittard was the legal architect, established by the estates of the Honorable Clarence A. Guittard, son of F.G. Guittard, and wife Mary Lou Kee Guittard. Philip Guittard (BA ’61), another grandson, also contributed to the Fellowship Fund several years later.
“I think it’s nice to add to something that someone else has already created because you can build on what they’ve done and make a bigger and better thing out of it,” Charles Guittard said.
In 2014 the Baylor history department, in recognition of F.G. Guittard’s service to the department and in appreciation of the Guittard family’s support, established the Guittard Book Award, presented each year for a distinguished work of original scholarship in history by a Baylor faculty member or history graduate.
Now, the descendants of Dr. F.G. Guittard are poised once again to expand the Guittard legacy of service to Baylor. This fall, his grandchildren have established a new history scholarship that provides financial assistance to undergraduate history majors –– the Guittard-Verlander-Voegtle Endowed Scholarship Fund in History.
Support for Baylor runs throughout the Guittard family. Mary Guittard Voegtle and Hank Voegtle, while not Baylor graduates, are passionate students of history and have held numerous positions of leadership between them in organizations devoted to history and scholarship. John Guittard has made important contributions to the Guittard History Fellowship, while Patricia Verlander Guittard, the wife of Charles Guittard, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Guittard scholarships.
Dr. Kim Kellison, a former history chair at Baylor who now serves as associate dean of humanities and social sciences, says the new fund is just the latest example of the Guittards’ continuing dedication.
“The Guittard family has made an remarkable impact on the Baylor department of history, and our students and our faculty have benefitted immensely from their generosity,” Kellison said. “We are extremely grateful for their support.”
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine.