Stanford Commencement, June 1931,
A reporter asked the robed figure,
“Dr. Guittard, a moment please,
Now that you have your Ph.D.,
Do you intend to retire?”
A grey-headed Frank faced the young man,
His mind turning without thinking
To the real beginning of his story
Forty-five years earlier in rural Ohio,
And the memory of a mother
Who hated cold weather,
That terrible storm May of 1886,
But loved flowers and growing things…
A brisk September in 1886,
Following May’s cruel storm,
A year of hard times all around.
From New Bedford, Ohio
To Chester, Texas was the plan.
Frank, nineteen and restless,
Would scout land for a family move.
Maybe Texas would be the place
For his father to make a new stand,
Buy a farm, restart a medical practice —
Hopefully more coin of the realm this time,
Less farmers’ goods and produce.
He said his goodbyes with his mother–
“God bless you Frank, we’ll miss you,
I’ll be glad to learn you’ve done
Something of note in Texas.
Please be sure and write, won’t you?
We’ll go by the post office every day.”
Those mother’s last words so sincerely offered,
All the same, were disturbing to Frank.
He had thought the plan was to return home
After reporting on climate, crops, and prices per acre,
Apparent miscommunication between parents and son.
Were they expecting him to remain in Texas regardless?
It seemed so.
Would he see his parents and family again?
If so, when?
He knew not.
His future would just have to play out in time,
Whether by Providence’s inscrutable plan
Or by winds of chance tossing him who knows where.
He grabbed his heavy bag and heaved it onto the rig.
His father urged his best horse and buggy along the path.
They mostly kept their thoughts to themselves
As they passed neighbors’ fields and barns,
Voicing only an occasional innocuous pleasantry.
At the station after their long ride, an awkward hand-shake
And final moment between father and son,
The urge to embrace suppressed,
Enough words said the night before,
Nothing more needed for memory’s sake.
Now aboard the Pennsylvania Railroad,
Clickety clack, clickety clickety clack, clickety clack,
With a sack of sandwiches, a jug of apple cider,
A few dollars in his pocket, a train schedule,
A dime western or two, a Bible for instruction;
For mind’s improvement several volumes
From his father’s library —- A Pilgrim’s Progress,
Don Quixote, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, Volume One —
There would be time to study on the train
During a three-day ride to barely charted land;
A clean shirt, a hat, all packed neatly away,
And a letter of introduction from his father,
In his father’s painstaking hand,
Asking for kindly assistance for his son Frank
From any Christian he might meet on his way.
Frank hoped for a college degree, his life’s central goal,
Someday, somewhere, somehow,
No help would be coming from home, however,
He knew he was out there on his own.
He felt a little like one of those storied orphans
Who were put on trains to distant States,
They might like their new families,
Or then they might not,
But never to see their poor mothers again.
Two years later he learned without warning
His mother had left this world, the cause uncertain.
He sobbed heartrendingly, grief and remorse welling up inside,
Never to see his mother again after leaving her that day.
Some things he should have said before he said goodbye
He blamed himself for, some words of appreciation
Never offered, perhaps an apology of some kind,
We’ll never know what it was, for Frank never said.
Forty years afterward, in dimly-lit stacks in Palo Alto,
On one of those warm August nights shortly before ten,
After a long day’s work making notes in his notebooks,
Scores of dusty volumes still piled high on the table,
An exhausted Frank struggled to stay awake,
His chin occasionally touching his chest, then snapping up.
Suddenly he thought he saw her face near him,
And desperately motioning her to stay
Lest the apparition disappear from view,
He released the feelings he had long wanted to say —
“I hope I’ve done something to please you, Mother,
Something which may be ‘of note’…”
Yet before the apparition could respond,
The Tower Clock began chiming Westminster,
Then gonged ten times, startling Frank awake,
The figure in his dream an indelible memory.
He slowly packed his notebooks, pens, and ink in his case
And walked to the rooming house where he slept.
The concerns of his day were now far away,
In their place a strange peacefulness.
Frank gazed across the Quad
At Mrs. Stanford’s Memorial Church,
Listening to the Tower Clock behind the church
Again complete its familiar chimes.
Frank looked down at the reporter,
Answering the lingering question
In his measured manner of speaking,
“No sir”—“Now I’m prepared
To go to work in earnest.”
The reporter smiled at the new Ph.D.
The next day, for one last time,
He boarded the Southern Pacific for Texas,
Headed home to Josie, to Waco, and new students.
He would teach “in earnest” into his 84th year
As Baylor’s oldest active faculty member.
After two years at Baylor in Waco and after a total of 15 years working his way through college, he received his bachelor’s degree from Chicago in 1901 and a master’s from Chicago in 1902. In 1902 he accepted an offer to teach in the Baylor Preparatory Department in Waco. In 1923 at age 56, chair of Baylor’s history department since 1910, and grand marshal of Baylor commencements for years, he commenced Ph.D. studies at Stanford, attending mostly in the summers. He received his doctorate in 1931 at age 64. Thereafter, he taught at Baylor into his 84th year and was still teaching history when he died in Dallas. A historian who was a secret romantic, he had gone to see Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) at the Dallas opera but was stricken before the opening curtain.Mamie Welhausen, Frank’s first wife and the mother of all his children, died in 1917 at age 37. Josie Glenn, or “Mama Josie”, was Frank’s second wife who survived him. Frank was also survived by Francis Jr. born in 1907 and Clarence born in 1917. A son, Charles, died in infancy in 1916.
Dr. Samuel P. Brooks was Baylor’s president during 1902-1931. He wanted all his department chairs to have doctorates and made that clear frequently. Frank’s pursuit of a Ph.D. in history as an older student who was married, was a long one and mostly lonely and grueling; however, once his Ph.D. was in hand, he returned to Baylor re-energized and taught history another 19 years.
Dr. Edgar E. Robinson, later chair of Stanford’s history department, directed Frank Guittard’s Ph.D. dissertation. He was 20 years younger than Frank and born in 1887.
With the exception of Frank’s encounter with an apparition in the library, the poem is largely biographical and most of the details, including the conversation with the reporter in the postscript, are based on written records. “Going to work in earnest” was one of Frank’s best known expressions.The Tower Clock at all relevant times resided in temporary quarters in a wooden tower behind Memorial Church which had sustained serious damage during the 1906 earthquake.
If Frank did see his mother’s face during his work on his Ph.D. at Stanford, he kept it to himself. However, there can be no doubt that his mother had a profound influence on him and that during his days in residence at Palo Alto, he had a lot of time to reflect.
Some 200,000 orphans and neglected children were relocated by the Children’s Aid Society from the 1860s through the 1920s. Frank was neither a child, an orphan, nor a neglected child. His large family was caught by the depression of the times when difficult decisions sometimes had to be made.
The poem’s author, Charles F. Guittard (BA ’64), is a member of the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences Board of Advocates.