A Ph.D.’s Reverie

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.


Some Notes on the Poem

Professor Frank Guittard

Francis (“Frank”) Gevrier Guittard, born January 7, 1867, took the train from Ohio to Texas in September 1886 five months after a massive snowstorm and during a nationwide depression affecting his community and his father’s medical practice. Dr. F.J. Guittard’s practice was the primary support of a large family and his farmer patients were hard-pressed to pay for his services during this period. Frank’s mother Lydia died two years later and he was distraught and remorseful although the complete basis for his feelings is not known.

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.

Lydia Myers Guittard (mother)

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.

Dr. Francis Joseph Guittard (father)

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.

13 Responses

  1. Charles Guittard at |

    This poem may be the first in which a quasi-committee contributed to the final result! In fact ensured a higher quality level. Thanks to everyone who read poem drafts (including the Notes section) and gave me feedback. I hope you like it. Particular thanks to History Faculty Hamilton, Parrish, Sloan, Hankins and Kellison; family members John, Mary, Jim, Bob, Steve, and Jeff; Messrs. Fiedler and Cortes (Baylor Arts & Sciences); Guittard Fellow Tommy DeShong; and Frank Guittard’s great-great grandchildren Miles, Charlie, Finn, and Katherine who indirectly provided inspiration. CFG

  2. Mike Magers at |

    Charles, I enjoyed this very much. It is such a tender-hearted look at your grandfather.

  3. Rose Youngblood at |

    Charles, this is FANTASTIC! Definitely “of note” and your grandfather would be honored. I have no idea how you were able to capture all of the history, intrigue and emotion in this poem–seems like it would take a novel! Also, I love the picture of FGG at the top. Well done. 🙂 Wishing you all the best, Rose

    1. Charles Guittard at |

      The photographic portrait of Frank Guittard at the top was by Robert E. Mickle, Waco, Texas, long-time Waco photographer. It was likely made in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s and therefore about the time he received his Ph.D. from Stanford.

  4. Fred Landry at |

    What a great and beautiful tribute! Charles, a wonderful remembrance, full of history, love, heartfelt loss, accomplishment and a life well lived. All the best my friend. Fred

  5. Fred Mayes at |

    Charles – a very touching story about your grandfather as he went to work doing what he worked so hard to prepare for. He indeed would be proud of your efforts.

    Fred Mayes

  6. Kim Kellison at |

    You’ve done a wonderful job, Charles! You continue to honor your grandfather in very meaningful ways.

  7. Robert L. Perkins at |

    Very well done Charles. A heartfelt and beautiful tale of sadness, joy, doggedness and tenacity. Many complements to both you and your remarkable heritage. Hope to see more from your creative pen.

  8. Jeanne Redmond at |

    Charles — you are in great company! See all of Walt Whitman’s poetry as I don’t think he believed in end-rhymes therein.

    I really like your poem about your grandfather. Many of us Texans are inheritors of such gumption and tenacity. Your Guittard grandfather seems to have been centered, successful, and hard-working.

  9. Andrea Turpin at |

    How beautiful! I love all the rich detail evocative of the time period, including the list of books he chose to bring on the train.

  10. Oran Lonnie Sinclair at |

    Thank you Charles for sending me the beautiful poem and biography of your grandfather. I learned much that I had never known. You and your family have meant so much to Baylor through the years and continue to do so. It has been such a privilege to get to meet you and some of your family and to follow the work you are doing on your grandfather’s life.
    Lonnie Sinclair

    1. Charles Guittard at |

      Dr. Sinclair, The Baylor History Department made an excellent decision when it awarded its first two Guittard Fellowships to you and Dr. Ronald Lee Hayworth for the 1959-1960 school-year. You both had outstanding careers as educators and teachers of history and brought additional distinction to the Department. Congratulations on your recent honor as First Fellow. CFG

  11. Charles Guittard at |

    A year after this poem was published on the blog much as happened, most importantly publishing an illustrated version of the poem. Here is the story of my collaboration with the artist Grace Daniel:

    In connection with the publicity push currently for illustrator Grace Daniel, I was asked to provide a few paragraphs giving the background of our collaboration and her agreeing to do the illustration:

    “The illustration of A Ph.D.’s Reverie came about as a happy after-thought according to its author Charles Guittard. Guittard had been working on a Life & Times of Francis Gevrier Guittard since 1978 with the hope of eventual publication. Completion of the Life & Times, despite great progress made, still being in 2017 far distant on the horizon, he made an impulsive decision. He decided to compose a short poem on Professor Guittard to have at least something to show for the all the time spent on the Life & Times.

    Then having composed a short poem, not without enlisting Baylor History and English faculty to help him get the ball across the goal line, he did another rash thing—he submitted it to the 2017 House of Poetry event, and, mirabile dictu, it was made the HOP’s featured poem. More or less at the same time he was encouraged to publish the poem online at The College of Arts & Sciences blog which he did.

    Then buoyed up by the surprising reception of the poem by the HOP and then by readers of the blog, and as an after-thought of the type—“Hey, what if I could illustrate the poem”, Guittard adopted a more calculated plan going forward. Quickly deciding that his own skills at illustration were insufficient, he resolved he would try to find an illustrator willing to take on a small project and then if the results warranted it, he would publish it somehow. The trick would be to find the right illustrator and the right illustrator meant for Guittard someone connected with Baylor since that would accomplish a trifecta of Baylor departments working on or for the poem.

    From the art department came a strong recommendation of Grace Elizabeth Daniel, an outstanding young art student from Kansas, and a meeting was set up for Guittard and Daniel to visit about Daniel taking on her first professional assignment. In the weeks that would follow Guittard furnished Daniel with photos of Professor Guittard at various ages along with photos of his family. Daniel then furnished Guittard with a sample pencil drawing which convinced Guittard that Daniel would be a good choice. The terms of the assignment were agreed on. Daniel enlisted her roommate and other friends to pose in various positions suggested by scenes in the poem and took photographs. Then Daniel with a copy of the poem, the Guittard family photos, and her own photos drafted approximately 15 illustrations in the gaps of time the busy art major had to work on a non-credit non-school project.

    The process was that Daniel would send a group of drafts to Guittard for comment and then revise and email Guittard revised illustrations addressing any suggestions. Most of the illustrations were revised at least once and some more than once. Daniel finished up her assignment at the end of 2017 and Guittard sent his publisher the poem with illustrations and historical notes. The published illustrated poem went on sale on Amazon in February of 2018 both as an e-book and as a print-on-demand book.

    Guittard is currently working on a 2nd Edition of the illustrated poem. The 2nd Edition will also include an author’s preface and around 200 excerpted letters of Frank and Josie Guittard and sons Francis and Clarence from the 1920-1930 period. The goal is to make the 2nd Edition more compelling, especially to graduate students, by adding a universal or everyman aspect to the book through hearing the actual voices and words of Frank, Josie, Francis and Clarence. The 1920-1930 period will include both the Frank & Josie courtship letters and the family Ph.D. period letters between 1923 and 1930.”


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