I Will Teach History: The Life & Times of Francis Gevrier Guittard, Professor, Baylor University is the life story of the founding chair of the Department of History at Baylor, who served as chair from 1910-1948. The book is the final volume of a trilogy written by Dr. Frank Guittard’s grandson, Charles Francis Guittard, a 1964 Baylor Arts & Sciences graduate.
I Will Teach History has just been published, and reached the No. 1 position on Amazon’s “New Releases in Historical Study & Teaching” list.
To gain more insight into the life of Dr. Guittard and the new book about his life, we spoke with Charles Guittard, who spent decades doing the research that preceded the writing of the text.
Charles — thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We’re familiar with your two previous books relating to Frank Guittard and Baylor. How did you come to do this third volume?
The first volume is a poem with historical notes and is quite short. The second is a book of letters between Frank and his family with notes giving the Baylor context, and it runs several hundred pages in length. I actually started I Will Teach History, the third and final volume, before either of the other two. I began researching it in 1978 after 250 family letters came into my hands, which I thought were interesting enough to justify a book. However, although I started work on a biography, that work was put on hold while I came up with a poem and then decided to publish a book of letters with historical notes. Both Volume One and Volume Two were attempts to put off completing the life and times until another day.
So, if you started a biography in 1978 — 44 years ago — there obviously has been an extended delay in completing it.
Yes! The biography turned out to be a much bigger project than I envisioned originally. The factors contributing to the delay were, first, my decision that I wanted it to be not just a biography, but a look at both my grandfather’s life as well as the times he lived in. Then, the research possibilities that opened up were simply enormous, and it was difficult to know just what to research and include and what not to. Of course, for most of the time since 1978, I had to make a living as an attorney, and then as a mediator and arbitrator. I also moved a number of times during the researching and writing, so I guess you could say that life intervened to lengthen the years required to finish. I was not really able to work full-time on the project until I retired in early 2013. But then, after the diagnosis of my late wife Pat’s illness, I needed to devote much of my time to her care.
Cole Niles, your student editor on this project, has said you didn’t follow the usual path or format in writing this biography. Can you elaborate on that?
Sure. I had two main considerations. The first was that a standard biography, if it is of any value, requires an incredible amount of work to research and write. The second was that a usual biography, perhaps because it tends to be chronological and solely factual, may come across as routine. By contrast, I aspired to tell my grandfather Frank Guittard’s story in a way that would be out of the ordinary — I wanted to keep the reader turning the pages even though it would not be a detective novel. The primary device I chose to do this was to employ a “peanut gallery,” if you will, to ask questions and make comments throughout the story. Using a peanut gallery also had one other benefit — I didn’t have to worry as much about following the customary format and rules for a biography. I could just tell Frank’s story conversationally with the help of a peanut gallery, and concentrate on whatever questions and comments they had in whatever manner expressed.
Although you didn’t follow a customary format, did you include footnotes?
Notes, certainly, but not footnotes. The trend in biographies today seems to be more toward endnotes at the conclusion of chapters or source notes at the end of a work. I included many source notes from my years of research to support the text. I hope the final result will be satisfying even though there was no PhD adviser looking over my shoulder calling balls and strikes, like Frank had when he was pounding out drafts of his dissertation at Stanford.
Since Frank Guittard was your grandfather, was it difficult to avoid glorifying him in the book?
No, not especially difficult. Frank Guittard and I had very little contact and interaction — I was only seven years old when he died. I did not have strong feelings of any sort toward him before I started writing. After I started writing, my interest was always more in the dynamics and drama of his story itself, not so much in Frank for his good character or his important accomplishments. I dislike reading biographies that sound like nominations for the Nobel Prize. So, I was on guard throughout the writing not to praise Frank excessively, or to unfairly criticize him from hindsight. My goal was always a balanced approach in my appraisals of him as a teacher, as a son, husband, and father. My goal was tell his story, and that of Baylor as well, “warts and all” for the benefit of both my family and students of Baylor history, or anyone interested in Baylor. I hope I succeeded.
If you and your grandfather didn’t get the chance to become especially close, what was it that kept you motivated to work on his biography for more than four decades?
Several things. Although I hardly knew my grandfather, I came to identify with his introverted personality. Then, I had the belief that nearly anyone’s life can be shown to be interesting if enough details can be found, such as may be the case when there is a large amount of correspondence. I also found that the stories percolating in the background — such as the student self-government experiment and the evolution controversy at Baylor in the early years of the 20th century — were compelling, and there was enough detail on these to add substantially to the appeal of the work. Also, producing this book employing a peanut gallery — which is comprised of my grandchildren, by the way — made the whole project an important work of family legacy. Finally, I thought this book, and its predecessors in the trilogy, would support the Baylor Department of History, its PhD and master’s degree programs, and its endowed scholarship programs in history. Perhaps it can even encourage a budding biographer out there.
In this new book, are there moments from the Unversity’s history you cover that the Baylor community and its graduates may not be completely familiar with?
Yes — a number of them. I discuss how Baylor University at Waco came to be, and how President Burleson had been president at one time of both of the universities that merged to form Baylor University at Waco, Texas. Other topics I discuss are what the circumstances were when Burleson agreed to step down as president, my grandfather Frank Guittard’s experience rooming with future Baylor President Pat Neff in Magnolia, Arkansas in the mid-1890s, and how Baylor President Oscar Henry Cooper came to leave Baylor in the early 1900s. I also include a history of Baylor’s first two homecomings, a look at the university-building tenure of Samuel Palmer Brooks, a truly great Baylor president, the connection of Baylor football and Baylor spirit and endowment, and I discuss the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Waco in the 1920s.
Those sound like fascinating stories. Are there any more tales of Baylor history in the book?
Yes. I talk about the history of Burleson Quadrangle, the rise and fall of Baylor’s student self-government, President Brooks’s battle with the fundamentalists regarding accusations that Baylor professors were teaching evolution, and what Baylor’s competitive literary societies were like. Oh, and there’s also a bunch of funny stuff I got from old RoundUp yearbooks. Students back then were just as creative as students today, but they enjoyed the freedom to make fun of their teachers in Baylor publications. It was pretty strict around the Quadrangle, formerly known as Burleson Quadrangle. Student humor helped students endure all the rules they had to put up with.
What sort of subjects from Frank’s personal story did you include?
I started with the economic depression in Ohio that prompted his family’s decision to send him to Texas to scout land for a family move. Then, I recount his train trip to Chester, Texas, using an axe to make ties for railroad tracks, and his encounter with a swarm of bees. I discuss Frank’s college days and his time living in Maggie Houston Hall at Baylor. Then, I explain why Frank decided to drop out and work selling books to farmers’ wives. I also detail his days teaching in many country schools, his early flirtations and romances, and his family’s battle with disease. Eventually, there were his serious romances — first with his first wife, Mamie, and then with his second wife, Josie, whom he married after after Mamie died. I talk about Frank’s stressful days at Stanford working on his PhD, then what Dr. Frank Guittard was like as a classroom teacher and in his private moments with his family. Finally, I share his career advice to his sons and my grandfather’s own assessment of his career and life plan.
Your editor, Cole Niles, said he likes the reconstructed scenes and other more unusual pieces you included in the book.
Those were fun to do, starting with a History 105 class, the campus tour he must have given Mamie, and the mock debates employing teams from the peanut gallery. And there are other pieces you might not expect — such as the divider pages for the book parts which incorporate sample questions for the peanut gallery to ask, questions and answers from Frank’s book of student “bone-heads” on history exams, and Frank’s characteristic sayings compiled from his correspondence.
How were you able to appraise Frank Guittard as a person and teacher from the somewhat faraway vantage point of 70 years after his death, and 150 years from his birth?
As to Frank as a teacher, I have the letters from 75 of his former students, including several professors of history, who were close observers of Frank’s teaching style. In the book’s conclusion I cite a testimonial from Professor David Smiley of Wake Forest. As to what Frank was like as a person, I have hundreds of family letters, and I did several interviews with family members and faculty colleagues. And of course, I had my grandfather’s own autobiographies, essays, speeches, ledgers and diaries to draw from.
I know that you hired a recent Baylor art graduate to illustrate the book.
Yes. Amanda Hope Smith graduated this year from Baylor, and is now pursuing a master’s degree in illustration. She completed 15 illustrations for the book –– including one used on the cover of my grandfather fighting off an attack of bees. Her work is marvelous, and really makes the book a more enjoyable read. I was lucky to find her.
Finally, do you have another writing project in mind now that I Will Teach History has been published?
Yes — I’m thinking about doing a couple of short non-Baylor books with my wife, Nancy Davis Labastida.