(Digital Collections) Hidden in Plain Sight: Looking Closer at the Diamond Jubilee, Baylor University, 1920

Baylor University was in the mood to celebrate in 1920, for that was the year of its diamond jubilee. Seventy-five years earlier, in the Washington County town of Independence, the university was established and named for Judge R.E.B. Baylor; the ensuing decades had seen it grow into a thriving institution in a new city, Waco.

This photograph was taken on June 16, 1920, Commencement Day for the proud new graduates. The scene is Burleson Quadrangle, a tree-covered swath of campus bounded by Carroll Library (at left), Georgia Burleson Hall (middle left), Old Main (middle right) and Carroll Science Building (right). The photographer’s perspective is centered on the statue of Rufus C. Burleson, crafted by Italian-Texan sculptor Pompeo Coppini. (Coppini’s work can be seen in the statuary of another famous figure from Baylor’s past: the seated statue of Judge Baylor located in front of Waco Hall is also his handiwork.)

As with the YMBL panoramic we examined in an earlier post, it is worth looking deeper into this photograph for glimpses of the vignettes taking place before the unblinking eye of the photographer’s camera. We note from the inscription that the photo was signed by Fred Gildersleeve, indicating his studio took the shot and developed the print, but evidence we’ll outline below indicates that it may have been Gildersleeve’s assistant who actually captured this particular image.


But we begin our journey in the upper left, where the dome of Carroll Library peeks out above the treeline. No one who saw the building after February 11, 1922 would ever see this sight again, for a massive fire would severely damage the building on that fateful day, and the reconstructed Carroll Library would not feature a restored dome.


Near the Burleson statue we see this gathering of women and children enjoying a summer day on the quad. The women are all wearing hats, including one that features a row of flowers encircling the crown (second from right). Even the youngest among them is sporting her Sunday best, with clean, bright dresses and fancy hats in evidence on the children playing in the grass in the foreground.


The tower of Old Main looms in the middle background, and a faint “’15” can be seen emblazoned on its shingled surface. This is the fading evidence of a tradition that for many years led graduating seniors to paint the numbers of their graduating year (in this case, 1915) on the towers of Old Main. It is a testament to the long-lasting nature of the class of ‘15’s choice of paint that it is still evident after five years exposed to Texas’ notoriously mercurial weather.


This scene in the background at right, near the steps to Carroll Science Building, reminds us of the purpose for the gathering: graduates in caps and gowns gather with friends and family to celebrate the newly minted alums’ big achievements.

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Lastly, seated in the shade of a tree near the far right of the photograph, is a man wearing a striped shirt. Behind him is a camera on a tripod, and the figure has his hand to his chin as if pondering the best way to capture the scenes playing out in front of him. From his posture, trademark cap, and profile, it appears that this is Fred Gildersleeve, former jockey and master of the photographic art. Gildersleeve had been snapping photos in Waco since at least 1907, and over the course of a half-century he captured some of the most iconic images of a Waco transitioning between frontier cotton town and major Texas city. “Gildy” employed assistants over the course of his career, and since it appears he is the man in the chair, it seems logical to assume that we have an assistant to thank for capturing this view of the Diamond Jubilee Commencement Day’s celebration.

(1) Images excerpted from an original panoramic photograph from the Texas Collection; images enhanced for Web viewing.

To view the original online, visit http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/tx-phot/id/63/rec/35

Visit the Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.

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