Lily Russell: A Baylor Beauty

By Amiee Brassart

Lily Russell Leaves a Mark on Baylor University

The sounds of the 1930s formed a melody of “the blues” as the economy dramatically changed and The Great Depression affected life in the United States. Americans were striving to keep positive spirits, and in Waco, Texas, the students on Baylor University’s campus, played songs that invited and kept students engaged during this tumultuous decade. Baylor’s administration created an environment of quality education, which empowered students to impact and bring about change within the Depression culture.  Within Baylor’s hallowed halls, alumna Lily Russell became a prominent figure, composing a delicate melody for female students. President W.S. Allen appointed her as acting Dean of Women in 1931. She remained in the position for the duration of the decade, personifying traditional gender roles for female undergraduates and defining the true meaning of femininity. Her initiatives and programming dictated perceived and actual female behavior. Russell’s espoused values about gender roles were woven within each aspect of her administration: specifically event planning for student life and assistance with the Margaret Fund allocated to students with missionary parents. Lily Russell maximized her term as Dean of Women to define the true meaning of womanhood, the expected behavior of women and the expression of femininity across multiple facets of university life.

The Beginning of Her Professional Presence at Baylor

As a young child, Lily Russell encountered multiple emotional anomalies. The loss of her mother, a move to New Mexico, and the establishment of a blended family between her father and his new wife and family would impact anyone, especially an impressionable young lady. Chester McIlroy, her father, did his best to keep his family together. Mr. McIlroy was a graduate from the original Baylor University campus in Independence, Texas. Russell chose to follow in her father’s footsteps beginning her freshman year at the Waco campus around 1907 concluding with her graduation in 1911. Her ties with Baylor strengthened as she began teaching courses in the English department following graduation. In 1924, she left Baylor for a teaching position at a university in Oklahoma. Deciding not to stray too far from “home,” she returned to Baylor in 1926 having accepted the position as assistant Dean of Women under Irene Marschall (Texas Collection website, n.d.).

Russell transitioned from assistant to acting Dean of Women in 1931. The Baylor Lariat published an article detailing the reasons why the current Dean, Irene Marschall, was stepping down from her post: her impending marriage. A short sentence within the article announced that acting president W.S. Allen had appointed Lily Russell as the new acting Dean of Women and she had accepted the post. Interestingly, the official announcement of Russell’s position was embedded within an article that showcased the essence of 1930s femininity: marriage, upholding the traditional female identity.

“Miss Irene Marshcall, for five years dean of women at Baylor, resigned her position June 1 and will be married on June 27 to Dr. Claude L. King, professor of political science in the University of Pennsylvania, and secretary of revenue in the cabinet of Governor Gifford Pinchot of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Lily Russell, assistant dean of women for five years was appointed acting dean of women by Acting President W.S. Allen until such time as a regular appointment can be made. The Wedding of Miss Marschall and Dr. King will take place in the home of Miss Marschall’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ernst Marschall in Llano… (The Daily Lariat, January 8, 1931)”

From the start of her term, assumed female-specific expectations followed her wherever she went. Throughout her term as Dean of Women, her standards for young ladies mirrored the same female-specific sentiment. Southern Baptist conservatism and espoused values associated with Southern culture upheld Baylor University during the 1930s. These contributing cultural components heavily affected the idea of femininity, but it was more than religious and geographical influences. Due to The Great Depression, women were working in positions that were available, whether or not the job was normally male dominated. The outside culture was naturally defining a more progressive woman, and administrators at Baylor University valued traditional gender roles.

In a 1985 publication entitled Looking Back a Baylor, a 1977 commentary of Dean’s of Women, including Lily Russell and the “Baylor girl” in the 1930s, is reflected upon:

“While the girls of Baylor are and always have been one of the university’s finest features, in earlier decades the words “a Baylor girl” carried a more definitive connotation than they do today. They meant that the young lady in question was almost certain to be refined and modest in manner, neat and attractive in appearance, studious and serious of mind, She was also capable of having fun, but the fun must be clean: there were quite definite things that Baylor girls “did,” and even more clearly defined ones that they “did not.” (Keeth, pg. 57, 1985)

Russell’s administrative documents reflected this idea of institutional female values, and she reinforced the “Baylor Girl” personality.

One of the most intriguing documents issued to female students is the Handbook for Dormitory Women. This 3×5 inch, 41 page handbook outlines specific behaviors a young lady should maintain. The opening page of the Handbook details the purpose of the publication:

“The first concern of a student entering college is to learn his way about and to establish a well regulated life of study and recreation The purpose of this handbook is to assist dormitory women to establish themselves with the least possible difficulty as members of the new community into which they have entered” (p. 3).

A few pages forward, the handbook provides a description of the Dean of Women’s positions:

“The Dean of Women supervises the dormitories for women and concerns herself with all matters relating to the physical, academic, and social welfare of University women… She is ready at all times to help young women in planning not only their college work, but their extra-curricular activities so that they may make the most of their opportunities” (p. 6).

The handbook elaborated on more intimate standards of living such as  “Clothes, Care of Rooms, Lights, Dinning Room, and Riding Regulations.” The handbook even included Social Regulations that were extremely conservative.

  1. “Dating.” Talking to a gentleman for more that twenty minutes constitutes a date.
    1. Freshman girls may have two evening dates a week, one week-end night, with the following exceptions: a date to the Baylor religious Hour; to an Artist Course performance in Waco Hall, if it falls on a school night; or to a formal dinner or party in the dormitory may be substituted for ONE of the week-end dates.” (34)

Four more subsequent points fall under the “Dating” category and an additional page and a half continues to list acceptable behavior between young women and young men on Baylor’s campus and their conduct within the residence halls. Each year, a handbook for female living and conduct became available to the young female residents.

Her Influence on Female Participation in Student Life

A campus wide program for female students revealed the importance of physical beauty that accompanied the “beauty” of proper conduct in every day life. Baylor’s strong effort to keep young women appropriate and embracing femininity encouraged the “Baylor girl” mentality. An annual election promoted the physical beauty of female students on campus. In 1931, the same year Lily Russell began her position as Dean of Women, the Baylor annual, the Round Up, devoted 10 pages to women considered the most beautiful Baylor women on campus. The section was titled Baylor Beauty: “Baylor is noted for her beautiful women… we present eight of Baylor’s many beauties. They were selected for this book by the student body” (1931).


In the following year, the similar section devoted to Baylor Beauties in the Round Up was entitled “Vanity Fair.” It is notable that entire sections of the yearly annual, the Round-Up, were devoted to showcasing the physical beauty on campus. In 1931, Baylor Beauties made the headline of The Lariat: “Round-Up Beauties to be Presented Friday (The Daily Lariat, June 4, 1931).  Lily Russell’s decisions regarding the female handbook also encouraged this same mentality of being well kept and presentable. A paradox existed between the rules for female conservatism and marginalizing the female population by parading and ranking those considered most beautiful. Russell’s position allowed her the ability to promote appropriate female behavior, and it worked as protection against social and sinful evils. It seems that the display of physical beauty captured the goal of attaining propriety, because a female students followed the “rules” and became an official “Baylor girl” or a notable beauty among the student body.

As she upheld the Baylor Beauty within and without campaigns, Russell wove her creativity and implemented her party planning skills specifically for female student life. She infused her position with a significant amount of theatrical satire, Baylor humor, and a depth that spoke to all female students on campus. Participation with the theatre department spilled over into her student programming. Her files are filled with theatrical programs featuring and starring female students. In 1931, she cast and produced  “The Mad March Hare of Alice in Baylorland.”

Like the title suggests, the play is an adaption of Alice in Wonderland but with Baylor verbiage and commentary of Baylor culture students would understand and find entertaining. She did not spare individual students or faculty and staff as she personified certain Alice’s experience from Alice in Wonderland into Alice in Baylorland.

“Am I the same as when I got up this morning? If I am not the same, who in the world am I? I’m sure I am not Cynthia Henderson for she has curly hair and I haven’t; I’m sure I’m not Dorothy Cox for I know all sorts of things she know so very little…Let me see. Dr. Williams said that four times five is twelve and four times six is thirteen and four times seven is—Oh dear I shall never get any A. I’ll try geography. Dr. Carney taught us that London is the capital of Paris, and Paris is the capital of Rome and Rome—Oh that’s all wrong, I’m certain.”

The opening scene begins when Alice has fallen from a great distance and wakes up in the garden, which is depicted as Baylor’s campus. With Alice’s opening line, Russell wittily wrote,

“Well, after such a fall as this I shall think nothing of flunking chemistry. How brave they’ll think me at home.” After a quick interjection from the March Hare, Alice remarks, “I wonder how many miles I have fallen? I must be getting somewhere near the center of Baylor! Maybe I’ve fallen entirely through the earth? Please, Dr. Allen (to the rabbit who is rushing madly around) This isn’t the University of Texas is it?”

Within the first few moments of dialogue, Russell’s dialogue spoke to any Baylor student sitting in the audience watching the performance. Not only did the familiar story resonate among students, but the Baylor specific remarks and very poignant lead female character speak into the overarching culture she appeared to be creating at the time: females are more than characters robotically moving through the motions of propriety or as trophies to be paraded around campus.

Russell’s Administrative Duties

Her heavy investment as Dean of Women on the physical campus did not lessen her intentionality in actively corresponding with students and the general public regarding both male and female students as letters came to her office. Russell wrote letters addressing all manner of concerns. The manner in which she composed these responses and left a reader confident that Mrs. Russell was personally invested in the situation expressed by the inquirer. Many of her preserved letters are to and from various Women’s Missionary Unions regarding Baylor or individuals representing the Southern Baptist denomination. The Margaret Fund, providing substantial financial assistance to children of foreign missionaries, became a major project for Mrs. Russell during her term as Dean of Women. She was constantly conversing with the local WMU about female and male student needs for acclimating into American culture.

In August 1934, Russell corresponded with Mrs. Burney, a member of the Women’s Missionary Union in Georgia.

“As Margaret Fund advisor in Baylor University, I should like to have, at the earliest moment possible, a list of the young people who will receive this aid this next year. I am especially eager to know because I am personally interested in Mary Elizabeth Ray, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. J. Franklin Ray of Japan. Elizabeth is a young women of unusual talent and capability and she will not be able to remain in Baylor University next year, where she can graduate with A. B. degree in June.”

Not only did her correspondence regarding the Margaret Fund address financial issues, but they addressed student necessity issues such as clothes and toiletries needed for missionary kids to transition easily from their international culture to the Texas environment. In a letter to a WMU constituent, in Clifton, Texas, regarding missionary kid, Wilford Stapp, Russell detailed the following:

“The sizes of various garments which Wilford wears are as follows: shoes, 9; sox, 11; shirts, 141/2 by 33; hat, 71/2… He is rather of fair complexion with blue eyes I believe, and dark hair. I should think he would be pleased with shades of blue. Most boys like sweets of various kinds, and they all need stamps. Pajamas are acceptable also. I am glad that you are interested in this young man as he seems to be a splendid young fellow.”

Lily Russell’s Legacy

One of Lily Russell’s primary missions revolved around advocating for the female population. This included upholding the embodiment of femininity. Despite negative undertones brought on by the Great Depression, students on campus continued to engage in student activities and “buy-in” to Baylor. Students on campus meant that regulations and rules would need to be implemented to maintain its reputation on the physical and metaphorical campus. During Through Russell’s administration, The Dormitory Handbook for Women provided precautionary measures to protect the institution and to influence propriety of women within Southern culture. The Baylor Beauties elections capitalized the success of Baylor’s measures to preserve those values: inner and outer beauty. Evidence indicates that Russell did not oppose the objectifying praise of female beauty but tended to celebrate events favoring traditional female authenticity.

For Lily Russell, her time in office addressed the issue of outlining and guiding students through traditional gender roles, but she also actively directed female Student Life and managed and financial allocations. All of her jobs were completed in a way that enhanced the university.

Because of her tenacity as Dean of Women, President Allen’s successor Pat Neff and his administration utilized Russell’s talents and eventually named her the Director of Public Relations and chairperson of the Baylor Centennial Committee. Even though she transitioned into a different role, Lily Russell will be remembered for practicing a straightforward plan for the culture: propriety first. She was a Baylor Beauty alongside the many generations of Baylor female students. The Baylor legacy she brought to campus lasted throughout her career, and continues today.


Baylor University (1931, January 8). The Daily Lariat.

Baylor University (1931, June 4). The Daily Lariat.

Baylor University. (1931). The Round-Up. 30. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco,  TX.

Baylor University. (1932). The Round-Up, 31. The Texas Collection. Baylor University. Waco,  TX.

Kent, K. & Marsh, H. (1985). A collection of historical vignettes: looking back at baylor, Waco,  TX: Baylor University

Russell, L.M. (1931). Alice in Baylorland. BU Records: Dean of Women (Lily Russell),                        Accession #BU/372, Box #7, Folder #3, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Russell, L. M. (1938). Dormitory Handbook for Women. BU Records: Dean of Women  (Lily Russell), Accession #BU/372, Box #7, Folder #1, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Russell, L.M. (1935, March 29). [Letter to Mrs. Will Forsen]. Lily Russell papers (Accession     BU/#372, Box #1, Folder #1). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Russell, L.M. (1934,. [Letter to Mrs.Burney]. Lily Russell papers (Accession  BU/#372, Box #1, Folder #1). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Texas Collection. BU Records : Dean of Women (Lily Russell), 1922-1969, undated. Retrieved from

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