Determining Curriculum: Who Shaped Studies at Baylor University, 1900-1920

By Annelise Hardegree

As with many universities, several groups at Baylor University compete to help determine and shape curriculum. Though the university itself has changed over time, this notion – that courses and their content are shaped and influenced by different competing groups – has held true for decades. Specifically, from 1900 to 1920, both internal and external forces worked to shape Baylor’s curriculum, some more effectively than others. In an effort to better understand curriculum during this ti

me period, the following research examines what groups were invested in influencing studies at Baylor University, and what groups actually had the power to change it.

Each group examined has left behind evidence to suggest their concern over curriculum at Baylor University. The following essay details the interest and investment of each of the following constituents based on this evidence: Southern Baptist general interest groups, the government of the state of Texas, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the President of Baylor University, and the faculty. As was mentioned earlier, each of these constituents had varying degrees of influence, or non-influence, on curriculum at Baylor from 1900-1920. Based on the discussion of the investment in the university’s curriculum of each constituent, the level of influence will then be determined, leading the reader to be able to answer the question, who truly shaped curriculum at Baylor University?

Southern Baptist General Interest Groups

Before examining the influence and investment of this group on curriculum at Baylor University, one must first understand whom this group includes. The term general interest group refers to any constituent that is not directly affiliated with Baylor through employment or study, but that still holds a vested interest in the university. Specifically, these general interests groups hold a pointed interest in the university due to Baylor’s affiliation with Southern Baptist churches. This constituency may include, but is not limited to, religious organizations, media outlets, and other universities. For the purposes of this essay, the following section will focus on Southern Baptist media groups, some of whom were prolific in their discussion of Baylor’s curriculum through letter-writing to the university president, Samuel Palmer Brooks.

Though the influence of these constituents is not direct, their participation in the discussion of curriculum at Baylor University was voluble. Lacking the power within the University to effect the change they felt was warranted, these groups typically spoke out in aggressive, sometimes threatening ways. The two constituents discussed below felt their interest in Baylor’s teachings to be justified due to their position of leadership in the Southern Baptist community. When these constituents felt Baylor drifting from Southern Baptist doctrine, they spoke out, writing to faculty members or President Samuel Palmer Brooks in an effort to effect change.

From 1900-1920 and beyond, the idea of evolution being taught at Baylor University was a controversial issue that sparked criticism from several Southern Baptist General Interest Groups. These constituents were typically opposed to several tenants of the theory of evolution and were not supportive of it being accepted or taught at Baylor. R.K. Maiden, editor of The Word and Way, a newsletter published by the Western Baptist Publishing Company, wrote Baylor University President Samuel Palmer Brooks concerning the presence of this theory on campus. After his questions were not satisfactorily answered, Maiden threatened Brooks:

“What I wanted to know was whether or not the University president, faculty and Board of Trustees give their approval…if they do approve, then it would seem a perfectly legitimate and proper thing for the Baptist papers to let the Baptist public know that evolution has received hospitality and gained a foothold at Baylor University.” (Brooks, S. P. 1920, R. K. Maiden to Brooks, December 2, 1920)

R.K. Maiden wrote an aggresive letter to President Brooks concerning the theory of evolution. (Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers)

Maiden’s tone in this letter seems to indicate a strong-arm tactic; an attempt to force Baylor University to reject the theory of evolution by threatening to expose what he believed to be the university’s true theological leanings. It is evident from Maiden’s letter that those affiliated with The Word and Way saw Baylor’s endorsement of evolution as a secretive dismissal of Christian doctrine, an issue Maiden felt needed to be exposed if such was the case. Notice, however, that Maiden gave Baylor a chance to reject their previous stance on the issue. This suggests that Maiden felt he had the power, as an editor-in-chief of a Southern Baptist publication, to influence Baylor’s curriculum.

E.C. Routh, editor and manager of the Baptist Standard in Dallas, Texas, also wrote letters concerning the issue of evolution being present at Baylor, but instead directed his concerns to Professor Dow, a sociology professor whose book, Introduction to the Principles of Sociology, raised alarm. He argued to Dow that the book contained “statements, which, on mature consideration, you yourself would not fully endorse” (Brooks, S. P.,1920, E. C. Routh to G. S. Dow, December 7, 1920). Similar to Maiden, Routh then appealed to Baylor’s connection to the Baptist community in stating, “I am sure that the friends of Baylor University would not knowingly lend their support to the dissemination of such teachings” (Brooks, S. P.,1920, E. C. Routh to G. S. Dow, December 7, 1920).

Routh’s letter is an example of a more passive-aggressive attempt to influence, in this case, a Baylor professor to recall his previous stance of the issue of evolution in the interest of the Southern Baptist community. Similar to Maiden, Routh threatened to expose Baylor University and Professor Dow if the theory of evolution was not removed from the curriculum.

Such communications from outside agencies were commonplace at Baylor University. It is unclear as to how President Brooks or Professor Dow responded to these critiques, but what is known is the lack of effect these appeals had on Baylor’s curriculum. Despite Maiden and Routh’s argument that controversial teachings at Baylor University would cause an uproar within the larger Southern Baptist community, the university seemed to continue in the direction they chose. With a lack of evidence to support any claim that these constituents influenced curriculum at Baylor, one can determine that, while their arguments were heard, their requests were denied.

The Government of the State of Texas

Despite Baylor University’s status as a private school and thus separated or exempt from much of the constraints and dictums placed on state institutions by the government, the State of Texas had the potential to play a pivotal role in curriculum during this era. In 1919, as a result of World War I, Senator Caldwell of Travis County proposed two bills to the State of Texas House of Representatives concerning the teaching of German in Texas schools. The first bill concerned the University of Texas specifically, but the second bill indicated “that it shall be unlawful for any teacher or instructor to teach or cause to be taught, the Germanic language in any public, private or parochial school or college, or University in the State of Texas” (Brooks, S.P., 1919, C. Thomas to Brooks, July 2, 1919).

C. Thomas wrote to ensure President Brooks that the bill banning the teaching of German in the state of Texas would be vetoed. (Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers)

C. Thomas, a government contact of President Brooks, later wrote to confirm that the bill concerning the University of Texas was vetoed and that the other was expected to have a similar fate. (Brooks, S.P., 1919, C. Thomas to Brooks, July 2, 1919). Had this bill passed however, Baylor University’s curriculum would have been altered by means outside of the control of the university. This suggests that, despite Baylor’s status as a private institution, the state of Texas had potential influence over curriculum in certain extenuating circumstances.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, originally part of the Baylor campus before moving to Fort Worth, Texas, retained a strong affiliation with the University despite their physcial distance. In a series of letters to President Samuel Palmer Brooks, Dr. L. R. Scarborough, President and Professor of Evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested a proposal to streamline the Bible curriculum at Baylor University in a way that would allow students to transfer credits from Baylor to the Seminary. Scarborough writes, “there ought to be a better correspondence and correlation in the curricula and general educational standards in our schools,” suggesting that the schools ought to work together to create curriculum (Brooks, S. P.,1918, S. P. Scarborough to Brooks, March 14, 1918).

This plead for correlation demonstrates the partnership that already existed between Baylor and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Scarborough’s ideas did not go ignored by President Brooks. Brooks responded to Scarborough, after several months of further discussion, by saying, “we will put it up to the Faculty, and I am sure it will be adopted” (Brooks, S. P., 1918, Brooks to S. P. Scarborough, November 9, 1918). This exchange indicates that though the Seminary may not have had a direct impact on curriculum, it can be determined that they were influential in the process of determining what ought to be studied at Baylor.

Baylor University President

Samuel Palmer Brooks, President of Baylor University during the 1900-1920 era, wrote that “the object of a college is to train men and women for service, all sorts of service…all this in a Baptist college is to be done under the influence of Christian teachers, dominated by the spirit of Christ and His gospel” (Brooks, S. P., 1918, Brooks to J. W. Cammack, November 9, 1916). As mentioned earlier, and in keeping with this idea of a Christian education, Brooks worked closely with the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and other Southern Baptist entities in determining what he believed to be a proper curriculum for Baylor students. This attitude also serves as an explanation for why Southern Baptist general interest groups, such as those cited earlier, felt justified in contacting Brooks with their concerns. Their knowledge of Brooks’ dedication to promoting Christian education helps explain their aggressive attempts to change Baylor’s curriculum through the employment of the Southern Baptist community.

In his correspondence to Dr. Scarborough of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Brooks indicated his role in the determination of curriculum at Baylor. As mentioned above, Dr. Scarborough was interested in creating a streamlined study of the Bible at Baylor that would be accepted as credit when students entered the seminary. Following Brooks’ response, that he would present the idea to the faculty, Brooks indicates his leadership role in the decision making when he wrote:

“Concerning the wisdom of requiring one major in some one study in the Bible Department, I do not believe that that particular study ought to be named, but that each student should meet the requirements by making a choice of the course he would study.” (Brooks, S. P., 1918, Brooks to S. P. Scarborough, November 9, 1918).

This statement indicates that Brooks shaped what issues were put forth to the faculty; Brooks could take Scarborough’s idea and present it to the faculty in a way that he felt was best for the students. While he may not have had the final say, the President of Baylor University during this era was a major player in determining curriculum.


As indicated by President Brooks’ statement mentioned earlier, “we will put it up to the Faculty, and I am sure it will be adopted” (Brooks, S. P., 1918, Brooks to S. P. Scarborough, November 9, 1918), no matter what the President thought ought to be added to the curriculum, the faculty at Baylor University had the final say in what was included or changed and what was not. For further proof of this, a study of the history of Baylor University’s English department, as gathered by Dr. A.J. Armstrong, Baylor English professor, provides ample evidence of the power of the faculty over the curriculum.

Dr. Armstrong’s manuscript of the history of the English department is a detailed list of memos, event summaries, postings in the Lariat (the Baylor student newspaper), and updates on library book donations. According to his compilation, in January 1906, Professor Dorothy Scarborough wrote the following memo:

Professor Scarborough’s Memo about adding a class is in Dr. Armstrong’s Manuscript. (A.J. Armstrong Papers)

“In response to [repeated] requests from [students], I shall offer, in the spring term, an elective course in English which shall consist of a study of the most prominent living writers of America and Europe…Since the course is not in the catalogue nor on the schedule, students who wish to take it will please report to me, and the hour of recitation will be arranged.” (Armstrong, A. J., 1904-1928, p. 6)

According to Professor Scarborough’s memo, faculty members had the freedom to create additional courses if there was a student interest. Based on her phrasing, it is evident that Professor Scarborough did not need to present her idea to a larger faculty senate or lobby within the English department to get her course approved. Instead, it appears that faculty members during this era had the freedom to add courses to their course schedule without the input of the larger group.

Not only were professors motivated by student interest to create courses, but according to Dr. Armstrong, professors could also add courses based on student need. In December 1912, Armstrong writes:

A number of students entered English A at the beginning of the Fall term but soon dropped out, being unprepared for the work. In order to meet the needs of such students, a section, to be known as the “Catch up” class will be organized and all students deficient in spelling, [grammar], and composition will be given an opportunity to overcome such weaknesses.  (Armstrong, A. J., 1904-1928, p. 9)

Armstrong’s inclusion of a remedial English course, which, similar to Professor’s Scarborough’s course, was apparently added without consulting a greater body of faculty members, indicates that professors were also granted the freedom to add courses to fulfill needs within their department. This also indicates that, during this era, the faculty were considered the best source of knowledge for the needs of students, as it was a faculty member, and not a dean or administrator, that decided to add the remedial course.

As there is no evidence that either Dr. Armstrong or Professor Scarborough sought the approval of a faculty senate, a department head, a dean, the president, or the Board of Trustees, it is clear that individual faculty members were given the ultimate power in determining curriculum at Baylor from 1900 to 1920.

Who Really Shapes Curriculum at Baylor University?

Based on the evidence found from 1900-1920 concerning curriculum at Baylor University, it seems clear that though certain Southern Baptist interest groups and other constituents, like the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, provided critiques or input into what was being studied, neither of these groups had a firm say. Although it is also important to note that under special circumstances, the state government could also impose restrictions and requirements on Baylor, despite its status as a private university, it was the president of the university and the faculty who determined what was included and what was not. President Brooks helped determine curriculum by filtering and shaping ideas that he presented to the faculty, making him a major, though not necessarily a determining force, while the faculty themselves had the final say in what was being taught at Baylor during this era.

When considering why these groups had an invested interest in Baylor University’s curriculum, one can conclude that each group competed for power based on what they felt was a legitimate claim. The Southern Baptist general interest groups based their claim on their position of civic responsibility to the larger Southern Baptist community. Since Baylor was a prominent force within this community as well as a Baptist institution, general interest groups felt it their right to regulate the doctrine being taught there. Senator Caldwell, in his attempt to ban the teaching of German in all Texas schools, did not necessarily have Baylor University specifically in mind when he wrote the bill, but his position of governmental power thinly supported his attempt to control the university none-the-less. Had his bill passed however, there is a possibility that the legitimacy of his claim to power would most likely have been questioned by President Brooks via legal action or a refusal to comply. The Southwestern Theological Seminary, with its close tie to the university, had a claim to collaboration, and therefore a greater claim to power, that the previous two groups did not. As another institution of higher learning and a partner in Southern Baptist education, President Brooks understood the importance of working with the seminary when possible. That being said, the president of Baylor University as well as the faculty, with their positions of power within the university have the most obvious, and therefore successful, claim to power. Their close tie to the student body provided a deeper understanding of the wants and needs of students, allowing them to shape curriculum in a way that was in the best interest of the university as a whole.

It can therefore be concluded that, despite claims by other constituents to the power of shaping curriculum at Baylor, the faculty members were the determining force. Even the president of the university had to present ideas to the faculty in order to make any changes. Many factors may have contributed to the power of the faculty members in this sector, like the fact that no course could be added without a faculty member willing to teach it, the close relationship professors maintained with their students through daily interaction provided the foundation for their influence. Due to the fact that the faculty had the final say in shaping curriculum at Baylor, it can be determined then, that the university as a whole held to the belief that the students were the most important consideration in this matter.


Armstrong, A. J. (1904-1928). Manuscript of the history of the English department at Baylor University. Andrew Joseph Armstrong Papers. (#0049, Box 7, Folder 1). Texas Collection and Baylor University Archives, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1904-1931). Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers. [Letter to G.S. Dow from E. C. Routh]. (Box 2C71, Folder 227). Texas Collection and Baylor University Archives, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1904-1931). Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers. [Letter to Samuel Palmer Brooks from C. Thomas]. (Box 2C69, Folder 197). Texas Collection and Baylor University Archives, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1904-1931). Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers. [Letter to Samuel Palmer Brooks from R. K. Maiden]. (Box 2C71, Folder 227). Texas Collection and Baylor University Archives, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1904-1931). Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers. [Letter to Samuel Palmer Brooks from S. P. Scarborough]. (Box 2C71, Folder 223). Texas Collection and Baylor University Archives, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1904-1931). Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers. [Letter to S. P. Scarborough from Samuel Palmer Brooks]. (Box 2C71, Folder 223). Texas Collection and Baylor University Archives, Waco, TX.Professor Scarborough’s Memo about adding a class is in Dr. Armstrong’s Manuscript.

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