Funding a Mission: Student Scholarships at Baylor University in the 1930s

Funding a Mission: Student Scholarships at Baylor University in the 1930s

The rhetoric used to describe the ideal Baylor student and graduate during the period from 1931-1940 was lofty, to say the least. Baylor sought to transform students to become better people, inspiring leaders, and conscientious citizens of service. After graduation, Baylor University and its leaders expected the graduates to accomplish great things. In order for Baylor University and it’s president at the time, Pat Neff, to realize these desired outcomes, it was important to recruit and enroll top-notch high school students who had a penchant for future greatness. Scholarships offered and granted specifically by Pat Neff show that he had a personal investment in the recruitment process, and that his vision for the type of student Baylor should be enrolling and producing would be the University’s vision as well. By examining the rhetoric used to describe the ideal Baylor student and his or her beliefs, traits, and values, as well as the scholarships offered to incoming Baylor students, one is able to see how Baylor University, and Pat Neff in particular, went about enrolling the type of student that they thought would fit, define, and further the mission of Baylor University.

Life of Service

            Although it was important for students to earn a degree at Baylor, one of the main espoused goals of the administration was to prepare students for a life of service. In a recruiting pamphlet titled “Views and Facts of Baylor University,” one of the advantages listed of attending Baylor was that, “For 87 years Baylor has been successfully training young people for efficient life service” (Unknown Author). According to the administration, by going to Baylor, a student not only earned a degree, but also was prepared to tackle the issues and pitfalls of life because they had been “successfully trained”. The services offered by Baylor alumni, according to the recruiting pamphlet, helped to spread the name and mission of Baylor University to the nation and the wider world. This notoriety is touched on when the writer of the recruiting pamphlet notes that:

Because of the character of the men and women making up this family, and the many-sided service they have performed for God and society in many sections of the world, the Baylor name has come to enjoy the most honorable prestige, and it is deemed a genuine privilege for any man or woman to be included in this constantly widening family circle” (Unknown Author, n.d.).

The administration believed that attending Baylor was a privilege, that the students they produced would be honorable and respected, and that those around them who knew of their association to Baylor would come to revere and respect not only the person, but also the name “Baylor”. They also trusted that the services current students and alumni performed for God and society were important and impactful enough to enhance Baylor’s notoriety to society and the wider world.

First, in order for this to become a reality, students with high character and the desire and willingness to embrace Baylor’s mission were brought to campus. Once these students were on campus, they needed to be properly trained to realize that their mission and purpose in life was not insular, but rather, altruistic and broad. To do this, the Baylor administration attempted to permeate the culture in the classroom and around campus with religion, believing that, “culture attains its highest development when thoroughly permeated with religion” (Unknown Author).  The author of the pamphlet goes on to write that Baylor’s atmosphere “helps students live the higher life which finds its noblest expression in service” (Unknown Author). If the end goal of Baylor was to produce students with a desire to serve, they needed to pursue students with a proclivity for sacrificing their lives to God and for their fellow man. Implied in these documents is the institutional belief that effectively engendering this servant-attitude in its students would successfully increase the prestige and honor of Baylor, its alumni, curriculum, purpose, and its mission.

Sportsmanship Before Victory

            A section in the recruiting pamphlet entitled, “Sportsmanship Before Victory” further demonstrates that Baylor sought to recruit and develop students with high character. Students were encouraged to recognize and treat “everybody as somebody” and to place character above “social, political or financial status” (Unknown Author). The highest character could not be attained without humility and the realization that a life of devotion to God and others is more meaningful than the pursuit of wealth or fame. The desired “victory” for Baylor students and alumni was to be recognized for the services rendered to God and others and the attitude displayed while doing so. Although it might be easy for graduates and college students to feel a sense of self-importance and worth with their expanding knowledge base, Baylor attempted to instill a sense of humility in its students by reminding them that they were not above anybody, and that everyone they came in contact with, regardless of their political, financial, or social status in life, was somebody. Not only were those people somebody, but Baylor students were also taught to place others before themselves by living lives of service to God and those around them.

Once students understood that they were to live lives of service, many of them participated in programs to spread the Gospel. President Neff, in report of 1940-1941 states that:

No one can rightly estimate the Christian service rendered by the young ministers in Baylor University as students, as pastors, and as denominational leaders. Last year they held 257 revival meetings, traveled 608,795 miles, preached 13,332 sermons, had day night, the daily chapel hour, the Morning Watch, a brief service attended now by more than two hundred students each day, the annual revival, and the variety and magnitude of the religious activity on the campus begins to be apparent. (Neff, President’s Report, n.d.)

It seems that students firmly believed and embraced the espoused goals and desires that the university had for them.

Courageous Leaders

            Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, rampant unemployment rates, and the rising power of fascist and communist nations in Europe and around the world, Baylor sought to recruit and build courageous leaders who could successfully tackle the problems of the day. In a speech given during the Educational Hour at Waco Hall in 1938, the speaker states that the goal of the university “must be to develop sound minds and cool heads” (Unknown Author, 1938, p. 3). The ability to effectively think and use good judgment under pressure, according to the speaker, was of utmost importance, and was required in order to face the mounting opposition to the capitalist and democratic United States. Moreover, the speaker believed that “manhood, and not scholarship, is the first aim of education” (Unknown Author, 1938, p. 3). Students graduating from Baylor needed to have a steely resolve in the face of diversity and danger, and it was the university’s job to create this attitude in its students.

According to J.M. Dawson, who was the valedictorian at Baylor in 1904 and a “beloved pastor, prolific author, civil libertarian, and denominational leader” (Wood, 1973), this resolve and courage was successfully engendered in Baylor students and graduates because they were grounded in the Christian faith, something he speaks about in the January 1940 edition of the Baylor Century. Without this faith students would lack the confidence and courage to face headlong the problems of unemployment and rising opposition to capitalism that America was facing. Dawson notes that Christian colleges are unique because they inspire their students to believe that, although the odds against them may be staggering, “there is a way out and that with faith in God we’ll find our way out” (Dawson, 1940, p. 15). The integration of faith into the curriculum and lives of the students gives them hope and “makes leaders who are ready to tackle the most difficult tasks in our human world” (Dawson, 1940, p. 15). In order to create these leaders, it was important for Baylor to recruit and retain students who were receptive to the Christian faith and wanted to lead by serving God and others. By offering scholarships to those who wanted to enter the ministry and a life of service, as well as to those who were academic leaders in their high schools, Baylor, and more specifically, Pat Neff, could shape the character and makeup of the incoming freshman class to fit the goals of the university.

Scholarships For Valedictorians

What better way to recruit future leaders than to offer scholarships to those who have already shown leadership in high school through academics? Valedictorians, before even arriving on campus, knew the hard work it took to excel in the classroom. In addition to being hard workers, these students showed determination and a desire to succeed across all subjects and fields they pursued in high school. For this reason, Baylor, at least during the 1930s, offered a scholarship to incoming students who were valedictorian of their graduating high school class.

This scholarship was granted to the student for one year. It covered the cost of tuition for three quarters, or $180 (Neff, 1940a). The recipient was still responsible for paying all other fees and the tuition after the first year at Baylor. In addition to being required to pay for all other expenses besides one year’s worth of tuition, recipients of the valedictorian scholarship were not granted a job on campus to help cover their other expenses, at least while they were receiving the scholarship. It was Baylor’s policy, according to Pat Neff, to “not give to anyone, who for any reason pays no tuition, any kind of work to assist in paying their other expenses” (Mixon, 1941). Ostensibly, this was done to ensure that students who were not receiving a scholarship could work to pay for their tuition.

Interestingly, the one-year scholarship offered to valedictorians did not cross the state line. Instead, the scholarship was offered only to the “valedictorian of each affiliated high school in Texas,” and there was no provision found in Baylor’s catalogue “for the granting of scholarships to out-of-state students,” (Mixon, 1941). Be that as it may, occasionally Baylor did recognize students outside of the state of Texas with “unusual talent” (Mixon, 1941). This was not to spite other states or because Pat Neff and the administration were ardent Texans. Instead, it was just a natural delineation. This is evident in a response Pat Neff gives to a request from a high school principal in Louisiana for a scholarship for one of his honor students, Ruth Talley. Neff says, “We give a scholarship to the valedictorian of Texas high schools having full affiliation, but we do not cross state lines. You understand this inasmuch as it is necessary to stop somewhere” (Neff, 1941). To be sure, Texas is a large state, and undoubtedly had many high schools in the 1930’s. Although Baylor saw financial gains during this time and under Pat Neff’s tenure, offering a year’s worth of tuition to valedictorians or honor graduates from around the country was not feasible. Not wanting to lose out on a great student, Pat Neff goes on to offer the possibility that Baylor might be able to grant a partial scholarship or student employment to Ms. Talley to assist her in paying for Baylor (Neff, 1941). These offers show that Pat Neff had the authority to offer and grant special scholarships and student employment positions, and that he recognized that in order for Baylor to continue producing students of high character and service, special accommodations needed to be made for high-caliber high school students, regardless of geographic location.

Ministerial Scholarships

            Another scholarship offered to Baylor students during the era of 1931-1940 was explicitly for ministerial students. These students received free classroom tuition for the entirety of their Baylor career. In order to receive this scholarship, the student first had to prove that they had been licensed or ordained by a church organization by sending written evidence to Pat Neff (Neff, 1940b). Furthermore, after receiving written confirmation that the student was in fact ordained or licensed by a proper organization, Pat Neff would then meet with or communicate with the student to confirm the evidence that he had received (Neff, 1940b). This was a large scholarship, and proof of qualification was important to Pat Neff. His explanation to Mrs. Nicci James regarding the requirement for proof is as follows:

You can clearly understand, as provided in our catalog, that we must have some evidence form some kind of a religious organization that the person has been recognized in some way and vouched for as a ministerial student. If not, just any one could come along and enter here as a ministerial student without tuition. (Neff, 1940b)

It is unknown if students attempting to fraud Baylor out of tuition money was actually a reoccurring problem or if President Neff’s response was just a rhetorical euphemism to inform Mrs. James that Baylor needed proof.

Students who were under 21 and also the son or daughter of a minister were also given a scholarship. However, these students were only offered half tuition (Neff, 1934). The progeny benefitted from the services rendered to God and others by their parents. It is interesting that Pat Neff and the Baylor administration assumed that since the father was a minister that his values, beliefs, and character were innately found in his sons and daughters.

The scholarships offered to ministerial students were four times greater than those awarded to high school valedictorians. Although Baylor was desirous to recruit intelligent leaders, of utmost importance was the recruitment of students who would serve others and God through Christian ministry. Baylor being a Christian college, it is no wonder that these students were offered scholarships that covered four years worth of tuition. At its core, Baylor was dedicated to a Christian mission to spread the gospel, and these ministerial students represented “the motivating power of the religious activities on Baylor University’s campus” (Unknown Author). During the 1933-34 school year, there were 105 ministerial and missionary students on campus. These students held over 120 revival meetings, travelled over 200,000 miles while preaching over 6,000 sermons and baptizing 985 of the 1,226 converts. Importantly, these students also raised $15,893 for mission and church purposes (Unknown Author, Religious Life).

With the ministerial scholarship then, students were unencumbered by the prospect of paying for four years of undergraduate tuition, and were instead able to focus on the spiritual welfare of societies around the country and world. Seen in this light then, the price the university paid to educate these young men and women was miniscule in comparison to the spiritual benefits and notoriety the university received. Work done by these ministerial students away from Baylor’s campus in Waco might have also helped recruit future students who were drawn to the religious aspect that Baylor University offered. The revivals, Bible studies, “Sunday Schools, B. Y. P. U.’s, prayer meetings, and other organizations” led by these students assuredly impressed Baptist parents of rising high school seniors, and made Baylor a top higher education destination for the whole family (Unknown Author, Religious Life, n. d.). Undoubtedly, this scholarship helped Baylor recruit students that would go on to further its Christian mission throughout the nation and the world.

Merit Scholarships

            In addition to ministerial valedictorian scholarships, students were also granted scholarships based on merit or for specific accomplishments. Ruth Jones was offered “one-half tuition scholarship in Piano with Miss Grove” (Mixon, 1939). This scholarship was offered to Miss Jones “upon the recommendation of Miss Roxy Grove, Chairman of the School of Music” (Mixon, 1939).  Presumably, in order to receive a scholarship for musical ability, at least in piano, one had to be highly recommended by the chair of the music school.

Other scholarships for various achievements were also difficult to procure for students. In response to a request from Mrs. Fitzwilliam, a mother of a prospective student, President Neff responded with the following:

Baylor University does not grant scholarships, generally speaking, to Eagle Scouts. It is proper to say, however, that some individual Eagle Scout, in recognition of scholarship or for some other meritorious reason, may be granted a scholarship, but the Institution does not grant scholarships to all Eagle Scouts. (Neff, 1932)

An Eagle Scout is the highest honor one can achieve through the Boy Scouts. The administration, or at least President Neff, wanted students to show distinction above and beyond this award before granting a scholarship. To earn scholarship for meritorious achievement then, students had to impress either Pat Neff or someone in the faculty or administration that could provide a recommendation.

Baylor: A Training Camp

            Rhetoric used by President Pat Neff and the Baylor administration show that Baylor wished to create students who would devote themselves to lives of service to God and others while maintaining a humble yet positive outlook on the human condition and the future. In order to do this, the university encouraged “high-minded and strong-souled students” to attend by offering scholarships to those that they thought would “strengthen their bodies, minds, and hearts” at Baylor University, or, a “training camp for Christian citizenship” (Neff, President’s Report, n. d.). President Neff’s referral to Baylor as a “training camp” highlights the notion that he and the administration believed that students that attended Baylor would experience and benefit from a transformative education. By offering scholarships to talented, intelligent, and ministerial-minded high school students, President Neff and the administration believed that each incoming freshman class would be full of students ready to embrace and further Baylor’s mission and legacy.














Works Cited

Unknown Author. (1938 February 19). What of this Generation. [Speech given during Educational Hour in Waco Hall]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #5, Box #27, Folder #4). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Mixon, James T. (1939 August 23). [James Mixon response to scholarship request for Ruth Jones]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #4, Subseries #3, Sub-subseries #3, Box #132, Folder #8). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Dawson, J.M. (January 1940). Why Baylor University And Other Similar Higher Educational Institutions Make Our Great Leaders. [Analysis by J.M. Dawson at a Christian Education Conference]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #5, Box #101, Folder #9). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Neff P.M. (1940a July 1). [Pat Neff response to scholarship request]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #4, Subseries #17, Sub-subseries #1, Box #131, Folder #8). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Neff, P. M. (1941 May 16). [Pat Neff response to scholarship request for Ruth Talley]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #4, Subseries #17, Sub-subseries #1, Box #131, Folder #8). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Neff, P. M. (1934 August 20). [Pat Neff response to Doyle Whitt scholarship request]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #4, Subseries #3, Sub-subseries #5, Box #39, Folder #1). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Neff, P. M. (1932 December 30). [Pat Neff response to Mrs. J. P. Fitzwilliam scholarship request]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #4, Subseries #1, Sub-subseries #6, Box #8, Folder #1). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Neff, P. M. (1941 March 29). [James Mixon response to John Lucas scholarship request]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #4, Box #123, Folder #5). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Neff, P. M. (1940b September 16). [Pat Neff response to Nicci James scholarship request]. Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #4, Box #123, Folder #5). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Unknown Author. [The Religious Life of Baylor University] Pat M Neff Collection (Series #4, Box #99, Folder #12). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Unknown Author. Views and facts of Baylor university. [Recruiting pamphlet]. Pat M. Neff Collection. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Neff, P. M. [President’s report 1940-1941] Pat M. Neff Collection (Series #4, Subseries #17, Sub-subseries #7, Box #165, Folder #1). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Wood, James E., Jr. “The Legacy of the Joseph Martin Dawson (1879-1973).” Journal of Church and State, vol. 15, no. 3. (1973). 363-366.

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