Access at Baylor University from 1921-1930: The Significance of Expansion and National Relevance

By Katie Styles

Although the overall history of higher education is rich and ever changing, the years between 1890 and 1945 were a time of incredible growth for higher education institutions across the nation (Thelin, 2011).  More specifically, access and student enrollment dramatically increased.  When institutions for higher education were first established, they attracted few students and even fewer completed their degrees (Thelin, 2011). In addition, women and marginalized groups were not granted access to most schools until decades later. In the early 1900’s universities were now expanding, transforming, and creating accommodations for the increasing number of students and lots of transition occurred that brought the college culture into the new, more advanced era (Thelin, 2011). Enrollment numbers grew due in part to the increased number of high schools that were encouraging their students to apply to higher education institutions (Thelin, 2011). There were also more types of higher education institutions being established including junior colleges that provided a local and relatively inexpensive option for students hoping to transfer to a four-year university. Although going to college was still seen as a privilege due to tuition costs and few financial aid options, more and more students were starting to realize and take advantage of its benefits (Thelin, 2011). In 1925 over eight hundred thousand degrees had been conferred and that overall the future of higher education looked promising given its successful past. Nationally these results were applicable thus positioning higher education in a rewarding light (Baylor Monthly, 1925). Because attending college was gaining popularity, the process of standardized practices became common both within secondary schools and colleges (Brooks, 1926). In 1921 the National Conference Committee on Standards of Colleges and Secondary Schools created of criteria titled “Principles for Accrediting Colleges” that sought to normalize each institution’s practices and ensure that every school was providing the same high quality type of education for each of its students. The list contained twenty statements and covered many topics including ideal class size and method of instruction (Brooks, 1926).

Baylor University Thrives

During this time Baylor University was thriving in multiple areas. A local newspaper proclaimed, “The history of Baylor University reads like a romance” (Waco Farm and Labor Journal, 1927) and praised the institution for being co-educational and modern (Waco Farm and Labor Journal, 1927). Baylor was not only thriving during this time but was respected on a national scale. Baylor was also praised for its move to Waco, which was more accessible than its location in Independence, and its promising fundraising efforts (“Baylor’s Enduring Foundation”, Brooks).  Furthermore, Baylor confirmed its commitment to education by implementing a more focused and practically education in order to vocationally prepare its students (Brooks, 1925). Although this is a brief snapshot, this overall era was marked by institutional expansion, specifically in the areas of enrollment, facilities, colleges, and academic programs. These expansion efforts were due to Baylor responding to its demands and its commitment to remain a respected and relevant American institution during this time.

Enrollment Growth

  According to The Lariat, the student newspaper, overall student enrollment increased from one thousand seventy-five students in January 1920 (The Baylor Lariat, 1921, January 7) to one thousand three hundred and thirty-two students in September 1930 (The Daily Lariat, 1930, September 25). Only a couple of academic years experienced a decline in enrollment from the previous year and editors attributed this to a lacking economy (The Daily Lariat, 1926, January 28). Increased enrollments were also found within Master’s programs. In the 1913-1914 academic year only two Master’s degrees were conferred but in the 1924-1925 academic year eighteen Master’s degrees were granted (Brooks, 1925).

Brooks, T. D. (1925, May). “A decade of startling changes.” The Baylor Monthly, 1 (2), pp.1-2. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Overall enrollment trends proved that Baylor was growing and Baylor was eager to welcome larger numbers (The Baylor Lariat, 1922, October 5). Although Baylor was a multi-campus institution, Baylor was still rapidly growing and was highly regarded as an educational and co-curricular school.

Baylor’s History of Expansion

In order to fully understand the importance of Baylor’s growth during the 1920’s it is important acknowledge Baylor’s prior history. Baylor University was founded in 1845 in Independence, Texas and the Women’s Department was established shortly after that in 1850.  The creation of the Women’s Department identifies Baylor’s early commitment to equality within higher education (The Baylor Bulletin, 1930). In 1861 Waco University was established as a co-educational institution on the future site of Baylor University (The Baylor Bulletin, 1930).

In 1866 the Women’s Department transitioned into its own entity as Baylor Female College. Twenty years later in 1886 Waco University and Baylor University merged to create Baylor University at Waco, located on Waco’s University campus (The Baylor Bulletin, 1930). 1902 brought the inauguration of Samuel Palmer Brooks as the university’s president where he would remain for over twenty years. Brooks was instrumental in Baylor’s growth during this time period. Brooks saw successful expansion efforts come to fruition right at the start of his presidency. Brooks was very responsible for asserting Baylor’s relevant position within higher education but this will be discussed in further detail later. In 1903 the College of Medicine was established and 1904 brought along the College of Pharmacy (The Baylor Bulletin, 1930). In 1905 the Theological Seminary was established. The College of Dentistry was created in 1918 and shortly thereafter in 1920 both the School of Law and the School of Nursing were established (The Baylor Bulletin, 1930). 1921 brought the pursuit of academic artistry when the College of Fine Arts and the School of Music were both established. Finally, due to a sudden interest in business courses, Baylor built the School of Commerce and Business. Although some of these schools were in Dallas, the depth and breadth of available academic programs made Baylor stand out as a premier undergraduate institution. Although the relationship between institutional advancements and increased enrollment is complex and it cannot be explicitly determined if the increased enrollment spurred the institutional advancements or vice versa, these institutional advancements did help cement Baylor’s relevant position in Texas and in the region beyond.

Structural Growth

Baylor’s campus had to expand in order to meet the demands of the growing student body. According to the 1929 Baylor Bulletin the campus’s size was thirty acres but also acknowledged that it was constantly growing as programs expanded. Today many of the buildings from the 1920’s are still used, and for some the same purpose. Since women who were not local residents were required to live on campus there were four residences hall dedicated to female students: Burleson Hall, Burleson Annex, The Annexes, and Price Hall (The Baylor Bulletin, 1929). These halls provided female students with a place to rest, study, eat, and socialize with their peers. They were designed around community and aimed towards creating a safe place for Baylor’s female students (The Baylor Bulletin, 1929). In addition to these residence halls, there was the George W. Carroll Science Hall that contained laboratories, offices, and classrooms, the Main Building that housed classrooms and a auditorium, the F.L. Carroll Library which suffered fire damage during 1922 and was being rebuilt for the remainder of the decade as a fireproof library, and various athletics fields (The Baylor Bulletin, 1929).

In order to keep up with the demands of an expanding campus President Brooks presented to the General Baptist Convention of Texas on September 9, 1924 plan for a new residence hall for women (Brooks, 1924). Brooks stated that he regretted having to decline admission to prospective female students due to a lack of space and the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) was supportive enough to pledge their support in terms of fundraising and planning. Memorial Dormitory was built within a budget of $350,000.00 and lots of architects, contractors, electricians, plumbers, and other construction-based companies wanted to provide their business thus cementing Baylor’s status as a reputable university that servicemen from all over the country wanted to contribute to (Brooks, 1928). Although this residence hall had been in the works for years prior, the groundbreaking ceremony occurred on October 11, 1928.

Brooks, S.P. [Dedication of Memorial Dormitory Speech]. Memorial Dorm Correspondence (Box #2C77, Folder #291). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Due to Baylor’s faithful alumni and the work of the WMU, donations poured in to support this project and Brooks personally wrote every benefactor of letter of gratitude. Memorial Hall opened on October 15, 1930 and still functions as a residence hall today (The Daily Lariat, 1930, October 15).

Because this project received national attention from various companies and captured the attention of Texas because of the WMU’s involvement, the construction helped firm Baylor’s status and relevant position within higher education.

Changes in Academic Programs

Baylor University grew immensely during the 1920s because of its commitment to academic excellence and maintaining a positive reputation. Baylor focused its academic mission on providing programs and classes that would help students succeed in their post-collegiate professional journeys and, more specifically, their science program offered more classes that would enable students with practical skills and knowledge they would need post-graduation (Brooks, 1925). Furthermore, Baylor during the 1923-1924 academic year had 23 departments which stands in sharp contract to the 1913-1914 academic year when there were only 12 departments (Brooks, 1925). In ten short years Baylor had effectively responded to the academic needs of its students and secured its commitment to academics for external constituents and national publicity.

Samuel Palmer Brooks

Change was occurring rapidly at Baylor University. And, although it was unclear if increased enrollment influenced the institutional advancements or vice versa it was evident that Baylor was using this overall growth to its benefit in order to remain a relevant and respected American University. A lot of these changes were attributed to the hard work of Samuel Palmer Brooks, Baylor’s President during that time. Brooks stood as the leader and figurehead of Baylor University during the 1920’s and worked very hard to make Baylor an excellent academic institution for its student while also keeping the institution in its positive position on a national level. His general correspondence indicates how much he cared about Baylor University and his level of commitment to influence others to feel the same. In 1923 Brooks completed histwenty-first year as the university’s President and his noteworthy accomplishments were chronicled. Specifically, Brooks was acclaimed for the fact that Baylor boasted “more than 1,000 students above that of any other Baptist university” (Waco-Times Herald, 1923, August 23) and the new law school which cost $250,000 was considered to be at the same level as the state law school (Waco-Times Herald, 1923, August 23).

“Baylor’s progress in last 21 years.” Waco Times-Herald, 1923, August 26. (Brooks Papers, Box #2C68, Folder #184). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

The same article also states that Baylor is unable to house to all of its students (Waco-Times Herald, 1923, August 23). This fact was detrimental to the university in terms of accommodations but proves how popular Baylor was during this period. Even students who were unable to live on-campus sought housing elsewhere in order to attend the popular school. Brooks’ commitment to providing the proper residential facilities for Baylor’s students was discussed earlier with the construction of Memorial Hall. These accomplishments allow Baylor to stand out amongst many different types of universities nationwide but especially other Baptist institutions and law schools.

Concluding Thoughts

To fully analyze how the university functions and views itself today it is important to understand Baylor’s past. Brooks made decisions that still affect this institution. In order to effectively address its institutional demands and cement its position as a respected institution under Brooks’ helm Baylor University expanded its campus and learning programs for its increasing number of students. This snapshot of Baylor from 1921-1930 is related to access because Baylor needed to receive positive publicity in order to attract students and be considered reputable within higher education. Additionally, creating a positive on-campus experience was critical in order to retain students from year to year.  Overall the 1920s proved to be an incredible time of improvement and expansion for Baylor University.


“Baylor university and its history.” Waco Farm and Labor Journal, 1927, March 11, pp. 1-2. (Brooks Papers, Box #2C68, Folder #184). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

“Baylor’s progress in last 21 years.” Waco Times-Herald, 1923, August 26. (Brooks Papers, Box #2C68, Folder #184). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Baylor University (1930 October 15). Memorial dormitory ceremonies begin at 10:45 this morning. The Daily Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1930 September 25). Eight more enroll; Baylor med students enroll tomorrow. The Daily Lariat. p. 1.

Baylor University. (1925, April). “What the colleges are doing.” Baylor Monthly, 1 (1), p. 10. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. “Baylor’s enduring foundation.” (Brooks Papers, Box #2C68, Folder #184). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. (1924 September 9). [Minutes from Executive Board Baptist General Convention of Texas]. Memorial Dorm Correspondence (Box #2C77, Folder #290). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. (1928 October 3). [Letter to Mrs. Chas. D. Johnson]. Memorial Dorm Correspondence (Box #2C77, Folder #290). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. [Dedication of Memorial Dormitory Speech]. Memorial Dorm Correspondence (Box #2C77, Folder #291). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, T. D. (1926, January). “Standards and the colleges.” The Baylor Monthly, 1 (10), pp. 5-6. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, T. D. (1925, May). “A decade of startling changes.” The Baylor Monthly, 1 (2), pp.1-2. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Foster, W.S. (1921 January 7). Office figures show increase in enrollment. The Baylor Lariat, p. 1.

Hunt, T. T. ( 1922 October 5). Seventy-eighth session of Baylor opens with increase of studies over last year. The Baylor Lariat, p. 1.

Johnson, T.H. (1926 January 28). Increase percentage of ’24 and ’25 over ’13 and ’14 is 1005. The Daily Lariat. p. 1.

The Baylor Bulletin (1929).  The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, 32(2), Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Baylor Bulletin (1930).  The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, 33(2), Waco, TX: Baylor University.

Thelin, J.R. (2011).  A history of American higher education (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.