A Desire for High Prestige: The Symbiotic Relationship between Baylor University and her Students in the 1920s

By Melissa McLevain

*A special thank you to the staff at the Texas Collection and Carroll Library for their knowledge, time, and assistance in retrieving archival materials.

A Desire for High Prestige: The Symbiotic Relationship between Baylor University and her Students in the 1920s

When graduates of a particular institution accomplish great things in their profession, it reflects well on their alma mater. Both students and staff of Baylor University understood this fact well and made a point to reaffirm this overarching educational purpose in their annual yearbook, “For the public sees an institution through its graduates; it observes what they accomplish in their chosen profession, and it judges the institution accordingly” (Round Up, 1922, p. 237). In the 1920s, Baylor University worked to gain prestige as an institution in the eyes of the public and her potential students. Dr. C.D. Johnson, head of the Baylor school of commerce and business administration in the 1920s, challenged Baylor “to be to Waco what Yale is to New Haven, Chicago University to Chicago, Cornell University to Ithaca, New York and Columbia Universities to the city of New York” (Johnson, 1926). In an effort to accomplish this institutional goal of high prestige, Baylor administrators and faculty members focused on producing graduates who excelled in their desired careers. One way that Baylor was able to produce successful graduates was to recruit committed students and to then provide for them an environment that encouraged comfortable living, social opportunities, and academic mastery of a desired subject area or areas. Thus, one of Baylor’s incentives to meet student needs was a desire for institutional prestige.

In the context of institutional prestige, Baylor University administrators and professors did not create educational initiatives and programs as a direct response to assessed student needs, as is argued in the Student Personnel Point of View (SPPV) which came to the forefront later in the 20th century.  to create an environment conducive to the end product of successful graduates. The relationship between Baylor and her students was symbiotic: Baylor focused on creating a culture and an environment that would produce successful graduates, which then ultimately increased the University’s prestige. Both Baylor and the students benefitted in the process. Reflective of this symbiotic relationship, three areas influenced the student experience at Baylor in the 1920s: student housing, student organizations, and student curriculum. Each of these respective categories proves that Baylor University was interested in acquiring prestige through the creation of an environment that fostered student success. Furthermore, initiatives in each of these categories aimed at acquiring prestige simultaneously created benefits for students.

The Importance of Accomplished Graduates to Garner Institutional Prestige

Baylor University’s faculty and administration believed in the importance of institutional prestige during a time in America’s collegiate history that John Thelin entitles, “Success and Excess: Expansion and Reform in Higher Education” (2011, p.205).  Baylor’s desire to compete with other institutions in the creation of a success-driven collegiate culture is evidenced in the fact that both President Samuel Palmer Brooks and Professor A.J. Armstrong requested information from the Texas State Committee on Admissions from Higher Education regarding Baylor’s enrollment ranking in comparison with other similar schools (Brooks, 1924). In “A Short History of Baylor University,” the authors note, “The needs of the University are such as to challenge the support of Baptists everywhere; the worth of the education is such as to attract the select students from Texas and other parts of the country” (1927). It was important for Baylor to become a prestigious university because that meant not only financial support from Baptist affiliates, but it also allowed Baylor to recruit the best students. Similarly, it became clear that Baylor faculty and staff cared about Baylor’s standing in comparison with other “prestigious” universities during a discussion of the possibility of forming a graduate program at Baylor, “This final act will place Baylor University on a par with the leading universities in the north and east in graduate courses” (“History of Baylor University from 1845-1926,” 1926). In order for Baylor to be a university of the highest prestige in the 1920s, it had to become a place where students could learn the skills that would allow them to become the most successful professionals in their field. This is of utmost importance because, as noted above, “the public sees an institution through its graduates” (Round Up, 1922, p. 237).

Student Housing Afforded Students the Opportunity to Work and Play

Baylor University administrators of the 1920s understood that the first step in producing a successful graduate who would increase institutional prestige was recruiting a potentially successful student. Dean of Students, Dean Allen tells the Lariat, “The greater opportunities that Baylor will be able to offer her students are also drawing cards for students to come to Baylor” (1926).  One such opportunity is providing students a place to live on campus. Baylor University worked to recruit students by offering appealing options for student housing in the form of student dormitories.

College dormitories have served various roles in higher education throughout history, as at certain times they were merely homes for the poor while at other times they became the center of social life and student unity on campus (Cowley, 1934). It is clear that, in Baylor’s dormitories, Baylor faculty, staff, and administrators put effort into creating more than simply a building in which the poor could reside.

Two of Baylor’s female students enjoy leisure time in their dorm room in Georgia Burleson Hall. (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives).

In 1921, the Baylor Chamber of Commerce worked towards, “the improvement of present buildings and grounds of the university” (Baylor Bulletin, 1921). In order to accomplish this goal of refurbishment, Baylor invested in such organizations as the Women’s and Men’s Dorm Councils, respectively, to ensure that Baylor students had comfortable living environments. The work of the Women’s Dormitory Council was prominent in 1927 as one student wrote to the Lariat, “This is the year of advance for women’s interests at Baylor. This is the year for brick and mortar to rear fresh evidences of Baylor University’s loyalty toward its women” (Lariat, 1927). As a response to outdated dorm rooms, “containing five different linoleum patterns and two chairs, each built for a person under one hundred pounds,” as one student phrased it, Baylor worked to refurbish Georgia Burleson Hall with new stairwells and floors, improved closet spaces, and more bathrooms (Lariat, 1927).

In addition to remodeling preexisting dormitory buildings such as Georgia Burleson Hall for females, Baylor also worked to build new dormitory buildings for incoming students, both males and females. In 1921, Baylor University opened its first male dormitory building, Samuel Palmer Brooks Hall (Lariat, 1921).

S.P. Brooks Hall just after its opening in 1921. (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives).

In an effort to market the building to both students and parents, the 1921 Baylor Bulletin stressed the cleanliness of the building, the fact that it was fireproof, and that there was a cafeteria close by. Marketing efforts were met with great approval as after only two years of being open, not only was Brooks Hall filled to capacity, but a waiting list comprised of several students became necessary (Lariat, 1921).

Additionally, by 1927, Baylor had raised $158,518 towards the building of a new dormitory that would be named Memorial Hall (Lariat, 1927). Baylor University administrators such as President Samuel Palmer Brooks and Dean of Women, Irene Marshall, showed their commitment to providing sound housing options for their students by forming a housing committee that traveled to nearby Southwestern University and Texas University at Austin in order to ensure that Baylor’s Memorial Hall would compete with dormitory buildings at rival institutions.

Baylor University’s initiative to provide competitive student housing options worked simultaneously as a strong recruiting tool to increase the enrollment of select students while also creating social opportunities for students. Evidence of the positive social repercussions of dormitory life are obvious in the fact that it was not a requirement for all students to live on campus in the 1920s, yet many chose to anyway (Wilbanks, 1979). Student Blonda Weatherby recalls that the male and female dorms, Brooks Hall and Burleson Hall, respectively, seemed to encourage social interaction among males and females because they were located close together geographically (Woodward, 1976). Weatherby reflects on memories with her roommate in Georgia Burleson Hall, “It was a great big home-like building, you know…But Nell and I were roommates, and we were always doing silly, funny things, you know. Well, it was a great life.” (Woodward, 1976, p.31-2). Similarly, student Mary Kemendo remembers the student excitement placed around the social opportunities inherent within dormitory life at Brooks Hall:

“When they built that building, it was a sight. It was really a prize because that was the first dorm for boys. They hadn’t had—the boys didn’t have a place to live. They were thrilled to death to get that building. And I told you about how they served root beer at a bar there for the opening” (2004, p.397).

Students of the 1920s were eager to live among their peers in Baylor’s dormitory buildings.

Baylor’s dormitory buildings afforded students the opportunity to socialize and study as Weatherby also recalls a considerable amount of time spent studying with her roommates in Georgia Burleson hall under the motherly eye of Burleson hall staff members, “I’d have to get up about two in the morning. I never would have passed the course. But we had a great time. Many times when we were facing finals, we’d all agree to go to bed early and get up, and even Ma Woods…she would let us have a little hot plate, and we’d fix soup and something and then study. We’d be real quiet and study the rest of the morning” (Woodward, 1976, p.19). Thus, one motivating factor for the improvement and expansion of student housing was Baylor’s desire to recruit the best, most select students, and provide for them a living environment that encouraged both academic and social success. In return, these students would persist to eventually become successful professionals who then reflected well on Baylor as an institution. Both Baylor’s and the students’ needs were met.

Student Organizations Gave Students the Opportunity to Shape Their Own Experiences

In an effort to create an extra-curricular environment that fostered student success, the large majority of Baylor University’s student organizations in the 1920s were student led and student run. This institutional freedom encouraged Baylor students to take responsibility for their own collegiate experiences through the creation of desired and appropriate student organizations. In turn, because students took ownership of their own educational experiences, they learned transferable skills such as the ability to efficiently manage both resources and time that would eventually help them succeed in their professional endeavors.

By giving prominence to the Baylor Student Self-Government Association, Baylor administrators allowed students the opportunity to be part of the formation of their own campus culture. In the 1921 Baylor Round Up Yearbook, the president of the Student Self-Government Association reflected, “Baylor University is, in reality, a miniature republic in which government for the students and by the students is the basic principle. As the Varsity grows, it is necessary that the self-government association have a proportionate development. Each year marks the introduction of new and progressive methods adapted to the interest of student welfare” (p.21). Student leaders created many such organizations, aimed at improving the opportunities within student life at Baylor. Examples of student organizations chartered in the 1920s include: the Baylor University Yell Leaders (1920), the Baptist Student Union (1920), the NoZe Brothers (1926), and the Freshmen Student Organization (1928). The senior class of 1927 introduced Round Table Teas in an effort to improve relationships between faculty and students. A senior class representative commented, “The Teas are given in the hope that a closer fellowship may exist between the students and faculty, and that there may be a mutual interchange of ideas” (Lariat, 1927).  These new additions, along with the numerous student organizations already existent at Baylor prior to the 1920s, including 4 Literary Societies, 2 for men and 2 for women, (Baylor Bulletin, 1922), prove that Baylor students were active in creating a campus culture that encouraged learning and involvement both inside and outside of the classroom.

Students from Brooks Hall take a study break to participate in a game of Ping Pong. (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives).

Students, in turn, benefitted from the increase in social opportunities and academic reinforcement. Although organizations such as the Baylor University Yell Leaders encouraged social belonging on campus, other organizations, such as the 4 campus literary societies, encouraged academic reinforcement (Lariat, 1927). One student wrote in the school newspaper, “Ever hear of so many entertainments in any one term before? There have been a thousand and one things to go to each week thus far…” (Lariat, 1921).

Additionally, though it was student led and student run, Baylor University administrators and faculty members supported and encouraged the Student Self-Government Association. Dean W.S. Allen was responsible for organizing the first all freshmen meeting which eventually turned into the Freshmen Student Organization (Lariat, 1928). In the same vein, Dean of Women Irene Marshall was credited for organizing numerous All-Student Socials on Friday evenings (Lariat, 1921).

Burleson Quadrangle is decorated for a social event. (Courtesy of Baylor University Archives).

Many students of the time were encouraged by the sense of unity that formed between faculty and students as a result of faculty partnership with the Student Self-Government Association and other student organizations (Woodward, 1976).

In a letter to the former president of the Student Self-Government Association, J.L. Boggs, Baylor president Samuel Palmer Brooks requests, “I very much hope that the student body will grant the suggestion and make a law, as the Faculty has recommended, concerning those who cheat on examinations” (Brooks, 1923). It is clear, from this example, that student leaders were granted the utmost autonomy in creating a culture for their peers. However, faculty generally supported the actions of organizations created and run by the student body and the Student Self-Government Association (Brooks, 1927). President Samuel Palmer Brooks showed his appreciation of student organizations in a letter to the Alpha Omega Fraternity, “…from the beginning I have watched [your] work with care and approval. [You] have had the interests of the institution at heart and have on many occasions served a worthy purpose” (1927). The Student-Self Government Association, by encouraging students to take responsibility for their own actions, created a more cordial relationship among Baylor students and faculty that contrasted the national educational trends of the 1920s, which suggested a tense faculty-student relationship characterized by student rebellion and defiance of faculty authority (Thelin, 2011).

Baylor University’s initiative to create an educational environment in which student organizations were both student led and student run simultaneously functioned to create a campus culture that fostered professional success while also benefitting students by allowing them to exercise ultimate autonomy over the social aspects of their collegiate experience at Baylor. By taking control of their own affairs, students learned skills such as time and resource management, as well as the ability to assess and respond to unmet needs of the student body. Students then had the capability to transfer these skills from the realm of their collegiate experiences into the realm of their professional lives. Thus, the practice of student led, student run organizations represents another way that Baylor responded to student needs while also working towards higher institutional prestige. Baylor responded to the students’ need for social belonging and academic reinforcement by enabling students to take responsibility for their own collegiate experiences through the creation of student organizations and certain campus policies. This created an environment that both built strong student leadership skills and encouraged community among students, which, in turn, positively influenced student persistence and professional success. Both Baylor and her students benefitted.

A Variety of Curricular Offerings Encouraged Both Academic Mastery and Creativity

Of the utmost importance, above student housing and student organizations, is the educational experience that Baylor was able to offer her students. Though the benefits were endless, the ultimate end to a formal education in the 1920s was academic mastery for professional gain (Thelin, 2011). Baylor University administrators and faculty created Baylor’s curriculum in such a way that it could respond to the unique intellectual desires of its students. Additionally, Baylor’s highly credentialed team of faculty members in the 1920s encouraged students to work towards academic mastery in their particular field of study. If achieved, academic mastery of a particular area gave students the skills necessary to succeed in meeting their professional goals, which then directly increased Baylor’s prestige.

In an effort to produce as many competent and professionally able students as possible, Baylor recruited highly credentialed faculty members and was proud of it, “…it is a source of pride to the Baptist brotherhood throughout the denomination that there are more men and women in the faculty who hold advanced degrees than ever before” (“History of Baylor University from 1845-1926,” 1926). Additionally, one headline from the Baylor Lariat reads, “Many Baylor PROFS return: Some receive higher degrees” (1921). Students benefitted from the opportunity to learn from highly educated faculty members by achieving high academic success. Dean W.S. Allen commended his Baylor Bears when in 1926 he wrote, “247 will receive commendation for grades in spring: Scholastic percentage is continuing toward higher mark” (Lariat, 1926). At that time, recognition for good grades went to those students averaging a B plus or higher (Lariat, 1926).

Both professors and administrators worked diligently to provide well-equipped research laboratories in an effort to create a learning environment that would prepare students interested in the study of the sciences to succeed as professionals (Baylor Bulletin, 1922). Additionally, curriculum offerings were further expanded through the re-opening of the Baylor School of Law in October of 1920 (Baylor Bulletin, 1921).

Baylor University’s first law classes took place in the basement of Carroll Science Center, pictured above. (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives).

In an effort to attract male students who might be taking their tuition dollars elsewhere due to the lack of a formal law degree at Baylor, President Samuel Palmer Brooks scouted the country for a new Dean of Law at Baylor. He found Dr. Allen Flowers. Under the leadership of Dr. Flowers, Baylor Law School’s first class upon its reopening graduated 25 male students (Lariat, 1928). In a second example of expanded curricular opportunities, Baylor opened a business school in 1923, the Baylor School of Commerce and Business Administration (Lariat, 1923). In “A Brief History of the Baylor Business School,” (1926), authors note, “…America was recovering from World War I and enrollment was down. President Brooks was dedicated to raising the academic standing of the University, and believed expanding the curriculum and academic opportunities by creating a business school at Baylor was essential.” President Brooks worked to ensure that the Business School was up to par with competing universities, “In line with the University of Missouri, University of Texas, [and the] University of Pennsylvania, the degree will be withheld until a sufficient number of majors are piled up for the coveted degree…it is expected that several students will qualify for the degree next year” (Lariat, 1923). Additionally, an article in the Lariat suggests, of the new head of the Department of Accounting and Auditing within the Business School, “Professor Condray comes to Baylor University as the new man in the new school, bringing that high scholarship characteristic of the University of Chicago graduates and professors” (1923). The Baylor School of Commerce and Business Administration both helped to increase institutional prestige and to meet the needs of students by offering such a “coveted” (Lariat, 1923) degree.

Faculty and administrators were very receptive of student curricular needs, which, in turn, helped make a strong case in both parents’ and students’ minds for the high quality of the educational experience at Baylor. Furthermore, Baylor expanded its capability to recruit highly qualified students through the implementation of mail-in assignments and athletic scholarships (Baylor Bulletin, 1921; Lariat, 1921). Expanded access, as well as variety of course offerings at Baylor, led by highly qualified professors, both increased the amount of students who enrolled at Baylor as well as the amount of students who completed their degrees at Baylor, which in turn, increased Baylor’s prestige.

Baylor University’s initiative to create a strong and varied curriculum simultaneously encouraged academic mastery, which then equated into professional success, while also benefitting students by fostering student appreciation for the educational experience as more than just a means to an end. One student wrote in The Lariat, “Students should strive to do more than just “get by” or pass classes. “The disposition to “get by” without the acquiring of the amount of real training to properly function in after years should be strongly discouraged…While passing courses is a thing that should be uppermost in the minds of the students, mere passing in the end does not count for much” (1927). Although a degree would have sufficed if a student simply wanted to obtain a job after graduation, students appreciated the opportunity to reallylearn at Baylor. Students even risked their own lives to save their books from Carroll Library as it burned to the ground after an unforeseen fire sparked in 1922.

Carroll Library after the tragic fire of 1922. (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives).

In response, faculty and staff were quick to reallocate the various books to study rooms of each dormitory so that students would still have access to them while the library was being reconstructed (Baylor Bulletin, 1922). Thus, Baylor’s commitment to hiring highly trained faculty members represents yet another way that Baylor met the academic needs of students while also working to gain institutional prestige.

Conclusion: Students Benefit as a Result of Baylor’s Desire to Gain Prestige

Student Billie Herring wrote to President Brooks, “On this, my graduation day at Baylor, I am going to try to express to you my appreciation for the two years I have had at Baylor. They have meant more than you know to me. I feel that I shall always do better work wherever I am for having my work here” (Brooks, 1926). Students such as Billie were influenced not only by the classes that they were in, but also by the building that they lived and slept and studied in, as well as the student organizations in which they participated. It is because of these unique elements that Baylor University was able to recruit and graduate successful professionals. And because “the public sees and institution through its graduates…and judges the institution accordingly,” (Round Up, 1922, p. 237), Baylor was ultimately able to achieve its goal of high institutional prestige while simultaneously responding to the needs of the student body.

Baylor’s consideration of institutional prestige represents one way that Baylor worked to meet the needs of her students. President Samuel Palmer Brooks wrote to the graduating class of 1931, “I know now that life has been a summary of that which was taught me first as a student here. As my teachers have lived through me so I must live through you… hold these college years close in your hearts and value them at their true worth” (Brooks, 1931). Because of Baylor’s desire to be considered a highly prestigious university, students like Billie had the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in their collegiate experience by living on campus, creating their own student organizations, and obtaining academic mastery of a desired subject area. In the context of institutional prestige in the 1920s, the relationship between Baylor University and her students was symbiotic.  



Brooks, S.P. (1921). [Letter to Faculty]. (Accession Box #2C, Folder #74). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. (1923). [Letter to J.L. Boggs]. (Accession Box #2C, Folder #74). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. (1924, March 26). [Letter from A.J. Armstrong]. Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers. (Accession Box #2C, Folder #73). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. (1926, June 9). [Letter from Billie Herring]. (Accession Box #2C, Folder #70). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. (1926, October 28). [Letter from K.L. Carter]. Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers (Accession Box #2C, Folder #70). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. (1927, February 10). [Letter from S.P. Brooks]. Samuel Palmer Brooks Papers. (Accession Box #2C, Folder #74). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. (1931, May). Immortal Message. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco,   TX.

Cowley, W.H. (1934). The history of student residential housing. School and Society, 40(1040),705-764.

History of Baylor University from 1845-1926. (1926). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Interview of Blonda Alexa Weatherby Woodward by Estelle Owens. Waco and McLennan County Project, 1976. Baylor Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX.

Interview of Eulalie Trice Carroll Wilbanks by Kelly Sue Rodgers. Waco and McLennan County Project, 1979. Baylor Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX.

Interview of Mary Kemendo Sendon by Lois E. Myers. Waco and McLennan County Project,1994. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX.

Interview of Miriam Helen Pool Baldwin by Blakie LeCrone. Waco and McLennan County Project, 1976. Baylor Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX.

Johnson, C.D. (1926). A Comparison of the Histories of Baylor University, Harvard University    and Yale University. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

The Baylor Bulletin (1920). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Baylor Bulletin (1921). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Baylor Bulletin (1922). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

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

The Lariat (1921, January 4). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Lariat (1921, January 27). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Lariat (1921, March 10). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Lariat (1923, October 17). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Lariat (1926, July 1). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Lariat (1927, January 27). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Lariat (1927, May 31). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Lariat (1928, April 4). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Lariat (1928, October 23). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

Thelin, J. R. (2011). A history of American higher education. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

The Round Up. (1921). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, 1, Waco, TX: Baylor University.

The Round Up. (1922). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, 2, Waco, TX: Baylor University.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *