Baylor University: Sentiments Toward Non-Baptist Students, 1900-1920

Baylor University: Sentiments Toward Non-Baptist Students, 1900-1920

Baylor University has always been a proud, unapologetically Christian institution of higher education. The religious nature of the school has been present since it was charter by the Republic of Texas at the bequest of the Union Baptist Association.  It is from this origin that Baylor developed its strong sense of devotion to the Christian faith and commitment to educate its students through the lens of Christianity.  This devotion has continued due to a tie to the Baptist church that continues to this day.  This paper will examine how this strong tie to Baylor’s Baptist heritage affected enrollment and treatment of both non-Christian students and non-Baptist Christian students in the time period from 1900 to 1920.

Baylor Commitment to Christianity as a Whole

            To understand the enrollment numbers and treatment of non-Baptist students during this time period, one must study the way that Baylor presented itself and its devotion to is Christian heritage. Baylor’s commitment can be seen in publications, such as the Baylor Bulletin, where the university would often report on the number of Christian versus non-Christian students enrolled at the school.  Baylor was also the home to a Bible school that would take place every summer in addition to the normal school year.  Students were expected to attend chapel services on a daily basis and many student organizations had specific Christian purposes like the Students’ Christian Association or choir groups or the Annual Revival.  All of these were expected to advance the Christian education of the students and make them into good upstanding Christians who would become future leaders in their churches and communities as a result of the Christian education they received at Baylor.

Baylor’s Commitment to its Baptist Roots

            It is obvious the Baylor was wholeheartedly committed to its Christian roots during this time period, it is important to also look at its commitment to the Baptist denomination specifically. To understand the way that Baylor thought about its own Baptist heritage and what that meant for the university, one only needs look as far as the first page of the Baylor Bulletin from 1901.  The Baylor Bulletin was an annual publication on all things Baylor and kept alumni and the community as a whole up to date on Baylor.  The first page of the 1901 bulletin has the beginnings of an essay by President Oscar H. Cooper who says:

The Baptists emerged from the obscurity of a thousand years with a doctrine new to civilization, but destined, under God’s guiding hand, to reorganize society and thus create a new era in the worlds’ history.  This was the doctrine that man is responsible for his religious faith to God alone.  Wherever Baptists appear in history…we find them maintaining with marvelous clearness of thought and inflexible firmness of conviction this great truth of soul-liberty…The revelation of this transcendent truth came not to great reformers-not to Luther nor to Calvin, not to Melanchton nor to Knox. (Cooper, 1901)

 

Cooper, and therefore Baylor, obviously holds the heritage and history of the Baptist denomination in very high esteem.  He says that under God’s guiding hand the Baptists were the people who emerged from the thousand years of obscurity that were the Dark Ages and brought a new doctrine to all of civilization.  God guided the Baptists to reorganize society and through that reorganization of society bring about a new era in the history of the world.  Those are very large statements and the way that Cooper retells the history it seems more like a legend than of an actual historical account.  His goal here was not to recount the facts, but to lift the Baptists and their doctrine and mission.  More than simply praise the history and foresight of his own denomination, Cooper goes on to mention some of the major players in other Christian denominations and their inability to see the truth that is so obvious to Baptists.  Christianity is true, and of the Christian denominations, Baptists have the best grasp on that truth.

This placement of Baptist before other denominations can be seen in other places as well, like in speech notes from Samuel Palmer Brooks, Baylor’s president from 1902 to 1931.  While speech notes do not tell the whole story and can easily be taken out of context because we cannot hear the speaker actually give the speech, there are some very interesting things in Brooks’ speech notes in relation to Baptists versus other Christian denominations.  One of these is from a speech on higher education where the following notes are included: “Mexico [and] ignorance.  Catholics [and] [ignorance].  Baptists [and] Knowledge” (Brooks, “Speech on Christian education”). These nine words are pretty telling and once again it seems that the point of this section of the speech is to highlight knowledge of Baptists versus the ignorance of Catholics.  In addition, the underlining was not added for emphasis but rather was present in Brooks’ original speech notes.  This shows the importance he must have felt in relating the connection between Baptists and knowledge to his audience.  He wished to relate and enforce the idea that Baptists had the purest version of the truth and knowledge from God and that Baylor was committed to standing by this knowledge and truth before anything else.

It is because of this strong belief and commitment to the Baptist denomination that Baylor saw itself and other Baptist schools as “perhaps the greatest single stronghold for good now before Texas Baptists” because of their ability to help sharpen intellects (Baylor Bulletin, 1906).  It is the goal and the calling of Baylor and everyone associated with Baylor to convey the truths of the Baptist denomination to the future generations.  Educating the future pastors and Baptist businessmen and businesswomen is the will of God and vision of Baylor University.  The education of the future generations of Baptists is what the larger Baptist community wanted as well.  This can be seen in the way that Baylor continued to present itself as an institution for the preservation and furthering of the Baptist people throughout this time period through publications like the Baylor Bulletin.

Enrollment of Non-Baptist Students

            Baylor has always been proud of its Baptist heritage, but it did exclude or reject students as a result of their religious or denominational background during this time period.  Because Baylor allowed non-Baptist and in fact non-Christian students to enroll, there were a small number of both populations at Baylor throughout this time period.  In the 1911 Baylor Bulletin, it was reported that of the 892 total students enrolled at Baylor, 775 were Christian and 117 were not.  Of those 775 Christian students, 682 were Baptist (Baylor Bulletin, 1911).  Those numbers equate to 87% of the student body being Christian and 76.5% being Baptist.  Of the other Christian denominations, Methodists were the next most represented group with 52 students while Catholics were one of the least represented groups with only two students identifying themselves as Catholic.

As the size of the student population grew, the percentage of the student population that was Christian grew as well.  Using statistics taken from more of Brooks’ speech notes from 1920, we see that the student population grew to 1077 students, 95.7% of which identified themselves as Christians.  The fact that this information comes directly from Brooks’ speech notes means that it was important enough to him to put the percentage of Christian and Baptist students enrolled at Baylor and to then relate that information to whatever group he was speaking to on that particular day.  This means that while in 1911, 117 students were classified as non-Christian, this number dropped to 46 students in 1920 even though the student population grew by almost 300 students.  At the same time, the percentage of students who identified themselves as Baptists fell from 76.5% in 1911 to 75.2% in 1920.  This is not a very large drop in percentages, and means that while 210 students weren’t Baptist in 1911, 267 students considered themselves non-Baptist in 1920.  In a time period where the student population only grew about 20% over a nine-year period, a growth of 57 students is significant.

Sentiments Toward Non-Baptist Students

            After establishing the presence of non-Baptist and non-Christian students at Baylor during the time period between 1900 and 1920, it now is important to explore the way they were treated by their fellow, Baptist, majority students.  The Baylor Lariat, the student newspaper, is a very good source of knowledge on the mentality and thoughts of the student body.  One major story that occurred during this time period that can give us insight into the sentiments towards non-Baptist denominations was the splitting of Vanderbilt University from the Methodist Church.  This story was reported in the Lariat on July 23, 1910 (link) and the language used in the reporting could easily be described as condescending.  The article reports that because of by-laws written into the original charter of Vanderbilt University and subsequent changes to those by-laws, the board of trustees at Vanderbilt had grown more and more distant from the Methodist Episcopal Church until the two could only be described as separate from each other.  The article starts by referring to the situation as “the same old story” and that the “fatal defect was over-looked in laying the foundation” of the school (Robertson, 1910).  What’s more, the article reports that many Baptist institutions faced similar problems a few years before but that “in due time, it was wisely foreseen, and the remedy applied” (Robertson, 1910).  The article reports that the Texas Baptist Education Commission was founded after the mistake was fixed.  The fact that the article starts by highlighting that Baptist institutions were able to overcome the same problem years before points to the superiority of the Baptist mind once again.  It could be reasonably argued that the thesis of the article could be that the Baptists were able to solve the problems that other denominations were falling victim to still today.  The fact that Methodist students were the largest contingent of Christian, non-Baptist students at this time means that undoubtedly this article did not go over well with a good portion of the student population.  The facts were reported well, but it was the way that both Baptists and Methodists were characterized in the article that gives us insight into the sentiments of Baptist students towards Methodists students.

Sentiments Towards Non-Christian Students

            Non-Baptist students undoubtedly felt negative sentiments from the Baptist majority during this time period, but it was much worse for the small contingent of non-Christian students.  Once again, the best place to look to find examples of these sentiments is in the student newspaper, the Baylor Lariat.  With other Christian denominations it was necessary to look at the tone of the language used in reporting, this was often not necessary when other religions were mentioned.  For example, the following is a direct quote from the third page of the May 20, 1920 edition of the Baylor Lariat:

An Irishman once met a Jew and during their conversation Mike asked Cohen the following question:

“Why is a Jewish synagogue like an orange?”

After thinking for quite a while Cohen gave it up whereupon the Irishman began to laugh and replied:

“It’s full of Jews (juice).” (Anonymous, 1920) (link)

While it is obvious that this is a joke and not necessarily intended to belittle the Jewish religion or race, it accomplishes just that.  This joke is void of all tact and not only attacks a different religion, Judaism, but also a different ethnic group as well, the Irish.  If anything, it puts forward the notion that the Irish are anti-Semitic.  The Jew in this joke, besides being the one who has to hear the joke firsthand, is no more than the brunt of the joke.  While the joke can be seen as harmless at first and not really anything more than a pun, it would seem very unlikely that the Lariat would run a joke or a story that belittles Baptists in the same way that this joke belittles the Jewish people.  Their houses of worship are no more than an orange in this joke and they are no more than the juice inside the orange.  The fact that Mike is specified as an Irishman instead of being of unspecified cultural background is a whole other issue but does not relate directly to the treatment and sentiments towards other religious backgrounds.  There are many other examples from Lariats during this time period where the word Jew is synonymous with shop owner or businessperson, which only furthers the stereotypes attached to the Jewish people.  This does not include the many instances where the word “Arab” is used in a negative light and with a negative connotation that can be found in early editions of the Baylor Lariat.

On top of being the brunt of jokes during their time at Baylor, some students of different religious backgrounds were also the targets of conversion.  While it makes sense that the Christian students at Baylor would believe it their responsibility to reveal their non-Christian classmates to the truths of Christianity, it would appear to also be the desire of the administration and those with interest in the university.  Like many other statistics reported in the annual Baylor Bulletin, one could find statistics on the number of students converted to Christianity during the past school year.  For example, in the 1900-1901 school year, 75 students were converted (Baylor Bulletin, 1901).  While it is not know the ways in which students were led to these conversions, it would seem that if students of other religious backgrounds were often the brunt of jokes in the student newspaper, that the tactics for converting them to Christianity might not have been the most delicate or respectful.

Other religions, along with other Christian denominations, were often portrayed in a negative light in the Lariat during the period of 1900 to 1920.  The main difference between the portrayal of these two groups is that often the negative portrayal of other Christian denominations was much more subtle and a full understanding and knowledge of the situation and the tone used, while the language used to portray other religious backgrounds was more obligatory and obvious.  Examples of the negative portrayals of both groups can be found throughout the whole time period.

Partnerships with Other Denominations

            Finally, the last way to observe the devotion and commitment to the Baptist denomination affect the way that Baylor operated during this time period is through cooperation between Baylor and schools of non-Baptist heritage.  The best way we can investigate this issue is through the personal correspondences of Samuel Palmer Brooks.  President Brooks had correspondences during this time period with the Interchurch World Movement of North America calling for the “consultation and cooperation of with the leaders of nearly all evangelical churches” to help take advantage of the greatest religious opportunity of the generation.  The letter is asking for help in planning the convention that is take place sometime in the spring of 1920.  President Brooks’ response is short and to the point stating that he cannot help with the planning of the convention nor does he want to join the Interchurch World Movement.  His reasoning for his lack of interest is that the Interchurch World Movement “does not appeal to [him] so much as the work now being done by the Baptists in their organized capacity” (Brooks, 12/10/1919).  He goes on to say that he doesn’t think the plans of the IWM will ultimately lead to the experience of the truth.  This is an example of the strong Baptist heritage limited Baylor and its administration for making connections and partnerships with schools and organizations of different denominations.

Conclusions

            In conclusion, the strong ties to the Christian Church, and specifically the Baptist denomination led to an overwhelmingly Christian and Baptist student body during the time period of 1900 to 1920.  There was a small majority of non-Baptist and non-Christian students at Baylor during this time period however.  Treatment of these religious minority students by the majority Baptist students was not always the best and students of different religious heritage were often the brunt of jokes or insensitive remarks in the student newspaper.  Students of different Christian denominations often experiences negative sentiments as well, just not as obvious as non-Christian students.

These negative sentiments toward non-Baptist students stem from Baylor’s religious heritage and the strong ties the school had with the Baptist church during this time period.   The university and its administration often perpetuated negative sentiments towards these students.  For example, Brooks compares the ignorance of Catholics with the knowledge of Baptists, which directly undermines Catholics and their beliefs.  The university would also highlight the number of students that were converted to Christianity during any one academic year and publish that number in the annual Baylor Bulletin.  These actions and attitudes by the university and administration certainly contributed to the negative sentiments that students expressed towards non-Baptist students.  Had the university not portrayed non-Baptist students in a negative light, it would be unlikely that students would have done so as well.  The students simply emulated the culture of Baylor that was preserved by the school and its administration.  This was a culture of negativity towards other religions and other Christian denominations.

References

Anonymous. May 20, 1920.  Pg 9. An Irishman once met a Jew… Baylor Lariat. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/5755/rec/1

Baylor Bulletin. 1901. Pg 76. Texas Collection. Baylor University. Waco, TX.

Baylor Bulletin. 1906. Pg 13. Texas Collection. Baylor University. Waco, TX.

Baylor Bulletin. 1911. Pg 17. Texas Collection. Baylor University. Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. Letter to A. H. Elliot. Jan. 22, 1920. Texas Collection. Box 397. Baylor University. Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. Letter to J. Campbell White. Dec. 10, 1919. Texas Collection. Box 397. Baylor University. Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. “Speech on Baylor.” Page 3. Texas Collection. Box 54. Baylor University. Waco, TX.

Brooks, S.P. “Speech on Christian education.” Page 2. Texas Collection. Box 54.  Baylor University. Waco, TX.

Cooper, O.H. Baylor Bulletin. 1901. Texas Collection. Baylor University. Waco, TX

Robertson, J.M. July 23, 1910. Pg 2. The lesson of the Vanderbilt incident. Baylor Lariat. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/4374/rec/1

White, J.C.  Letter to Samuel Palmer Brooks. Dec. 4, 1919.  Texas Collection.  Box 397.  Baylor University. Waco, TX.

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