The Christian Culture of Baylor University: 1900-1920

By Caroline Clark

*A special thank you is given to the staff at The Texas Collections at the Carroll Library for assistance in retrieving archival material for review – in particular to the archivist Amanda Norman for graciously extending her time, patience, and expertise.

From its founding in 1845, Baylor University has sought to overcome the tension between Christian and secular forces in higher education. Marsden (1992) describes the secularization of American higher education as “the transformation from an era when organized Christianity and explicitly Christian ideals had a major role in the leading institutions of higher education to an era when they have almost none” (p. 5). The early twentieth century marked the movement away from Christian ideals (Stamm, 2003). In the context of secularization, Baylor’s Baptist identity has continuously distinguished it from other institutions. Swezey and Ross (2012) define institutional identity as a “university’s ability to provide a coherent narrative that effectively explains its past allows current stakeholders to take meaningful actions in light of that identity” (p. 96). In an address to students and alumni, Samuel Palmer Brooks, beloved student and 1903-1931 Baylor president, boldly illuminated the Baylor identity:

Baylor has yet another ideal, higher than all the rest, and around which all the rest revolve. She believes that the highest form of education is impossible if it be not Christian. She believes that the salvation of the individual, the home, the church, the state, all institutions, depends upon the Christian religion. She believes that no conscience can be given adequate vitality and vigor that does not feed at the breast of religion. Without apology, therefore, she holds that education is partial and imperfect, leaving its possessor morally crippled, which overlooks man’s religious relations (Brooks, 1910).

Paralleled with Swezey and Ross’ (2012) definition of institutional identity, Brooks defines Baylor’s identity in relation to its past and inspires action “in light of that identity” (Swezey & Ross, 2012, p. 96). Brooks claims that education and faith are intertwined at Baylor. To validate his claim that Christian faith is the ideal “around which all the rest revolve” (Brooks, 1910), it is necessary to define the culture of Baylor during the early twentieth century. Whereas identity implies a defined relationship, culture speaks much deeper into the true values and beliefs of the university. Culture reveals what truly matters beneath the surfaced identity. This paper demonstrates, through the exploration of its Christian culture, that in the time period of 1900-1920 Baylor University prided itself on its exclusively Baptist relations and Christian education.

Christian Culture of Baylor University

Schein (2004) defines culture of a university in three levels: artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions. Artifacts “include all the phenomena that one sees, hears, and feels when one encounters a new group with an unfamiliar culture” (Schein, 2004, p. 25). Espoused values are the “explicitly articulated” values and beliefs of a university, which reflect how it chooses to be perceived (Schein, 2004, p. 29). The basic underlying assumptions strike the core of the university culture. They embody the non-negotiable terms of acceptance and congruency within the culture. To recognize to these unspoken principles allows a historian to glimpse the true culture of an institution. This paper will reveal the Christian culture of Baylor University in the early twentieth century by examining the artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions of its constituents.

Artifacts – The Baylor Bulletin

Artifacts reveal what is shown. Artifacts include any publication, structure, or tradition that would orient an “outsider” to the university’s culture. The Baylor Bulletin was an annual publication for all university constituents that described the academic requirements and course offerings, information on student life, and student expectations. To a campus outsider, the Bulletin provided insight to the values of the institution. By analyzing its contents, the initial framework of culture can be established.

Baylor University associated itself, first, with the Baptist denomination and, second, with Christian education. This opening statement to the “General Information” section of the 1920 Baylor Bulletin enveloped Baylor’s mission – loyalty to the Baptists of Texas and Christian education:

Baylor University, founded by the Baptists of Texas, is distinctly an institution for Christian education. It holds the Bible to be the authoritative revelation of the Divine Will and accepts it as the basis of religion and morality. It therefore gives the Bible an important place in the curriculum and in the class room (The Baylor Bulletin, 1920).

Furthermore, an undertone of Catholic exclusion is communicated by the explicit emphasis on Biblical authority. Though Baylor admitted students from all religious backgrounds, this message communicated that the Baptist standard underlined its purpose. From outside the institution, this statement set the tone for culture.

Students at Baylor were required to adhere to the religious values of the institution. This manifested itself in many ways – modest dress expectations (The Baylor Bulletin, 1920), daily chapel attendance, and weekly church attendance. Chapel services consisted “of the reading of the Scriptures, singing, prayer, and a fifteen-minute address” (The Baylor Bulletin, 1920, pp. 26-27). Services were not solely scripture reading. They were a mesh of university announcements, advertisement for religious organizations, and announcements of current events within a “distinctly religious and cultural” setting (The Annual Report of President and Trustees, 1915, p. 11). Beyond chapel services, students were required to “attend divine services at the church of the student’s or parents’ choice at least once every Sunday” (The Baylor Bulletin, 1915, pp. 50-51). The Annual Report of President and Trustees (1915) reported that 88% of Christian students voluntarily attended Sunday School in addition to the congregational “divine services.”

Baylor offered a bachelor’s degree in Bible, which required five Bible courses, four English courses, two mathematics courses, two history courses, six foreign language courses, one education course, and a variety of others. For the required non-Bible courses, there were courses tinted with scripture and religiosity offered in other disciplines. “The Bible as Literature” was offered as an English Literature course in which the Bible was “studied as a classic and its influence on literature [was] noted” (The Baylor Bulletin, 1920, p. 85). Among Greek courses studying Homer, Plato, Euripides, and other traditional texts, the “New Testament Greek” course studied two of the gospels and at least one Pauline epistle. In education, a course called “Religious Education” discussed the problems of religious development, a psychological view of development, and how to “cultivate” development (The Baylor Bulletin, 1920, p. 136). Bible courses were not required of students who were not Bible majors but were available as electives. In 1915, a ministerial student who was ordained or licensed by a Baptist church was give free tuition (The Baylor Bulletin, 1915). By 1920, Baylor instead encouraged churches to financially contribute the education of the young ministers, no longer offering a university fund (The Baylor Bulletin, 1920).

The cultural artifacts at Baylor during 1900-1920 were sourced in The Baylor Bulletin, a course catalog equivalent. Baylor associated itself primarily with the Baptist church, enforced rules and regulations to guarantee religiosity among its students, and valued the study of the Bible across disciplines.

Espoused values – President Brooks and the Board of Trustees

Espoused values reveal what is said. Espoused values are explicitly stated in such a way that allows those outside the culture to understand its mission – but not without bias or emphasis on perception of the institution. The president and trustees represented the university publically. To develop further the understanding of Baylor’s religious culture in the early twentieth century, it is appropriate observe the speeches and newspaper articles written by President Brooks in addition to the Annual Report of President and Trustees, which reported Baylor’s religious activity to the Baptist convention. In the 1915 Annual Report, President Brooks summarizes on behalf of the trustees in saying:

We do not seek to train [students] merely to be keen in commercial pursuits or happy in the sight of the beautiful, but we do seek to win the lost for Christ and to train young Christians into the larger life of service to the end that through us and them all the world may know the truth and live in the hope of a comradeship in the redeemed of the ages (pp. 23-24).

To the Baptist Church, Baylor exerted a concern with matters of the soul, not just matters of the mind. This statement states the evangelical mission of the university and proposes a deep passion for the training of Christian men and women. Table 1, an adaptation from the Annual Report (1915, p. 13), calculates the number of converts, baptisms, decisions of religious calling, and “students induced to attend Christian schools” that reported on behalf of the university.

Table 1

Report of Religious Activity

Evangelistic meetings held 254
Other services held 693
Sermons preached 7,122
Other addresses delivered 2,400
Number of religious visits made 11,126
Number of converts 4,109
Number of baptisms 2,461
Number received into church otherwise 1,071
Number deciding to be ministers under their preaching 68
Number deciding to be Missionaries under their preaching 34
Number volunteering for other work 59
Students induced to attend Christian schools 74

Note: This is a partial list of “work done” from Baylor Bulletin: Annual Report of Presidents and Trustees (1915). The Texas Collection at the Carroll Library, Waco, TX: Baylor University. p. 13.

There is unknown how this data was collected or its accuracy – but it describes a university with an evangelical mission and a strong Baptist heritage. The president and trustees of Baylor utilized the annual report to the Baptist convention as a testimony of its religiosity. Brooks writes in The Baptist Standard that Baylor faculty “love the students, but they love more the immortal souls of the students” (Brooks 1913 “An address to the new college students”). In the Dallas Times-Herald of the same year, Brooks “declared above all things that what should be taught in schools of today was spiritual development as well as the development of the mind.” This communicated a commitment to a distinctly Christian education, an education that intertwined intellect and faith.

In his personal notes for a speech at Jonesborough, Arkansas on April 16, 1909, Brooks compares Catholics to “ignorance” and Baptists to “knowledge” (Brooks, 1919). This reveals a darker side of the espoused values of Baylor University – pride. Baylor not only appreciated but prided itself in its Baptist identity. Seventy percent of students in 1915 identified themselves as Baptist (The Annual Report of President and Trustees, 1915, p. 12).

The espoused values of Baylor in the early twentieth century are best detected through the statements and reports of university representatives such as President Brooks and the Board of Trustees. The deeper realities of Baylor’s religious culture are a foundational commitment to Christian education and an elitist view of its Baptist affiliation.

Basic underlying assumptions – students, staff, and faculty

Basic underlying assumptions reveal what is meant. How can one discover what was meant a century ago in Baylor’s history? Course descriptions, rules and regulations, presidential speeches, statistics and reports – none of these can communicate the truth behind the university or the saturation of Christian values among the campus. Basic underlying assumptions embody the shared beliefs of the university, the standard by which actions are measured, and the frame of acceptability. Though elusive, this level of culture can be assessed through the words of students, staff, and faculty. Current campus culture drives the future. The Baylor Bulletin, among logistical content, compiles alumni speeches delivered at the annual Homecoming celebration. The Lariat, the school newspaper, circulates the opinions and insights of Baylor students. These two publications uncover the basic underlying assumptions by exploring the values of students and alumni.

A regular addition to The Lariat was the “Religious notes” section, which was included in 96 issues of the newspaper between 1902 and 1911. This section would highlight visiting preachers in Waco and sum their religious message. The March 1908 Lariat reviewed a “helpful address” by Judge Towns to the Students’ Christian Association in which the judge “told them they could not afford to fail to accept ‘this Jesus who is called King of the Jews’… It is seldom indeed that Baylor people have experienced a greater pleasure than [Judge Towns’ address]” (The Lariat, 1908, Judge Towns before C.S.A.). In the grief of a student death, The Lariat printed a heartfelt article that reminded readers of the hope of an “eternal home” (Boone, Catee, and Hinds, 1904). In seeking confirmation to attend a university, The Lariat asks prospective students if young men from that institution “give evidence that they have heard the “still, small voice” which leads the loyal servants of Truth” (Lariat, “Before deciding,” 1907). In the school newspaper, a form of student expression, there was never a lack of religious promise, conviction, or revival. Whether reviewing a sermon, offering condolences, inducing reflection, or monitoring student activities, students wrote articles that expressed their thoughts and beliefs on the present state of the campus. Through this window, it is possible to grasp the campus culture.

Baylor’s Foreign Mission Band was another example of student initiative as a reflection of Christian culture. Following a campus revival and an all night prayer meeting in 1902, twelve students founded the Foreign Mission Band, a community of students who felt called to oversees missions (Scales & Clarkson). Students held weekly meetings of prayer, scripture reading, and education on foreign mission work. Members wrote letters to missionaries overseas and received advice or encouragement. As FMB continued, its members graduated and served in overseas missions. Current FMB members sought to encourage former members through continuous letters of encouragement. In one case, a former female member was in desperate need of financial assistance to pursue life as a missionary. The FMB campaigned on campus and raised the money to support her (Scales & Clarkson). The Foreign Mission Band is an example of student culture. It is not rational to assume that all Baylor students avidly lived out the Christian mission in this way – but the presence and respect of this organization reflects the culture of Baylor during this time period.

At the annual Baylor Homecoming celebration, alumni were asked to recall fond memories and explain the significance of Baylor to the world. In the words of W.B. Bizzell, Baylor graduate of 1898, “Baylor University was established with this [Christian] ideal, and she has uncompromisingly maintained it through the years. Her influence, therefore, has been the largest factor in bringing our State institutions of higher learning up to their present plane of moral standards.” (1915). Bizzell asserts in his speech that state institutions were godless, a characteristic which Baylor singlehandedly changed. Baylor was the shining beacon of hope, which inspired other Texas institutions to adopt moral standards. His remarks signify that alumni saw Baylor as the savior of Texas higher education.

Through these students and alumni, it is possible to experience the basic underlying assumptions of Baylor University. Students were not only expected to uphold Christian ideals by the university – they were expected to uphold Christian ideals by peers. The religious language scattered throughout The Lariat and Homecoming speeches sets the tone for interaction at the university. A shared language of scripture, religious upbringing, and Christian norms facilitated student success. University constituents were united under the shared belief that Baylor emanated a unique ideal. The pride for its Baptist heritage was kept company by its pride of state influence.


The strongest way to confirm culture is to test it – act counter to the proposed culture and notice the immediate inclination to exile the offender to the fringe of the community. Suppose the 1915 Homecoming alumnus succeeding Bizzell delivered a speech that questioned the significance of Baylor’s Baptist heritage. Suppose this alumnus proposed that Baylor sever ties with the Baptist convention. The applause, which surely followed Bizzell, would turn to a hiss, an outcry, a call for removal. Consider the event that a student wrote a Letter to the Editor of The Lariat stating that Chapel attendance should be voluntary and students should be free to attend church as often or seldom as he or she liked. Shock and dismay would cloud the mood of the campus. These are fictitious examples but reflect the intensity of a deeply ingrained culture. At its deepest level of culture, Baylor University in the early twentieth century personified a deeply rooted Baptist heritage, commitment to Christian education, and pride for its religious legacy.

In its historical context, this religious fervor was not unique (Scales & Clarkson). Baylor was unique in the consistency of its religious fervor. Baylor was founded in 1845 by Christian men. In the early twentieth century, the religious fervor remained present. In the present day, Baylor continues to be affiliated with the Baptist church. It requires its students to attend chapel and take two religion courses. The Christian culture of Baylor did not arise from a movement of the time period or an influx of extra-religious students. It was the continued legacy of Baylor’s heritage and commitment to Christian education.


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