by Zandra Cook
The rising cost of a college education is something on the mind of every undergraduate student and many people throughout America. Attending college has become a societal norm for the American high school graduate, but finding a way to finance a higher education experience is extremely daunting to most students. The same burden and concern existed in the 1930s in Waco, Texas at Baylor University.
Undergraduates and their families were concerned with the rising costs of receiving an education from Baylor University, a well-established Baptist university in central Texas. Established systems of financial aid did not yet exist at Baylor during the 1930s. Luckily though, various financial programs that were funded by outside organizations were available to students to help cushion the cost of the rising price of an undergraduate degree during the era of the Great Depression. The university’s new president, Pat M. Neff, and the Dean of Women, Lily Russell, worked diligently to support students by working towards a more stable financial state throughout Baylor and through the coordination of scholarships for students that were funded by outside organizations. Through their service and supervision, deserving students were able to achieve the American dream of a college education.
Baylor and the Great Depression
When Neff was inaugurated as president in 1932 he had a daunting task before him. Baylor was not immune to the effects of the Great Depression, which had led to financial hardships throughout America. Baylor was significantly in debt and the endowment that was practically zero, causing salaries to barely be met. Enrollment of students were also dropping and the university debt peaked at $453,837 (Texas Baptist Annual, 1937). At one point, the financial situation became so worrisome that Baylor even began to ration pens, paper clips, and pencils. Faculty salaries also had not been paid for the three months of the summer of 1932 (Blodgett, Blodgett, & Scott, 2007). Not only was Neff searching for a way to keep operations afloat during this period of economic hardship, he also wanted to increase numbers and bring in more students. There were rumors floating throughout campus that tuition prices were going to be raised upon Neff’s entry as president, but this was not Neff’s intention. Prices were only raised $10, the minimum necessary to add to the needed stability of the university (The Daily Lariat, 1931, p. 1). Neff had a challenge before him to bring financial stability to Baylor and it would prove to be difficult with the limited amount of resources available at the time. Students were struggling to pay tuition bills and room and board charges. In 1934, students paid $60 to take three classes each quarter, in addition to a $10 matriculation fee and $13.50 in incidental fees. Additionally, room and board cost students anywhere from $76.50 to $82.50 for three months during a quarter (Baylor University Bulletin, 1934). To help soften financial burdens, some students received financial support from outside organizations. This aid brought needed support during the financial challenges Neff and Baylor were facing during the 1930s.
The Margaret Fund
Baylor University was a strong Baptist institution in the 1930s. Often times students attending Baylor had parents that were deeply involved in the Baptist mission of spreading the word of Christ to those throughout the world. In order to assist the children of these families, the Margaret Fund was introduced at Baylor. It served as an outside scholarship fund for undergraduates who were pursing higher education and a great means of financial relief for both students and President Neff during a time of financial hardship.
The Margaret Fund was established by the Woman’s Missionary Union (W.M.U.) to support children of missionary parents who were currently placed outside of the United States at that time. The fund was established based on a donation of $10,000 by Mrs. Frank Chambers, of Bronxville, New York in 1904 to the W.M.U. (Allen, 1987). Her original donation was intended to fund a home for missionary children, a place for them to be housed, taken care of, and study while their parents were working outside of the country (Cox, 1938). A large white house on six acres of land in Greenville, South Carolina was purchased and named the Margaret House, in honor of the various “Margaret’s” in Chamber’s life—her grandmother, mother, and daughter (Hunt, 1964). The house provided not only a home for the children, but also a place for them to study and learn. During the eight years it was open, 40 different children had called the Margaret House their home (Smith, 1933). By 1913 though, education programs overseas were changing, allowing American children to study in foreign countries, so the Margaret House was shut down because it was no longer needed. In 1914 the house was sold for over $30,000 and all of the money went towards a new initiative—a scholarship fund that became known as the Margaret Fund (Allen, 1987).
The first Margaret Fund scholarship was awarded in 1916 to nine recipients from a pool of 22 applicants (Smith, 1933). Funds for scholarships were mostly received by denominational colleges, including Baylor, and were often allocated to students who also wanted to become missionaries (Cox, 1938). Following the first year of its establishment, the coordinators of the Margaret Fund prided themselves on the fact that no applicant was ever turned away; funding was always present to allow all applicants to receive a scholarship (Smith, 1933). It became the mission of the W.M.U. to remain in close contact with their recipient students, and they often prayed for these students (Allen, 1987). They felt a sense of responsibility and desire to extend grace and love to the recipients: “the watchword of the Margaret Fund is ‘Guard that which is committed to thy trust.’ This verse has a deep and powerful meaning when expressed in sincere prayer for these students as they appear on the calendar of prayer and the calendar of the heart” (Mallory & Christian, 1949, p. 233-234). Often, not only scholarship was provided to recipients, but also everyday items, such as clothing and shoes, and sometimes even small amounts of extra spending money (Wade, H. L., 1934, June 25, Letter to Lily Russell). Regardless, all Margaret Fund students could expect to receive $250 every year, during their first four years in college. Upon graduation, if they chose to attend one of the Training Schools for missionary preparation sponsored by the W.M.U., they would continue to receive $200 per year (Cox, 1938).
The Margaret Fund at Baylor
Baylor, being a community with many Baptist and Christian students, had a handful of students with missionary parents who were located outside of the United States. Usually less than 10 students at Baylor were receiving a scholarship from the Margaret Fund during the 1930s each year; most of them were women. When Baylor was first established, the female body of the university, Baylor College, was known for producing many active female missionaries and Baptist religious leaders. This led to the W.M.U. actively supporting mostly women at Baylor during their educational journeys (Smith, 1933).
By 1938, the W.M.U. had awarded 330 scholarships, totaling $300,897 (Cox, 1938). Baylor was proud to have recipients each year. Some of the most well know Margaret Fund girls during the 1930s were Sudie Pearl Murihead and Mary Elizabeth Ray. Ernet Muirhead, the brother of Sudie Pearl, Wilford Strapp, and Corey Daniel were also Margaret Fund recipients who received scholarships during the 1934-1935 school year (Russell, L., 1934, Margaret Fund Students 1934-1935).
The Many Roles of Lily Russell
Lily Russell was a prominent figure at Baylor University during the 1930s and an important factor to the success of the Margaret Fund at Baylor. A graduate of Baylor, she served as a professor of English for five years before being appointed by President Neff to serve as Dean of Women in 1931 (Blodgett et al., 2007). Her role included enforcing various dress code requirements and curfew rules for the female students that lived in the residence halls (Wallace, 1984). She served in this role for nine years, until she was asked to become Director of Education Extension and Public Relations in 1940 (Blodgett et al., 2007). She was also appointed as chairman of the Baylor Centennial Committee that same year (Wallace, 1984). Russell became highly respected and well known on campus over the years. The headline, “Just ask Mrs. Russell, She Knows” was plastered on the front page of the The Daily Lariat (1951, p. 1) as students throughout Baylor turned to Russell for help with various problems and questions.
During her time as Dean of Women, Russell also stepped into the position of Margaret Fund Student Advisor in August of 1933. She fully accepted the responsibility, but was wary about taking on the position because she felt that even though she knew the girls best, she did not have the time to devote to them (Russell, L., 1933, August 7, Letter to Mrs. John R. Fort). Since she was already involved with the W.M.U. outside of Baylor, she was a clear candidate for the position (Wallace, 1984). With this position came the responsibility of monitoring the recipient students throughout their time at Baylor. She also served as a point of contact between the students and the various chairwomen of the surrounding Woman’s Missionary Unions. Lily Russell represented a strong and helpful support system for the various men and women who benefitted from the Margaret Fund at Baylor University.
Mary Elizabeth Ray, Margaret Fund Recipient
Mary Elizabeth Ray was a transfer student from Dodd College in Shreveport, Louisiana. She transferred to Baylor in 1934 as a junior to study vocal music under the direction of Professor Robert Hopkins. Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. J. Franklin Ray were stationed in Hiroshima, Japan to fulfill their missionary work, and Elizabeth had not seen them for a number of years (Russell, L., 1934, January 26, Letter to Mrs. B. T. Adams). Elizabeth’s (she was never referred to as Mary) brother also became a missionary during her time at Baylor, when the Southern Baptist Convention appointed him to the foreign field in May of 1934 (Russell, L., 1934, May 30, Letter to Mrs. W. B. McGarity). Even though Elizabeth was only a junior the year she entered Baylor, it was her fourth year in college and her fourth year as a Margaret Fund student. Since the Margaret Fund was typically allotted to students for only four years, during the summer of 1934, before her fifth and final year at Baylor, Russell wrote to Mrs. Frank Burney, the Margaret Fund chairwoman in Waynesboro, Georgia. She pleaded with Burney, writing that if Elizabeth did not receive an additional $250 from the Margaret Fund for the upcoming school year, she would not be able to graduate with her B.A. degree in June of 1935. (Russell, L., 1934, August 11, Letter for Mrs. Frank Burney).
Elizabeth’s parents were still stationed in Japan and Russell had taken on the role of her advocate and supporter at Baylor. Dr. Ray had taken substantial paycheck cuts and could not afford to send money to Elizabeth for the upcoming term, therefore the Margaret Fund was all they had to rely on since Baylor was in such a financially rocky state and could not provide any financial support (Russell, L., 1934, August 11, Letter for Mrs. W. B. McGarity). That summer Elizabeth contemplated transferring to the University of Texas, due to the fact did not expect to receive the Margaret Fund during her fifth year in college. Elizabeth later reconsidered her decision though, and decided to remain at Baylor regardless. In a letter to chairwomen Burney that summer, Russell stated that Elizabeth was still in dire need of support from the Margaret Fund since she had decided to remain at Baylor and she could not afford it without their help (Russell, L., 1934, August 30, Letter to Mrs. Frank Burney). Around the same time, Russell also wrote to Mrs. W. B. McGarity, a W.M.U. member at Baylor College in search of assistance for Elizabeth. The content of the letter was very similar, urging for the reconsideration of Elizabeth as a Margaret Fund student for the 1934-1935 school year (Russell, L., 1934, August 17, Letter for Mrs. W. B. McGarity). Eventually, through the tireless persistence and dedication of Lily Russell as Elizabeth’s Margaret Fund Advisor, Elizabeth was granted support from the Margaret Fund and received the benefits of being a recipient for her final year at Baylor. Russell believed in her students and she worked extremely hard on behalf of every Margaret Fund student at Baylor to ensure that they would continue to receive financial support each year (Russell, L., 1934, August 30, Letter to Mrs. Frank Burney).
To cover Elizabeth’s costs, she was placed under the support of two Margaret Fund associations in the Waco area—the Waco Association and the Hill County Association of Margaret Funds. This decision was made by Mrs. John R. Fort, the District Margaret Fund Chairwoman. Mrs. H. L. Wade, a representative from Mertens Baptist Church in Mertens, Texas wrote Russell in June stating that they would be covering the needs of Margaret Fund girls sponsored by the Hill County Association. She asked for a list of personal items that the students needed (Wade, H. L., 1934, June 25, Letter to Lily Russell). Russell responded to Wade, stating that Elizabeth, one of their assigned students, could use items such as underwear, clothes, and even handkerchiefs. She also requested extra money in addition to the $250 Elizabeth was already receiving for tuition purposes. This donation would allow Elizabeth to have some extra spending money. Additionally, she mentioned that Elizabeth was now receiving a scholarship from Baylor for doing one hour of work per week, in order to help with her financial situation (Russell, L., 1934, July 3, Letter for Mrs. H. L. Wade).
Russell later cited that McGarity had suggested that Margaret Fund girls should be instructed on the work of the W.M.U. and she requested that a pamphlet of information be sent for the girls to have (Russell, L, 1935, December 7, Letter for Mrs. J. A. Merrell). Ironically, Elizabeth was already participating in a form of missionary work. She had joined the Fidelis Bible Class of First Baptist Church in Waco and was on the Extension Committee for the organization (The Round-Up, 1934). One of the goals of this organization was to raise money for a fund called the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which in turn actually gave money back to the Margaret Fund. Each year a portion of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was stipulated to be placed into the Margaret Fund, which helped the fund grow so more students could receive scholarships (Cox, 1938). Elizabeth may not have known this during her time and through her work in the Fidelis Bible Class, but she was providing for future students of missionary parents, and possibly future missionaries through her work as a committee member.
Sudie Pearl Murihead, Margaret Fund Recipient
Mary Elizabeth Ray and Sudie Pearl Murihead were the only two women Margaret Fund students during the 1935 school year (Russell, L., 1934, Margaret Fund Students 1934-1935). Sudie Pearl was financed through the Hill County Association as well. (Fort, J., 1934, 7 November, Letter to Lily Russell). Sudie Pearl was a sophomore as the 1934 school year began at Baylor and she lived off campus, at 815 Bagby in Waco. Her parents were missionaries that were stationed in Rio de Janiero, Brazil (The Round-Up, 1934). Sudie Pearl was active on the Baylor campus, including her participation in intramurals. On February 19, 1935, her basketball team of six women played against Elizabeth Newman’s for a chance to enter the championship round the following day (The Daily Lariat, 1935, p. 4). She was also an active swimmer and very studious (The Daily Lariat, 1934, May 11, p.4). She made the honor roll following the fall term of 1932 and in the spring of 1934 (The Daily Lariat, 1934, March 27, p. 3).
Just as with Elizabeth, her Margaret Fund supporters would often write to Lily Russell in search of Sudie Pearl’s needs. Cards were usually mailed to W.M.U. supporters and chairmen from Russell, with specifications about students. These cards included the student’s height, weight, physical appearance, clothing sizes, and favorite items. The W.M.U. women would usually respond by sending boxes of clothes and goods for the students. Margaret Fund supporters felt a purpose and calling in providing for their students in as many ways as possible. Sudie Pearl graduated from Baylor in December of 1935 and began working at the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home in Monroe, Louisiana (Russell, L., 1936, February 11, Letter to Mrs. J. W. Allmond). In the following years, Sudie Pearl returned to Baylor and became an associate professor of Spanish (The Daily Lariat, 1946, p. 4).
Lasting Effects of the Margaret Fund
When recounting how immensely the Margaret Fund has helped all those who were involved, Hunt (1964) states that the fund has,
“proved a blessing to hundreds of young people and to their missionary parents. Likewise they have proved a blessing to Woman’s Missionary Union as they have created ties of love between its members and missionary families around the world” (p. 70).
Without the support of the Margaret Fund and the Woman’s Missionary Union at Baylor during a time of great financial hardship, students of missionary parents may not have had the opportunity to attend Baylor. This fund enabled deserving students, during a time when the coordination of organized financial aid did not exist, to attend a university grounded in strong Baptist roots and receive an undergraduate education. It was also through the original donation of Mrs. Frank Chambers and the work of the W.M.U. that deserving students at Baylor and all throughout colleges in the United States had the opportunity to receive a college education in American while their parents were working for the betterment of the Kingdom outside of the country.
Without the assistance of funds, such as the Margaret Fund from the Woman’s Missionary Union, Baylor University would have seen even greater financial struggle during the 1930s. Without the support of outside organizations to help students pay for a college education, fewer students would have been able to attend Baylor.
President Neff was determined to increase enrollment during his term as president, which he accomplished and partially attributed to an increase in student aid opportunities, such as the Margaret Fund (Blodgett et al., 2007). He also worked towards increasing the endowment and reducing university debt. He fulfilled his goal in 1937 when he announced that Baylor had paid all of her debt, including $453,837 in debt and interest since 1932 (Texas Baptist Annual, 1937). Baylor also reached her largest enrollment in history in 1935—1,894 students from 22 states and six foreign countries (Texas Baptist Annual, 1935).
The efforts of Lily Russell also played a large role in the advancement of financial support for students and Baylor. She worked tirelessly to assist students in any way possible. She advised and monitored students on campus in her role as Dean of Women and she actively pursued financial assistance for students of missionaries by working with the Woman’s Missionary Union as Margaret Fund Student Advisor at Baylor. She established a reputation on campus that allowed her to contribute to the well being of all Baylor students.
Through the determination of Pat Neff and Lily Russell, the partnerships they established and maintained, and the financial support that saw Baylor and her students through the 1930s, students were able to receive a flourishing college education and Baylor was able to once again stand on her own, for the first time since suffering from the effects of the Great Depression.
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