Looking Back at Baylor: Simple Pleasures in Independence

Drawing, Baylor Female College, undated
The columns of the Baylor Female College building are now the iconic remains of the original Baylor campus. They are an important part of the Line Camp experience.

This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in November 1978, then was reprinted in Looking Back at Baylor (1985), a collection of Keeth and Harry Marsh’s historical columns for the Line. Blogging about Texas will periodically feature selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.

This piece, “Simple Pleasures in Independence,” was selected for our first Looking Back entry because starting this week (and through most of July), Baylor Line Camps will be visiting the site of Baylor’s original campus in Independence. While the social life of the class of 2016 will be quite different from what Margaret Hall Hicks describes below, the community spirit of the Baylor family remains constant.

Margaret Hall Hicks, undated
Margaret Hall Hicks, undated. The Texas Collection houses the Hicks-Hall-Harman Family papers, which includes the complete "Memories of Ancestors" document, a fascinating look at life in Texas in the late 1800s. The photos in this blog come from our photo archives. Researchers are welcome to come and use these records.

In 1871, sixteen-year-old Margaret Hall, who five years earlier had attended Baylor’s preparatory department, returned to the Independence campus as a student at Baylor Female College. She entered enthusiastically into the life of the college, and while she appreciated the school’s scholastic offerings, she also found time to participate in the various social occasions which its calendar afforded.

Many years later, when her own children were grown, Margaret Hall Hicks prepared a personal memoir of some of the events and impressions of her early life. Titled “Memories of Ancestors,” Mrs. Hicks’ memoir vividly recalls her days at Baylor. An excerpt concerning her attendance in 1866 appeared in the Baylor Line of May-June 1967. The following passage, drawn from the period of her later enrollment, relates some of the “simple pleasures” by which Baylor students of the 1870s diverted themselves from their studies.

Baylor Female College, 1884
A different angle on the main building of the Baylor Female College. This 1884 photo was taken just two years before Baylor University left Independence to join with Waco University, and the Female College moved to Belton, ultimately becoming the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

“Along with our studies we had a most delightful social life. Baylor University, a school for boys, was about a half-mile or less from Baylor College, and you know that twenty or thirty boys and that many girls could not fail to find some means of communication. We were allowed to receive the boys in the large parlors of the dormitory once a month on Friday night. We were sometimes allowed to visit our girl friends in the town, and of course this meant there would be a boy invited for each girl, to come in for a good time together in the evening. We all attended the same church and many were the notes and shy glances passed between the boys and girls, although they were required to sit on opposite sides of the church with a high partition between them.

Henry McArdle drawing of the male campus of Baylor University, 1870s
The ride up to the men's campus. Hicks recalls the separate men's and women's campuses, an arrangement that President Rufus Burleson insisted upon before he left for Waco University. Left to right are: Tryon Hall, Houston Hall, Graves Hall, Burleson Domicile, dormitory annex, and Creath Hall.

An annual picnic on San Jacinto Day was a social event anticipated and prepared for months before the time. Each girl had made a date weeks before with some boy, generally her sweetheart, for the whole day together. If the boy was financially able, he hired a horse and buggy to take his lady love, and these were the envy of the other girls, who had to join in with others in hiring a hack or wagon and go in crowds.Another occasion that still lingers in my memory was the Christmas holidays. The last week before Christmas was a time of merry-making. Mr. Clark always prepared for a very elaborate Christmas concert. The large auditorium was gaily festooned with cedar and holly of which there was an abundance in the nearby woods.

Independence, Texas, undated
The men's campus sat on Windmill Hill, giving students a good view of the town. When the railroad bypassed Independence, the town's size began to decrease.

The boys and girls, under the supervision of one of the teachers, were delegated to borrow wagons from some of their country friends and go out in the woods to get these, and such jolly rides as they were, and what a thrill we did get out of them! No auto joy rides of the present ever gave young folks more pleasure. Then the festoons were to be made and the boys were permitted to come over and help in trimming these, and what a good chance for the innocent love making which all boys and girls so much enjoy and which, conducted in the right way and under the right environment, is natural and beneficial for all young people. These concerts were given Thursday before the Christmas holidays. Succeeding them on the following night the boys of Baylor University gave an annual Christmas party at the University building, and this was the climax of all the Christmas frolic. At these parties ‘soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again, and all went merry as marriage bells.’

We did not have, nor did we care for, elaborate refreshments. At these parties given at the schools we only had fruits, nuts and candies which the boys paid for themselves. There was no drinking at these parties of the olden times. The natural exuberance of healthy youth was the only stimulant we needed.”

Updated July 13, 2012: Baylor Photography was kind enough to provide a current photo of the Baylor Female Building and Line Camp.

Baylor Line Camp 2009
The class of 2013 approaches the columns of the Baylor Female Building, jerseys over their shoulders, and prepares to be initiated into the Baylor Line. Credit: Baylor Marketing and Communications/ Matthew Minard.


  • youth group games and activities

    August 20, 2012 at 10:00 am Reply

    What a great a look back. Very endearing.

  • […] introduced Margaret Hall Hicks, a Baylor alumna from the 1870s, this summer in our “Looking Back at Baylor: Simple Pleasures in Independence” post. We encourage you to read it for a view of Christmas celebrations in Baylor’s early […]

  • Mary Anne

    January 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm Reply

    It sure would be nice for you guys to note that Baylor Female College is now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor located in Belton, TX. It’s rare for two colleges to share such an illustrious heritage together. Not naming the new name of Baylor Female College, might allow some to erroneously believe that Baylor Female College was simply absorbed into Baylor, once it became fully co-education for once and for all.

    Besides that little annotation, this is a wonderful article that highlights just how the wonderful men and women who graduated from these fine universities before us lived. It is simply grand to note that the very first university in Texas was not only co-educational, but a Christian one at that. I am grateful that the founders believed that education should be provided not only to young men, but young women as well. They were surely ahead of their time, as many other women’s colleges started later, and it was decades and decades before any state school allowed women to enroll in classes. I have been looking for more information on what life was really like for Baylor Female College students were. It’s not an often highlighted part of UMHB’s history.

    • Amanda Norman

      January 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm Reply

      Thanks for making that important point for us, Mary Anne. Baylor University and Mary Hardin-Baylor are blessed to share a common heritage, and we’re very proud that Baylor’s founders were so forward-thinking by beginning as a co-education institute. The story of Baylor’s beginnings and the split of the female campus into its own entity is told well in Lois Smith Murray’s book, Baylor at Independence, but you’re right–the story of Baylor Female College at Independence is harder to find. Have you perused the Portal to Texas History? If you do a search for “Baylor at Independence,” you’ll find a variety of sources, but especially compelling are Gertrude Osterhout’s journal and letters from her time at Baylor Female College in the early 1880s. And you might get some ideas of some archives where you could investigate further life at Baylor Female College. If you’re ever in the Central Texas area, we’d love to see you here at The Texas Collection–you can see on our website that we have a number of collections dealing with Baylor at Independence, and while it is stronger on Baylor University, we do have some representation from the women as well.

      • Mary Anne

        January 24, 2013 at 4:02 pm Reply

        Thank you for the response Amanda. I am currently located in the North Texas region, so a quick jaunt down to Waco would be fairly easy. What are the days and hours for the Texas Collection Library? I also read on UMHB’s website, that Baylor University has a thesis paper by a Thomas Thad Walker, entitled “Mary Hardin-Baylor College, 1845-1937” in your Moody Memorial Library. Could you include those hours as well?

  • Irene Aldrich

    March 18, 2017 at 1:39 pm Reply

    Does anyone know what happened to Minglewood, a Baylor rooming house next to the Chemistry Annex on 9th Street in 1953 (year of Waco tornado)? Besides me, other more mature girls stayed there, including four foreign graduate students, two from Korea, one from China who had to flee to the island of Formosa (now Taiwan) when the Communists took over her country, and one from Brazil. The Chinese student was my roommate, and we kept in touch with each other for several years after we both left Baylor.

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