This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in September 1979, 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 periodically features selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.
With Homecoming in full swing this weekend, it is the perfect time to take a moment and look back at how it all started. Baylor was one of the first schools to organize a Homecoming event for alumni over a century ago, and today it is one of the most widely celebrated Baylor traditions.
In 1909, when Baylor held its first Homecoming, a pattern was set which holds remarkably true even today. Though seven decades have passed, and generations of alumni have come and gone, the traditional highlights and festivities of Baylor’s annual “family reunion” have retained a remarkable likeness to those of their distant prototype.
The purpose of the original Homecoming in 1909 was “to give an opportunity for the joyful meeting of former student friends, an occasion when old classmates could again feel the warm hand-clasp of their fellows, recall old memories and associations, and catch the Baylor spirit again.” To this end members of student organizations, local alumni and representatives of each graduation class launched a campaign of correspondence and advertisements in major state newspapers, inviting all former Baylor students to spend Thanksgiving at the Homecoming celebration.
“While our Baylor men are across the sea for the safety of democracy and womanhood, we Baylor women have before us a very definite work, and we must ‘Carry On!’” Thus ended an article on July 11, 1918, one of several Lariat articles aimed directly at Baylor University female students encouraging them to assist in the war effort during the United States’ involvement in World War I. As the male student population at colleges across the country dwindled due to the declaration of war and subsequent draft, women stepped up in a variety of ways to maintain the status quo on campus. Baylor women participated in both traditional and non-traditional methods of supporting the war effort and fostered a relationship with the soldiers stationed at nearby Camp MacArthur and Rich Field.
In April 1917, one week after the United States officially entered WWI, Baylor co-eds petitioned the university to offer a course in first aid skills. Female-only organizations such as the Calliopeans, Rufus C. Burleson Society, and the Young Women’s Christian Association hosted speakers who lectured on the importance of food conservation, the realities of war facing American soldiers “over there,” and the role of women in the war effort. Upon the creation of the Red Cross Auxiliary on campus, 225 co-eds answered the call to join on the first day, eager to volunteer their time and money. The Red Cross set up a workroom in Georgia Burleson Hall where women could sign up for shifts to make triangular bandages, knit sweaters, or assemble comfort kits. In just two months, Baylor co-eds contributed 310 bandages and 120 comfort kits towards the regionally assigned quotas in addition to donating $500 to the war drive. Even more directly, two former Baylor students, Gladys Cavitt and Roxie Henderson, served overseas as nurses in France and Great Britain, respectively. Young women at Baylor clearly lacked little in patriotic spirit and fervor.
Baylor co-eds also participated in the war effort in less traditional capacities as a result of the absence of a significant portion of the male students. In 1917 and 1918, the Lariat was run by a female editor and mostly female staff. Both the editor and associate editor of the 1918 Round-Up were also women. Female students took positions at the Baylor Press, which was vacated by several of the men and represented the “first women in this vicinity to take the places of men in industrial occupations because of their going to war.” A group of young women organized the “Kampus Police Force” in an effort to keep the campus clean, a job typically reserved for the male students. They carried trash baskets, hauled leaves, swept the grandstands before games, and kept the campus clean of scraps of paper and rubbish for twenty cents an hour, the same wages men would have received. The women used the wages they earned to purchase War Savings Stamps, or donated them to the Red Cross. Although most of these jobs returned to men at the end of war, the demands of the conflict provided unusual opportunities for Baylor co-eds to serve their country.
During the war, Baylor’s female students interacted with the soldiers housed at Camp MacArthur and Rich Field. Georgia Burleson Hall hosted soldiers from the camp for dinners and the administration allowed soldiers to attend the university’s social functions. Women from the Red Cross Auxiliary performed in conjunction with the band from Rich Field on May 3, 1918 at a benefit to raise funds for the organization.
From nursing soldiers overseas to rolling bandages and entertaining soldiers, the women of Baylor University demonstrated their patriotism and diligently contributed their “very definite work” to the war effort.
The Texas Collection maintains more than a half dozen screenplays either written by Texans or set in Texas. Many of these screenplays were used in the production of Western films, and from them we can get a good idea of the archetypal Texan. Generations of Americans were fascinated by the “Wild West”—how did they perceive the inhabitants of the Lone Star State when watching Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s?
Written by Gerald Drayson Adams and set along the Rio Grande in the early 1870s, Three Young Texans (1954) features cowboys with names like Johnny Colt, Tony Ballew, and Jeff Blair. Johnny’s character is “ruggedly handsome” and “intensely devoted to his boyhood pals,” while Tony “goes in for bright colored shirts and neckerchiefs.” Jeff, for his part, is “a big man both physically and mentally,” and “is friendly, easy-going and always ready to help a neighbor.”
Opposite Johnny, Tony, and Jeff is only one major female character: Rusty Blair. Played by actress Mitzi Gaynor, Rusty is nearly as much a cowboy as her male counterparts. Her character description notes that, “On the ranch she rides and ropes and gets her face dirty with the rest of the cow hands,” but “when she goes to a dance she’s a knockout and undisputed belle of the Rio Grande Valley.”Continue Reading