Looking Back at Baylor: The “Philos” and the “Sophies”

This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in April 1976, 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 the start of the fall semester kicking off this week, we welcome a new class of students who will begin to make new friends and join new organizations as Baylor becomes their home. There was a time when Baylor did not have national fraternal organizations for students to join and in the early years many students belonged to literary societies. Read on to learn about their competitiveness and “rush season”, as told by a 1909 Baylor graduate.

Social clubs at Baylor, which traditionally have been the products of student initiative, have begun at long last to affiliate with national fraternities and sororities. Two of the university’s earliest student organizations, both founded at Independence in the 1850’s, were the Erisophians (“Sophies”) and the Philomathesians (“Philos”). These literary societies contrived for many years to maintain an intense rivalry which was based solely upon local interest and enterprise. Jesse Guy Smith ’09 a former Erisophean, described in the December, 1929 Baylor Monthly the “rush season” of 1907-08:

Erisophian Literary Society, circa 1912-1918. Found in General Photo Files, #3976, Box 73, Folder 18, Texas Collection, Baylor University.

It was the custom to meet all trains during the opening week, and get acquainted with new arrivals, treat them courteously, introduce them to your fellow society members and prevent them from meeting your rivals. This method was carried to fever heat and sometimes to near violence.


It was Sunday and Baylor opened Monday, next day. The Katy Flyer from the north was scheduled to arrive in Waco at midnight, and on this particular night it should be loaded with new students. It was customary to meet it at the Cotton Belt Crossing in East Waco, board it and each attempt to herd together the majority of the incoming students. We met the Katy from the South at 4:40 p.m. Sophie and Philo alike crowded about this train and as each new man stepped off he was seized by a group from one society and hurried away to some boarding-house where he would be kept without expense to him until he could secure a permanent location. As the train gained speed pulling away from the station with Hillsboro as its first stop there appeared on the rear platform two loyal and ardent Philos who had secretly boarded it while at the station. They were Frank Hatton and Walter Smith.


The hearts of the Sophies sank with them. These Philos were bound for Hillsboro where they would board the Southbound Katy Flyer that night, night of all nights, and secure the entire North Texas contingent for the Philos. Something must be done and done quickly. There were no autos available in those days and no horse drawn conveyance could possibly reach Hillsboro in time to catch that South-bound Katy Flyer. There was one chance- a freight train. Albert Jones and the writer started for East Waco as if we were doing the century on the cinder path. If there should be a north bound freight it would, in all probability, follow this passenger train. When we reached a point some distance ahead of the Katy bridge over the Brazos we saw a freight slowly leaving the yards one half mile ahead. Our tongues were already out. Could we make it? Can I forget that last half mile! We reached the rear of the slowly moving train but that was insufficient. We must dodge the trainmen and find an empty car. Jones pled that we board the caboose and bribe the conductor. I pled the uncertainty of such, especially on account of the scarcity of funds, twenty cents (20¢). Finally we overtook an empty box car and in a state of complete exhaustion we climbed in just as it was leaving the east yards. Many alumni can now count the miles of our Marathon.


Philomathesian Literary Society. Found in General Photo Files, #3976, Box 76.01, Folder 7, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.


It was well after nightfall when the freight stopped at the south yards, a mile or two from Hillsboro. During the long, slow trip, Jones always particular in niceties of conduct and dress, suffered in both body and spirit. We disembarked and walked to the city and after a cup of coffee and a barrel of water to quench the thirst of the long dry race and ride, we made our way stealthily to the passenger station. There they were- Frank and Walker sleeping soundly in the waiting room. And why not? Did they not have everything sewed up for the Katy Flyer coming out of the Dallas and Fort Worth country? We consulted a negro hack driver about the possibility of the train stopping north of Hillsboro. He stated that all trains stopped at the Cotton Belt Crossing (Corsicana Branch) north of the station.


A kind Providence favored the Sophies that night. At this crossing I boarded the Dallas train and Jones the Fort Worth, and when Hatton and Smith calmly came aboard in a gentlemanly manner the two Sophies to whom they had waved such a merry goodbye at Waco a few hours before were now coming in from the north with prospective students all huddled in one coach safely under control. This done, we ventured forth one at a time to shake hands with the old girls returning to school, but in the excitement of the trip we had forgotten to wash our hands and this neglect solved the mystery of our unexpected appearance and caused considerable embarrassment. “Them days are gone forever.”

This post focuses on literary societies that were exclusive to male students. The Calliopean Literary Society and Rufus C. Burleson Society were the first two literary societies open to women at Baylor during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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