Our Sharing Student Scholarship blog posts showcase original scholarship written by Baylor students who conducted research using primary source materials in The Texas Collection. This post is the the third of five in a series of blog posts written by graduate and PhD students from the Fall 2018 Foundations & History of Higher Education Leadership course.
by Sean Strehlow, Trenton Holloway, Maddie Whitmore, and Tori Guilford
Rufus C. Burleson: Cultivating the Baptist Way at Baylor
President Rufus C. Burleson first served as president of Baylor University at Independence from the years 1851-1861. After Baylor University at Independence merged with Waco University, Burleson again took on the role of president. He served in this role until 1897. Burleson’s dedication to his own Baptist faith helped define and distinguish Baylor University’s Baptist identity. Following his death in 1901, Baylor University erected a monument in Burleson’s honor. Burleson’s students, it is said, “have carried his noble lessons around the globe” (Ritchie, 1901, pp. 4). As teachers, preachers, legislators, physicians, bankers, and lawyers, Burleson’s former students became worldwide leaders. His undeniable faith in God is evidenced by his commitment to Christian education. At the time of this memorial being planted, the Baylor faculty sought to continue his great legacy. The faculty committed themselves to prayer and the perpetuation of Burleson’s vision for Christian education (Ritchie, 1901, pp. 5). Chief among the faculty was B.H. Carroll, First Baptist’s magnanimous preacher, and one of the most influential denominational leaders among Southern Baptists. His sermons never failed to convict the hearts of his congregants (Ray, 1927, pp. 149-150). Burleson was both friend, and mentor to Carroll.
From the very beginning, Baylor has been steeped in Baptist tradition. Baylor’s Baptist ties could be seen most clearly in their Chapel services. These services, held once a day, served as an opportunity for students, faculty and staff alike to come together and sing songs, pray, and hear biblical teaching. In the 1890’s, these services were held at 9:00a.m. on weekdays and at 4:00p.m. on Sundays. Students’ attendance at these services was mandatory and strictly enforced, and absences could earn a student anywhere from two to ten demerits. Chapel speakers were most often University professors who would speak on a topic of their choosing. B.H. Carroll gave his first address to the students in 1886, and quickly became a regular speaker at Chapel services (Carroll, 1923, pp. 409). He was admired by students like Jessie Brown, a student between 1888-1891, who recorded fond reflections of his sermons in letters written to her sister at home (Brown, 1890, pp. 233). Despite the strict attendance policy, many students really enjoyed the Chapel services. These Chapel “exercises,” as Jewell Leggett refers to them in her diary, helped students to grow in their faith by teaching them spiritual discipline.
In addition to these university requirements, there were many student-led communities for the young men and women of Baylor to develop their faith and calling on their own time and by determining their own level of commitment. Organizations such as the Adelphian Theological Society, the Foreign Mission Band, the Students’ Christian Association, the Worker’s Band, and the Baylor Prohibition League all had a significant presence on campus between 1900-1910. Though they may have had university or professional support, these groups were led by students and for students with the purpose of personal faith development and the evangelization of their peers who had not yet become Christian. Their clear documentation in The Round-Up, the student yearbook, reveal that students took participation in their organizations seriously. Students had the opportunity to participate as much or as little as they wanted, and many took the opportunity to delve deeply into their personal religious beliefs or even prepare for their future vocations after Baylor. It was Burleson’s unwavering devotion to the Baptist faith and his passion for education that played a significant role in shaping the spiritual identities of Baylor and its students.
Leggett, J. (1902, September 2). Diary entry. Diary of Jewell Leggett.