A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society

In the late 1800s, Robert Lloyd Smith came to Texas. Smith, a highly educated man and an advocate of Booker T. Washington’s  philosophy of education and economic improvement for African-Americans,  called himself a “practical sociologist.”  He was also an educator and a businessman.  In 1890 Smith founded the Farmers’ Home Improvement Society in Colorado County.

Smith created the F.I.S. as a self-improvement society to help tenant farmers out of a cycle of debt and poverty. The Society provided life insurance, financed a bank in Waco, operated an agricultural boarding school, and provided a social life in a religious and fraternal setting for African-Americans across Texas. At its high point in 1911, the Farmers’ Improvement Society claimed 12,000 members in 800 branches across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.  Smith’s wife, Ruby Cobb of Waco, was instrumental in helping him run the F.I.S. 

A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society was curated by Paul Fisher and Ann Payne and is made possible through the generous gift of materials from the Smith-Cobb family of Waco.

Stop by The Texas Collection from February 1 – March 20, 2012 to view the exhibit.


Click on images to enlarge.

Believe me your own: letters from the battlefield to Fanny from Alex

In November, 1861, Dr. Alex Morgan enlisted for a one-year term of service with the 19th Louisiana Infantry of the Confederate Army. He left behind his wife Fanny and their four children, and, though the couple expected to reunite at the end of his year of service, in fact they would not see each other again for nearly four years.

Two days after the Battle of Shiloh,  Alex wrote his beloved wife to share “not an account of the battle, that you will see in the paper, but…my own impressions of things, as they passed before me.” His frank, poignant, and often wryly humorous letters tell a powerful story of enduring love during the war that would determine the future of a young nation.

Join us in waiting for news from the battlefield: each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from January 9 to March 9, 2012.

Alex Morgan’s letters to Fanny were preserved by their granddaughter, Maggie Scott Logue (1884-1985).  In 2007, the children and grandchildren of Maggie Logue decided that the letters should be kept together, donated to the Texas Collection, and be available to the public.  The Texas Collection is pleased to share the Morgan Letters through this exhibit.


Santa, bring me a Cyclecar next year

Did you ever ask Santa for a pedal car?   Was there ever a toy that seemed more simultaneously wonderful and out-of-reach?   Maybe you wanted the fire truck with a bell you could ring, or the sporty caror perhaps the airplane?

In the early days of automotive history, the irresistible desire to cruise and the immovable impediment of cost collided to bring in the era of the cyclecar.  Cyclecars were lightweight vehicles, part motorcycle and part automobile. Compared to full-sized cars, they were inexpensive to purchase and operate, and were licensed and taxed at a reduced rate, further increasing their appeal.

The Hall Cycle & Plating Co. of Waco, Texas sold bicycles and motorcycles.  Partners Lawrence Hall and John B. Fisher were active in the local Young Men’s Business League.  (You can see one of their motorcycles with the Y.M.B.L. in the detail from a panoramic photograph below.) Then, in 1914, Lawrence Hall designed a chain-driven vehicle called the Hall Cyclecar.  It had a four-cylinder, air-cooled 18 horsepower motor, seated two people in tandem, and could be converted into a light delivery van by removing the rear seat .  Hall Cycle & Plating Company was reorganized into the Hall Cyclecar Manufacturing Co. and was incorporated with a capital stock of $25,000 by W. J. Lincoln, E.B. Baker, and Lawrence Hall.  The 1914 edition of Automobile Topics reported that Hall hoped to sell the vehicle for $400. The prototype moved into production. 

The cyclecar boom was brief.  By the 1920s larger manufacturers began making affordable cars that undercut the cyclecar companies.  In 1915, manufacture of the Hall Cyclecar stopped.  Lawrence Hall moved to Los Angeles and a little bit of Texas history remained only in memory and photographs.


                                 Click on image to enlarge

Baylor Claims Her Own: Homecoming 1909


Just in time for Homecoming 2011, The Texas Collection has rediscovered a rare advertising cover from the very first Home-coming held in 1909.  The gold lettering still shines on the green envelope which proudly declares “Baylor Claims Her Own.”

Baylor’s 1909 Homecoming celebration was one of the very first collegiate homecomings held in America. It took place on Thanksgiving weekend and included a band concert, class and society reunions, and an old-time “soirée” where students could listen to music.

The idea of a homecoming would certainly have been familiar to many members of the Baylor community as it was a common celebration in rural southern churches.  Homecoming in these churches usually took place annually as a way of bringing people who had been scattered by migration into cities and towns back to their sacred place of origin.  Sometimes the festivities would honor the charter members of the congregation, and always there was the celebration of families and the recognition of the church as the “family of God.”  In this way the themes of history and tradition, community and family were woven into the fabric of the day.

The letter sent in its Home-coming envelope, is addressed to Papa.  Apparently students’ needs in 1909 were not so different from those today.  The author asks for his mother to send him some clothes he left behind, and he also needs some money by first of the week to buy an overcoat.  Just to let everyone know that he’s being frugal, the student sends home a statement of how his money has been spent.

He also shares a bit of news, mentioning a trip to San Antonio where he saw Alamo and other places of interest.  He inquires as to Papa’s health since he “Got letter from Mama heard you not feeling well…” and asks “Have you gotten the bay filly from Brown’s yet or is his boy still riding her?”

You can see more items from the history of Baylor Homecomings on exhibit at The Texas Collection in Carroll Library.   We hope you’ll stop by to join the fun!

“When this you see, remember me” — an autograph book from nineteenth-century Texas

Tucked away in an envelope, in a box, on a shelf in the basement of Carroll Library is a tiny book embossed with a picture of a rabbit.  Smaller than a smart phone, this wonderful little object is an autograph book that once belonged to Ida Ainsworth of Liberty Hill, Texas.  It’s dated 1888 (though a few pages seem to be from 1887), and is signed by her friends and family, and by her teacher.

If you’ve never seen one, an autograph book is meant to be a keepsake.  They were customarily filled with rhymes and memorable sayings, each signer choosing a page and trying to come up with a poem that no one else had used.  Autograph books’ popularity has declined in recent years, but you can still purchase one for graduation or your next trip to a Disney theme park, and there is even a book of autograph rhymes if you haven’t had a chance to memorize anything beyond “Roses are red, violets are blue….”

Though autograph books may still be found, with a few exceptions, the messages in Ida’s book are strikingly different from those a modern student would write.  They are often touching and sober, recalling the passage of time, the parting of friends, and the inevitability of death.   They reminded me a bit of memento mori, and I thought of all of Ida’s friends who have long since passed. 

Yet, even as it brings to mind the dead, this little book also stands against time’s stream, as each page becomes not only a memento mori but also a memento mei—“Remember me!” Dear Ida,  Dear Reader,  remember my youth, my laughter, our friendship.  Remember me as I was in this moment.

Dust to dust…the saying applies to people and to books.  Those of us who work in libraries and archives are in the memory business.  Though we do not know who Ida was, or anything of her friends and family, we preserve the memento they have left behind, and hold it for the researcher who may someday come to recreate the story of these lives, and others, that make up the story of Texas.

My Friend Ida A. When this you see remember me.  Henry T.  Jan 2 [?] 88

July 5th 1888  Dear Ida. Speak of me kindly When life drems are ore.  Speak of me gently when I am no more  Tinae Gillaspy

Dear Ida A line is enough to Ask rememberance  Your Schoolmate  Emm H.  Liberty Hill Nov. 28 1888

Dear Ida, Poor ink  Poor pen  poor writer  Amen.   Your Nephew Walter Lasseberger  

Dear Ida- Think often and always kindly of your true friend.  Francis

Dear Ida Remember a beautiful life ends not in death.

Little Friend:  In the golden chain of friendship regard me as a link.  Your friend Hollie Cates  Liberty Hill Jan 21 1888

Dear Ida.   Will you sometimes think Of me with kindness and Love. Liberty Hill, Jan. 19 1888  Your friend  Nora Gillaspy

Dear Ida.  Love many trust Few and Always paddle your own canoe.  Is the wish of your friend Elie

To Ida  If you wish that happiness  Your coming day and years may bless  And virtues crown your brow;  Remain as as you are wont to be  Faultless as you’ve been knon to me  Remain as pure as you are now.   Is the wish of—   Sister Mattie

My little student.  Always remember with true affection.  Your teacher Jean S. Fry. –19, ‘87

To Ida  Love me little  Love me long  Do not flirt for that is wrong.

Dear Ida  When you get old and canot see put on your specks and think of me  Your friend and Schoolmate Marine

Dear Little Ida,  Who does the best his circumstance allows, Does well;  Acts nobly; Angels could do no more.  Lovingly,  Mother  Liberty Hill  Feb 10th 88

The Paper Republic: The Struggle for Money, Credit, and Independence in the Republic of Texas

On Thursday, October 20th at 6:30 p.m. in Bennett Auditorium, James P. Bevill will tell the little-known story of financing the Texas Revolution and the sovereign nation of Texas (1835-1845).  A gifted storyteller, Bevill’s powerful 50 minute visual presentation relays the history of Texas from an economic point of view rather than a political one. In the forward to The Paper Republic, Dr. Richard Bruce Winders, Historian and Curator at the Alamo poses the following questions: “How did a credit system based on a man’s word operate? Where did the funds come from to finance the Texas Revolution? What role did Texas’ lack of solvency play in her ultimate annexation to the United States?” Bevill expertly answers these questions and many others as he presents the history of money and finance in Texas—a history that is in some ways eerily similar to the current U.S. debt crisis.

James Bevill’s book, The Paper Republic, was named the 2009 winner of the Summerfield G. Roberts Literary Award by the Sons of the Republic of Texas, and the Best Specialized Book on U.S. Paper Money by the Numismatic Literary Guild at the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money in Boston, August 2010.

Come hear James Bevill tell the captivating tale of economic struggle in the Texas Revolution; ask questions at the end of his talk. Meet the author at a book signing and reception at The Texas Collection following the lecture. This program is free and open to the public.

For more information about James Bevill and The Paper Republic, click here.


Texas Trailers

The Texas Collection staff decided to have a bit of fun over the summer and created video trailers to introduce you to some of our favorite collections.  Our Texas Trailers are up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.  We’ve put together short movies about western pulp fiction, panoramic photographs, promotional literature, the Adams-Blakley collection, and Jules Bledsoe archival materials. We hope you’ll enjoy this look into the stacks and vaults here at Carroll Library.  Leave your comments below!

Dear Lera…

smoke girl

Dear Lera—How are you these hot days? Electric light man is here and will study by new lights tonight. Everything is in a tumble. Every one is well. Baby has three teeth now. How do you like this card?  Miss H. didn’t say a word it was me will tell you later. May go to Dallas tomorrow after a hat. Will write soon. Perle B.

Like the artist’s sketch dashed off to capture a moment, a few words and a picture on a postcard can open a much larger world to the imagination.  Mailed in 1911 to Miss Lera Brown at Baylor, this postcard shows a young man envisioning a beautiful woman in his cigarette smoke.  Along with her face and hair there is a ring—perhaps an engagement ring—signaling that he imagines his beloved, or a yet-unmet future wife.  The couple’s red lips and eyes mirror each other, and the shape and angle of the ring echo the man’s collar.  It’s a dreamy picture that creates a fantasy for the viewer, that of the dashing young man who longs for love and marriage.

The note on the back is also full of revealing details conveyed with great economy.  The card was mailed in October but it’s still hot in Texas!  And “everything is in a tumble” as the new electric lights are installed.  How delightful it will be to study tonight by the light of this relatively recent home improvement.

We read about the baby who is growing, and a possible trip to the big city to shop for a new hat. We sense that Perle B. found this postcard interesting or fitting, as she wonders, “How do you like this card?”  There is a hint of mystery and a need for discretion regarding a Miss H. (“will tell you later”), and like Lera, we can’t wait to hear all the details.

But by this time, there is no more space for writing, so the postcard ends with the promise we all hope to hear when we are away from home: “Will write soon.”   I like to imagine that Perle kept her promise and sent other cards and letters to Baylor that year, knowing, as John Donne did that  “more than kisses, letters mingle souls, for thus friends absent speak.”

smoke girl postcard back

The journey to your future: Baylor University Hand-Book of Information, 1900

Baylor handbook cover, 1900

In the fall of 1900, Baylor University had been in Waco for only fourteen years.  Our copy of the Hand-Book of Information from that year is a small, unassuming volume with a faded green cover, a few slightly damaged pages, and some handwritten notes inside.  It certainly doesn’t look like much when you first pick it up, but you know what they say about judging books….

Interestingly, it is the railroads that open and close this Baylor handbook.  While we rely on highways for most of our transportation today, railways were essential for the vitality of Texas cities and institutions at this time.  The lack of rail transportation in Independence, the University’s original location, contributed to Baylor’s move to Waco.  The Hand-Book begins:

Waco is the central city of the coming Empire State of Texas and is the point of intersection of five important railways. It is the chief convention city of the State. Every year brings people here from far and near to meetings of political, educational, religious, scientific and industrial character.

Of course, along with all those people coming for meetings, the railroads brought students to Baylor which was “located in the southern part of the city, commanding a magnificent view of the valley of the Brazos and the outlying hills.”

Throughout its 24 pages, the Hand-Book of Information tries to persuade new students to come to Baylor.  The young University boasts,  “The property of the institution is worth about $250,000….The main building is three stories high and contains twenty lecture rooms, four libraries, laboratories, museum, art rooms, society halls, president’s and registrar’s offices, and the chapel.”  One section of the handbook notes the reasons for Baylor’s strong appeal, including the standard of scholarship; its Christian tone; a democratic nature which allows every student to stand on his own merit, not on what his family has or has not done; the purity, wholesomeness and vigor of its student life; and the many opportunities to hear fine speakers and guest lecturers.

The Baylor campus was full of activity at the turn of the century.  The Philomathesian, Erisophian, Adelphia, R.C.B. and Calliopean student societies are praised as “vigorous and helpful associations for the general culture of their members….The questions debated are usually those uppermost in the public mind.”  Some Societies also maintained libraries which were open to all students.

Early twentieth-century parents were doubtless concerned about the company their children would keep while away from home. Under the heading “General Control” we read:

The students of Baylor University are animated by a fine spirit of “Loyalty, Democracy and Christianity.” Cases of discipline involving serious breaches of public order or morality are rare.  The relations between the members of the faculty and students are usually cordially friendly and mutually considerate.  Students who are unable to “get along” on this basis usually withdraw or are sent home.

After all the discussions of degrees and expenses, living arrangements, dining and athletic facilities, the railroads reappear at the end of the handbook.  Having carried students to Baylor at the beginning of this volume, the railroads close the pamphlet by advertising all the places you can go when you leave Waco:  Chicago, New Orleans, Mexico, California, San Antonio, Houston, Galveston.   The wide world awaits, and the railroads are ready to facilitate both a young person’s travel and their larger journey.  All that is needed is to ride the M.K. & T.–“The Katy Flyer ” or the Cotton Belt Route (St. Louis Southwestern Railway);  take the S.A. & A.P Ry.  (San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway), The Texas Central Railroad, the H. & T. C. R.R. or the Southern Pacific Sunset Route. Travel in comfort and style in through sleepers, and day cars, reclining chair cars, and Pullman Standards with “Parlor Buffet Service.”  An educated man or woman has many choices—just pack your bags and begin the adventure!  As they say on the Cotton Belt Route, “All Inquiries Cheerfully Answered by Mail or Otherwise.”
Katy Flyer ad

The sweet taste of Texas cookbooks

Elizabeth Borst White knows cookbooks! Twenty-five years ago, recognizing the unique window into cultural history that they provide, Ms. White began a collection that now contains nearly 1,600 volumes.  Recently retired after nearly 40 years as a librarian for the Houston Academy of Medicine–Texas Medical Center Library, White understands the value of her Texas cookbook collection as a historical resource and has pledged to donate her materials to The Texas Collection, significantly enriching our already wide assortment of resources in this area. In addition, Elizabeth White has generously established the Biscuits and Gravy Endowed Fund–a permanent endowment that provides funding for future purchases and preservation of the cookbook collection.

White says that her favorite types of cookbooks are “community cookbooks with lots of advertisements for local businesses” because they “give the reader a good picture of the community at that time. We just do not see advertisements for rifles and ammunition, or corsets and ladies’ hats in cookbooks today.”

Here’s a small taste of the delights you can find in the Elizabeth Borst White Texas Culinary Collection:

  • “Treasure Pots,” The Austin Woman’s Club, 1940 which includes recipes for Salmagundi Dressing, Admiration Pie, and ‘Possum and Sweet Taters.
  • What’s Cooking in Our Swedish-American Kitchens, Central Methodist Church, Austin, c.1951, with Wienerbrod (Coffee Bread), Kroppkakor (Potato Dumplings with Pork), and Brysseikax (Iced Box Cookies). Also Tuna Noodles and Tamale Pie.
  • Portrait of A. Fillmore, author of one of the first cook books by an African-American chef, The Lone Star Cook Book and Meat Special (From the Slaughter Pen to the Dining Room Table), Hotel Lubbock, 1929.


  • Advertisement for Kitchen Queen’s Baking Powder (“Healthful and efficient.”) and J.E. Grant Fine Wall Papers (“Don’t paper your house like everybody’s house.”) from the Waxahachie Cook Book, 1902 .


  • Advertisements for Miss Julia A. Hillyer, Teacher of Piano, and Kauffman Vehicles (“Would be pleased to figure with you if in need of a good Vehicle.”) also from the Waxahachie Cook Book, 1902.

The Texas Culinary Collection is a fascinating look into the kitchens of the past. These cookbooks help us understand the history of the organizations that authored them, and the daily lives of the chefs and homemakers whose recipes they contain. They remind us of businesses and products no longer available, and of trendy foods no longer in fashion. Come in and sample the collection for some great reading and great cooking!