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

A bit of postal history: advertising covers from the Burleson Collection

The internet is constantly delighting me with Interesting Things I Didn’t Know.  The other day a colleague handed me a stack of 19th century envelopes.  Now, I had never considered a world without “store bought” envelopes, but it turns out that, prior to the 1840s, that was exactly the way the world worked:  you had to cut and fold your own. It wasn’t until 1840 that George Wilson patented a process of tiling envelope patterns on a large sheet of paper, and not until 1845 that Edwin Hill and Warren De la Rue obtained a patent for a steam-driven machine that not only cut out the envelope shapes but creased and folded them. Hill and De la Rue displayed their machine at the Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition of 1851–along with the Koh-i-Noor, the world’s largest known diamond at the time, Samuel Colt’s prototype for the Colt Navy revolver, and one of the world’s earliest voting machines.  Who would have thought that making envelopes could be so interesting as to merit a spot in the Crystal Palace?

But as I learned, the fascinating history of envelopes, or covers, as they are known, continues.  During the Civil War paper was extremely scarce, so hand-made envelopes were created out of wrapping paper, tax receipts, wallpaper, flyleaves torn from books, maps, music sheets, or other available materials. These handmade envelopes are referred to as “adversity covers” and they are considered quite collectible. People at this time also used envelopes for propaganda purposes, printing or drawing cartoons, emblems, pictures and messages that expressed their political sentiments. Collectors call these bits of postal history “patriotic covers.”

In the latter part of the 1800s, businesses began to create printed envelopes. These advertising covers could be printed with anything from a simple corner card (picture and return address) to elaborate decorations and ad copy covering much of the envelope.  Early advertising covers eventually led to both the cacheted first day cover and modern junk mail.

At The Texas Collection, we have a group of 19th century advertising covers from the Rufus Burleson Collection which you can see displayed on our flickr page. These envelopes are from all over Texas and come from a range of businesses and colleges. They’re stamped on the front with a postmark from the sending post office and on the back with the receiving post office. We hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse into life in the late 1800s.

New at The Texas Collection!

The Texas Collection is delighted to announce the appointment of John S. Wilson as its new Director. John came to Baylor University in 1987, and over the years has worked as the Director of Library Development and the Head of Government Documents. Arriving at The Texas Collection as Associate Director, he has for the past six months served as our Interim Director.

John’s vision and leadership have been in great evidence here at The Texas Collection. He has mobilized a dedicated and hard-working staff to organize and improve working space in Carroll Library, converting two storage areas into a classroom and a working preservation lab. He has also been the force behind two major exhibits: “Texas, Our Texas,” a special exhibit of the wide range of extraordinary materials to be found in the collection;   and “Mapping it Out: A Cartographic History of Texas,” an exhibit of rare and important maps accompanying the dedication and opening of the newly renovated Frances C. Poage Map Room.

Finally, John is a true believer in the unique value of The Texas Collection. His enthusiasm for exploring and developing its riches is contagious, and we are all looking forward to finding new and interesting ways to share the best of Texana under his leadership.

Blogging about Texas

Welcome to the newly created Texas Collection Blog! The Texas Collection is steeped in tradition and history. There’s so much to share and show that we thought it was time to communicate more directly and informally with you–sharing highlights from our collections and projects, and providing a venue for your comments. We also want to learn from you because The Texas Collection houses a few mysteries that we’re hoping you can help us solve.

We’ll be updating this site regularly, so check back often to hear about our latest discoveries or read about what’s new. There’s always something exciting happening in Texas.


John S. Wilson

Interim Director. The Texas Collection