Preserving Texas Folklore

On a cold December day in 1909, two English professors acted on a common thread of interest—preserving the songs, music, and tales of Texas, known collectively as folklore. John A. Lomax and Dr. Leonidas Payne created the Texas Folklore Society to begin collecting folklore across Texas and the Southwest. Today, the organization still stands as the second oldest such society, behind only the American Folklore Society. Members write papers and articles on different types of folklore and can present their work at the annual meeting that is held in a different Texas town each year.

Texas Folklore Writers exhibit at The Texas Collection

In recognition of their work and in conjunction with the Baylor University Libraries’ “A Celebration of Texas: Literature, Music & Film,” The Texas Collection is hosting “Texas Folklore Writers,” an exhibit examining the roots of the Texas Folklore Society and its current role. Texas Folklore Society exhibit detailThe exhibit displays photographs of the early “pioneers” of the Society, such as Lomax, Payne, Dorothy Scarborough, and J. Frank Dobie; a wide array of the Society’s yearly publications; the story of its symbol, the roadrunner; and the Society’s current activities.

A Baylor literary legend, Emily Dorothy Scarborough, is featured centrally in the exhibit. Ms. Scarborough taught English at Baylor and at Columbia University in New York during the early twentieth century. Detail of Scarborough songbookMs. Scarborough was passionately committed to preserving folklore and spent summers writing down the “elusive” folksongs of Southern mountain families and African-Americans.

Dorothy Scarborough portraitKnown for her adept and sensitive portrayals of Texas life around the turn of the century—likely aided by her folklore work—Ms. Scarborough wrote novels set in almost every region of the state. One of her most famous novels is The Wind, written in 1925 and set in West Texas. The book weaves a tale of a young woman from the East driven mad by the howling Texas winds. First published anonymously for media speculation, the book was a hit and made into a movie at MGM studios in 1929, starring Lillian Gish. Original transcriptions, documents and manuscripts, photographs, quotes, and first edition volumes by Ms. Scarborough are on display.

Visit The Texas Collection from March 29–May 31 to see the exhibit. Be sure to drop by  the other “Celebration of Texas” exhibits at the University Libraries, including a Texas Writers exhibit at Moody Memorial Library, Texas poetry at Armstrong Browning Library, and Texas works from the Hightower Collection at the W.R. Poage Legislative Library. Check out our calendar of events, too!

By Ann Payne, exhibit curator

New Acquisitions

At The Texas Collection we always are excited to acquire new resources for our researchers. But as much as we love archives, books, maps, photographs, and much more, we need the right people to care for all of these materials and make them accessible to our patrons. So we are pleased to announce the addition of two new faculty members!

new archivists at Baylor
Manuscripts Archivist Benna Vaughan and University Archivist Amanda Norman

Amanda Keys Norman joins us as the new University Archivist. Amanda is charged with documenting Baylor’s proud history, from its founding at Independence to the digital records being created as you read. “The records found in The Texas Collection were created when the history was happening—when Pat Neff Hall was dedicated, when the Immortal Ten tragedy struck the campus, and much more—I’m proud to be a part of preserving that history, these documents of Baylor’s heritage.”

Benna Vaughan serves as the new Manuscripts Archivist. Benna is our new go-to person for Texas history ranging from the Civil War to Baptist history, cooking to education, Waco history to postcard collections. “The Texas Collection is like Christmas every day of the year… you are always coming across something new and fresh.”

Amanda and Benna are taking the helm of “Blogging about Texas,” and gratitude is in order to Alice Campbell, our outgoing blogger. In addition to researching and writing for this blog, Alice served The Texas Collection as a cataloger, curated our “Believe Me Your Own” Civil War letters online exhibition and developed our Flickr presence. Thank you! Please continue to look to “Blogging about Texas” as Benna, Amanda and the rest of our staff work to tell the stories hidden in The Texas Collection.

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!

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

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