Looking Back at Baylor: The Good Ship “Baylor Victory”

This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in June 1979, 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.

We dedicate this post to the military men and women who serve our country and to the memory of those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

S.S. Baylor Victory publicity photo
You can just make out the “Victory” on the left and “Baylor” on the right of this photo, taken at the shipyard before launching.

Early in 1945 Baylor President Pat M. Neff received an unexpected communication from the United States Maritime Commission. This letter informed him that a new ship, then under construction in a shipyard near Los Angeles, would be named in honor of Baylor University. It would be one of the “Victory” series of merchant vessels, intended to provide “muscle behind the fists of the armed services,” and was designed for use in either war or peace. According to early information, its date of launching would be “on or about March 1, 1945.”

Neff soon wrote to inquire whether Baylor University might have a part in the launching of its namesake vessel. Informed that a representative of the university would be permitted to make a brief address during the christening ceremonies, Neff arranged for Los Angeles District Judge Minor L. Moore, a Baylor graduate of 1900 who had been an outstanding student orator, to participate in the program. He also raised a hundred dollars for the purchase of a library of about forty volumes for use by the ship’s crew.

Baylor Lariat article about the launch of the S.S. Baylor Victory
“In the year of grace when the whole world is convulsed by the totality of war, when the vicious are allied with the enemies of freedom, the naval arm of our government should christen a fighting ship with the name of Baylor,” Moore declared, according to this March 9 article in the Baylor Lariat.

When the schedule of the launching became known, Judge Moore wrote wryly to President Neff of his discovery that “the limit of the speech to be made by the representative of Baylor is one and a half minutes.” Neff, amused by the strictures which this limitation would impose upon his old friend’s easy flow of words, replied with some tongue-in-cheek advice: “Now, Minor, you need not feel that you must use all of this time unless the inspiration of the occasion just compels you to do so. The early morning air will be so invigorating that I feel sure as you stand on the deck of this ship bearing the Baylor name and look out onto the great Pacific, you will have inspiration to occupy nearly all of your minute and a half.”

As matters developed, the date of the launching was moved from March 1 to March 6, and the time, which was regulated by the occurrence of high tide, was set for 1:20 a.m. A participant later described the scene in a letter to President Neff: “The night was very dark; but time and time we were almost awed by the myriad of lights which illuminated the different war plants and ship yards. The display was far more breathtaking than the lighting of any great fair or centennial. Some of the buildings of Standard Oil rose like domes of light or spread into a cascading shower of individual lights which reminded one of some dream or fairyland. Our passes cleared heavily policed gates and doors…Then we went to the dock for the launching. Flood lights brilliantly illuminated…the ship which loomed so far up, up above us that we had to look very high up with heads way back to see all of her: yet, we were aware that by comparison she was a small ship.”

Despite the inconvenience and lateness of the hour, Baylor was represented at the launching by a total of about a dozen and a half graduates and friends, one of whom carried in her arms a plush teddy bear with a green and gold ribbon around its neck. Judge Moore delivered his address of 185 well-chosen words, ending with the valedictory, “All hail, Baylor Victory!” Then, as the ship’s sponsor christened the vessel with a bottle of champagne, the S.S. Baylor Victory glided into the water of the Pacific Ocean and began her naval career.

S.S. Baylor Victory was launched only a few months before the Allies celebrated V-E Day. We assume the ship was used in the last months of World War II; we know it went to Korea. We believe it may have become part of a shipping company’s fleet after that.

S.S. Baylor Victory, photo and model
The top photo is the ship; the bottom one also is labeled “Baylor Victory,” but the model doesn’t look the same as the real ship. What do you think? (Updated: We’ve been informed that the upper image is indeed a Victory ship, while the lower is a tanker. We’re not sure why the images were put together, though–that’s still a mystery!)

Looking Back at Baylor: Simple Pleasures in Independence

Drawing, Baylor Female College, undated
The columns of the Baylor Female College building are now the iconic remains of the original Baylor campus. They are an important part of the Line Camp experience.

This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in November 1978, 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 will periodically feature selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.

This piece, “Simple Pleasures in Independence,” was selected for our first Looking Back entry because starting this week (and through most of July), Baylor Line Camps will be visiting the site of Baylor’s original campus in Independence. While the social life of the class of 2016 will be quite different from what Margaret Hall Hicks describes below, the community spirit of the Baylor family remains constant.

Margaret Hall Hicks, undated
Margaret Hall Hicks, undated. The Texas Collection houses the Hicks-Hall-Harman Family papers, which includes the complete "Memories of Ancestors" document, a fascinating look at life in Texas in the late 1800s. The photos in this blog come from our photo archives. Researchers are welcome to come and use these records.

In 1871, sixteen-year-old Margaret Hall, who five years earlier had attended Baylor’s preparatory department, returned to the Independence campus as a student at Baylor Female College. She entered enthusiastically into the life of the college, and while she appreciated the school’s scholastic offerings, she also found time to participate in the various social occasions which its calendar afforded.

Many years later, when her own children were grown, Margaret Hall Hicks prepared a personal memoir of some of the events and impressions of her early life. Titled “Memories of Ancestors,” Mrs. Hicks’ memoir vividly recalls her days at Baylor. An excerpt concerning her attendance in 1866 appeared in the Baylor Line of May-June 1967. The following passage, drawn from the period of her later enrollment, relates some of the “simple pleasures” by which Baylor students of the 1870s diverted themselves from their studies.

Baylor Female College, 1884
A different angle on the main building of the Baylor Female College. This 1884 photo was taken just two years before Baylor University left Independence to join with Waco University, and the Female College moved to Belton, ultimately becoming the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

“Along with our studies we had a most delightful social life. Baylor University, a school for boys, was about a half-mile or less from Baylor College, and you know that twenty or thirty boys and that many girls could not fail to find some means of communication. We were allowed to receive the boys in the large parlors of the dormitory once a month on Friday night. We were sometimes allowed to visit our girl friends in the town, and of course this meant there would be a boy invited for each girl, to come in for a good time together in the evening. We all attended the same church and many were the notes and shy glances passed between the boys and girls, although they were required to sit on opposite sides of the church with a high partition between them.

Henry McArdle drawing of the male campus of Baylor University, 1870s
The ride up to the men's campus. Hicks recalls the separate men's and women's campuses, an arrangement that President Rufus Burleson insisted upon before he left for Waco University. Left to right are: Tryon Hall, Houston Hall, Graves Hall, Burleson Domicile, dormitory annex, and Creath Hall.

An annual picnic on San Jacinto Day was a social event anticipated and prepared for months before the time. Each girl had made a date weeks before with some boy, generally her sweetheart, for the whole day together. If the boy was financially able, he hired a horse and buggy to take his lady love, and these were the envy of the other girls, who had to join in with others in hiring a hack or wagon and go in crowds.Another occasion that still lingers in my memory was the Christmas holidays. The last week before Christmas was a time of merry-making. Mr. Clark always prepared for a very elaborate Christmas concert. The large auditorium was gaily festooned with cedar and holly of which there was an abundance in the nearby woods.

Independence, Texas, undated
The men's campus sat on Windmill Hill, giving students a good view of the town. When the railroad bypassed Independence, the town's size began to decrease.

The boys and girls, under the supervision of one of the teachers, were delegated to borrow wagons from some of their country friends and go out in the woods to get these, and such jolly rides as they were, and what a thrill we did get out of them! No auto joy rides of the present ever gave young folks more pleasure. Then the festoons were to be made and the boys were permitted to come over and help in trimming these, and what a good chance for the innocent love making which all boys and girls so much enjoy and which, conducted in the right way and under the right environment, is natural and beneficial for all young people. These concerts were given Thursday before the Christmas holidays. Succeeding them on the following night the boys of Baylor University gave an annual Christmas party at the University building, and this was the climax of all the Christmas frolic. At these parties ‘soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again, and all went merry as marriage bells.’

We did not have, nor did we care for, elaborate refreshments. At these parties given at the schools we only had fruits, nuts and candies which the boys paid for themselves. There was no drinking at these parties of the olden times. The natural exuberance of healthy youth was the only stimulant we needed.”

Updated July 13, 2012: Baylor Photography was kind enough to provide a current photo of the Baylor Female Building and Line Camp.

Baylor Line Camp 2009
The class of 2013 approaches the columns of the Baylor Female Building, jerseys over their shoulders, and prepares to be initiated into the Baylor Line. Credit: Baylor Marketing and Communications/ Matthew Minard.