Over the Generations: Documenting Waco's African-American Community through the Eyes of the Cobb Family

By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

Bosqueville School women's basketball, Central Texas champions, 1948
Bosqueville School women’s basketball, Central Texas champions, 1948. Frances Cobb Todd papers #2960, box 5, folder 12.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many members of the African-American community in Waco preserved memories of family, friends, and community by donating collections of letters, photos, financial documents, and more to The Texas Collection. While the collections may have arrived separately, the stories they tell often overlap and provide various perspectives on the same people and events. With items dating from 1861-1991, these collections cover many important events in the life of the African-American community in Waco and the story of Waco.

One family in particular, the Cobb family, has brought three generations of family materials to be preserved and made accessible to researchers at The Texas Collection. These items contribute to many record groups documenting the African-American experience in Waco for 130 years. Learn more about these historic figures in the paragraphs below—every hyperlink represents a collection.

Reverend Stephen Cobb, first pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, Waco, Texas
Reverend Stephen Cobb, first pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, Waco, Texas. Irene Cobb papers #2918, box 6, folder 17.

Stephen Cobb, representing the first generation of Cobb materials in The Texas Collection, helped found one of the oldest African-American churches in Waco, New Hope Baptist Church. He also served as the first pastor of the church. Through two marriages, Cobb had thirteen children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood.

Many of Stephen Cobb’s children and relatives became prominent in the Waco black community—see the Smith-Cobb family collection to learn more. Several became schoolteachers, one daughter taught music, and another daughter married the noted Texas educator Robert Lloyd Smith. A protégé of Booker T. Washington, Smith served two terms in the Texas Legislature and founded a society to help black sharecroppers in the early 1900s. This society, called the Farmers Improvement Society, had 12,000 members in 800 branches across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas at its high point in 1911.

Jules Bledsoe, preparing for his role in "Showboat"
Jules Bledsoe, preparing for his role in “Showboat.” Jules Bledsoe collection #2086, box 10, folder 8.

One of Stephen Cobb’s daughters, Jessie, married Henry Bledsoe. Their son, Julius Bledsoe, or Jules Bledsoe as he was popularly known, was an international opera star in the 1920s-1940s. He sang for audiences around the world, wrote music, and performed in plays, radio, and television.  His most famous piece was “Ol’ Man River” from the musical “Showboat,” though he also sang many other songs and spirituals. After a career of 22 years, Bledsoe died in Hollywood in 1943.

At least one generation later, Irene Cobb was also active in the Waco area. A schoolteacher for 31 years at various schools around Waco, Cobb was also active at New Hope Baptist Church. By this time, she was at least the third generation of Cobb family members to attend New Hope.

Prom night for A.J. Moore High School at the Blue Triangle YWCA, 1948.
Prom night for A.J. Moore High School at the Blue Triangle YWCA, 1948. Frances Cobb Todd papers #2960, box 6, folder 15.

Irene Cobb’s daughter, Frances Cobb Todd, continued the family tradition of activity at New Hope, and followed her mother’s career path and became a teacher in the Waco Independent School District. Frances Todd was one of several New Hope members to take an interest in preserving historical documents important to the Waco African-American community, and she helped bring several New Hope-related collections to The Texas Collection.

Other African-American record groups at The Texas Collection include the papers of Vivienne Malone-Mayes, the first African-American professor to teach at Baylor University, and of Oscar “Doc” Norbert and Mary “Kitty” Jacques Du Congé—Oscar was the first African-American mayor of Waco. Several of the people in these collections also were interviewed for oral histories that can be found in the digital collections of the Baylor Institute for Oral History.

Resources such as historic photographs, music, letters, financial documents, programs, and many other materials are available for research in our African-American collections. If you are interested in donating materials documenting the African-American experience in Waco or Texas, we would love to talk with you!

Love the photos above? Check out our Flickr set below to view a few more from these collections (click on the crosshairs in the bottom right corner to make it full-screen). And then set up a visit to The Texas Collection to see even more great documentation of the African-American community in Waco.

 

Baylor Quiz Time

by Amanda Norman, University Archivist

A "slime" (freshman) scrubs the Baylor seal in the foyer of Pat Neff Hall, 1951
Fortunately, freshmen aren’t imposed on anymore to use the toothbrush method to keep the Pat Neff Hall seal clean–and the seal is roped off to keep people from walking on it.

It’s back to school today—time for a quiz! These Baylor trivia questions are drawn from things I’ve learned through assisting patrons with reference questions. Test your knowledge of the green and gold—or learn more about Baylor’s past!

  1. When did Baylor have its first female yell leader?
  2. In the 1950s-1960s, AFROTC cadets practiced their rifle shooting in an indoor range in what building? a) Bill Daniel Student Center b) Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium c) Penland Hall
  3. What does legend say is buried near the swing in Burleson Quadrangle?
  4. How many years elapsed between when Tidwell Bible Building was first proposed and when it was completed?
  5. True or False—A Baylor student designed the Baylor seal in the floor of the Pat Neff Hall foyer.
  6. How much money did George W. Truett raise to eliminate Baylor’s debt in his role as financial agent in the early 1890s?
  7. Sociology is a part of the College of Arts and Sciences now, but it hasn’t always been housed there. In what school did it reside in the 1920s?
  8. What subject did the first African-American professor at Baylor teach?
  9. How many classes celebrated their graduation at Baylor Stadium (now Floyd Casey Stadium)?
  10. Who coined Baylor’s motto, Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana?
Yell Leaders at Baylor (Floyd Casey) Stadium, circa 1970
The female yell leaders in this 1970s photo were not the first.
Vivienne Malone-Mayes in the classroom, undated
Vivienne Malone-Mayes in the classroom, undated

Answers

  1. Weta Timmons was elected a yell leader in 1923 and is heartily commended for her efforts in the Lariat. However, after her term and up to 1968, there were no female yell leaders. The decision to break that gender gap was much debated throughout the 1960s.
  2. a) Bill Daniel Student Center. From 1953 to about 1964, the AFROTC competitive shooting team carried rifles up four flights of stairs to the attic of the Student Union Building and practiced target shooting. Apparently you could hear the shots outside the building (through air vents) but not inside.
  3. An “Indian princess” from the Huaco Indian tribe. When Colonel Joseph Warren Speight owned the property, his daughters found turquoise beads beneath a tree where they were playing. Speight investigated and found the skeleton. According to a Huaco legend, a plague befell the tribe. The chief’s beloved daughter helped nurse the ill but eventually died herself, and the bones are hers. In the 1930s, a marker declaring the grave to be that of “an Indian Princess” was erected on the site but was later removed and then returned in 1988.
  4. Twenty-one years. The building was first conceived in 1933 but wasn’t completed till 1954. It was delayed due to fundraising challenges, including World War II and other building priorities like Baylor Stadium, Armstrong Browning Library, and the Student Union Building. Architectural problems also delayed the project—an overly ambitious initial design, leading to a new architect being engaged and a lawsuit. Check out BU Records: Tidwell Bible Building Campaign Committee at The Texas Collection
  5. True. Enrique Ramirez designed the seal for the building, which was completed in 1939. Ramirez was an art student who did various art and design projects for the university throughout his time at Baylor.
  6. Truett raised $100,000 in two years. Benajah Harvey (B.H.) Carroll, the president of the board of trustees, offered the job of financial agent to Truett, who accepted the position but suffered a bad case of the measles before he could start the job.  After completing the fundraising project, Truett enrolled at Baylor as a student in 1893, and, of course, went on to become a major figure in Texas Baptist history. In 1990, Baylor claimed his name for a future seminary, and in 1994, the first students began classes at George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. Check out the George W. Truett papers at The Texas Collection. We also have many of the books he authored and audio recordings of his sermons.
  7. The School of Commerce and Business Administration, which was founded in 1923 (and now is known as the Hankamer School of Business). Political science and journalism are a few other departments that were housed in the new program but eventually were moved to the College of Arts and Sciences.
  8. Vivienne Malone-Mayes was hired as a mathematics professor at Baylor in 1966—only five years after she had been denied admittance to the school as a graduate student. She was among the first black women in the nation to earn a PhD in mathematics. Check out the Vivenne Malone-Mayes papers at The Texas Collection and her oral memoirs from the Institute for Oral History.
  9. Five. The classes of 1951-1955 celebrated commencement exercises at Baylor Stadium. In 1956, President Eisenhower came to Baylor and gave the commencement address. According to the Lariat, his advisors “much preferred that he speak in a completely enclosed building,” so the venue was moved that year to the (un-air conditioned and thus very warm) Heart O’ Texas Coliseum. Commencement was held there until 1988, when the Ferrell Center was constructed.
  10. Rufus Burleson. When he accepted the presidency of the university in 1851, he included an outline of institutional policies. Number eight on the list was, “The mottoes of Baylor University shall be, “Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana;” “Dulce et Decorum, pro patria Mori.” The Baylor seal still boasts the first motto, which translates to “For Church, For Texas.” The latter quote is attributed to the Roman poet Horace, and roughly translates to, “It is sweet and proper to die for your country.” It fell out of use as an official slogan—really, it’s not clear if it ever was adapted. Check out the Rufus C. Burleson papers at The Texas Collection.

You can read more about these stories and many others in the digitized Lariats, Round-Ups, and press releases, just a few of many Texas Collection items that can be found on the Baylor Digital Collections site. And if you want to investigate even further, drop me a line at The Texas Collection—we have archival records on many of these people and places.

Research Ready: July 2013

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for July:

Wellington children, circa 1888
A few years after Anna Wellington Stoner and her husband, Clinton Stoner, moved to Bullshead, Edwards County in Texas, Clinton died in 1884. In October of the same year, Anna moved her three small children (pictured) back to the Nueces River Canyon and bought 320 acres of land there. This was the beginning of the Stoner Ranch, which has grown to 2,000 acres today.
  • [Waco] Branch Davidians: Bill Pitts papers, 1963-2001, undated: This collection contains materials produced and collected by Bill Pitts, a professor in the Religion Department at Baylor University. The materials primarily cover the Branch Davidians siege of 1993.
  • Benjamin Edwards Green papers, 1840-1865: Green’s papers consist of a postcard, pamphlets, written notes, an unpublished manuscript and other chapter fragments. Among other roles, Green was a lawyer, served as an American diplomat at the Mexican capitol in the early 1840s, and was a secret agent in the West Indies.
  • James Weldon Jones papers, 1917-1919, circa 2010: This collection contains a series of letters sent from Alexander “Tip” Jones to his son, James Weldon Jones, while the latter was serving in the United States Army during World War I.
  • Vivienne Malone-Mayes papers. Inclusive: 1966-1977, undated: Malone-Mayes’ papers consists of correspondence, minutes, reports and other records related to her terms as a member and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for the Heart of Texas Region Mental Health Mental Retardation Center in Waco, Texas. The collection also contains personal materials and coursework Dr. Malone-Mayes assigned in her mathematics courses at Baylor University. She was Baylor’s first black faculty member.
Women and Mathematics / Mathematical Association of America publication, 1976
Vivienne Malone-Mayes was a trailblazer for women, particularly African Americans, in the mathematics profession. In 1966, she became only the fifth African American woman to earn her PhD in that field. After gaining employment at Baylor University, Vivienne did her part in encouraging women to pursue careers in mathematics, including editorial and consultation work with the Mathematical Association of America.
  • Irwin Green and Lillie Worley McGee papers, 1893-1899, undated: The McGee papers consist of notes, assignments, and exams produced by Irwin Green and Lillie Worley while attending Baylor in the 1890s, providing insight into Baylor’s curriculum during this period.
  • Walter Hale McKenzie papers, 1926-1952: The McKenzie papers contain correspondence and board and committee minutes illustrating McKenzie’s relations to prominent Baptists J.G. Hardin, George W. Truett, Pat Neff, and others, and his service to Baylor University, Baylor College for Women, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
  • Wellington-Stoner-McLean family collection, 1833-2007, undated: This collection consists of family documents collected by Margaret Stoner McLean. The collection includes correspondence and postcards, photographs, financial documents, books, personal ledgers, and publications about the family and the Stoner ranch.

Research Ready: June 2013

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for June:

Sul Ross as a young man, undated daguerreotype
The Barnard-Lane Papers contain materials from many of Waco’s oldest and most influential families, including this daguerreotype of Lawrence Sullivan Ross, a former governor of Texas and brother-in-law of Barnard Lane (found in box 28, folder 7).
  • Gladys Allen papers, 1882-1893, 1913-1952, undated: Gladys Allen was a teacher, served on the Baylor University Board of Trustees, and was a member of Seventh and James Baptist Church. Includes correspondence, personal notes, genealogical research, newspaper clippings, and photographs.
  • Lyrics to “America” manuscript, 1895: This manuscript contains a handwritten copy of the song “America” or, alternatively, “My Country Tis of Thee,” by the composer Samuel Francis Smith.
  • Barnard-Lane papers, 1800-1983, undated: George Barnard was one of the early Waco pioneers. The collection contains personal materials as well as those related to his trading post.
  • Ava Storey and Dixie Anderson Butcher collection, 1903-1998, undated: Contains documents and photographs from the Storey and Butcher family, as well as photographs of the affluent Waco drug store chain, Pipkin Drug Store.
  • Newel Berryman Crain papers, 1858-1948, undated: The Crain papers chronicle the experiences of a young man from Texas during the beginning of the twentieth century, from his time at Baylor through his various jobs and military service. It also includes correspondence from Crain’s grandfather, Newton M. Berryman, about his studies at Baylor University at Independence in 1858.
  • BU Records: Dean of the Union Building (Lily Russell), 1936-1966: Administrative
    records related to Baylor’s Union Building, as well as some of Russell’s personal
    records and materials from when she was Director of Public Relations at Baylor.
  • [Edcouch] First Baptist Church records, 1941-1974, undated: [Edcouch] First Baptist Church, originally named Los Indios Baptist Church, was organized during the summer of 1924 in Los Indios, Texas. It has undergone a few name and location changes since then. Records consist of manuscripts pertaining to administrative operations of the church.
Telegram from Mary Jane Hannah to her husband, Robert Lee Hannah, following the loss of their son, Bob, 1927
Telegram from Mary Jane Hannah to her husband, Robert Lee Hannah, following the loss of their son, Bob. Bob Hannah was one of what Baylor calls the Immortal Ten who died in a train/bus collision en route to a basketball game in Austin. Hannah-Wiley papers, box 1, folder 5.
  • Hannah-Wiley Family papers, 1909-1930, undated: The Hannah-Wiley Family papers contain correspondence, legal documents, financial documents, and literary production relating to the family of Baylor student Robert “Bob” Lee Hannah Jr., who was one of the “Immortal Ten” who died in a tragic bus/train collision.
  • Independence Baptist Church records, 1873-1918: Independence Baptist Church was one of the first Baptist churches in Texas. Contains one bound minute book that describes church activities, finances, and disciplinary issues from 1873-1918 and also includes a condensed history of the church from 1839-1873.
  • Colonel Chris H.W. Rueter collection, 1927-2004, undated: Consists of correspondence, certificates, postcards, artworks, photographs, and biographical information collected by Baylor alum and WWII veteran Colonel Chris H.W. Rueter and his family.
  • BU Records: Rufus C. Burleson Society, 1900-1919: Documents the operations and activities of one of Baylor’s women’s literary societies that was most active in the early 1900s.
  • James Anderson Slover papers, circa 1907-1913, undated: Copies of a manuscript written by Slover, Minister to the Cherokees: A Civil War Autobiography, describing early family history on the frontier in the United States and Texas.
  • Thurmond-Tramwell Slave papers, 1857: These papers include a document originating from Gonzales, Texas, which gives an account of a legal dispute between Thurmond and Tramwell over an enslaved woman.
  • Frank L. Wilcox Papers, 1923-1966, undated: Contains the personal and professional materials of Frank Wilcox, a former mayor of Waco and the son-in-law of former Texas governor and Baylor University President Pat Neff.

Research Ready: March 2013

"Ask the American boy why he prefers Kellogg's"
A patriotic advertisement for Kellogg’s Toasted Corn Flakes during WWI. The Thomas L. and Pit Dodson Collection has hundreds of similar early- to mid-twentieth-century art prints and clippings, providing a colorful window into American culture.

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for March:

Correspondence from the Adina De Zavala papers
A letter of recommendation written by the Mexican Consul in San Antonio, Dr. Plutarco Ornelas, for Adina De Zavala on her historical research trip to Mexico in 1902.
  • Thomas L. and Pit Dodson collection, 1710-1991, undated: The Thomas L. and Pit Dodson collection contains a wide variety of collected materials, including literary productions, books, photographic materials, and scrapbooks. While spanning three centuries, this collection consists primarily of early- to mid-twentieth-century art prints and periodical clippings.
  • Marvin C. Griffin papers, 1940-2010, undated: The Griffin papers contain literary productions, photographic materials, audio recordings, and other materials pertaining to Reverend Marvin Griffin, an African American pastor who fought for the spiritual and political freedoms of his congregations at New Hope Baptist Church (Waco) and Ebenezer Baptist Church (Austin).
  • Roxie Henderson collection, 1852-1919: This collection contains personal items and collected materials of Roxie Henderson, a Baylor graduate who served during World War I as an American Red Cross nurse. Learn more.
  • Isabella M. Henry papers, 1931-1981, undated: Henry’s papers features manuscripts detailing her career in the Women’s Army Corps and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II. Learn more.
  • Lula Pace collection, 1895-1969, undated: This collection contains student notebooks, topographical maps, and scholarly publications by Lula Pace, a PhD graduate of the University of Chicago who served as a science professor at Baylor University in the early 1900s. Learn more.

Research Ready: December 2012

"Dialogue on Race Relations," Waco Community Race Relations Coalition flyer
The Community Race Relations Coalition (CRRC) began as a series of grassroots dialogues on race in Waco. The First Anniversary Dialogue was held in 2000.

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. This month we have a few special entries from the Archival Collections and Museums class that worked on an archival processing project with us here at The Texas Collection. (You’ll learn more about that in a guest post by a student in January.) We’re not quite done proofreading all of the students’ finding aids, so there will be a few more finding aids coming from that group. Here’s the scoop for December:

  • BU Records: Adelphian Theological Society, 1889-1916: The Adelphian Theological Society was formed in 1889 by Baylor ministerial students. The records group contains correspondence, financial records, legal documents, and ledgers that reflect how the Society operated. (Archives class)
  • Roberta Lucille Malone Bailey Papers, 1936, undated: This small collection contains two items: a letter written by Pat Neff to William and Ada May congratulating them on 50 years of marriage and a photocopy of a journal entry citing this letter.
  • Raymond E. Biles Collection, 1954-1973: The Biles Collection consists primarily of newspaper clippings covering the educational desegregation era in Texas from 1956-1973. Also included is correspondence to Mr. Biles and other materials relating to his role as an adviser to the Waco Citizen’s Advisory Committee, which was tasked with reviewing local desegregation policies. (Archives class)
  • [Waco] Calvary Baptist Church Records, 1929-1955, undated: Calvary’s church records consist of literary documents created by church members including church publications and a directory. (Archives class)
  • [Waco] Caritas Records, 1965-1988: The [Waco] Caritas Records represents organizational records from the Caritas Catholic charity located in Waco, Texas. The records follow the meetings, programs, and public image of Caritas from its creation in the 1960s through its continued service in the 1980s. (Archives class)
  • James Milton Carroll Papers, 1898-1929: Centered around Carroll’s writings, these documents include manuscripts, proof sheets, sermons, tracts, and other writings.  (Archives class)
  • [Waco] Community Race Relations Coalition Records, 1998-2011: The Waco Community Race Relations Coalition Records consist of correspondence, legal and financial documents, literary productions, photographs, and media documenting the coalition’s efforts to promote racial awareness in the community of Waco, Texas.
  • [Waco] First Baptist Church Collection, 1892-1978, undated: The First Baptist Church of Waco was established on 1851 May 31 by four charter members along with Noah T. Byars, who became their first pastor on June 1. Their records consist of correspondence, literary documents, and financial records. (Archives class)
  • Historic Waco Foundation Records, 1954-2005: The Historic Waco Foundation is a nonprofit institution that was created in 1967 after the merger of three Waco
    foundations: the Heritage Society of Waco, the Society of Historic Preservation, and the Duncan Foundation. These documents consist of correspondence, financial documents, legal documents, literary papers, and oversized materials. (Archives class)
  • Huston-Tillotson University Records, 1930-1935: The Huston-Tillotson University Records consist of correspondence and financial documents from Tillotson College as University President Mary Elizabeth Branch tried to keep the college open during the Great Depression.
  • BU Records: Philomathesian Literary Society, 1859-1951: Established in 1851 while Baylor University was located in Independence, Texas, the Philomathesian Literary Society was the first literary society to be established in Texas. The records include roll books, minutes books, general business records, library records, their constitution, contest records, and records on their fight with the Erisophian Literary Society from 1912-1913. (Archives class)
  • Quanah, Seymour, Dublin, and Rockport Railroad Records. 1836 (copy)-
    1922, undated: The Quanah, Seymour, Dublin and Rockport Railroad Records consist of correspondence, legal documents, financial documents, field notes and maps
    produced by the railroad company and associated small companies in South
    Texas. (Archives class)
Philomathesian vs. Erisophian debate letter, January 10, 1913
In this letter from J.W. Thomas to R.E. Dudley, Thomas refers to recent “squabbles” between the Philomathesian and Erisophian Literary Societies at Baylor. The question of who should debate first at the 1913 match apparently caused much controversy…and occasional name-calling.

Research Ready: October 2012

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for October:

Mary and Oscar Du Congé at work
Mary and Oscar Du Congé at work. Their papers document their work, family, and social life in Waco, Texas.
Bolt Family Homestead and Legion Valley massacre scrapbook photo, 1985
Dr. Johnie Reeves at a vista overlooking the Colorado River and the Comanches’ route after the Legion Valley massacre of 1868. Legion Valley is on the other side of the Cedar Mountains in the distance.
  • William Carley Family Collection, 1834-1936, undated: Documenting the Carley family from 1836-1936, this collection includes records about William Carley’s experiences moving to Texas in 1836, his service in the United States-Mexican War, and other events in the life of the family.
  • Oscar “Doc” Norbert and Mary “Kitty” Jacques Du Congé Papers, 1908-1987: This archives consists of manuscripts pertaining to the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Du Congé. Oscar  was the first African-American Mayor of Waco, and his wife, Mary, was a schoolteacher and secretary who was a leader in the community, a socialite, and a volunteer member of many Catholic religious organizations.
  • Wilhelm Esch Collection, 1870-1943: This collection contains certificates of  appointment and of honorable discharge for German-American soldier Wilhelm Esch, photographs and books concerning military life in World War I, items related to the Order of the Elks and miscellaneous WWII items including ration books.
  • Guyler (Lydia Ann English) [Mrs. William] Papers, 1860:  A correspondence between
    Mrs. Lydia A. Guyler (Mrs. William) from General Sam Houston, in response to Mrs. Guyler’s request for Houston to name her daughter.
  • Adolf Hitler Papers, 1938-1943: Our Hitler Papers contain two documents signed by the Chancellor of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler.
  • Benjamin Judson Johnson Papers, 1942-1960: These papers include correspondence, legal documents, literary productions, and artifacts relating to Benjamin’s experience in the U.S. Naval Air Force during World War II.
  • Jones Family Papers, 1857-1867, 1920, undated: The Jones family records consist of correspondence, legal, and financial documents, including fourteen Civil War letters from family members in the 10th Texas Infantry.
  • Luper Family Papers, 1909-1990: The Luper Family Papers are comprised of correspondence, literary productions, and other materials pertaining to a Baptist missionary family and their experiences during the mid-1900s in Portugal, Brazil, and central Texas. (This finding aid is updated with additional materials that came to The Texas Collection after we initially announced the finding aid in June 2012.)
  • Harry Hall Womack, Jr. Papers, 1940-1948: Womack’s papers consist of correspondence and literary productions relating to his experiences in the 1940s. These include medical school, a tour as a doctor in the Army during World War II, and the beginnings of his marriage and family.

Introducing Research Ready

Processing archival collections is one of our central activities at The Texas Collection. In archivist lingo, “processing” means to enhance access to our records through arrangement and description. Archives are different from books—they usually don’t have a title page, table of contents, or an index to tell you about the contents.  And they’re often messy.

enfranchisement document
The Fred Bell papers: An 1867 enfranchisement oath.

Sometimes collections come to us in good order, with everything beautifully organized. However, it’s probably more common that we receive records that appear to have been boxed up with no particular order. In these cases, it’s our job to discern and implement an organizing principle, then to describe the arrangement and the records in what we call a finding aid. That way researchers have a good idea of what they might expect to find in an archives and can plan their projects accordingly.

The Texas Collection’s finding aids are posted on our website by subject and alphabetically. We’re in the process of upgrading our arrangement and description procedures to comply with Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), and we’re working with catalogers at Baylor’s Moody Library to get our finding aids into BearCat (Baylor’s central catalog) too.

All this to say, we want you to know about our most recently processed collections! So we’re adding “Research Ready” as a monthly feature of “Blogging about Texas.” Each month, we will post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for May:

  • Olga Fallen Papers: The Olga Fallen Collection contains material accumulated during her years at Baylor University as women’s athletic coordinator, basketball and softball coach, and professor. The items include correspondence, financial, photographic, and organizational material. The bulk of the collection relates to basketball. (See our blog post for more detail.)

    James Warren Smith, Texas Ranger
    The James Warren Smith Sr. papers provide insight into the Texas Rangers' activities along the Mexican border in the early 1900s.
  • James Warren Smith Sr. Papers: The James Warren Smith Sr. Papers consist of a diary, scrapbooks, and literary productions. The scrapbooks contain many photographs. Smith was a Texas Ranger in the early 1900s.
  • Fred Bell Papers: The Fred Bell Papers consist of one manuscript, an enfranchisement oath for African-American Fred Bell, living in Travis County, Texas.

You can see how wide and varied The Texas Collection’s holdings are! These records—and the finding aids we have online—are just a small representation of the thousands of collections we preserve for future researchers. We’re working hard to make our collections more visible and hope that one of them will spark your interest!

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.