Samuel Palmer BrooksBaylor President, 1902-1931
Seventeen days after President O.H. Cooper resigned, the University's trustees offered the position to Samuel Palmer Brooks, a Baylor graduate and former faculty member who at that time was enrolled at Yale University seeking a master's degree.
Born in Milledgeville, Georgia, during the midst of the Civil War, Brooks moved to Texas with his mother and father when he was five. His parents taught school and always kept before him the ideals of a college education, but because of their poverty, all they could offer were good books and newspapers for him to read. His father often made a fifty-mile ride to Dallas to buy kerosene for lamps so that nighttime pursuits could be used for education and conversation, an abundant amount of which was furnished by visiting preachers in the home.
Brooks' mother died when he was fourteen, and for the next eight years he was not in school a single day, working instead as a laborer for the Santa Fe Railroad. The stimulus of those early educational pursuits continually plagued him, however, and at twenty-two years of age he entered a country school where common fractions and English grammar were almost his undoing.
In 1887 he entered the preparatory academy at Baylor where he was assigned to live in Maggie Houston Hall. Though about a half mile from the campus, it was the only boys' residence facility of the University. Brooks slept in a four-man room, which had two double beds, a table and four chairs, an oil lamp, and a wood-burning stove. The trunks of the boys served as additional chairs for company. There was no plumbing, no bathtub, and no electric lights. Brooks once told a friend that "the sanitary arrangements were little better than the kind the Indians had used in the prehistoric days." But, he stated, "we were happy, most of us. We did not miss what nobody had."
Brooks graduated when he was nearly thirty years old and then earned an additional bachelor's degree at Yale University. In 1897 he came to Baylor to teach, staying four years before returning to Yale to pursue a master's degree. This objective was interrupted when he accepted the presidency of Baylor.
During his tenure at the helm of Baylor, Brooks' integrity and democratic good sense gained him a unique respect from faculty as well as local community leaders. He also experienced a special relationship with the student body. For its first seventy years, the University had no official mascot. Even though other schools had them, Baylor had refrained from the practice. However, as intercollegiate athletic and forensic competitions increased, Brooks began to see the potential value a mascot might be to the institution. Thus, in 1914 he permitted the students to adopt one by a vote. On the ballot were a frog, an antelope, a buffalo and even a ferret, but it was the bear that received the most votes. A few years later, a U. S. Army engineer unit gave the University its first live mascot.
Not only did "Prexy," as he was fondly called, recognize the value a mascot could be to the University, but he also realized the importance of an abiding relationship with the alumni. To enhance this type of association, Brooks organized in 1909 the first official homecoming for ex-students of the institution. The purpose of the two-day event was to encourage alumni to return to the campus and to participate in activities designed to renew friendships and raise the nostalgic level of their current memories.
Baylor was a university in name only when Brooks became president, having fewer than three hundred regular college students. During his administration, a College of Medicine, a College of Pharmacy, a College of Dentistry, and a Theological Seminary were established. In addition, Brooks organized the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Schools of Education, Music, Nursing, and Business and the Medical Center in Dallas. He also reinstated the School of Law that had been dormant since the University has moved to Waco, and he led the trustees to abolish the preparatory academy, adopt the quarter system, and make the summer term an integral part of the academic year.
Endowment was increased by a half million dollars and Brooks personally led fund-raising activities across the state, the results of his efforts being seen in the restoration of Carroll Library which had been gutted by fire in 1922, the construction of the S. P. Brooks Hall, a cafeteria, a heating plant, a gymnasium, and several smaller facilities.
By the late 1920s, enrollment had grown to thirty-five hundred, and as many students were graduating each year as the total number enrolled at the beginning of Brooks' administration.
On May 14, 1931, the hand of God reached out to Brooks and signified that his labors on earth were over. Even though physicians had told him more than a year before his death that cancer was overtaking his body, he would not rest and continued leading fund-raising drives to enhance the University's financial strength and national reputation. At the time of his death more than half the states in the Union and several foreign countries were represented in the student body.