April 8, 2004
By Lois Ferguson
It started with seven women, seated in the parlor of Burleson Hall, in March 1904. Mattie Sims Brooks, wife of then president Samuel Palmer Brooks, had initiated conversations over tea about a women's faculty club at Baylor, then she invited the women to join her in the creation of such a group at Baylor University.
At that first meeting, the name Baylor Round Table was taken for the new literary and social club, scheduled to meet semi-monthly. The first resolutions not only set meeting times and dates, but limited membership to "lady members of the faculty and lady teachers," although the later intent was to include wives of faculty as well.
These women were devoted wives and mothers, but in her history of Round Table's first 50 years, The Golden Mirror,
Claude Eager Johnson also defined them as women who were "hungry for a broader life than even homemaking and childrearing....With their scholarly husbands they indeed found intellectual, and with their families, social life. But those were twentieth century women who felt the need of intellectual and social life as women. The time had come when Baylor women could no longer be denied that intellectual and social give-and-take of women with women."
Lois Myers, in her introduction to a history of the second 50 years of Round Table, said that Round Table "originated from the desire of wives of university professors and administrators, already more educated than most other American women, to continue their educations together in a setting that was informal, home centered, and family friendly. Feeding their intellects while satisfying their social affinities would make them better wives to their scholar husbands and better mothers for raising educated citizens."
In the first full year of Round Table, the members lived up to the intent of enhancing the literary life of the university with two programs on Tennyson, two on Browning, two on Ruskin, four on United States history and four on domestic science.
One hundred years and almost 300 members later and celebrating its centennial year, Round Table remains faithful to history and tradition, including in its activities the annual membership tea in September, the annual Thanksgiving dinner honoring Baylor's international students, and Christmas music at Armstrong Browning Library.
The club, however, continues to stay current with life at Baylor. The membership helped the School of Music celebrate its 100th anniversary of conferring degrees and participated in the inaugural Horton Foote American Playwrights Festival. A fall 2003 meeting featured the numerous interest groups that allow women to participate in activities of mutual interest and an early spring meeting provided members a sneak peek at the new Jeanes Discovery Center of the Mayborn Museum Complex.
The April 6 program celebrates the club's centennial by honoring long-time members and the introduction of the soon-to-be-released Round Table history. The year will conclude in early May with the annual style show and scholarship luncheon that for almost 50 years has brought each Round Table year to a close.
Over the 100 years, Round Table studies have ranged from the earliest themes of American literature of the present (1912-1913) and Browning and art (1922-1923) to American humor (1918-1919), interior decoration and children's literature (1923-1924), and the USSR (1942-1943). In 1939-1940, the full year was a concentrated study of woman - in the Bible, in art, in history, as great mothers, in industry, music, poetry, drama and sports.
In the second 50 years, themes on occasion have been more general in term, such as "Happiness is...Fine Arts" in 1980-1981, "Trends 'Round Baylor" in 1974-1975, "New Visions-New Horizons" in 1984-1985, and "A Tapestry" in 1992-1993. America's bicentennial was celebrated in 1975-1976, Round Table's anniversary was celebrated in 1978-1979 with "Seventy-Five Years of the Feminine Touch," and Baylor's sesquicentennial drove the theme of "Traditions of the Past and Promises of the Future" in 1994-1995.
In researching Embracing the Past, Anticipating the Future,
the book to cover the second half of the organization's history, Myers found Round Table to be adaptable "to the changing needs of its members and community." Constitutional changes seen as part of the maturation process reflect how the club has viewed its purpose, membership, officers, and committees -- a transformation in structure and reach. "Yet the conservative nature of the club persisted and many worthwhile traditions remained intact even as new traditions appeared." For example, with a subtle change in the constitution in 1948, the objective went from the "social and literary life of the University circle" to the "social and cultural life." Membership expanded from "the wives of the faculty and the lady teachers" to include wives of "administrative officers" and "women administrative officers." Others have been invited to membership by special invitation.
For more than 60 years, Round Table has made a special effort to include new faculty and administrative families as they join Baylor through a Newcomers Club. For several years the group operated as something of a club within a club, but in the early 1990s, a committee structure was put in place "to welcome and encourage Round Table participation as Newcomers in their first year at Baylor."
When club president Anita Rolf recommended that interest groups be started in 1986, she explained that they would be designed to provide "an opportunity for people in small groups to make connections and friendships that would be lasting." She had seen similar groups at another university and asked the board to consider the groups. Since that initial beginning of 13 groups, these special interest gatherings have grown in number and have ranged from lunch and theater groups to card and domino groups, antiquing trips, gardening sessions, aerobic exercise, and flower arranging. For the centennial year, 30 groups were available for member participation.
The Round Table Scholarship, first given in 1978, actually had its beginnings in spring 1923 when members considered the idea of providing funds to help students with the University expenses when the membership made $50 made available for a loan to a student. In 1974, the first funds were put into a savings account to begin the scholarship and in 1978, Mary McCall presented the first scholarship. Since that time, a scholarship has been given each year and memorial contributions, fund raisers and other efforts have increased the fund and allowed outstanding young women to receive financial assistance with their education. A centennial drive has added more than $6,000 in new funds for the scholarship.
And so it has been over the ensuing 100 years -- women have found intellectual and social enrichment with their fellow Round Table members. While there may not be a great deal of today's organization that remains an exact replica of its beginnings, the intent of the organization remains focused on enriching the life of the members.
When the centennial year began for Round Table, current president Judy Schmeltekopf helped to set the tone for the celebration when she said "I believe Round Table is and can continue to be the heartbeat of the Baylor family. Round Table can be a caring community linking many schools and departments together across the campus, show care to newcomers that come to Baylor, support and confirm Baylor moms who choose to stay home to raise their children, be a caring family to Internationals who come to our campus, and we can come together to experience the rich resources Baylor offers."
A Centennial History of Round Table
will be released by the organization in May. The book will include a reprint of The Golden Mirror,
written by Claude Eager Johnson and released in 1954 for the 50th anniversary. Lois E. Myers, senior lecturer in the Institute of Oral History, has written Embracing the Past, Anticipating the Future
to cover the second 50 years of the club. The book will be sold at a cost of $20. Contact Lois Ferguson at 710-8534 or send payment and order to her at One Bear Place #97111, Waco, TX, 76798.