A Baptist minister and educational leader, Henry L. Graves attended the University of North Carolina and taught math at Wake Forest. He served as a delegate to the organizational meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Augusta, Georgia, in 1845. Though he had been named president of Baylor University the previous year, Graves assumed his responsibilities in January 1847.
He immediately began expanding the curriculum beyond the preparatory studies that had formed the basic program of study since the University had opened in May 1846 under Henry F. Gillett. Although successful to some degree, Graves' attempts to significantly strengthen and enlarge Baylor were plagued by a lack of funds and facilities. By his second year, the trustees owed him $1,200 in back salary and were having great difficulty in paying other bills. In spite of a shortage of capital, Graves' courage and vision appeared undaunted-at least at first.
Over the next few years, he instituted a department of mathematics and classics, added lectures in law, and employed a full-time fund raiser-all the while directing all University operations, pastoring the Independence Baptist Church, serving as an officer of the Union Baptist Association, and providing vital leadership to the Baptist State Convention that he helped organize in 1848.
Graves and Gillett undoubtedly brought prestige to the school during its early years as both were able educators and were well respected by the religious and educational leaders of the state. Thus, it was a great surprise to the trustees, as well as the Convention delegates who were meeting at Independence in June 1851, when Graves submitted his resignation. Though he claimed poor health, most people believed he was leaving because of the hardship of running the school, especially with the mounting unpaid bills.
Graves' decision may also have been influenced by the resignation of four of the original trustees and the death of another-William M. Tryon-as well as the resignation of Gillett due to personal hardships. Even so, Graves' final year had been one of his best. Among the highlights was the erection of the school's first solid masonry building, later named in his honor.
At the candlelight session of the Convention on the eve of Graves' resignation, the assembled delegates contributed an endowment fund of more than $5,000. It was the first real outpouring of support from the Baptist denomination for the University. Had Graves received that kind of financial backing earlier, he might have remained at the helm of the institution, perhaps changing Baylor's entire history.
Graves was born on February 22, 1813, in Yanceyville, North Carolina, and in 1836 married a distant cousin and relative of Margaret Lea Houston, Rebecca Williams Graves. They had four daughters and two sons-Mary Ann, Bettie, and Charles prior to moving to Texas, and Ophelia Florine while in Independence. Rebecca died in 1865, and he married widow Myra Lusk Crumpler in 1872. Graves died on November 4, 1881, in Brenham, and is buried there.