175 years of Independence

June 21, 2011
By Erika Snoberger Balm, BA '00, and Randy Fiedler

This year marks the 175th anniversary of Texas' independence from Mexico. As you may know, Baylor is quite proud of being Texas' oldest institution of higher education still in operation, dating back to its charter by the Republic of Texas. But it's not just that; you might be surprised by just how intertwined Baylor is with the history of Texas, dating all the way back to the very beginning.

As twilight fell on a balmy evening in early May, a familiar melody danced through the soft breeze and down Academy Hill into the tiny town of Independence, Texas. Some 150 voices strong, it rang:

"That good old Baylor Line ... that good old Baylor Line ..."

Four years ago, among the same historic ruins of Old Baylor Park, the same men and women -- then Baylor Line Camp inductees -- first walked under the iconic columns of Baylor's original campus, signifying their journey from high school students to college students. This night, they walked through in the opposite direction, now as college graduates, once more paying tribute to the history that built the school that built them into scholars and young adults.

"Coming back to Independence is like bringing my Baylor experience full-circle," says Michael Wright, BBA '11. "Being here tonight has been very emotional -- thinking about the past four years at Baylor, all the experiences I've had, the people I've met and the memories I've gotten to share. It's really special to come back this year, to honor history and to end my Baylor experience exactly where it started in Line Camp."

This year, in fact, was especially significant. As those students at Independence gave homage to Baylor's founding fathers, they simultaneously celebrated many of the same leaders who guided the rich history of the state of Texas in its fledgling years. In 2011, Texas commemorates its 175th year of independence from Mexico, and as these students know, when history is being made, Baylor's influence is never far away.

Influential founding fathers

Prior to the university's charter in 1845, three future Baylor trustees played key military roles in the Texas Revolution. Trustee Albert Clinton Horton was a scout for Col. James Fannin. Trustee James Seaton Lester was a recruiting agent for the revolutionary government, helped direct Davy Crockett and his men to San Antonio and the Alamo, and later joined fellow trustee Eli Mercer in fighting at the Battle of San Jacinto.

During the nine years following the revolution, when Texas was an independent nation, the future founders of Baylor were busy helping govern the new republic. Horton served in the Republic of Texas Congress and chaired a five-man commission that determined the capitol should be moved from Houston to Austin. Trustee William Tryon, meanwhile, served as chaplain of the Republic of Texas Senate.

judge_bayloretchThe university's namesake, Judge R.E.B. Baylor, was an integral player in Texas' early history, advancing the inevitable fusion of that day between government, religion and education in the new republic. Though he did not even emigrate to the state until the age of 46, Baylor quickly asserted leadership here. In 1840 he assisted in the organization of the Union Baptist Association, followed closely in 1841 with the establishment of the Texas Baptist Education Society, an effort also championed by Tryon.

"There's no doubt these early leaders envisioned their creation to one day become much bigger than themselves," says Dr. Thomas Charlton, BA '59, retired former director of Baylor's Texas Collection. "Fortunately, many of them had the wherewithal and influence by that point [to do just that], though they could not have predicted many of the changes ahead for Baylor."

Even as Texas' independence eventually gave way to becoming part of the United States, Baylor's early leaders again stepped up to play major roles. Judge Baylor helped draw up the state's original constitution in July 1845. Seven months later, in February of 1846, Baylor delivered the prayer at the first legislative session of the new state of Texas. Revolutionary scout Horton served as the first lieutenant governor of the new state, even spending six months of his term as acting governor when the elected governor left to command Texas volunteers in the U.S. war with Mexico.

Endorsed by Sam Houston

General Sam Houston, perhaps the person most associated with the fight for Texas independence and its early leadership, had unique ties to Baylor and its founders from the school's earliest days.

Judge Baylor had a special relationship with Houston, which began, in a sense, before the two men even met -- in about 1830, when the judge saved 11-year-old Margaret Lea from drowning in a rain-swollen Alabama creek. Lea became Sam Houston's second wife, and Judge Baylor would go on to say the prayer at Houston's inauguration for his second term as President of the Republic of Texas in 1841. In October 1853, Houston moved to Independence, Texas, so that several of his children could enroll at Baylor University. In the end, four of his eight children attended Baylor.

baptism_houstonThe year after Houston moved to Independence, Baylor President Rufus Burleson became the catalyst for a major change in Houston's life. On Nov. 19, 1854, after hearing a sermon delivered by Burleson, Houston gave his heart to Christ. Later that same day, Burleson baptized Houston in the waters of nearby Rocky Creek.

When it came time for Houston's daughters Nancy and Margaret to be married, both were married in Independence Baptist Church -- now the oldest Baptist church in continual service in the state of Texas -- with the two ceremonies performed by then-Baylor President William Carey Crane. And in 1884, 21 years after Houston's death, Crane would honor a personal request from Houston's daughter, Margaret, by publishing a lengthy biography of the late Texas hero, titled The Life and Select Literary Remains of Sam Houston.

"Sam Houston's ties to Baylor are really one of the more beautiful stories of Baylor and Texas history," says Lanella Spinks Gray, BA '54, unofficial mayor of Independence. Spinks Gray, who herself has been instrumental in developing the popular Baylor Line Camp, hosts hundreds of incoming freshmen each year in Independence, touring students around the historical area and educating them on both the well- and lesser-known tidbits of Baylor history.

A Leader in Learning

From the day Baylor first opened its doors in Independence on May 18, 1846, it has been a forerunner in higher education. A progressive concept in that day, men and women studied side by side at Baylor until 1851, when separate men's and women's departments were chartered. The women's department eventually became the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and is the oldest college for women west of the Mississippi. Enlightened in its early status as a coeducational school, Baylor quickly made its mark even amidst its modest beginning in a small community.

The first lectures in law in Texas were offered in 1849 at Baylor, and the university awarded the first law diplomas in the state.


The first lectures in law in Texas were offered in 1849 at Baylor, and the university awarded the first law diplomas in the state. In June 1851, Baylor's first shipment of scientific apparatus arrived on campus, and professor J.A. Kimball soon demonstrated a number of experiments for faculty and students. The equipment likely composed the very first laboratory of chemical and biological apparatus in Texas.

Also in 1851, the Philomathesian Literary Society of Baylor University was organized, becoming the first literary society in Texas. From there, Baylor grew to be a leader in journalism education. In 1909, in response to a call issued by Baylor, delegates from nine Texas colleges met in Waco and formed the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. In 1912, Baylor graduate and professor Dr. Dorothy Scarborough, BA 1896, MA 1899, started the first regular course in journalism ever offered in Texas. On May 30, 1927, the first journalism library in the Southwest opened at Baylor, dedicated in honor of the Immortal Ten. The next year, the Southwestern Journalism Congress was organized at Baylor.

"Baylor has realized, from the beginning, that the landscape of journalism and technology -- all of education, for that matter -- is constantly changing," says Dr. Clark Baker, associate professor and chair of Baylor's Department of Journalism and Media Arts.

As Baylor's faculty grew and its curriculum expanded over the years, the university introduced other new disciplines into Texas education. Lectures in health were given for the first time in the state in 1856 at Baylor. In 1896, the first sociology course in Texas was taught at Baylor by Professor (and future university President) Samuel Palmer Brooks, BA 1893. Four years later, Baylor offered the first course in religious education in the South for college credit.

Two other educational innovations were introduced in 1897: a summer school, the first of its kind in the Southwest, and the first study by correspondence offered in Texas. Baylor built on its summer educational offerings by holding what is believed to be the first summer commencement of any Texas college on Aug. 30, 1912.

Baylor also has been a leader in the museum movement in Texas. The Baylor Museum was established in 1893, and it became the first museum in the state to hire a professional curator, Professor Orlando Charlton. In 1901, when Baylor benefactor George Carroll of Beaumont gave the holdings of his own Carroll Museum to the university, the Baylor Daily Lariat reported that the addition made the Baylor Museum possibly the largest museum in the South at the time.

Impacting Education Statewide

Baylor's early leaders also played important roles in building other educational institutions across Texas. One of the first examples came in 1841, four years before Baylor's charter, when future founding trustee James Huckins became principal of the first public school system in the state, at Galveston. Later, when the group that eventually became the Texas State Teachers Association was organized in Austin in December 1871, the man chosen as its first leader was the president of Baylor, William Carey Crane.

By the time Baylor's sixth president, Oscar Henry Cooper, arrived on campus in 1899, he was already a man who had made a mark on Texas education. He, like Huckins, had served as principal of the Galveston city schools and also had served as state superintendent of public instruction from 1886 to 1890, overseeing reforms including the introduction of uniform textbooks and standards for high schools. Cooper was also one of the founders of the Texas State Teachers Association.

Baylor also has played a role in helping establish other organizations that oversee education throughout the state. In November 1912, the Association of Texas Colleges, an early accreditation organization, was organized at Baylor. In 1937, the Texas Council of Church-related Colleges was organized on Baylor's campus, with Dean E.N. Jones as its first leader.

In addition to pioneering milestones in postsecondary curricula on its own campus, Baylor leaders were integral in the founding and early administrations of three of the university's intrastate colleagues in higher education.

Baylor President Cooper was one of the most vocal champions of a state university in Texas, and his subcommittee of the Texas State Teachers Association issued a proposal for the establishment of a state institution of higher learning in 1880 -- a move that played a leading role in the establishment of the University of Texas two years later.

Down the road about 100 miles, two Baylor-educated men would go on to serve as early presidents of Texas A&M University: Lawrence Sullivan Ross (1891-1898), who attended Baylor at Independence, and Lafayette Lumpkin Foster (1898-1901), who attended Waco University before it merged with Baylor in 1886.

As for Texas Tech University, it was Governor Pat Neff, AB 1894 -- Baylor graduate, trustee and future president -- who signed a bill in 1923 creating what was originally called Texas Technological College.

Role in law and government

Baylor historically has supplied Texas with leagues of distinguished men and women who have taken on major roles in law and government.

Four Baylor graduates have served as Texas governor: Pat Neff (1921-1925); Price Daniel, AB '31, JD '32 (1957-1963); Mark White, BBA '62, JD '65 (1983-1987); and Ann Richards, BA '54 (1991-1995). A fifth Texas governor, Lawrence Sullivan Ross (1887-1891), attended Baylor at Independence but went on to graduate from an Alabama college.

Three lieutenant governors proudly claim a Baylor connection, including Albert Clinton Horton (1846-1847), a founding Baylor trustee who was the first Texas lieutenant governor; George D. Neal (1903-1907), who attended Baylor at Independence; and Bob Bullock, JD '58 (1991-1999), a graduate of Baylor Law School.

At least seven Texas House Speakers have had Baylor ties: Lafayette Lumpkin Foster (1885-87), who attended Waco University; Pat Neff (1903-05); Charles Graham Thomas, 1898 (1921-23); Price Daniel (1943-45); Jim T. Lindsey, JD '50 (1955-57); Byron M. Tunnell, JD '52 (1963-65); and Price Daniel Jr., BBA '63, JD '66 (1973-75).

All the members of the first Texas Supreme Court were men who would eventually serve Baylor either as law professors or trustees. In addition, three Baylor men have served as Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice: Thomas J. Brown (1911-15), an 1858 Baylor law graduate; James P. Alexander (1941-48), a Baylor Law professor; and Thomas R. Phillips (1988-2004), who graduated from Baylor with a BA in 1971.

Two Baylor graduates have represented Texas in the U.S. Senate: Tom Connally, AB 1896 (1929-1953) and Price Daniel (1953-1956).

While no Baylor graduate has yet become President of the United States, it's a fact that the university played a part in one president's heritage. Baylor University's third president, Rev. George Baines (1861-1863), was the great-grandfather of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and LBJ's mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, was a student of literature at Baylor during its early years in Waco.

Texas Pride

Baylor treasures its close ties to Texas' storied history, evidenced by its ongoing service and philanthropic efforts throughout the community and state. From the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, dedicated to promoting and preserving all things Baylor throughout Texas, to the university's scores of student-led service groups and Baylor's own branch of Habitat for Humanity -- the organization's first college chapter, founded in 1987 -- Baylor is deeply proud to be a Texan.

"I often tell my students that Texas is the greatest state in the greatest nation in the history of the world," says Dr. Michael Parrish, BA '74, MA '76, the Linden G. Bowers Professor of American History at Baylor. "Being part of an institution that has done so much to shape the state's history, we need to understand and appreciate the legacy that Texas leaders have bestowed on us and always continue in the spirit and substance of that legacy."

And that sentiment is not lost on today's students. Sara Thompson, BA '11, was among the Baylor seniors at Independence to walk through the columns one final time.

"Leadership is inherent here; it's found in every part of the Baylor experience," she says. "It's like Samuel Palmer Brooks said, we're to treat Baylor with respect and to give back what's been given to us. There are very few people in the world who get the quality education and support we've gotten at Baylor. Tonight I faced the realization that I'm leaving Baylor, but Baylor will go with me wherever I go."

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