A Look Back

Dr. Lula Pace

Dr. Lula Pace

First Female Professor at Baylor to Hold a Ph.D.

Between offering classes in-person, online or a hybrid of the two, Baylor has had to be dynamic and flexible in its methods of conducting coursework. In a year filled with what feels like one novel crisis after another, there is comfort found in the words of Ecclesiastes 1: “What has been done will be done again: There is nothing new under the sun.” By looking back to see how much has been accomplished, hope is fostered for the triumphs that might lie ahead. Baylor’s 175-year history offers much on which to reflect. This includes the career of Dr. Lula Pace, who taught at Baylor through the 1918 flu pandemic and facilitated distance learning at the same time.

Baylor hired Pace as an assistant professor of biology in 1903, a year after she completed her graduate degree from the University of Chicago. At the time, Pace was one of only five female professors at Baylor. She continued to take classes at the University of Chicago while teaching at Baylor and, in 1907, completed her Ph.D., becoming Baylor’s first female faculty member to hold a doctoral degree. That same year, Pace was named chair of the botany and geology department, a role she held until her death in 1925.

As a part of her graduate coursework, Pace completed many classes through what at the time was referred to as correspondence learning. Due to her experience in this form of distance education, Pace was asked to serve as director of correspondence learning when she started at Baylor; she also continued in that role until her death.

In the early 20th century, correspondence learning was done by mailing a packet with an entire semester’s worth of classwork along with the requisite study materials to complete the work. The students enrolled in these programs would have to complete the work before the due date, mail it in and wait for their work to be graded and returned. In 1916, Pace observed that students who completed distance courses generally received higher grades than those in on-campus courses, but the withdrawal rates were much higher.

Pace was a respected, active scientist and was referred to as a “tremendous individual” by Cornelia Marschall Smith, for whom Pace served as a mentor and whose name we borrow for the prestigious Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year Award. Pace was also a mentor to Bob Poage, B.S.’21, L.L.B. ’24, the namesake of the Baylor legislative library. Poage sat in the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas State Senate before representing Texas’ 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1937 to 1978.

Pace’s accomplishments as an academic and educator were legion. Her contributions to the education of many Baylor students at such a critical time in history were immeasurable. It is thanks to people like Pace, whose light truly illuminates the ways of time, that the Baylor of today, knowing what we’ve already accomplished, can march forward and become the Baylor of tomorrow.