Baylor University was chartered by the Republic of Texas in 1845 and Baylor trustees voted to grant certificates and diplomas in 1854, following a similar policy of Brown University, a Baptist School in Providence, Rhode Island. That same year Baylor celebrated its first official commencement at Independence, Texas, with the granting of an A.B. degree to Stephen Decatur Rowe. The following year, the University granted a degree to the first woman graduate, Mary Kavanaugh Gentry. By 1856, the number of graduates increased to six men and two women.
The University moved from Independence to Waco in 1885 and commencement ceremonies were likely held each spring in the chapel of Old Main. Starting in 1903, commencement ceremonies were held in the chapel of Carroll Library. After the 1922 Carroll Library fire, the third floor chapel was not rebuilt and a new chapel-gymnasium structure served as the venue.
In 1930, commencement ceremonies were moved to Waco Hall, the newly constructed Baylor facility funded by the City of Waco. In 1943, the spring ceremony reflected the effects of World War II, when 43 of the 282 degrees conferred were given "in absentia" due to students serving in the armed forces.