“thank you for the pleasing inscription in the fly-leaf,” 1942

As I mentioned the other day I’ve recently spent some time looking for something in the library records.(Didn’t find it.) Anyway, I went all the way back to the old Rice Institute Library collection, which in reality is mostly a collection of Alice Dean‘s papers. She was a marvel, by the way, thoughtful, efficient, and usually all business. Once in a while, though, something else peeks out. For example, Miss Dean also handled personal book purchases for the staff, who didn’t otherwise have access to books in the way we take for granted today. This included buying on her own account. I was fascinated to see what she bought for herself–math books and more surprisingly, shelves and shelves worth of children’s literature.

She also occasionally wrote to someone in a voice that was not her official voice at all. This chatty letter to David Potter, written in the fall of 1942, was one of those unusual ones. I’ve written about Potter before, when I came across a picture of him in Maxwell O. Reade‘s scrapbook:

Potter spent four years as a faculty fellow at Rice, finishing up his Yale doctoral dissertation here before going on to an extremely distinguished career as an historian of the American South. That dissertation was published in 1942 as Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis and it is the subject of the letter:

My first reaction (of course) was to go check whether the book was still on our shelves. I tracked down a copy off site in the Library Service Center and waited impatiently for it to arrive. When it did, victory was mine:

As long as I’d gone to the trouble to get it, I figured I should read it. It’s good.

Bonus: Getting ready for spring.

Note: My daughter is getting married Saturday (finally!) so I’m checking out for the rest of the week and next week too for that matter. See you back here on the 25th.

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“Graphic Works and Watercolors from Private Collections,” 1949

I was looking for something yesterday in the Fondren Library Papers, which inevitably hold something of interest even when I don’t find what I’m looking for. What turned up this time was astonishing–I still can hardly believe it. It’s the program for the first exhibition ever held in the library and it was an ambitious one. I believe it was in what was then called the Lecture Lounge, now the Kyle Morrow Room. This is so early in the history of the Contemporary Arts Association that it must have been among the first handful of exhibits they ever organized as well.

I’d love to know who wrote the introduction but the list of works and their owners is the real treat here:

It only cost $10 to join:

Bonus: I used the microfilm of the old card catalogue this afternoon. It felt very good.

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Friday Follies: Just out of Reach, 1991

Would you scratch this spot for me??

Bonus: Through another window.

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HMRC Thursday: Sunset Boulevard, 1958

If you pay attention while driving up Sunset from Main towards Rice Boulevard you’ll notice a spot where the street curves out on both sides to form a pretty good sized oval. I feel almost certain that someone here told me at some point that there used to be trees there, on little islands in the middle of the street. This sounded like a recipe for disaster and apparently it was. I recently found these images in the Houston Post Photo Collection at the HMRC, which I believe memorialize the moment in January of 1958 when people got tired of ramming into them. These aren’t really scans, by the way, but quick and dirty grabs of negatives by means of a device called an Elmo, which is my new best friend.

The Rice campus is on the right side of the street:




Reader Mark Kapalski sends an intriguing email this week:

I have a piece of early Rice history that has been in my possession since 1992. It is the original trolley for the overhead crane in the first power plant. This trolley was manufactured for Rice by the Whiting Crane Corporation in 1910 when the plant was first built. It originally moved back and forth on two box beams that are probably still there. After much research I finally located Whiting and obtained copies of the original fabrication drawings and a letter of authenticity.
I have written to let you know I will soon be putting up this piece of history for sale. I am wondering if any alumni or Rice organizations might be interested in purchasing it?

It struck me that some of you might just be crazy enough to want this. I hope so, at least. If interested, you can reach Mark at warehouseman40@earthlink.net

From William Ward Watkin’s Papers, dated February 24, 1910:

Extra Bonus: Campus videographer Brandon Martin snuck up behind me while I was  taking yesterday’s bonus picture.

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“We freeze, try love, and graduate,” February 1946

Sometimes people ask me how we can have more commencements than we have years as a going concern. It was the war, pushing through two classes of naval engineers each year:

Bonus: Sometimes I wonder if they do this stuff just for me.

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Rice Institute Student Loan Fund, 1929

During the years when Rice was still getting established there was often a sort of homemade feel about the way business was done. I mentioned yesterday that the Commerce program was instituted in 1930 by means of the support from Houston business and civic leaders. Here’s another example of what is essentially the same group of people getting together to provide badly needed resources for the Institute. Back in these days a large proportion the student body came from families of quite slender means. Even without tuition charges many of them struggled to support themselves while they studied. Lacking institutional funds for scholarships President Lovett turned again to the Houston community:

The list of donors is mildly interesting, made up largely of the usual suspects (I found this in the Fondren Papers, by the way):

It was the list of loan recipients, though, that really got my attention. Several of them turned out to have been pretty solid investments. Right at the top we see Herbert Allen ’29, Rice trustee and namesake of Allen Center. Then there’s Emmett Brunson ’29, the track star and later long-time coach (whom I just mentioned yesterday). Milton McGinty ’27 designed Rice Stadium with Hermon Lloyd & William Morgan. And Noel Parrish ’28 served as commander of the Tuskeegee Airmen. That’s a lot of bang for the buck–and those are just the ones I recognize. If I had the time I’d track them all down.

Bonus: Just as spring follows winter, renovations follow decades of hard use.

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Commerce Department Newsletter, 1970

Loyal reader Buddy Chuoke ’75 recently sent me a copy of this 1970 newsletter full of updates on graduates of the Commerce Department. As early as the 1920s fans of Rice athletics were pushing for an academic program for athletes that would focus on preparing them for business careers. With significant financial support from Houston business and civic leaders such a program was formally instituted by 1930. Never fully satisfactory, this program was later replaced by a curriculum in Physical Education, which in turn was also never fully satisfactory. So over the years we went uneasily back and forth between them. It’s too long and twisty a story to go into here but you don’t really need to know it to get something from this document.

What jumped out at me first was Viet Nam. It’s one thing to know in the abstract that the war was going on during these years but it’s quite another to see so many young men who had been active in Rice athletics in military service. Second, there are so many names that are familiar to me not so much from their time as students but rather from their contributions to the university as adults, most especially Bobby May ’65, who served over forty years as a coach and athletic director after his outstanding collegiate hurdling career. Have a look:

There’s one more thing I can’t resist. Two pole vaulters, Fred Hansen ’63 and Warren Bratloff ’65, are mentioned. I just happen to have with me two pictures of them together, in dramatically different outfits. (Don’t ask me why I have these because I don’t know.) But this is exactly the kind of thing that makes me smile.

That’s the great Emmett Brunson ’29 at right. He was a track star as a student then the coach of many stars.

Those two little boys of Bratloff’s also vaulted for Rice when they got bigger.

Bonus: Most people don’t realize that Rice deans are issued a uniform when they get the job. It makes it easier for the rest of us to recognize them on sight and act accordingly.

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