“A new sport was introduced to the campus,” 1929

We got a good bit of rain from Beta over the last couple of days, enough to cause street flooding and keep a lot of trepidatious eyes on the bayous. On campus today in addition to the ghost town vibe it was also what I would have to call “soggy.”  In the olden days before all our advances in drainage it would have been much, much worse. Witness this from the 1929 Campanile. It’s all happening on Main Street, by the way:

I love how casual this guy is:

Those guys had all the fun.

Bonus: Clogged.

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John Wolda ’56: 1934-2020

I learned this afternoon that my friend John Wolda ’56 has passed away. This makes a dark and rainy day even grayer. John was sunshine for me, his visits to the Woodson, often with his wife Harriet in tow, were full of laughter and happy memories. Harriet is the daughter of long-time Rice Chemistry professor (and occasional Athletic Director) H.O. Nicholas so between the two of them the stories went far back in our history. John’s genuine and active interest in the details of my work was both sustaining and touching. He brought in memorabilia, he wrote me notes, and he sent me a LOT of pictures, some cockeyed but all appreciated.

A fine pitcher on the Owl baseball teams of the mid-50s, John remained devoted to Rice athletics his entire life. This article from his senior season captures, I think, something essential about his character:

John wasn’t a very big guy but there was no quit in him. Win or lose, up or down, he always showed up. He told me more than once, with open amazement, how lucky he felt to have been able to attend Rice and how grateful he was for all Rice had given him. In return, his loyalty to Rice never wavered. He never forgot his teammates, his classmates, or his teachers. And I never heard him say a mean word about anyone.

John Wolda, Rest in Peace.

Bonus: This was one of my favorite moments in the archives ever. Back in 2014 John and Harriet were visiting and he asked if I’d seen a scrapbook about Rice football that he’d kept as a high school student and donated to the R Association at some point. I sure had, and when I pulled it off the shelf his delight was absolutely delightful.

Extra Bonus: He sent me this one in 2016.


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The Answer to A Question I Never Thought to Ask: Class Rings

One last thing from The Raven, this time from one of the advertisements:

It had never crossed my mind to wonder where the class rings came from back in the day before the big national companies arrived on the scene. The answer–Lechenger’s, downtown–reminded me of a photograph in the Woodson of downtown Houston that is almost exactly contemporaneous with ad and shows the front of the store:

As I was poking around looking for more detail about early class rings about I came across something really surprising. This is from the April 29, 1927 issue of the Thresher and it directly contradicts everything I’ve been told about the history of the Rice ring:

I have always heard that only the first Rice ring, made for the members of the class of 1916,  was different and that the seal was added and the design standardized in 1917. Apparently not, though.


Bonus: This is the 1916 ring, lifted right off a What’s in Woodson post from several years ago. Click here to find out who it belonged to.

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Friday Follies: Confusion Reigns, 1981

I don’t understand this:

It’s labeled “FEV leading MOB at halftime, October 1981” and of course it’s absolutely the kind of thing he would enjoy. But by the fall of 1981 Frank Vandiver was already the president of Texas A&M. So what gives? Maybe some sort of kiss and make up type of thing? Anyone have thoughts?

Bonus: Please Do Not Sit Here.


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The Raven: Waldo Forest McNeir, ’29

The biggest surprise in the 1927 issue of The Raven turned out to be the identity of one of its editors, Waldo Forest McNeir ’29 (or M’Neir as he sometimes styled himself). It seems to have been McNeir who was the chief provocateur behind the magazine and the one who drew the most fire from the rest of student body.


The instant the name registered in my mind I knew exactly who he was. I had encountered him many years ago in a wildly different context. While I was in Louisiana researching the desegregation of Tulane I also naturally came across lots of material about race relations at LSU. It was here that I first came across McNeir, an English professor at LSU (a Spenser specialist of all things) who had done something so magnificent and so crazy that even though I didn’t need it for my work I copied the newspaper article and brought it home with me. I had, though, no idea that he was a Rice alum!

Here we go, from a January 5, 1961 Associated Press report:

Given the context of Louisiana politics in 1961 this was a spectacular gesture, guaranteed to cause exactly what it did cause, as McNeir surely knew it would. And as if the contents of the letter weren’t provocative enough, writing it on LSU stationery ensured a public blow up of significant proportions. In the end McNeir shook the dust of Louisiana off his shoes and wound up at the University of Oregon, where he spent the rest of his career.

After his death in 1991 a memorial tribute appeared in The Spenser Newsletter. It describes a man with the energy and engagement of the boy who attended the Institute in the 1920s but with the warmth and generosity of maturity, a man who might provoke, but provoke in the interests of justice.

                                               WALDO F.McNEIR, 1908-1991

92.66 Waldo F. McNeir, born in Houston, Texas, attended the Rice Institute (now Rice University), where he graduated A.B. in 1929. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill he graduated A.M. in English in 1932 and Ph.D. in 1940. He and Corinne married in 1935. He taught English at North Texas State in Denton, 1940-42 and 1946, his tenure there interrupted by four years’ service in the US Navy, culminating in his command of an LST in the Pacific theater for the last two years of the war. He taught English at the University of Chicago, 1946-49, at LSU in Baton Rouge 1949-61, and at the University ofOregon, Eugene, 1961-74, where he was retired Professor of English Emeritus. He was Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Marburg in 1957 and 1964, and at the University ofMunster in 1968; and Visiting Professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia in 1975.

Waldo McNeir participated actively for many years in the MLA and its South Central and Pacific branches, in the International Shakespeare Society, and in the Spenser Society from its inception. He was a contributing editor to the Spenser News/mer from its first volume until his death. He published numerous articles on Renaissance literature and edited several volumes of scholarly studies, besides co-authoring Edmund Spenser: An Annotated Bibliography 1937-1972 (l975). In 1975 he and Corinne retired to Houston, where they lived until death, Corinne in the mid-eighties and Waldo in July, 1991.

This bare sketch of his life of course misses the essential Waldo almost completely; for among scholars as among any other group of people he was an absolute original, a person who lived more intensely than anyone else I have ever known.

In 1974 I spent six weeks in Eugene as Waldo and Corinne’s guest while he and I were completing the Spenser bibliography. On the first work day, Waldo sat down after breakfast with Corinne and made a list of the day’s agenda: a clock to be taken for repair; a pile of papers in his carrel-office that had to be classified and filed before we could set up our program for the six weeks’ joint effort; a visit to the liquor store to get supplies for an at-home bash the following Saturday; a visit to a grad student who was sulking in his apartment, unable to get on with his thesis; and so on and on.

After four hours’ morning work in the library he and I lunched at a restaurant he had recently spotted (Corinne couldn’t eat dinner in the evening if she joined him at one of these lunches). I never drank at lunch for fear of drowsiness, but Waldo could and did have a cocktail or two, without any noticeable effect on his accuracy and diligence in the further four hours at the library. Before resuming work in the library, we dropped off the clock to be fixed and purchased the liquor.

In the evening, after we had visited the sulking graduate student and Waldo hadpumped the young man’s ego back up a bit, we went to another and better restaurant for cocktails and a feast (sometimes Corinne came to these nightly feasts, sometimes not). Afterward, Waldo wanted to stop in a student hangout and play one of the new video games made for two persons (he always beat me, no matter how I tried). Then nothing would do but we must see a Goldie Hawn movie, followed by a stop for a nightcap where we ran into a collection of characters, some academic, all of whom wanted to trade a few wisecracks with Waldo.

Except for the religiously pursued eight hours of work in the library, the agenda on succeeding days might vary a bit — different restaurants, different hangouts, different movies. But the activity ceased only when Waldo and Corinne took me to the Inn at Otter Crest on the Oregon coast, where the sauna reduced both Waldo and me to vegetables, barely able to crawl up to the suite he had rented for the occasion. It was a memorable, and highly productive, six weeks.

Towards the end of his life, Waldo seemed to live more in his letters than in his Houston apartment; but from very early he had lived as much in his letters as in his very active life. Corinne told me that she considered him the best letter-writer who ever lived, and I think she may have been right. A typical letter from Waldo was full of narrative accounts of his recent doings; descriptions of the persons whose company he had recently enjoyed or whom he had disliked and resented; pithy and accurate assessments of movies and plays he had recently seen; vituperation of Republicans generally and of people who didn’t want him to smoke in their houses; accounts of his flower garden; disclosures of his current hopes for the education of his son; panegyrics on good students of the previous semester; opinions on baseball or football; accounts of meals, TV programs, books; reports on the activities and health of his sister and brothers; accounts of projected European trips for the next year or of trips recently completed.

It would be wrong to suppose that these accounts in his personal letters, any of them, would be tedious. They lived with the same vigor as Waldo himself. The only letters that ever dragged even slightly were some of his Christmas chronicles of the previous year’s activity, and this (I think) happened because he had no single person in mind as his audience. Waldo apparently conceived all his other letters with the addressee sharply in mind. They always concerned things that he knew would interest the addressee, to judge by the letters he wrote me and by what others have told me of the letters he wrote them.

To Waldo a letter constituted an act of personal communion. In his middle seventies he confessed to me that it mortified him if he went to bed without having answered every single letter he had received that day. These letters, often written after midnight, almost never turned out to be short notes, scribbled off as an obligation. They were all readable, alive.

I feel that his correspondence, conducted with such verve and devotion, was the reason why Waldo produced relatively little scholarship. As a scholar, certainly he committed himself with the same energy that he gave to his correspondence. I probably know this aspect of him better than anyone else — now that Corinne is dead — because he and I were colleagues for seventeen years in the production of the Spenser bibliography. In this project he never lagged, never lacked the energy to pursue the current lead until he could put a completed, annotated card in the box. For a person who maintained a regular correspondence with scores of persons, probably more than a hundred, there simply wasn’t time for much more scholarship.

In another dimension, Waldo was a hero to his graduate students, and not just because he was so solicitous about their state of mind when they wrote their theses and dissertations. He knew a great many of them personally, whether he was directing their theses or not. He mixed with them almost as an equal, but without breaking down the student’s consciousness of his superior position as a professor. When I was Waldo’s guest in 1974 I had ample opportunity at various parties to hear graduate students talking about him. Astheytradedaccountsofhiswarexperiences,hispostwartravels,andhisencounters with students in out-of-the-way places, these graduate students perceived a titanic man. Yet the thing they seemed to admire most about him was human rather than heroic: it was that he had, during World War II, selected the officers for his LST (presumably from an otherwise qualified list) exclusively on their answers to this question: do you play bridge?If they did, they were in. Incidentally, the LST, which saw a good deal of action, returned from the Pacific with all hands. And over the years after 1945, Waldo conducted regular reunions with his crew, the last one in the late 1980’s!

It could be that the Waldo imagined by his graduate students was larger than the real Waldo. But I think not. The central fact of Waldo’s academic career, probably, was his injudicious but quite heroic confrontation with the Louisiana legislature at the tum of the sixties, over a letter he had written as president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The letter challenged the position of a number of legislators respecting desegregation. Waldo had written the letter (as he should not have done) on LSU stationery, and the legislature not only called him to task publicly but ran him out of the state university for his pains. With magnificent aplomb he immediately found a better job at the University of Oregon, where he happily lived out the rest of his academic life.

I don’t think I have done justice to Waldo’s unflagging generosity. No exertion, no sacrifice was ever too much, whether someone asked him for something or whether Waldo simply perceived that a graduate student (or some other needy soul) had to have some help. So far as I know he was not a professing Christian, but people looking for someone to canonize for sheer generosity could do a lot worse than Waldo F. McNeir.

Foster Provost

Duquesne University

Bonus:  I’ve been reliably informed that the capacity with covid 19 restrictions has been worked out for over 750 spaces on campus. Once again I am deeply grateful for the hard work and careful efforts of my colleagues in FE&P.


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Friday Follies: Mrs. Arrowood’s Bobbed Hair!

There is only one photograph in the entire 1926-27 volume of the Thresher and almost unbelievably it’s a picture of Mrs. C.F. Arrowood (Flora to her friends):

Recall, please, that in the summer of 1925 she advised Corinne Tsanoff not to bob her hair. There’s no telling, of course, when the picture was taken. And I can’t help but notice that her hair here is not merely bobbed but also marcelled.

Bonus: Room capacity, 8.

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“Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees”: The Raven, 1927

The reason I’ve gotten stuck in 1927 is the unexpected discovery in the info files of a Rice publication that I thought had vanished completely. The Raven claimed to be a literary magazine, which it sort of was, and also to be “radical,” which is harder to judge. I can say with certainty that it simultaneously annoyed and fascinated the student body at the Institute. From evidence in the Thresher I gather that six issues appeared over the course of 1926 and 1927 but only a single one, the last one by my count—from Summer 1927–survives in the Woodson. (If you have another, let me know ASAP!)

Over those two years the two publications conducted a running battle, with the Thresher derided as conformist and insipid and the Raven as arrogant and pointlessly provocative. (Both were correct, by the way.) In casting about for the right adjective to describe the tone of The Raven I first toyed with “snotty” then settled on “sophomoric,” as its editors were in fact sophomores in 1927. One thing is clear: this publication was absolutely original in this time and place. I’ve never seen anything like it. The other Rice publication of the day, The Owl, was simply a humor magazine that sometimes lampooned but never challenged the status quo. The Raven, though, took open delight in jeering at the conventions of the campus, the city, and polite society in general. One of the editors even claimed to be an atheist! The reward for all this, of course, was mockery, disdain, and what must have been a very satisfying notoriety.

It’s all so snotty (there’s that word again), so obviously calculated to irritate, that I almost hesitate to reproduce any of it here. But what the heck, for all the noxious attitude they actually had their finger on some real and studiously unacknowledged problems with Rice and with American academia in general.  Here are the first few pages, the warm-up as it were:

Hang on to your hats for Part II next week.


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Quarantine, March 1927

It was diptheria this time but this certainly has a contemporary feel:

I’m sure you’ll all be as shocked as I was at the dorm dwellers’ reaction to the quarantine order:

I realize that there have been numerous posts about 1927 recently but it can’t be helped. Prepare yourselves for more because I found something wonderful but it’s going to take a bit of work to get there.

Trust me. Really, you can.

Bonus: I was on campus this afternoon and it’s so oddly quiet–not completely deserted like earlier but nothing at all like the bustle and excitement of a normal fall semester. There are a lot of signs around issuing all kinds of orders but the most explicit directions come from the architects, who are not fooling around about hand washing.

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Friday Follies: “We’ll be O.K. next week,” 1967

Getting the right books ordered for classes is no picnic either, by the way.

Bonus: I must have walked past this thousands of times and never noticed it until yesterday. I was immediately struck: What happens if you don’t have an i.d.?

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“a broadened view and wider representation,” 1949

The first peaceful transition of power on the Board of Trustees took place in the spring of 1946. I’m kidding, sort of, but until then the only way to get off the Rice board was to die. That changed with the March, 1946 resignation of the elderly men who had governed during Dr. Lovett’s presidency and the coming of a new generation of leaders, foremost among them George Brown, Harry Wiess, and Gus Wortham. (I wrote about this here, when I found a photograph of this pivotal moment in the university’s history.)

Three years later came another change on the Institute’s governing structure. In 1949 the board added an eight-man board of governors who sat alongside the trustees as an advisory group without voting rights. I can no longer recall where I found this clipping of the announcement but I’d guess it was in an info file:


I have a couple of observations about all this. First, I’m grateful that Newton Rayzor was appointed to the board seat left vacant by the untimely death of Harry Wiess. Rayzor would prove to be an absolutely outstanding trustee. Second, note that all the new governors were Houstonians. This is interesting because there’s a requirement in the Rice charter that all trustees live in Houston. The addition of a non-trustee group would have thus been an opportunity to expand geographical representation. I don’t really have a confident guess why they didn’t avail themselves. Maybe it just didn’t seem relevant, maybe there were enough people in Houston who needed to be added for one reason or another. (Also interesting is that the Houston residency requirement for board membership was routinely ignored during the Institute’s early years, one of several charter provisions that were violated at will. That’s a discussion for another day, though.) Third, this oddball structure proved to be problematic over the years. It’s not hard to see how sitting through meetings and doing committee work but not having your vote counted might aggravate folks. And finally, I find that the talk about 12-point programs, management and planning issues, and expertise makes me a bit uneasy. This wasn’t just a change of personnel; it was a major shift in attitude.

Bonus: There wasn’t. Deep down I knew there couldn’t possibly be but I was a little disappointed anyhow.

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