The Golden Anniversary of the Class of 1916

My eye was caught by something unexpected yesterday when I went to look up Otto Watts’s photo in his copy of the first Campanile. See it?

Harcourt Wooten’s picture is signed . . . and dated . . . 1966.

As I turned the pages I found several more:

There are a whole bunch of them, almost a dozen!

I scrambled around in the 1916 Commencement file that became a catch-all for and found enough to piece it together. As you’d expect there was a big to-do at Homecoming in 1966 about the 50th anniversary of the first class, but the class held its own celebration at Miss Lel Red’s house after commencement that spring. Otto Watts was there and he brought his old yearbook for everyone to sign.

Bonus: A bunch of people had good career news in 1966, including my dear friend, Gil Whitaker ’53.

Extra Bonus: We’re nearing the end of spring semester.


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Otto O. Watts, ’16

I was looking for something in the 1916 Campanile this morning when I noticed that the copy I was using had someone’s name stamped on it:

I recognized the name but that’s all. Since I had the book in my hand, though, it seemed reasonably sensible to look him up. I found a fine  looking young man, a transfer student from Simmons College in Abilene who belonged to the YMCA and played the flute in the band:

Curious about what kind of doctor he’d become I discovered a sweet story. Otto Watts married after graduation and taught high school chemistry in small town Texas for a few years. In 1920 he was hired by Simmons College (which became Hardin-Simmons in 1934) to teach chemistry there. He took a couple of leaves, first to get a master’s degree from the University of Colorado and then his doctorate from Stanford, where he was appointed an assistant professor in his last year of study. He didn’t stay, though. A devoted Christian and committed teacher who wanted to be close to his students, he went home to Simmons where he spent the rest of his career as chairman of the Chemistry Department and a beloved mentor to generations of students.

I don’t know the date of this picture, which I got from the Hardin-Simmons twitter feed, but I know that it’s Dr. Watts with students in his lab:

It turns out that there’s something else interesting about this particular copy of the 1916 Campanile and I will get to that tomorrow unless something intervenes. (You never know.)

Bonus: As soon as I saw this on the ground the other day I knew that it was bound to escalate.

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“Staff to Maintain Order in Library,” 1956

I forgot to write a post last Friday, to the best of my recollection only the second time that’s happened in almost eight years. If I had written one it would have been about how as soon as Fondren opened noise in the library became a fairly serious problem and the student body failed utterly to deal with it themselves. Disappointment fairly drips off this little Thresher article:

I’ve never seen this mentioned as a problem when Miss Dean was in charge.

Just saying.

Bonus: I don’t think Willy approves of these shenanigans.

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Rice Stadium, September 15, 1950

Fifteen days before the first game was played in it. They cut it pretty close.

Nice view of the Shamrock Hotel also.

Here’s an aerial from the opposite direction that’s also dated 1950, but looks to have been taken after the stadium opened:


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Obsolete Computer Technology, no date

I love this picture–it looks like ancient history. I’m guessing, though, based only on the clothes and haircuts that it was taken in the mid to late ’80s. The machines are completely unknown to me so I can’t use them to date the image — but I’m confident that some of you can:


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“Parchments Disclose Rice History,” 1936

One of the trivial things that has long bothered me is the fact that I can see all those framed documents hanging on the wall of the old faculty chamber but I can’t tell what they are:

(This picture was taken at the 25th reunion of the class of 1916, by the way. On the platform, left to right, are Samuel McCann, Harry Weiser, H.A. Wilson, Dr. Lovett, Radoslav Tsanoff, William Ward Watkin, and Claude Heaps. It’s harder to identify the alumni because of the way they’re turned towards the speaker but in the top two rows of the men I can spot Ed Dupree, Carl Knapp, William Nathan, and Tiny Kalb. The women are impossible–those hats!)

Here they are again in an empty chamber, along with those incredible light fixtures:

Anyway, while looking for something in the 1936 Threshers (I can no longer even imagine what it was) I found the answer, which turns out to be exactly what you would suspect if you thought about it at all:

I’m not on campus today so I can’t check but I’m relatively certain that all (or at least most) of these parchments survive.

Bonus: A sharp-eyed reader sent this today. I have no idea what it means.

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“a new feeling of freedom,” 1969

Sometimes people ask me if I could go back in time which Rice person I would most want to talk with. They’re often surprised that it isn’t President Lovett but instead a student, Warren Skaaren ’69. After leaving Rice Skaaren became a successful movie screenwriter. He died very young, of bone cancer, in 1990. But as a student he was at the very center of the Masterson Affair, the turmoil over the board’s appointment of William Masterson as president that played out over five days in February of that year and ended with Masterson’s resignation. If you pay close attention in the files you quickly see that Skaaren, possessed of both an unusual emotional intelligence and a sharp tactical mind, was one of the most crucial actors in the entire episode. I remain grateful to Professor Harold Hyman of the history department for his grasp of the institutional importance of this crisis and his push to have oral histories taken from several dozen active participants. The archivists also carefully collected newspaper clippings, flyers, photographs and other miscellany so that the Woodson has a rich collection about the events of those days. We have records from faculty, students, and even trustees. And the ktru tapes that were recorded at the time have now been digitized. This episode took place nearly 50 years ago, though, so about the last thing I expected was for new materials to turn up. But they did.

First came this photograph of voting in the student referendum on the appointment of Masterson:

Then we received a folder from the Warren Skaaren Charitable Trust in Austin that was full of his correspondence and scratched out notes from the five days of the crisis. It took my breath away. Here’s a sample, where we can watch him turning words over and around to get at the truth he means to convey:

And finally this arrived:

I believe it was taken after the students had met in the Physics Amphitheater to discuss the appointment of Masterson. (Note the poncho–it had been raining all day. This actually becomes important to the story.) When they were finished they walked over as a group to the front steps of the Chem Lecture Hall, where they waited for the faculty, who were meeting inside, to emerge. That might be Skaaren in the paisley shirt.

Note: The link to the Scientia talk I gave several years ago about the Masterson Crisis is currently broken. Working on getting it fixed.

Also, it’s Spring Break! I’ll be posting as usual but I won’t be back on campus until next Monday. If you need anything in the meantime, call or email the Woodson. Seriously. Do not wait for me to get back!


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