Rice and the Official Dedication of the San Jacinto Monument, 1939

While looking for the Semper Fidelis Club letters I also came across a file full of materials from the dedication of the San Jacinto monument and museum:

The first thing you’d notice if you opened this folder is that this stuff had all gotten wet at some point. Take a look at Dr. Lovett’s badge and credential:

We’ve seen water damaged papers before (here and here, for example) but I have no idea when they got wet or whether they got wet at the same time .

The next thing I noticed was how many Rice people were involved in the two-day dedication ceremonies. Here’s the program, which features not only Lovett but also Marcel Moraud of the French Department, and in his capacity as president of the Texas Folk-Lore Society, our hero, Radoslav Tsanoff:


Bonus: I felt a small pang when I turned a page over and saw this. You can see where the Nifty Clips left rust stains when they got wet and then if you look closer the modern staples that were surely put there by one of our beloved predecessors in the archives. Which aside from any sentimental value also tell us a little something about when the paper got wet.

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Friday Follies: Surely This Was Temporary

You would hope.


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Cowboy Up!

No, this isn’t going to be a picture of a Rice president sitting uncomfortably atop a horse on Rice Night at the rodeo (although I do have several–it’s its own genre). I hope this doesn’t disappoint too many people.

Instead I’m about to discuss a spoon, quite a glorious one. Check this out:

That’s a pretty good image, really. Better than you have any right to expect from a commemorative spoon. My problem is I can’t remember anything about it, including where we got it. I have a dim, lingering sense that someone walked in with it, maybe even Greg Marshall, who has walked in with more than a few oddities over the years. Anyway, if it was you, let me know.

The cowboy, by the way, is down at the other end and bears no likeness to any Rice Night photograph I’ve ever seen:

Why a cowboy on a Rice spoon? I suppose it’s just a Texas thing. You know how that goes.


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“Autrey, not Autry”

When I was last in the Woodson I was looking for something specific: the file folder in Dr. Lovett’s papers that held the correspondence with the Semper Fidelis Club. After I found it I took some time to look around a bit and I came across something completely unexpected. This is one of those time when I knew most of the pieces of a puzzle (although I was unaware that it was a puzzle) but lacked the one that would make them all click together.

Remember this? I wrote about it back in 2017. It’s the first page of an info sheet for students who were giving campus orientation tours circa 1949-50. In particular note entry number two, Autry House, with its crazy history of WMR’s non-existent friend Max Autry, who allegedly founded Autry House for Rice students:

What I stumbled upon the other day was this:

So the tale as told in the orientation outline is horribly mangled, but there was indeed a Max–but Max Autrey, not Autry. (The families aren’t related and the confusion pops up in the archives regularly.) His mother’s gift to Rice in his memory was a student scholarship fund:

But this was just the start for the Autrey family and Rice. Nettie Autrey’s other son Herbert and his wife Lynette came from two old Texas families. The Autreys owned downtown real estate and Galveston-Houston Breweries (formed out of the post-Prohibition merger of Galveston Brewery and Houston Ice and Brewing), famous back in the day for Southern Select Beer among others. (This brewery has come up twice before, here and here.) The Sternenbergs were timber men whose land holdings were in East Texas, near the Big Thicket and the Sour Lake oil field. The Autrey’s had no children, lived frugally and managed their many business affairs adeptly. Although they had no direct connection to Rice, their longtime friend and attorney, Hank Hudspeth, certainly did. Herbert died in 1973; Lynette in 1978. Both left large gifts to Rice, in the end about five and half million dollars. This time the gifts went not to students but to the faculty, resulting in the initial creation of six chairs in the humanities, social sciences, and business, half named for Lynette, half for Herbert. I don’t know how many Autrey chairs there are today but I know it’s more than six.




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“ten thousand shares of stock in the Reed Roller Bit Company,” 1936

In 1936 Will Rice gave the Institute the first really large gift since the death of William Marsh Rice. I’ve known that so long I can’t remember learning it. What I forgot until a couple weeks ago when I was last in the Woodson was the form that gift took. Here’s the letter of appreciation from his fellow board members, written , I assume, by Lovett:

I don’t know much about Reed Roller Bits other than that they had some big litigation with Hughes Tool in the 1920s. I just discovered, though, that the Woodson holds a history of the company, which I will consult the next time I can go in.


Bonus: You know you want one.

Extra Bonus: One thing I do know a lot about is paper clips. For a long time at Rice straight pins were used to hold papers together. In 1936, though, someone bought a whole bunch of those spiral clips like the one you can see above. It’s a Nifty Clip, patented in 1936, and we used them for almost three years before the supply ran out.

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Friday Follies: Slip and Slide, circa 1990s

Looks like someone had a scathingly brilliant idea. Nice move to enlist the kids for hose duty:

It came from a picture I took on my phone and I can’t remember where I found it or what the date might be–circa 1990s is just a guess. However, I took this next picture at the same time from the same box and I’m hoping someone might know one or more of these glorious young ladies so I can figure it out:

I’m taking Memorial Day off–see y’all Tuesday.

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“Rice Loses Marsh,” 1939

I’ve used this photo once or twice here before. (Check out this one, about the path through the empty lot across Rice Boulevard from the Mech Lab.) It came out of some papers from Jim Sims ’41 and it’s a nice, clear image of the campus–but it was undated. The best approximation I could come up with was circa late 1930s. It’s a useful image with one interesting puzzle–all that disturbed ground over on the far north side along Sunset. Probably, I thought, one of those things that’s just lost to time.

It turns out that I was right about the dating but wrong about the insolubility of the puzzle. Reading through the 1939 volume of the Thresher yesterday I came across this little tidbit:

Well, this is just delightful, isn’t it? 10,00 truckloads of dirt, from the construction of the midtown Sears building, the future home of the Rice innovation district’s Ion.

Here’s Lake Lovett sometime in the ’20s:

And of course the problem wasn’t actually solved by the fill dirt, although it did help quite a bit. The joke didn’t disappear either.

Bonus: I recently saw the second snake I’ve ever encountered on campus, roughly in the same place I saw the first.


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Harry Wiess and Rice’s First Strategic Plan, 1945

More than once I’ve heard Rice alums say that we always get the leadership we need when we need it. I never argue with them but their thesis is certainly not uniformly true (which I suspect they know but would rather not acknowledge). A chief example of  this is the tremendous blow that was dealt Rice by the early death of trustee Harry Wiess, seen here in a beautiful 1935 Vera Prasilova Scott portrait:

You wouldn’t know it from the highly visible Wiess name on campus but he was only a Rice trustee for four years. Even before he joined the board in 1944 he, along with George Brown, played a crucial role in the the Institute’s acquisition of the Rincon oil field in South Texas, arguably the most important financial event since the founding. And once a trustee he immediately brought his wide business experience to bear on the problem of how to coherently manage the school’s expansion. Under his presidency the Humble Oil Company had completed a thorough history, creating at the same time a forward-looking plan that was meant to be revised every five years. He promptly proposed a similar survey for Rice. As chairman of the survey committee he enlisted the cooperation of alumni, faculty, and the community and produced a concise 12-point program that was officially adopted by the board as it looked to post-war growth and change. When the trustees hired William Houston as Lovett’s successor it was with the expectation that Wiess would be by his side as the plan was implemented. His untimely death in August, 1948 cut that partnership short, much to the Institute’s detriment.

Here’s the plan. It was short, direct, specific and sensible, nothing wasted or extraneous, a model of good planning:

Wiess unveiled the program to the alumni at an address in November, 1945, included here  as a pdf.  Like the plan itself his speech, a clear and level-headed history and analysis of the state of Rice three decades after its opening, is a well crafted piece of work.

We really could have used this man.

Harry Wiess Speech to ARA


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“Comparable to the Great Seal of England,” 1934

You never know what you might find if you’re stuck at home with your laptop long enough. This is what I turned up today.

Back in 2013 we received a collection of materials from the family of Fred Alter ’34. I never really had a chance to study them closely because they were efficiently processed (as usual) and sent to the Library Service Center while I was occupied with something else. They were arresting enough, though, that I did take a bunch of pictures while they were still on a table in the back room of the Woodson.

Alter was quite an interesting guy, a tennis player and an early winner of the Bob Quin award. Here’s the biographical note from the collection:

Fred Cunningham Alter graduated from Rice University in 1934 and was the fourth recipient of the Robert P. Quin Award for excellence in leadership, scholarship, and athletics. Born in San Antonio, Texas, on October 8, 1913, he excelled from a young age in tennis and academics, winning the San Antonio Junior Tennis Tournament singles competition and acting as president of his senior high school class.

After graduating from Rice University, Alter earned his L.L.B. from the South Texas School of Law in 1941. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army from 1943-1946, supervising Japanese P.O.W. camps in New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, and Manila. Discharged at the rank of captain, he returned to Texas to work at Matteson-Southwest Advertising Company until 1949 when he assumed a management position at Wetmore & Company. In 1960, he became president of the Trans-State Outdoor Advertising Company until his retirement in 1985. He was a trustee for South Texas Junior College and was an active member of the Vestry of Christ Church Cathedral since 1949. He presented the Robert P. Quin award on numerous occasions before his death on March 20, 2002.


What the bio doesn’t say but is clear from even a cursory examination of the material is that Mr. Alter was a bit of a card. I don’t know if he entertained others but he certainly entertained himself (and me–I find this goofy brand of humor irresistible). Here are a couple of pages from his miraculously intact Philosophy 300 notebook that I enjoyed. Note especially number 8 on his “schedule,” which made me laugh:



And here he is himself, allegedly studying in his normal fashion. This makes me smile every time I look at it:

With tennis co-captain Wilbur Hess, out at the men’s courts on the west side of campus:

Bonus: Here he is a bit later with a bunch of rascals at Homecoming in 1984. I’d love to know what he’s got there.

Extra Bonus: I had a dim memory that there had been some kind of helmet in the collection so I went back and looked at all the pictures I took in 2013. I found it, along with   a couple hundred pictures of my granddaughter and every place I left my car in the IAH parking garage.

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Rice Honors Albert Thomas, 1961

They held a big event on November first in the Grand Hall of the RMC, thanking Albert Thomas ’20 for his service to the university during his long tenure as the representative of Texas’s 8th Congressional District. Thomas had a critical role in bringing NASA to Houston (and NASA funding to Rice) but almost as important were his behind-the-scenes efforts to ensure that Rice became one of the Navy’s V-12 program sites during World War II.

Here are Rice board chairman George Brown (Thomas’s freshman roommate) and Provost Carey Croneis presenting the scroll:

Oddly, even though that scroll is not in Thomas’s papers at the Woodson I know precisely where it is. Several years ago I came up from the parking garage under Bayou Place (the former Albert Thomas Convention Center) downtown, took a funny turn, and was stunned to find a replica of his congressional office staring at me from behind a big glass window.

The scroll is in there, hanging on the wall at left:

What you can’t see is a little sign in the window that says “For More Information Contact the Woodson Research Center.” If anyone ever had asked I don’t know what we would have said because none of us had any idea this was there.


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