The Rice Flag

Until a couple of days ago, I didn’t know that Rice had ever had a flag. I was scanning some photos of early commencements, staring at them mindlessly while I waited for something to download, when I noticed this flag that had never caught my attention before. If you zoom in on it, you’ll see two shields surrounded by a laurel wreath. One is the Rice shield, the other is a Texas shield. It’s really quite pretty.

So now I wonder: where did it come from? and where did it go? The first question was easier to answer, although not without some false trails. There was actually an information file in the Woodson titled “Rice Flag,” but all it contained was a twelve-year-old research note wherein we informed a sixth grader who was writing a school paper that Rice didn’t have a flag. (Oops.)

One of my clever colleagues, though, remembered that we had some small watercolors made by the designer of the Rice shield, heraldic expert Pierre de Chaignon la Rose. Sure enough, he had painted both Rice and Texas shields. We also found a drawing of the flag itself in the collection we have from Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, the architects for the first buildings on campus.

Delving a little deeper, I turned to Dr. Lovetts’s papers and found his correspondence with la Rose. Lovett had wanted both the shields to be incorporated into the academic seal of the Institute. La Rose, however, rejected this idea in no uncertain terms–it would violate the rules of heraldry because Rice, as private institution, had no formal ties to the State of Texas. Still, Lovett really liked the idea of using both shields and la Rose acknowledged that this could be done in other insignia, just not in the academic seal itself. Both shields are, in fact, represented on the cornerstone of Lovett Hall and I think this must be the origin of the flag as well.

But what happened to it? A close look at commencement pictures shows the flag there from the teens until 1933. It rained in 1934 and graduation was held in St. Paul’s Methodist Church.  In 1935 commencement was moved to the front of the Chemistry Building (where it remained for many years) and the Rice flag disappears and is replaced by the Lone Star. The photographic record from the 1940s onward is pretty spotty–there’s no longer any consistency in term of what shots are taken from what angles, so it’s hard to be sure whether it never appeared again or not. The next time I can find it is at the inauguration of President Kenneth S. Pitzer in 1961, and here it shows up in spades. In this photo you can see it in three places: flying on Lovett Hall, on the podium by the Sallyport, and as an insignia on the front of the speaker’s dais. Since then, I have no idea what happened to it. I’ll keep looking.

Yesterday I ran into Greg Marshall, a Rice alum who works in University Relations, and asked him if he’d ever heard of a Rice flag. Not only had he heard of it, he said he had one in his office. (He doesn’t know where it came from, by the way–it arrived in a large campus mail envelope with no indication of who sent it.) I confiscated it immediately, of course, but it looked funny to me. It had gold fringe all around it and none of the flags I’d seen had that. But when I blew up this picture from Pitzer’s inauguration, I discovered that the Rice flag held by the Color Guard was fringed.

I like it. I think we should start using it again.

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9 Responses to The Rice Flag

  1. amandafocke says:

    I think we ought to scan the flag in some manner and post it online so we can all enjoy it in full color detail!

  2. Bill says:

    Why not post a color picture taken with a digital camera, since you have the flag?

  3. Cynthia Herzog says:

    We fly a Rice flag on the flagpole at our home all the time. I would love to have this option to fly.

  4. Hanszenite says:

    I agree – I’d love to see it back in use.

  5. Edie Carlson says:

    Melissa, I loved this insight to aha moments: “staring at them mindlessly while I waited for something to download, when I noticed this flag…” I realize you were talking about a different type of download, but I think the one into your mind regarding the Rice flag, was a significant “download.” Neat story.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      A huge part of my work involves just noticing things, so you’d think I’d be better at it by now. But it’s not that easy. You have to first be aware of what it is that you need to notice, if you see what I mean. You also have to know what it is that you’re looking at. So it takes a combination of spontaneity and a long, slow buildup of experience. It’s a lot of fun.

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