The Spelling Test

Someone brought up the infamous Rice spelling test in the comments last night so I went back and had a look at what’s in the files about it. Here’s how it came to be: In 1937 the Rice faculty, horrified and appalled by what they considered the poor command of English exhibited by the undergraduates, decided to institute a spelling requirement for graduation. This took the form of a list of words that each student had to spell correctly in order to be granted a degree. You could try more than once, which was a good thing. The earliest list was absolutely savage–about 530 words, many of them either tricky or technical and some both.

Over time the list changed, gradually getting shorter as many of the scientific terms were dropped, but it remained tricky. I haven’t been able to find any discussion of the reasons why it was dropped, but the last class subject to the requirement was either the one that entered in 1954 or 1955. (I just can’t tell from the records.) I believe that the list I’ve included here is the last one and it was down to 450 words. I didn’t have time to do a word-for-word comparison, but just eyeballing it I think that all of the words on the last list also appear on the first one, which might explain the presence of “dirigible.”

I will freely confess that there are a few words here that give me trouble.

Bonus: Blue Ford tractor pulling trash bin.

Extra Bonus: This little guy was sitting out in the grass between the Jones School and the RMC, just as bold as brass.

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13 Responses to The Spelling Test

  1. marmer01 says:

    Bunny and Ford tractor. You thought of me!

  2. M says:

    bring the spelling test back!

  3. effegee says:

    Looks like some of Ruby’s rabbits escaped!

  4. James says:

    Cute little rabbit, and looks like it’s well fed.

  5. Barney L. McCoy says:

    In comparison with my High School English teacher’s word list, the Rice spelling test looks like a piece of cake. Tues and Fri we did 20 words from the list, defining each and then using the word in a sentence. He claimed to be getting us ready for the College Boards; we thought he was merely being “sadistic”.
    Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67

  6. mattnoall says:

    Perhaps they stopped this when the faculty realized they would have difficulty passing this. Rather embarassing

    I remember one lecture I attended where the
    Professor had to pause trying to spell a word. His verbal statement was “Remember how to spell ‘remember'”

  7. Leoguy says:

    What constituted “passing?” 100 percent correct?

  8. Joe A Buck says:

    Regarding this demise of the Rice spell test …
    I recall hearing about this as a legend about the difficulty of going to Rice as a very young child. I started school in’56 and even first grader (rural public school) already knew how Rice students studied their spelling list beginning as freshmen. Thereafter, across Texas spelling bee competitions were a fixture of weekly English class up until Junior High (1 st. – 7th grades). Further with the scourge of Polio no longer a threat to society, defeated by good science, the reality that science did not depend on spelling and that children should already know how to spell …. so I always thought about the rapid ‘overlap’ of science vs. the humanities … Recall that 5 yrs later Rice was where most of the world first learned about going to the mon and NASA.

  9. William Hook says:

    Great Information. Thanks for sharing

  10. Pingback: English Zero, 1933 | Rice History Corner

  11. Any link between the Rice spelling test and the Rice purity test?

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