Every now and then something surfaces that surprises me so much I can hardly think what to say. Here’s one of those things.
This is a picture from a very early student scrapbook, a young woman in a clown costume messing around up on top of the arcade that connects the Administration Building to the Physics Building. I believe it was taken in the Spring of 1916. (I especially enjoy seeing the coat racks up there.)
This looks weird, but it isn’t particularly. In Rice’s early days most of the entertainment was produced by the students themselves and there are many pictures of kids in all kinds of elaborate and outlandish costumes, including a lot of blackface. So even though I saw this many times, I really paid it no mind until the last time I used that scrapbook. For the first time I bothered to read what was written underneath it and it turned out to be completely unexpected. The caption tells us that her name was Minnie Florea and that the rest of her family had perished in the 1900 hurricane. Could this possibly be true?
This struck me as interesting enough to stop what I was doing and begin some research. It turns out that the story’s essence is correct, although it was the storm that hit Galveston in 1915, rather than the one in 1900, that did the damage. In the course of figuring this out I found my way to a book called You Meet Such Interesting People by Bess Whitehead Scott. The bland title hides a quirky (in a classically Texan way) memoir by the first woman to be hired (in 1915) as a reporter for the city desk of the Houston Post. The story of Minnie Florea’s ordeal was her first by-line.
It’s really a terrible story. Minnie’s father John, the publisher of the Richmond Coaster, had taken his family vacationing near Surfside when the storm hit on August 15, 1915. Her entire family was lost within her sight and Minnie only survived by hanging on to pieces of debris, floating in the gulf for about 30 hours before washing up near a house on the east end of the island. In the aftermath of this trauma she went to live with an aunt in Houston. She was also “adopted” by the Texas Press Association, whose members helped her attend the Rice Institute. I don’t think she graduated from Rice but Bess Scott says she did become a teacher and moved away from Texas when she married. When approached for an interview on the sixtieth anniversary of the storm she chose not to talk about it again, quite reasonably refusing to “deliberately open Pandora’s box.”