Grace Under Pressure: Vetta Masterson and the Civil War Historians, 1957

Orvetta Weston Masterson c 1960

Another batch of materials from the Masterson family arrived at the Woodson recently and contained within are the most remarkable artifacts of the early college system that I have ever seen. For each of their first four years in the master’s house, Vetta Masterson, the wife of Hanszen’s first master, William Masterson, kept a notebook. They seem to have been primarily used to keep track of entertaining expenses but Mrs. Masterson frequently wrote as though she were keeping a journal, describing their experiences with the students, faculty associates and visitors. It begins with a long description of moving into the brand new master’s house on March 23, 1957 and soon moves on to stories of various social occasions, many of them of a sort long since vanished. The details of the dinners and teas are both homely–how many cans of pineapple for the salad–and redolent of a world that I can see, but can’t touch.

Hanszen House front courtyard 1965

An entry from the fall of 1957 brought a smile to my face. Then as now Rice’s History Department had significant strength in the history of the American South, including Dr. Masterson himself as well as Frank Vandiver. It seems that Southern Historical Association held its annual meeting in Houston that year and the Mastersons threw a dinner party in Hanszen House for some of the attendees. Here’s Mrs. Masterson’s account of the evening. I would point out only two things. First, the guest list is impressive. These were important people. And second, since moving in in March, the Mastersons had been plagued by both unfortunately timed torrential rain storms and malfunctioning domestic equipment. Go ahead and read it. It’s a wild, preposterous story and absolutely everything about it rings true to me. I do not believe that the behavior of Civil War historians would be any different today, fifty years later.

Vetta Masterson SHA 1Vetta Masterson SHA 2

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5 Responses to Grace Under Pressure: Vetta Masterson and the Civil War Historians, 1957

  1. Sandy Havens says:

    Such tales are wonderful. Every college master has stories. It might make an interesting issue of “The Cornerstone” to solicit and publish those stories.

  2. James Medford says:

    Bit of trivia: She references the Grand Prize brewery … Grand Prize Bar, on Banks just off Montrose, is named in tribute to Grand Prize beer, long the best-selling beer in Texas.

  3. Barbara Eaves says:


  4. mjthannisch says:

    Very neat. It brought up memories of Dr. and Mrs. Burrus, when he was master of Lovett, would have us in groups over to their house for dinner. Always Lasagna, but as I recall a different recipe each time. We all had a good time.

  5. Pingback: Moving in the Rain, 1957 | Rice History Corner

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