This afternoon completely by chance I stumbled across an amazing picture. I was randomly–randomly!–leafing through folders in the photo files and my heart leapt when I saw this:
There are almost no good images of the Rice board before very recent times. I’ve looked, and looked intently, to no avail. They didn’t sit for group pictures as they do now and there are only scattered individual portraits in our files. For some of them we have no picture at all. What instantly caught my eye here was that both George Brown and Harry Wiess are in this one.
But it took several more minutes for the reality of this photo to dawn on me. It was taken after the Baccalaureate service in the spring of 1946. William Houston, who’s also here, had only just been named Rice’s second president in January. The other thing that happened in January was a first for the Institute: four lifetime trustees stepped down from the board. Up until that moment the only way a trustee left was by dying. The four who resigned, all elderly men in 1946, are all here: J.T. Scott, Benjamin Botts Rice, Alexander Cleveland, and Edgar Odell Lovett. Their replacements–Lamar Fleming, Bill Kirkland, Frederick Lummis, and Gus Wortham–are also present as are the three younger men who had come onto the board during the war, George Brown, Harry Hanszen, and Harry Wiess. This was a moment of profound generational change and set in motion the dramatic changes that would come to the Institute in the years following World War II.
A special edition of the Thresher came out on January 10, 1946 to announce Dr. Houston’s selection as president and it included this deceptively simple announcement of something that would prove to be of momentous consequence:
They are, left to right, Lamar Fleming, William Kirkland, Gus Wortham, Frederick Lummis, George Brown, Edgar Odell Lovett, Alexander Cleveland, William Houston, Harry Hanszen, J.T. Scott, Benjamin Botts Rice, a photobomb by Rice Physics Professor H.A. Wilson, the baccalaureate speaker, Rev. Henry Van Dusen, and Harry Wiess.
Was there any controversy or contention at the time about ending the “life trustees” or that the burden of directing Rice’s affairs was “too great” for them? Did they not agree with “the recently accounced long range program for the school”?
I’ve never seen anything to suggest that this was at all contentious. I think it was more of a recognition of how different the world had become and how much energy it was going to take for Rice to move with the times. Things really did change dramatically after this–everything from the building program, to curriculum, to the investment policy. It was a thorough overhaul. No country for old men.
I suppose the top picture was taken at St Paul’s Methodist?
Yes. It was Rice’s indoor event venue for a long time.
I can think of two other huge developments in the following decades. The residential college system began in the 1950s. Then in the early 1960s the Institute became a University that opened its doors to minorities. Were those changes a direct consequence of the new trustees?
That’s a really complicated question and the answer depends on what you mean by “direct.” The new trustees didn’t come in intending to make those particular changes but they did come in intending to (or at least willing to) change things.
Nope! It’s funny, it’s a view I must have seen dozens of times but never noticed until yesterday.
Great historical catch, Melissa. Looks like a lesson to be learned is if you want to have a residential college named after you, become a trustee during a world war. That background view of St. Paul’s Methodist is immediately recognizable to those of us who have driven into downtown on South Main for decades.
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