Otto O. Watts, ’16

I was looking for something in the 1916 Campanile this morning when I noticed that the copy I was using had someone’s name stamped on it:

I recognized the name but that’s all. Since I had the book in my hand, though, it seemed reasonably sensible to look him up. I found a fine  looking young man, a transfer student from Simmons College in Abilene who belonged to the YMCA and played the flute in the band:

Curious about what kind of doctor he’d become I discovered a sweet story. Otto Watts married after graduation and taught high school chemistry in small town Texas for a few years. In 1920 he was hired by Simmons College (which became Hardin-Simmons in 1934) to teach chemistry there. He took a couple of leaves, first to get a master’s degree from the University of Colorado and then his doctorate from Stanford, where he was appointed an assistant professor in his last year of study. He didn’t stay, though. A devoted Christian and committed teacher who wanted to be close to his students, he went home to Simmons where he spent the rest of his career as chairman of the Chemistry Department and a beloved mentor to generations of students.

I don’t know the date of this picture, which I got from the Hardin-Simmons twitter feed, but I know that it’s Dr. Watts with students in his lab:

It turns out that there’s something else interesting about this particular copy of the 1916 Campanile and I will get to that tomorrow unless something intervenes. (You never know.)

Bonus: As soon as I saw this on the ground the other day I knew that it was bound to escalate.

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8 Responses to Otto O. Watts, ’16

  1. I once visited Doc C in his office for some reason (Thresher-related?). He was on the phone, so to keep me occupied, he handed me a 1918 Campanile and a 1916 football program. Or maybe it was the other way around. I remember that I recognized the Rice sense of humor in a poem in the Campanile.

  2. Hi Dr. Kean –

    Just learned that Howard Hughes’ childhood home is now the theology department at St. Thomas. Do you know which building he lived in on campus (if he lived on campus at all)? Obviously he was there before the start of the residential colleges but it would be cool to know which of the 4 original dorms he might have lived in (is he an honorary Hanszenite? One hopes.). Thanks!

  3. almadenmike says:

    His “Who’s Who” listing details some of the dates and places of his education and career:

    Education: AB, Simmons College, (now Hardin Simmons University), Abilene, Texas, 1913
    Education: AB, Rice Institute, Houston, 1916
    Education: AM, University Colorado, 1923
    Education: PhD, Stanford University, 1932
    Career: Teaching fellow, acting assistant professor chemistry, Stanford University, 1930-32
    Career: Instructor chemistry, University Colorado, 1922-24
    Career: Chairman grad. studies, Hardin-Simmons University, 1938-52
    Career: Head department, Hardin-Simmons University, 1920-64
    Career: Professor chemistry, Hardin-Simmons University, from 1920
    Career: Principal, high school, Austin, Texas, 1919
    Career: Principal, high school, Groveton, Texas, 1916
    Career: Teacher, high school, Mart, Texas, 1914
    Career: Teacher, high school, Westbrook, Texas, 1913

    It looks like he taught high school for two years before coming to Rice.

    His WWI draft registration card (dated June 5, 1917) said he was a teacher in Big Spring, Tex. His WWI service records (viewable for free on show that he was inducted into the U.S. Army on Sept. 16, 1917 and served in Company A of the 315th Field Signal Battalion (which was part of the 90th Division organized at Camp Travis, Tex. in August 1917;

    Otto’s approved application for a Victory Medal indicated that he participated in the “major operations” at St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne … and his medal was approved “with battle clasps” for “St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Defensive Sector”. The pdf referenced above said his unit served at St. Mihiel on Sept 12-16, 1918, and at Meuse-Argonne on Oct. 13 – Nov.11, 1918.

    He was promoted to corporal on Dec. 4, 1917, and to sergeant first class on June 1, 1918. Otto was honorably discharged from service on July 15, 1919.

    The August 1966 Sallyport also says that he attended his Rice class’ Golden Class party. (

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