Girard College, 1912

Unsurprisingly almost nothing in the scrapbook from the Autrey family’s trip to the northeastern cities in 1912 has anything at all to do with Rice. But there are two pages that do, although accidentally. My heart jumped when I saw this label:

It’s actually spelled Girard, not Gerard, but there’s no mistaking what it is. Here’s an extremely obscure fact about William Marsh Rice–some years before he asked his lawyer to draft the charter for the Rice Institute in Houston, he had him draft a very different charter for a different kind of school. The plan was for that school to be built on Rice’s New Jersey farm, modeled after the Girard Institute, a manual training school for orphaned boys in Philadelphia, and when I say modeled I mean the charter was an exact copy the the Girard charter in every detail down to the height and width of the windows.

Maybe it’s just me but I feel like this next one would have been a better picture if the photographer had walked over to the other side of the tree:

They photographed the students too, likely in between classes:

So why did William Marsh Rice change his mind about the sort of school he wanted to start? Well, in a nutshell, his second wife nagged him into moving to Manhattan, where he became enamored of the Cooper Union, a much more sophisticated but still largely vocational institution. When he decided that he wanted to fund something more like that, his lawyer (quite a lazy one, apparently) put together a new document modeled after the Cooper Union charter, and when I say modeled again I mean copied. Only two things from the Girard charter were kept  in the new charter. First, the Rice Institute, now to be built in Houston, would be completely secular. This was an important influence on our development. Although Rice remained for a long time culturally Protestant it allowed for a strong Jewish presence on campus from the beginning. (There’s much to be said about this and I’m working on that research right now.) The second thing that Mr. Rice retained from Girard proved to be deeply troublesome–it would be for white students only. That legacy still haunts us.

For a short history of Girard College including its own tumultuous period of racial change, try this entry from the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

And go here to see a very blunt 1914 letter from original Rice trustee Cesar Lombardi to Captain Baker about Mr. Rice’s intentions, his plans based on Cooper Union, and what should finally be done to realize his vision. (Spoiler: we never did it.)

Bonus: This was a first for me. I’ve seen numberless brides, birthdays, graduations, engagements, and quiceañeras being photographed on this campus but I’ve never before seen a baby having his picture taken by a professional photographer. Avery, six months old, and his very doting mother.


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4 Responses to Girard College, 1912

  1. Isabella Gonzalez says:

    Love that little baby! Happy birthday to Avery.

  2. Lynne Hsu Xavier (WRC '88) says:

    Maybe Avery will be an Owl someday. What a cutie.

  3. Galloway Hudson. Wiess '60 says:

    We took our baby daughter’s photo with Willie in 1965, but I’m sure we were not the first, and we were certainly not professionals. Also, Rice could hardly have accepted black students much before it actually did, given its geographical location.

  4. Richard Schafer says:

    I think the photographer of the tree was more interested in the squirrel than the buildings.

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