It’s labeled “FEV leading MOB at halftime, October 1981” and of course it’s absolutely the kind of thing he would enjoy. But by the fall of 1981 Frank Vandiver was already the president of Texas A&M. So what gives? Maybe some sort of kiss and make up type of thing? Anyone have thoughts?
The biggest surprise in the 1927 issue of The Raven turned out to be the identity of one of its editors, Waldo Forest McNeir ’29 (or M’Neir as he sometimes styled himself). It seems to have been McNeir who was the chief provocateur behind the magazine and the one who drew the most fire from the rest of student body.
The instant the name registered in my mind I knew exactly who he was. I had encountered him many years ago in a wildly different context. While I was in Louisiana researching the desegregation of Tulane I also naturally came across lots of material about race relations at LSU. It was here that I first came across McNeir, an English professor at LSU (a Spenser specialist of all things) who had done something so magnificent and so crazy that even though I didn’t need it for my work I copied the newspaper article and brought it home with me. I had, though, no idea that he was a Rice alum!
Here we go, from a January 5, 1961 Associated Press report:
Given the context of Louisiana politics in 1961 this was a spectacular gesture, guaranteed to cause exactly what it did cause, as McNeir surely knew it would. And as if the contents of the letter weren’t provocative enough, writing it on LSU stationery ensured a public blow up of significant proportions. In the end McNeir shook the dust of Louisiana off his shoes and wound up at the University of Oregon, where he spent the rest of his career.
After his death in 1991 a memorial tribute appeared in The Spenser Newsletter. It describes a man with the energy and engagement of the boy who attended the Institute in the 1920s but with the warmth and generosity of maturity, a man who might provoke, but provoke in the interests of justice.
WALDO F.McNEIR, 1908-1991
92.66 Waldo F. McNeir, born in Houston, Texas, attended the Rice Institute (now Rice University), where he graduated A.B. in 1929. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill he graduated A.M. in English in 1932 and Ph.D. in 1940. He and Corinne married in 1935. He taught English at North Texas State in Denton, 1940-42 and 1946, his tenure there interrupted by four years’ service in the US Navy, culminating in his command of an LST in the Pacific theater for the last two years of the war. He taught English at the University of Chicago, 1946-49, at LSU in Baton Rouge 1949-61, and at the University ofOregon, Eugene, 1961-74, where he was retired Professor of English Emeritus. He was Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Marburg in 1957 and 1964, and at the University ofMunster in 1968; and Visiting Professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia in 1975.
Waldo McNeir participated actively for many years in the MLA and its South Central and Pacific branches, in the International Shakespeare Society, and in the Spenser Society from its inception. He was a contributing editor to the Spenser News/mer from its first volume until his death. He published numerous articles on Renaissance literature and edited several volumes of scholarly studies, besides co-authoring Edmund Spenser: An Annotated Bibliography 1937-1972 (l975). In 1975 he and Corinne retired to Houston, where they lived until death, Corinne in the mid-eighties and Waldo in July, 1991.
This bare sketch of his life of course misses the essential Waldo almost completely; for among scholars as among any other group of people he was an absolute original, a person who lived more intensely than anyone else I have ever known.
In 1974 I spent six weeks in Eugene as Waldo and Corinne’s guest while he and I were completing the Spenser bibliography. On the first work day, Waldo sat down after breakfast with Corinne and made a list of the day’s agenda: a clock to be taken for repair; a pile of papers in his carrel-office that had to be classified and filed before we could set up our program for the six weeks’ joint effort; a visit to the liquor store to get supplies for an at-home bash the following Saturday; a visit to a grad student who was sulking in his apartment, unable to get on with his thesis; and so on and on.
After four hours’ morning work in the library he and I lunched at a restaurant he had recently spotted (Corinne couldn’t eat dinner in the evening if she joined him at one of these lunches). I never drank at lunch for fear of drowsiness, but Waldo could and did have a cocktail or two, without any noticeable effect on his accuracy and diligence in the further four hours at the library. Before resuming work in the library, we dropped off the clock to be fixed and purchased the liquor.
In the evening, after we had visited the sulking graduate student and Waldo hadpumped the young man’s ego back up a bit, we went to another and better restaurant for cocktails and a feast (sometimes Corinne came to these nightly feasts, sometimes not). Afterward, Waldo wanted to stop in a student hangout and play one of the new video games made for two persons (he always beat me, no matter how I tried). Then nothing would do but we must see a Goldie Hawn movie, followed by a stop for a nightcap where we ran into a collection of characters, some academic, all of whom wanted to trade a few wisecracks with Waldo.
Except for the religiously pursued eight hours of work in the library, the agenda on succeeding days might vary a bit — different restaurants, different hangouts, different movies. But the activity ceased only when Waldo and Corinne took me to the Inn at Otter Crest on the Oregon coast, where the sauna reduced both Waldo and me to vegetables, barely able to crawl up to the suite he had rented for the occasion. It was a memorable, and highly productive, six weeks.
Towards the end of his life, Waldo seemed to live more in his letters than in his Houston apartment; but from very early he had lived as much in his letters as in his very active life. Corinne told me that she considered him the best letter-writer who ever lived, and I think she may have been right. A typical letter from Waldo was full of narrative accounts of his recent doings; descriptions of the persons whose company he had recently enjoyed or whom he had disliked and resented; pithy and accurate assessments of movies and plays he had recently seen; vituperation of Republicans generally and of people who didn’t want him to smoke in their houses; accounts of his flower garden; disclosures of his current hopes for the education of his son; panegyrics on good students of the previous semester; opinions on baseball or football; accounts of meals, TV programs, books; reports on the activities and health of his sister and brothers; accounts of projected European trips for the next year or of trips recently completed.
It would be wrong to suppose that these accounts in his personal letters, any of them, would be tedious. They lived with the same vigor as Waldo himself. The only letters that ever dragged even slightly were some of his Christmas chronicles of the previous year’s activity, and this (I think) happened because he had no single person in mind as his audience. Waldo apparently conceived all his other letters with the addressee sharply in mind. They always concerned things that he knew would interest the addressee, to judge by the letters he wrote me and by what others have told me of the letters he wrote them.
To Waldo a letter constituted an act of personal communion. In his middle seventies he confessed to me that it mortified him if he went to bed without having answered every single letter he had received that day. These letters, often written after midnight, almost never turned out to be short notes, scribbled off as an obligation. They were all readable, alive.
I feel that his correspondence, conducted with such verve and devotion, was the reason why Waldo produced relatively little scholarship. As a scholar, certainly he committed himself with the same energy that he gave to his correspondence. I probably know this aspect of him better than anyone else — now that Corinne is dead — because he and I were colleagues for seventeen years in the production of the Spenser bibliography. In this project he never lagged, never lacked the energy to pursue the current lead until he could put a completed, annotated card in the box. For a person who maintained a regular correspondence with scores of persons, probably more than a hundred, there simply wasn’t time for much more scholarship.
In another dimension, Waldo was a hero to his graduate students, and not just because he was so solicitous about their state of mind when they wrote their theses and dissertations. He knew a great many of them personally, whether he was directing their theses or not. He mixed with them almost as an equal, but without breaking down the student’s consciousness of his superior position as a professor. When I was Waldo’s guest in 1974 I had ample opportunity at various parties to hear graduate students talking about him. Astheytradedaccountsofhiswarexperiences,hispostwartravels,andhisencounters with students in out-of-the-way places, these graduate students perceived a titanic man. Yet the thing they seemed to admire most about him was human rather than heroic: it was that he had, during World War II, selected the officers for his LST (presumably from an otherwise qualified list) exclusively on their answers to this question: do you play bridge?If they did, they were in. Incidentally, the LST, which saw a good deal of action, returned from the Pacific with all hands. And over the years after 1945, Waldo conducted regular reunions with his crew, the last one in the late 1980’s!
It could be that the Waldo imagined by his graduate students was larger than the real Waldo. But I think not. The central fact of Waldo’s academic career, probably, was his injudicious but quite heroic confrontation with the Louisiana legislature at the tum of the sixties, over a letter he had written as president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The letter challenged the position of a number of legislators respecting desegregation. Waldo had written the letter (as he should not have done) on LSU stationery, and the legislature not only called him to task publicly but ran him out of the state university for his pains. With magnificent aplomb he immediately found a better job at the University of Oregon, where he happily lived out the rest of his academic life.
I don’t think I have done justice to Waldo’s unflagging generosity. No exertion, no sacrifice was ever too much, whether someone asked him for something or whether Waldo simply perceived that a graduate student (or some other needy soul) had to have some help. So far as I know he was not a professing Christian, but people looking for someone to canonize for sheer generosity could do a lot worse than Waldo F. McNeir.
Bonus: I’ve been reliably informed that the capacity with covid 19 restrictions has been worked out for over 750 spaces on campus. Once again I am deeply grateful for the hard work and careful efforts of my colleagues in FE&P.
The reason I’ve gotten stuck in 1927 is the unexpected discovery in the info files of a Rice publication that I thought had vanished completely. The Raven claimed to be a literary magazine, which it sort of was, and also to be “radical,” which is harder to judge. I can say with certainty that it simultaneously annoyed and fascinated the student body at the Institute. From evidence in the Thresher I gather that six issues appeared over the course of 1926 and 1927 but only a single one, the last one by my count—from Summer 1927–survives in the Woodson. (If you have another, let me know ASAP!)
Over those two years the two publications conducted a running battle, with the Thresher derided as conformist and insipid and the Raven as arrogant and pointlessly provocative. (Both were correct, by the way.) In casting about for the right adjective to describe the tone of The Raven I first toyed with “snotty” then settled on “sophomoric,” as its editors were in fact sophomores in 1927. One thing is clear: this publication was absolutely original in this time and place. I’ve never seen anything like it. The other Rice publication of the day, The Owl, was simply a humor magazine that sometimes lampooned but never challenged the status quo. The Raven, though, took open delight in jeering at the conventions of the campus, the city, and polite society in general. One of the editors even claimed to be an atheist! The reward for all this, of course, was mockery, disdain, and what must have been a very satisfying notoriety.
It’s all so snotty (there’s that word again), so obviously calculated to irritate, that I almost hesitate to reproduce any of it here. But what the heck, for all the noxious attitude they actually had their finger on some real and studiously unacknowledged problems with Rice and with American academia in general. Here are the first few pages, the warm-up as it were:
It was diptheria this time but this certainly has a contemporary feel:
I’m sure you’ll all be as shocked as I was at the dorm dwellers’ reaction to the quarantine order:
I realize that there have been numerous posts about 1927 recently but it can’t be helped. Prepare yourselves for more because I found something wonderful but it’s going to take a bit of work to get there.
Trust me. Really, you can.
Bonus: I was on campus this afternoon and it’s so oddly quiet–not completely deserted like earlier but nothing at all like the bustle and excitement of a normal fall semester. There are a lot of signs around issuing all kinds of orders but the most explicit directions come from the architects, who are not fooling around about hand washing.
The first peaceful transition of power on the Board of Trustees took place in the spring of 1946. I’m kidding, sort of, but until then the only way to get off the Rice board was to die. That changed with the March, 1946 resignation of the elderly men who had governed during Dr. Lovett’s presidency and the coming of a new generation of leaders, foremost among them George Brown, Harry Wiess, and Gus Wortham. (I wrote about this here, when I found a photograph of this pivotal moment in the university’s history.)
Three years later came another change on the Institute’s governing structure. In 1949 the board added an eight-man board of governors who sat alongside the trustees as an advisory group without voting rights. I can no longer recall where I found this clipping of the announcement but I’d guess it was in an info file:
I have a couple of observations about all this. First, I’m grateful that Newton Rayzor was appointed to the board seat left vacant by the untimely death of Harry Wiess. Rayzor would prove to be an absolutely outstanding trustee. Second, note that all the new governors were Houstonians. This is interesting because there’s a requirement in the Rice charter that all trustees live in Houston. The addition of a non-trustee group would have thus been an opportunity to expand geographical representation. I don’t really have a confident guess why they didn’t avail themselves. Maybe it just didn’t seem relevant, maybe there were enough people in Houston who needed to be added for one reason or another. (Also interesting is that the Houston residency requirement for board membership was routinely ignored during the Institute’s early years, one of several charter provisions that were violated at will. That’s a discussion for another day, though.) Third, this oddball structure proved to be problematic over the years. It’s not hard to see how sitting through meetings and doing committee work but not having your vote counted might aggravate folks. And finally, I find that the talk about 12-point programs, management and planning issues, and expertise makes me a bit uneasy. This wasn’t just a change of personnel; it was a major shift in attitude.
Bonus: There wasn’t. Deep down I knew there couldn’t possibly be but I was a little disappointed anyhow.
During the summer that Radoslav Tsanoff spent teaching at the University of Texas in 1925 he had three more or less constant companions. They were Clyde Glascock, who was quite easy to identify, and the more mysterious Arrowood and Mrs. Arrowood. All the members of this little circle spent a great deal of time together, swimming, dining, visiting in the evenings. Tsanoff’s letters are full of references to them, as in this one, written on August 10th, in which he describes Mrs. Arrowood’s thoughts on hair bobbing, a procedure then under consideration by Corinne Tsanoff (she didn’t do it, by the way):
Last week as I dug around looking for the members of the triumfeminate much to my delight I stumbled upon the identity of Mr. Arrowood, who turns out to be another member of the class of 1918. The caption here is quite interesting:
Arrowood’s silence may well have been partly temperamental but my guess is that it had more to do with the fact that he was a full grown man when he entered the Institute. A native of North Carolina, he already had degrees from Davidson College and the Union Theological Seminary. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1915 and was pastor of a congregation in Houston part of the time he was attending Rice. I think it’s safe to say he had little in common with the crowd hanging out in the sallyport. (I took a peek at his Rice master’s thesis, entitled “Thomas Hill Green’s criticism of hedonism,” and can confirm that he was not the sort of fellow to be throwing dice in the cloisters.) After Arrowood left Rice he earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago, then returned to Houston and joined the Rice faculty. He stayed until 1928 when he went to UT, where he spent the rest of his career as a scholar of the history and philosophy of education. (That summer of 1925 he, like Tsanoff, was a Rice faculty member teaching summer school in Austin.)
Quiet he may have been but he does seem to have made some friends among the student body while he was at Rice. While researching triumfeminate member Helen Browder Barber I came across her marriage certificate. Recall that she married fellow Cornell doctoral student Glenn Gray on Christmas Day of 1925. I was surprised but not surprised to see who married them:
Bonus: Mrs. Arrowood, another North Carolinian, was named Flora. While her husband was on the faculty at Rice she sometimes directed the student theatrical productions.
One of the unexpected pleasures of retirement is that I now have time to follow up on questions raised in the comments. Richard Schafer quite reasonably noted after Friday’s post that if Elsbeth Rowe was a member of a triumfeminate there must have been two others lurking about somewhere. Indeed there were and the three were quite a formidable crew by the looks of it. I did some poking around and had the good fortune to come across a book prepared by members of the class of 1918 on the occasion of their fortieth reunion in 1958 and two of them, Elsbeth Rowe and Mary Jane Stratford had included updates on their lives. First up is Stratford, whose mother Sarah was hired as Dr. Lovett’s secretary in 1911, then became Dean of Women at Rice in (I think) 1914:
Next we have the scrumptious Elspeth Rowe, who from what I can tell spent a year at Vassar after she graduated from Rice:
The third member of the triumfeminate is the one I found most interesting. Helen Barber, “the Library Queen,” was a non-participant in the reunion updates, as I would also have been. After she left Rice she taught a bit at MacMurray College in Illinois, then went off to Cornell where in the spring of 1927 she received her doctorate in history. On Christmas day that year she married fellow Cornell graduate student Glenn Gray. (He finished in 1928.) She would spend most of her life in Lincoln, Nebraska, where her husband had a long career as a professor of English history and the two of them would build a personal library of some distinction. I like her.
I’ve got one more tidbit about this for next time. Hang on!
One of the things in George Wheeler’s scrapbook that I lacked the wit to scrutinize the first time around was some material about what seems to have been annual event I’d never noticed before, the Junior Promenade:
His dance card was in there too, the only one in the scrapbook. (Mr. Wheeler was a very serious student.)
Rule 127 of scrapbook analysis: always look inside the dance card. This was extremely unexpected: