“It is really splendid!,” 1925

This is, I suppose, really a post about the University of Texas although it started with one of the letters Radoslav Tsanoff wrote to his wife during the summer he spent teaching in Austin. During those six weeks Tsanoff spent a great deal of time in the UT library and frequently noted in his letters books that they held in their collection that Rice did not have and vice versa. His real enthusiasm was for the Wrenn Library and he included a brochure about it in the short note he sent to Corrinne on July 31. This is what caught my eye:

It really does sound splendid, both the books and the room that held them:



I naturally wondered what had become of the Wrenn Library. It turns out that the acquisition of this collection was the first step in a journey that led to the foundation of the great Ransom Center at UT. Here’s a short 2018 piece from the Ransom Center Magazine about the genesis of the collection and its use for scholars today.

And the room, well it’s glorious. Sadly it doesn’t hold books any longer but only administrators– it’s become part of the UT President’s suite. You can see pictures of it here, at a website devoted to Peter Mansbendel, a Swiss woodcarver living in Austin who did the beautiful carvings. I poked around the site a bit and discovered that Mansbendel also carved the dedicatory plaque for Cohen House, over Norman’s head here, so this is a Rice post after all:

Bonus: I couldn’t go to church yesterday but I could start rolling grape leaves for Easter, which is not subject to cancellation.

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Friday Follies: Oh, For the Good Old Days!

When people could just fling toilet paper around like it was nothing:

I’m guessing late ’80s based on the fact that the player’s shorts are still actually short.

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Construction, 1956

After almost two decades of stagnation–two world wars and the Depression didn’t help– new construction on campus exploded after World War II. Unlike current times when building projects are more or less constant this post-war construction came in several bursts. The first was right after the war and gave us Abercrombie, Anderson Hall, Fondren, and the president’s house. Then came the remarkable transformation of campus living quarters in anticipation of the adoption of the college system. This picture is of a piece of that change:

By May, 1956 there were three dormitories, three dining halls, and four master’s houses being built at the same time. Major remodels were also underway, including the commons here at right.

It must have been an unholy mess for a while.


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Slime-Soph War, 1924

What on earth is going on here? I scanned these images a couple of years ago then, confused, forgot about them:

The answer is in the 1924 Campanile, which I am still looking at today. This was an actual fight, part of a nearly week long tussle between the new freshmen and their would-be sophomore overlords. The freshmen came out on top in the end, led by their clever class president William McVey:

It’s hard to know where to start with McVey, one of the most interesting characters of this era. He was both a football player and an artist while at Rice and he went on to a long and productive career as a sculptor. Here’s his entry in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (yes, that’s a real thing). I’ve got some good stuff about his pieces on the Rice campus which I will dig out for tomorrow.

Bonus: Fondren is closed as of this afternoon but I would like to say that we’ve been washing our hands in there since before it was cool.

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Sketches, 1924

I was lounging around my office at home this afternoon, sipping some coffee and leafing through the 1924 Campanile just for the fun of it. I’ve spent quite bit of time with this  book but I caught something today that I’d never noticed before. Tucked inside are several charming sketches by John Clark Tidden, a member of the early art and architecture faculty, who I’ve written about here. Here’s the Chemistry Building under construction:

This next one is my favorite. I had to think for a minute but it’s the door that goes down to the basement of the Administration Building, just inside the Sallyport:

For comparison:

This one is easy but it contains some exotic vegetation:

And finally a mysterious figure. This likely meant something in 1924 but whatever it was it’s long gone:

Bonus: I made a quick trip to the Woodson today and came home with another box of Tsanoff letters to organize.



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“this man Neely,” 1940

It really was an auspicious moment when the Rice Institute hired Coach Jess Neely away from Clemson on January 11, 1940. I can’t help but wonder why Neely took the job, which didn’t obviously look like good one, but here he is with J.T. McCants, then chairman of the powerful Committee on Outdoor Sports, having agreed to take over a struggling program:

In the way of things back then they held a dinner for Neely and the assistants he brought with him. It was held on February 7th in the Rice Hotel ballroom and of course Dr. Lovett spoke on this occasion. To modern ears it might sound simply corny but I’m not embarrassed to say that I find comfort in the order of it. We begin with the expected joke and end with the expected welcome:

Bonus: A colleague unearthed a relic–a kit distributed across campus during an earlier, less serious epidemic, containing hand sanitizers, wipes, and lozenges.

Note: I’m more or less at home for an undetermined amount of time. I plan to keep writing here but just be warned that it could get a little weird.

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Friday Follies: Commencement 2020

This is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time, actually faith restoring. I think they were all back to clean out their dorm rooms and just organized themselves. Many thanks to Grungy for the pictures.



Bonus: They drew a small but influential crowd.

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“Severe grippe,” 1931

A bad case of the flu in February, 1931 kept French professor Marcel Moraud in Paris longer than anticipated:

But today things got real with the coronavirus at Rice. They announced that the rest of the semester will be done online and with some carefully delineated exceptions all the students need to be out of the dorms by March 25. We in the Woodson, though, continue to soldier on, as is the way of hardcore archivists everywhere.

But some things are different even in the library. Here I am taking a picture of the new restrictions on the use of Fondren the are now posted on the front door:

The drinking fountains are off limits too:

Bonus: Still pretty outside.

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Yawl, 1944

One of my  colleagues in the Woodson alerted me to this today. She found a full set of drawings for a 25 foot yawl, a two masted sail boat, for the Rice Institute. I can’t even begin to suggest an explanation for this.

Sorry about the reflection of the overhead lights. As you can see this was the second time in the last few weeks that I’ve had to use the glass sheets to hold something down flat.

Bonus: This disinfecting business has gone too far.

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Campus Mail, 1963

Sometimes it’s the mundane things that prove to be the most mysterious. One of the things that we never stop to think about is the campus mail–you put it in one of those envelopes and someone takes it where you need it to go, later on someone drops those envelopes off in your box. But when you stop to question how we reached this pleasant state of affairs things get very murky. Over the years I’ve come upon only a few hints at how campus mail worked in the past, here and here, but recently I stumbled upon a turning point in the system.

This memo from the bursar’s office was in the papers of the Committee on University Welfare, a standing committee of some real power that dealt more or less with whatever needed fixing, both large and small. The handwriting at the top looks to be Pitzer’s and the message looks like the genesis of those envelopes:

And there’s more–a schedule of morning and afternoon service, with all material deviation to be reported!

The timing of the adoption of this more structured system makes a lot of sense. The 1960s at Rice were a time of rapid modernization and a growing sophistication of which regularized mail service is just one tiny aspect. More important changes, like the institution of tenure, happened at about the same time.

Bonus: It was picture perfect on campus late this morning but there were very few people around to see it.

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