October 1, 1900
Dr. Rufus C. Burleson Relates Some Struggles of Early Days in Waco's Educational History
To the Times-Herald: Passing by the dear old Maggie Houston Hall a few days since and seeing how hard the contractors were struggling to get it repaired and ready for the opening session of 1900, I was so forcibly reminded of the struggles of 1872 when the Hall was first built and the fearful ordeal through which Waco (Baylor) University was then passing, I had to stop and walk around and through the buildings. And as successful struggles of the past are profitable lessons for the present and future, I will relate briefly the struggles of twenty-eight years ago -- 1872.
At that time there was a fearful storm raging against co-education, not only in Waco, but throughout Texas. And as I was the pioneer of co-education in the South, and Waco University was the first co-education in the South, the second in America, and the third in the world, we had to bear the brunt of the battle.
Five wealthy and influential citizens, all good friends of mine, called to see me and to beg me to abandon that new fangled idea of co-education. I assured them I had adopted co-education after long years of earnest and profound study and that I believed from my heart that co-education was a reform the world needed. That co-education was not a new fangled idea; that Bologna University, the first and greatest of Europe, was co-education, till the pope of Rome issued a bull expelling young ladies from all universities. And all opposition to co-education was obeying the bull of the pope.
They said "Waco needs a first-class university, and believe you are the man to build one; but if you are going to convert Waco University into a mixed school of boys and girls we regret to say we will have to get up a military school and that will break you down."
I saw a powerful combination was formed extending over the state. A new president was elected to succeed the good and noble Professor Madden and then they began to erect a splendid two-story brick building for the Waco female college. A military academy with a dashing president was established. A rumor swept over that Waco University had played out, that it had no boarding hall for young ladies, no apparatus, no library and was turned into a mixed school for boys and girls.
I called our board of trustees together and explained fully the powerful combination against Waco University and to meet this combination we must complete the boarding hall for young ladies and must also have a philosophical apparatus, a new library by the opening of our fall term of 1872. I told them I had been invited to deliver an address before the National Baptist Educational society at Philadelphia and I could there secure the apparatus and library if they could complete the young ladies boarding hall, and all would be well. They said if I could put two thousand dollars in the bank we could finish the boarding hall in time. I went to work vigorously and raised a thousand dollars from my old students and friends and borrowed a thousand dollars from a friend in Bastrop by giving him a mortgage on 640 acres of Colorado land. I then hurried away to attend the National education society to procure apparatus and library and at the same time to procure $25,000 to establish a college for colored Baptist preachers and teachers for Texas. I was cordially received by the great capitalists, preachers and college presidents of the North. I readily secured the desired apparatus and library and the noble-hearted Judge Bishop pledged $25,000 to found Bishop College at Marshall.
I was also visiting the great universities of the North and also our great military institute at West Point, learning all points necessary to establish a great university in Texas; also to get in touch with millionaires looking to a grand future endowment of millions.
But I received a startling letter from my brother, Dr. Richard B. Burleson, saying the trustees had used the two thousand dollars I had put in (the) bank to pay off other debts and that work on the boarding hall had stopped. In great sadness of heart I hurried home and found there was no hope of finishing the boarding house. I immediately called the faculty together. They were all greatly discouraged and in favor of giving up Waco University as a lost cause. They said that we had published to the world that we would have a female boarding hall and we could not in honor open the session without one. I told them I was resolved to die by Waco University and co-education.
Professor Albert Boggess, one of the noblest spirits of earth who had been, first a student and then a soldier of General Stonewall Jackson, and had imbibed the heroism of his old teacher and general, arose and said, "Gentlemen. I see Dr. Burlseon is right and I will stand or fall with him. And I have $1,000 I can loan the trustees to put on double force and finish the boarding hall."
I called the trustees together and told them Professor Boggess' proposition and they accepted it and put double force to work. To inspire the workmen I packed plank till my shoulders were sore. We sent letters and circulated all over the state that Waco University would have a grand opening in September, with a splendid new boarding hall for young ladies, also a new library and apparatus. But with all our struggles we did not get quite ready. On Friday evening before the opening on Monday five elegant young ladies from South Texas came in splendid carriages as there were then no railroads into Waco. We received them joyfully. But the stair steps were not quite finished and the elegant young ladies had to climb a ladder to get to their rooms. But like all elegant ladies they accepted the situation and enjoyed climbing the ladder.
They said they came to Waco University to climb the ladder of science and fame. And this was only the introduction.
The students continued to pour in and by Monday we had the finest opening Waco University had ever had. But our dear friends soon found they were utterly mistaken. Their great military academy trustees and the dear old Waco female academy that we hoped would soon be a noble sister college, has passed away.
But I trust it will never be forgotten that the modest unpretending Professor Boggess was the stone wall that tided us over that fearful ordeal and may his noble record in Baylor University ever cheer the hearts of his noble wife and son and daughters.
RUFUS C. BURLESON