Rice University
Rice University 100 Years 1912-2012

Historian's Blog   
RSS Feed

George Wheeler’s Scrapbook and Biology at Rice, 1915-1918

Posted onbyMelissa Kean

When I came in to the Woodson the morning after discovering the existence of the unknown (to me) early scrapbook of Rice student George Wheeler, I struggled a little bit to figure out exactly where it was on the shelves. In retrospect, I totally understand why I had missed it. Most of the scrapbooks in our collection are housed in the same place because, after all, they are all the same thing: scrapbooks. This one was different, though, as the small collection consisted of a scrapbook PLUS a group of letters. And because the scrapbook itself was physically fairly small, it easily fit inside a standard manuscript collection box. So it was shelved, reasonably enough, with the other manuscript collections. There are a lot of these, by the way, and most of them aren’t Rice-related. Although I do poke around in them from time to time just for fun, I’d simply never opened this particular box.

Biology Lab 1916

It turned out to be a particularly beautiful collection. Wheeler arrived at Rice in the fall of 1915, after spending his freshman year at TCU, and immediately fell in with the biologists. When he sent this collection to the Woodson in 1975, it was accompanied by a wonderful letter. Of his early days he noted: “In the spring of 1916 the student assistant in biology (there was only one) got so far behind with his dishwashing that I was appointed to help him. That can be called starting at the very bottom of the ladder as subassistant. In my junior and senior years I was a teaching assistant in the beginning course and was under Davies’ supervision. He was not, however, yet a faculty member. I suppose nowadays he would be called maintenance superintendent. It would be an appropriate term, for that’s what he did–maintain: he kept the department running.”

The scrapbook is full of interesting photographs. Unlike most student scrapbooks, this one is focused on the academic life rather than on the social aspects of college. Many of them show the Rice biologists and their students on collecting trips around the campus and out on the San Jacinto River. I was utterly unsurprised to discover that Wheeler became a biology professor himself. He had a pretty remarkable career as an entomologist, specializing in the taxonomy and morphology of ants and serving as chairman of the Department of Biology at the University of North Dakota from 1926 to 1963. Here is a link to an oral history interview in the Smithsonian. The interview itself is restricted, but there’s an excellent biography of him attached. And here’s another interesting piece, this one from a group dedicated to the preservation of prairie grasslands in North Dakota.

Tomorrow I’ll post some of the more interesting pictures of the collecting trips.


Friday Afternoon Follies 10/28/2011

Posted onbyMelissa Kean

Looks like the new dean has arrived!



Joseph I. Davies, Part III

Posted onby Melissa Kean

Marshall, Davies, Huxley, Muller 1915

If you remember back to Monday, I came across all these Davies slides while helping a student with a project on campus biology. I had found a few nice things for her, but there really wasn’t a lot of easily identifiable material about the specific plants and animals that were native to the area. The reason I was looking in Davies’s papers was to see if I could find any evidence embedded in the stories about Professor Huxley and his sample collecting expeditions. There was a little, but the slides were the real discovery.

That night I was excited to write about Davies and his photographs, but I realized that I didn’t have a picture of him for the post. So I did what any modern girl would–I googled him. (There’s something truly hilarious about this, it seems to me.) I didn’t find a picture, but I got my second big surprise of this episode. Here’s the link if you’d like to see the whole thing.


I thought I knew every scrapbook we have in the Woodson, but I was obviously wrong. I had to wait until the next morning to see what was in there. Except for the photo above, you have to wait until Monday. (I had forgotten that new babies trail chaos in their wake. I’m too disoriented to write.)




Joseph I. Davies, Part II

Posted onbyMelissa Kean



I’d like to put up just a few more pictures from Joseph Davies’s slides before I move on tomorrow to the second part of this story. Over the decades, the Rice campus expanded in a series of sort of pulses, the first right after World War II and then a second in the late 1950s (with much more to come later). Davies did a really fine job of recording this second expansion. We do have a few photos of this burst of construction in the archives, but they feel very mechanical, like pictures of nothing but a process. Davies’s photographs, on the other hand, taken with what had to have been a sharp awareness of change and context, show us what real transformation looked like. These images of Hamman Hall rising, I think, capture something hard to explain about how a world changes. This is the real reason these slides were such a great discovery.


You can see another thing I love about Davies in this next set of photos. He just didn’t behave the way other people do. Every time it has snowed at Rice, from the first to the last, people ran out to take pictures of Lovett Hall and the snowy quad. When a big storm hit sometime in the late 1940s Davies did this too–but then he traipsed all over campus to find other strange sights. Here’s the old football stadium:


And here’s the back terrace of Cohen House:


Then he goes back and takes a picture of the same spot on a sunny summer day:


Bonus: Check this one out!



Happy Birthday, Annie!

Posted onby Melissa Kean  

My first grandchild was born this morning up here in Omaha, a little girl named Ann. Mother and beautiful baby are doing great; I’m a bit shaky.  Still, although I’m less coherent than usual, I can manage to put up some more of Dr. Davies’s lovely campus photographs. But here’s fair warning: things might be ever so slightly erratic around here for a while.

Here’s a sequence showing the blossoming of the geology and biology buildings. These pictures had to have been taken from the top of the chemistry building, I would guess from the balcony off the west side of the second floor. There’s a lot to look at in these–hedges, trees, roads–but I really enjoy that lone tree.



Bonus: Here’s the balcony I mean. It’s only accessible by walking through someone’s lab. (I don’t recommend this, by the way.)


And here’s the view to the west from there:


Extra bonus: Someone asked about this photo from yesterday. I really struggled to orient myself with this one too. It’s the beginning of construction of the RMC. The building in the background is the side of the gym.


Joseph I. Davies, Part I

Posted onbyMelissa Kean

I had two surprising and remarkable days in the archives last week, one leading directly to the other. It’s going to take more than one post to explain it all, so I guess I’ll just begin at the beginning. I had a student come in for help with a very interesting project–she was looking for any photos and information that might help shed light on the campus ecosystem in the early years, including things such as flora and fauna, drainage issues and possible locations used for growing crops. I find this inherently interesting, but it’s also interesting from a purely archival standpoint. There’s plenty of relevant evidence, but it’s scattered throughout the archives in numerous manuscript collections and photo files. As we sat and talked about it, I was able to pinpoint a few things right away (I have a pretty strong grasp of campus drainage issues!) but then had to stretch a bit. I remembered reading stories from early students about specimen collecting with Rice’s first biology professor, Julian Huxley, and so turned to the small collection of papers we have from Joseph I. Davies, Huxley’s assistant during those early years. And things suddenly came alive.

Davies was a remarkable man. He came from England in 1914 with Huxley to serve as his assistant. Huxley soon left, but Davies stayed, first as a lecturer and later as a professor after earning a Rice Ph.D. in biology. He was by all accounts a great teacher. (I’ll say a lot more about him tomorrow when I get to the next part of the story.) What made my heart leap on this day was something in his small collection that I had overlooked before: a half-dozen sheets of slides–beautiful kodachrome slides–that he had taken of campus in the late 1940s and early 1950s.


I find many of these images simply dazzling. (I was not surprised when I saw that he had listed photography as a hobby on a biographical form.) Davies gave great thought to what he was doing when he took them, took great care to show what things really looked like to a careful observer. He took pictures of campus the same way I do–he climbed up on top of things for a better angle, turned around and photographed the other direction, returned to the same shot at different times and in different conditions. I know it’s not reasonable, but I couldn’t help but feel that he was talking to me.


Because he was taking pictures in ways that were not ordinary, many of the images were confounding to me. This was compounded by the fact that he was often photographing change. Stephen Fox came in and helped me sort some of them out, but I’m still puzzling over others.


Zoom in on them and enjoy yourselves. More tomorrow.


Friday Afternoon Follies 10/21/2011

Posted onbyMelissa Kean

Really, I don’t even know where to start with this. I’d guess it’s about 1960.



Some New Shots of Rice Stadium Construction

Posted onbyMelissa Kean


About a week or so ago, RUPD Officer David Anderson came to see me in the Woodson. He said he had several old photographs of Rice and asked if I’d be interested in taking a look at them. In classic Rice fashion he’d rescued some of them from the trash. Others he’d acquired in antique stores. This sounded very promising and indeed, when he brought them in I was surprised and completely delighted. A few of them are very early shots of Rice and Main Street–I’ll get to those later–but another bunch are up-close images of the construction of Rice Stadium. We already have quite a few pictures of this stadium going up, but all of them were taken from a distance. The ones Officer Anderson brought in are the only ones I’ve ever seen where you can get a good look at both the nuts and bolts of the construction and the workers themselves. I’m very grateful that he took the time to come in with them.

My favorite is this one below–it’s interesting to me the way this image evokes the feeling of one of the the earliest Rice construction projects.


October 1911, Tunnel Construction

Here’s a couple more, just for fun. That must be the Shamrock Hotel off in the distance:


And this one gives me the heebie-jeebies. Looking at it brings back the sick feeling of queasy dizziness that I felt at the top of the stadium when I went up the to take pictures. The guys up there seem totally oblivious, though. They’re clearly made of much stronger stuff than I am:


Bonus: I heard talk today that serious renovations are going to be done to the stadium soon. I’m not exactly the person you’d want to hire to redecorate your house, but I’m thinking it might be time to change out this sink.



“These fingers all point to Jones”

Posted onbyMelissa Kean


One of my colleagues in the Woodson has been working with some of the many, many newspaper clippings we have from the William Marsh Rice murder trial and for a few days they were out on the back table. While the trial, to be honest, is not one of my favorite topics, anything that gets left where I can see it will attract my attention for at least a few minutes. The ones I looked at actually proved to quite entertaining.

Parts of the trial were what you might call “colorful” and these clippings were reports from some of the weirder days in court. The weirdness was only intensified by the reporting. New York at this time had a lot of newspapers and all of them covered the Rice murder extensively, competing for the people’s entertainment dollars with garish headlines and illustrations and some wild speculation. The term “media circus” hadn’t been invented yet, but that’s what it was. Think “Nancy Grace.”


For a while, a lot of the testimony revolved around the valet Jones and his alleged ability to hypnotize, the speculation being that he had somehow hypnotized Old Man Rice and then gotten him to change his will, etc. It was wild.


He was said to have taken lessons in hypnotism, as illustrated below. I wonder what our social scientists would say about this.


Sorry about the first lesson being cut off–it wasn’t me, it was the clipping service, which apparently got carried away with the scissors. There may be enough there for you to figure it out and give it a try at home. Let me know if it works.

Bonus: Speaking of the clipping service, they attached a small tag to each clipping that identified the source. I looked at it closely, but it took me a moment to register the quotation from Robert Burns’s “To A Louse.” How perfectly apt for a clipping service and yet how absolutely ghastly. Very clever advertising, though.



More Fun in the Cloisters

Posted onbyMelissa Kean


Here are a few more examples of activity around the cloisters, all from the 1920s and 30s. I had a hard time finding pictures of people just sitting around talking, but there were lots of images of strange antics. It’s the unusual that people bother to photograph and these are definitely unusual. This first one is from the early 1920s and it shows a mild form of hazing: “assuming the angle” or “calculating the angle.” The bent over wretches were freshmen “slimes” and the paddler was certainly a sophomore. It wasn’t always so mild, but this episode was for public display. I’ve seen other pictures of it done with brooms and I suspect it got substantially worse than than that.


This second one was taken about ten years later, in the early 1930s. I’m shocked, shocked that there is gambling going on in here. Actually, the early scrapbooks are chock full of evidence of widespread gambling, including cards, poker chips and markers. Without television, how else to spend idle time?


And finally, some young women, also circa 1930. I thought at first that they were doing some sort of jump rope thing, but on second look it seems more like they’re playing with something stretchy. In any event, I’m just as interested in the signs behind them. It looks like there’s going to be some sort of rally and I think the one on the left announces the time and place of the annual Slime Parade. (More on that later.) This is where you would put up signs if you wanted to be sure everyone would see them, much as they hang them in front of the library today.


Don’t worry–I have more, so much more, about hanging around the cloisters to share.

Bonus: We have another leaner.



The Administration Building Cloisters, plus My Keystone Kops Routine

Posted onby Melissa Kean  

Usually when people ask me what my job is like I tell them that its always interesting because there’s no such thing as a typical day for me. That’s true as far as it goes, but it occurred to me just now as I was racing back to campus in a cold sweat, fearful that I had lost one of my flash drives right before leaving town, that while every day is different, they all share a sort of magical Keystone Kops quality. I get going so fast and in so many directions at once that something is always out of alignment somewhere.  At about 4:00 this afternoon it dawned on me that I didn’t have my current favorite flash drive. I staved off panic long enough to conceive an idea–I had given a talk late Friday afternoon at Duncan College and I might have left it in the computer there.  I tore back over there and  headed straight for the office of Vicki Woods, the Duncan College Coordinator. This was, by the way, the second time I’d presented myself in her office.  Both times I was a mess and needed her help.  And both times she helped fix my problems. (She’s a real gem, kind-hearted and good natured.) So now there will be pictures to look at while I’m away from the Woodson.

Let’s start with this one. One of the things I mentioned over at Duncan on Friday afternoon that seemed to surprise people was that the cloisters in front of the Administration Building were once a main gathering place for students, where business got done, elections were held and general laying about took place. This photo was taken in the cloisters at the Garden Party, an annual commencement event, in 1940. There are several things I really like about it–Lovett’s straw boater and his big smile especially–but notice over his shoulder the display board hanging on the wall. This was where notices, etc. got posted so everyone would see them. I hadn’t really thought much about this before, but I think I have more good photos of cloister behavior that I’ll post later.

Bonus: A week or so ago I was up in the Anthropology Department. I could not have been more surprised to see this in their library area. Still works. It has to be the last one on campus.

I could tell some tales, but I won't.

I’m totally confident that I’ll get it together tomorrow.


Friday Afternoon Follies 10/14/11

Posted onby Melissa Kean


I have no idea who he is, but I’m pretty sure I’m in love.



99th Birthday

Posted onbyMelissa Kean 

Yesterday saw quite a bit of activity on campus as Rice kicked off the countdown to next year’s 100th anniversary celebration. There was a town hall meeting and lots of activity out in Founders Court in the afternoon–tents, food, banners, etc.



Just as a reminder, let me show you these. They were taken a little more than a hundred years ago this fall. The first one is looking west, towards Harris Gully:


And this one is from what would become the Main Gate area, looking right at the spot where all those tents were set up yesterday:

It seems to have rained a bit.


Bonus: How do you know it’s really fall at Rice? The Hillel sukkah appears!


Don’t know what a sukkah is? No worries–they leave out a poster that explains it:




Posted onbyMelissa Kean


I made a completely unexpected discovery a few days ago. Looking for a photograph, I instead came upon an envelope full of examples of a wide variety of bookplates used in the Fondren Library. I couldn’t have been more surprised–I’d never given any thought at all to these small labels. But someone named Robin (I assume a Fondren staff member)had carefully collected these and left a short note with them, offering to help design another one if needed.

People love libraries. I myself love the Fondren Library recklessly and I know that others do as well. Over the years, many generous and thoughtful people have created funds for Fondren to acquire books in a wide variety of fields. Others have given us their own specialized collections. These plates were (and still are) used to identify which books came from which sources. Some of them are historically interesting, others striking to look at, and a few are both. A handful (as the one above) are immediately clear and some are mysterious. Each one means something, though, and I’m curious enough to try to sort them out.

I can’t choose a favorite, but this is a top contender. I find it utterly charming.


I don’t have any idea who Wiley A. Hamilton was, but I aim to find out. I need him to be remembered.


Banks Street Apartments

Posted onby Melissa Kean

I had lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago and he was reminiscing (fondly, I think) about the days before Jones College when many Rice girls from outside Houston lived at the Institute-owned Banks Street Apartments. They are, of course, long gone, replaced no doubt by enormous houses. (Although I know they’re gone, I admit that I did not go check out what replaced them. I’ll go over for a look as soon as I can–but I think my guess is a pretty good one.)

I went back to the Woodson after lunch and was able to dig out a couple of pictures of the exterior of the apartments. They’re not dated, but I’ll call them circa 1954. If you have reason to believe I’m wrong about that, please let me know. I really like these pictures–when you look at them you can believe that the world is full of possibilities:


About fifteen minutes after I found these, I ran across an article in the Thresher that ran about a year after Jones opened. Unsurprisingly, the new availability of housing for women on campus only served to increase the demand for housing for women on campus. But before Brown College could be built to deal with that demand, Rice sent some girls (I can’t quite figure out how many, but it was significant) over to live in the dormitory of Texas Womens University across the street in the Med Center, just so they could be closer to campus. Most of these young women were from the growing suburbs of Houston and while it might sound a bit odd, they seemed to love living in the TWU dorms: “You have such a feeling of freedom, no parents watching everything you do!” Amen, sister.

I also don’t know when Rice sold off the Banks Street Apartments. It’s exactly the kind of thing I’ll discover some day by accident.


Chemists, Known and Unknown

Posted onbyMelissa Kean

I found another misfiled contact sheet the other day–they’re easy to get wrong because the images are so tiny. We see on this sheet several chemists, two that I recognize and two that I don’t. Since I had so much success getting you to identify the people in last week’s picture, I thought I’d try again. This may be a bit harder, though. These photos are definitely older, but I’m not sure exactly how old. (Sometimes chemists can have a sort of timeless quality about them.) They’re also a little scratched up, but it’s definitely still worth a look.

The first fellow is very easy–it’s Bob Curl, looking pretty much exactly the same as he does today. Someone mentioned in the comments last week that he looked so different in the picture of the masters and college presidents.  It’s the suit and tie and the short haircut that make him hard to recognize there. This picture here is almost certainly older than that one, so I can only conclude that Curl was going through some kind of phase in 1970.

He looks happy, doesn't he?

Then there are the two that I don’t recognize. If you have any thoughts, please let me know:



The other guy I recognize I’m saving for later. I promise it will be a nice story.

Bonus: When I came into campus this morning, I saw something I hadn’t seen in quite some time.


Extra Bonus: I realized this afternoon that Public Affairs people are constantly making me get my picture taken, but you never see a picture of one of them. So here’s one, messing with his cell phone.



Let’s Get Physical

Posted onby Melissa Kean  


It was the spring of 1995 and these young women were receiving instruction on the proper use of some new weight training equipment.

 Could they possibly be any less enthusiastic? I can’t say I blame them, though.

“Students, Unknown, 1970s”

Posted onby Melissa Kean  


Amid the general turmoil of the day, I spent a few enjoyable moments talking with a friend who had some business in the Woodson and I tossed off almost thoughtlessly the notion that archiving is more an art than a science. That idea came back to me again just a few minutes later. I’ll let you in one of our special archive secrets: sometimes when we look at a photograph or document we don’t have any real idea what it is. So from time to time things wind up in the wrong place, or at least in a place that isn’t precisely right. (Here’s an earlier example.)

At some point, someone looked at this picture and decided it belonged in the file folder labeled “Students, Unknown, 1970s.”

It’s not a bad guess, really. Some of the people in the photo are certainly students, and I definitely don’t know who they are. The outfits absolutely scream “1970s.” But those guys in the back look a bit long in the tooth to be students, if you know what I mean. And at a glance I recognize two of them: Ira Gruber from the History Department and Bob Curl of Chemistry. So my guess is different–I think this is a picture of the college masters and presidents, and I agree that it was sometime in the 1970s.

I seem to have quite a few readers from that era, so any help in identifying the other people would be greatly appreciated. We can discuss later what the appropriate title for the file folder would be.

More Fun with Contact Sheets

Posted onby Melissa Kean  

Now that I’ve finally noticed that many contact sheets have what are essentially “end of the roll of film” bonuses, I’ve officially gone on a contact sheet jag. There are hundreds of these in the Woodson and I’ve never looked at them in this way before. It’s proving to be extremely fruitful. If you don’t know what I mean by “contact sheet,” here’s an example. This is a sheet of pictures taken during the Masterson crisis in February, 1969. The proof sheet is made so that the pictures aren’t enlarged–they are exactly the same size as the film itself:


In real life, these are so small that it takes real effort to see what’s on them–so I mostly haven’t done it. I know now how very, very wrong that was. Many of these sheets have three or four of the sort of random images that I love the most. And some of these “finish the roll” pictures are turning out to be real treasures.

Here are some I found today. The prints are pretty degraded, but they’re interesting. I found them in a photo file called “Phi Beta Kappa,” and the proof sheet was labeled as “Phi Beta Kappa Initiates, spring 1963.” The vast majority of the pictures were of exactly that:

Spring 1963 Phi Beta Kappa Initiates

But the last three photos were something altogether different. The first one was a badly overexposed shot of Lovett Hall. The last two, though, were something really rare–pictures of the Rice Board of Trustees in session.



I didn’t have either the time or the energy to run this down today, but tomorrow I bet I can figure out exactly when this was taken and even what was going on generally. They look pretty relaxed, don’t they? It was definitely a good moment at Rice.

Bonus: I caught this guy when I was up on top of the football stadium. The campus is overrun with these wild kids on their crazy skateboards this year.



The View Through Herman Brown Hall

Posted onby Melissa Kean  

Herman Brown Hall for Mathematical Sciences was built in 1968 with funding from the Brown foundation and the NSF as part of what was called the “Systems Grant.” (This grant–and its failure to be renewed–was hugely important in the history of the university. I’ll say more about it sometime.) It’s kind of a big square building, intended to provide a lot of office space and a few classrooms. In the intervening years there have been a lot of different departments (and pieces of departments) in there, everything from music to education–so many that I don’t have any confidence that I can accurately list them.

It’s not an especially attractive building and it sits a bit uncomfortably on its site. I believe it was built during a period when the original campus plan had been essentially abandoned and nothing new had yet taken its place. One of the interesting things about it is the covered open-air walkway on its west side. I don’t know why this is there–maybe a nod to the cloisters of Rice’s older buildings. In any event, my attention was really grabbed by this picture that shows the view through this walkway. Zoom in and have a look.

I was so taken that I immediately got up from my desk in the Woodson and set out to have a look at the same spot. At first glance, the view is totally different. That’s the Mudd Building, home of IT, you see through there now:


But if you walk over to the other side of the Mudd Building for a quick peek, there’s the same house, seemingly unchanged except for the vegetation. Surprise!



Rice-Galveston Club, 1927

Posted onby Melissa Kean  


I’m having technical troubles today and I’ve got meetings all afternoon so the best I can do today is a small piece of ephemera from a student’s scrapbook. This is mildly interesting in several ways–the jazz age imagery (this looks like pretty loose behavior!) and the close relationship between Houston and Galveston in particular.


Also, I don’t usually get real worked up over images of owls (I’ve seen too many otherwise sane people end up with thousands of owls in their homes, executed in everything from glitter to yarn), but the little owl on the second page is very cute. This simply cannot be denied.


In all honesty, I’m on the road tomorrow so I wouldn’t hold out much hope for a really great post then either. I’ll do my best, though!


Friday Afternoon Follies - 10/1/2011

Posted onby Melissa Kean  

I had a crazy, but fun, afternoon today. So here’s probably the single craziest picture I’ve seen (so far) in the archives. I think this was in Baker and I have a high degree of confidence that it was taken in 1962. Other than that, I don’t know what to say.