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executor-trustees would bypass pending the arrival and expert advice
of a first president. Rice had clearly indicated his intent to establish a
free, nonsectarian, post- secondary institution for white students,
male or female, to be located in Houston, Texas. There the plan
became somewhat murky: Was it to resemble Peter Cooper's Union?
Stephen Girard's College? What of the Public Library and Polytech-
nic School? And how would one interpret "... cultivating other
means of instruction for the white inhabitants of the City of Hous-
ton," in Article Two of the charter?

Only the nephew of William Marsh Rice, William Marsh Rice II,
named to replace the deceased Alfred Stephen Richardson in 1899,
had even attended a university. Nevertheless, the trustees were
highly intelligent and well-read men, further broadened by execu-
tive and management experience. Emanuel Raphael, who with
Cesar Maurice Lombardi had met with William Marsh Rice as
early as 1886 on the need for additional educational facilities in
Houston, toured a number of Eastern institutions in 1906, primar-
ily those in Philadelphia and New York City. Captain Baker had
asked him to make this trip, and to prepare a formal report for the
governing board on his findings.

Emanuel Raphael's report to the trustees was in considerable detail,
extending from endowment and other financial aspects through
curricula, physical plant, and makeup of the student body. Signifi-
candy, Raphael did not visit a single university. He did include college
campuses in various settings, with differing missions. Among them
were Girard College, Cooper Union, Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, and
the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia.

The selection of an appropriate location for the Rice Institute was
also on the agenda for the governing board at this time, with the seven
acres the founder had donated on Louisiana Street an early favorite.
Another key item appearing on the agenda for the first time late in
1906 was the search for a chief executive (who was in the beginning
termed a "superintendent") for the new institution. Emanuel Raphael
was asked by Chairman Baker to compose a letter to the presidents of
many of the best-known U.S. colleges and universities, seeking
recommendations. A few prominent national figures (including Pres-
ident Teddy Roosevelt, who had become something of an honorary

Chapter Two 31

Texan during a stay at San Antonio's Fort Sam Houston with his
Rough Riders) were also sent the letter.

The William Marsh Rice Institute could have taken a quite different
direction through this search. After a month or so, the dean of the
Teachers College at Missouri State University, Albert R. Hill, was the
leading candidate, based on recommendations of the presidents of
both Cornell and the relatively new Leland Stanford University.
Arthur Lefevre, a distinguished mathematician then serving as Texas'
state superintendent of schools, also stood high among the nominees.
After Professor Hill had so impressed the governing board that he
was almost offered the post, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the president
of Princeton who was to later become president of the United States,
also sent in a nomination.

Wilson's nominee was Edgar Odell Lovett, a highly recommended
36-year-old who had graduated with highest honors from well-regarded
Bethany College and the universities of Virginia and Leipzig. He had
progressed with meteoric speed from instructor to full professor of
mathematics at Princeton in the three years from 1897 to 1900.


Edgar Odell Lovett was born in Shreve, Ohio, some twenty-five
miles southwest of Akron, on April 14, 1871. His ancestors included
Scotch pioneers seeking a new life on the western frontier, and a
"German evangelical preacher." Lovett's parents were staunch mem-
bers of the Disciples of Christ (the Christian Church). The Disciples
had their beginning on the frontier during the last decades of the
eighteenth century, in an era of great revival movements within the
Protestant churches. They yearned for a return to the "ancient
order," free of sectarian creed and devoted to Christian fellowship,
in a church stressing the fundamental importance of the congregation.

When their son had completed high school with superlative grades
at age fourteen, the Lovetts sent him to Bethany College 11], the small
but splendid institution at Bethany, West Virginia. Lovett not only
became the valedictorian of the Class of 1890; he exceeded the
highest average yet recorded at Bethany, that of the storied James
Beauchamp (Champ) Clark, a graduate two decades earlier. Clark,

32 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for eight years,
narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for president in 1912. He
was defeated by Woodrow Wilson on the forty-sixth ballot.

After graduating from Bethany at nineteen, young Lovett taught
mathematics for two years (1890-1892) at Western Kentucky College
in May field. This was followed by a stellar career at the University of
Virginia, Thomas Jefferson's renowned institution at Charlottesville.

At May field, he met Mary Ellen Hale, a freshman student at WKC
whose father was a leading citizen there. Major Henry M. Hale, a
veteran of the Civil War, had been in the midst of bitter controversy as
Kentucky tried to remain neutral in the developing conflict of that war.

Like Lovett' s parents. Major Henry Hale was a stalwart member
of the Disciples of Christ, and a supporter of Bethany College. He
was a direct descendant of Kentucky followers of Barton Stone, who
helped Thomas and Alexander Campbell found the denomination in
1832. Hale took an immediate liking to Lovett, who had similarly
deep ties to the Disciples, and who had begun to call on his daughter,
Mary Ellen. The young couple realized that it would be a long
courtship, as Lovett wanted to complete his ambitious goals for
advanced degrees and academic promotion, and the popular Mary
Ellen had other suitors. But in 1897, after he had been awarded the
Ph.D. from Leipzig University and gained a coveted post at
Princeton, Lovett married Mary Ellen Hale.

The five intervening years (from 1892 to 1897) had been extremely
busy ones for young Lovett. Attracted primarily to mathematics, and
extremely adept in the field, he had turned more and more to the vital
areas of highly sophisticated measurement in which mathematics and
astronomy intersect. These were spheres of research and newly
revealed knowledge of particular interest to scientists in the last
decade of the nineteenth century. His papers in leading journals began
to draw widening attention.

An unusual opportunity became available at the University of
Virginia: an opening for a graduate assistantship in astronomy at the
Leader McCormick Observatory, at the time one of the best of such
campus-related facilities in the nation. It was an ideal appointment for
Lovett. His studies and research had closely followed the work of
Marius Sophus Lie, Norway's great mathematician. Lie, his bril-

Chapter Two 33

liance in complex calculations amplified by the development of
powerful new telescopes, had opened new areas of geometry with his
pioneering work in celestial mechanics and measurement.

Lovett soon developed and had approved a unique academic
program. As a crucial part of the Ph.D. in astronomy, Lovett was
allowed to go to Leipzig to study with the illustrious Lie. Lie had
moved on from the University of Christiania to the University of
Leipzig. This institution, established in 1409 in northern Germany,
was widely known as a source for Ph.D.s singularly well-equipped
for a career in either high-level research or in university administra-
tion. It was becoming more and more apparent that the young scholar
from Shreve, Ohio, and Bethany College would be admirably suited
for either field of endeavor.


Lovett was clearly a true Renaissance scholar. At Charlottesville,
he had immersed himself not only in the increasingly intricate studies
of mathematics and astronomy, but in classical Greek as well. In the
little spare time left to him, he had played violin in the campus
orchestra, and somehow worked in quick visits to see Mary Ellen
Hale in Mayfield. The University of Virginia enthusiastically ac-
cepted him not only as a candidate for the doctorate in astronomy, but
also for the master of arts degree in Greek.

At the June commencement ceremonies of the University of Virginia
in 1897, Lovett was awarded the M.A. , Ph.D. , and B. A. as well. After
further research and study both at Leipzig and the Norwegian
University of Christiania, the University of Leipzig granted him the
doctorate in 1896. The following year, he was appointed lecturer in
mathematics at both the University of Virginia and the University of
Chicago. Then came an invitation that would shape his future
and— starting a decade later— the history of the Rice Institute.

Princeton University, with a traditional and increasing interest in
expanding mathematical knowledge, offered Lovett a post as instruc-
tor in mathematics. Other more immediately lucrative appointments
were available to him, some at the level of full professor. Faculty
membership at Princeton, however, carried prestige plus the oppor-

34 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

tunity to serve under the chairmanship of the renowned mathemati-
cian and astronomer, Charles A. Young.

Moreover, although the 26-year-old new Ph.D. was not aware of it,
fateful elements were falling into place: William Marsh Rice n had
graduated from Princeton in 1879 and one of his classmates was
Woodrow Wilson, who had earned the Ph.D. in political economy at
Johns Hopkins and joined the Princeton faculty in 1890. Wilson,
named president of his alma mater in 1902, would become a friend of
Lovett, and quickly recognize and reward the junior man's abilities.

Princeton also provided the economic stability that made it possible
for Lovett to marry Mary Ellen back in May field, soon after classes
began in the fall of 1897. And, in a progression that could only be
described as meteoric for an institution of such distinction, Lovett
won quick promotions. Within a single year, the neophyte instructor
was promoted from an assistant professor to the rank of full professor
in 1900. Then, when Chairman Young retired in 1906, the coveted
chairmanship went to Lovett. The stage was set for the trustees of the
embryonic Rice Institute, as they stepped up their search for a
president to head their new institution.

Many years later, in the summer of 1944, Dr. Lovett would set
down some of the captivating details of how he came to be chosen by
the trustees. His selection was in large part because of the board's
decidedly positive reaction to the candidate during his visit to Houston
in mid- April 1907, especially after a long interview with members of
that board on the evening preceding his return to the East.

Asked for an opinion, the Princeton professor gave it, clearly and
with supporting logic. This naturally appealed to the mature business-
men and attorneys with whom he was meeting. Of various proposed
sites, the seven-acre tract on Louisiana Street inherited from the founder
was "far too small," in Lovett's opinion, and also too near Houston's
expanding downtown commercial area; the "ranch beyond the city,"
acquired as an investment by William Marsh Rice in present-day
Bellaire, was "too far out." The "old golf links" (site of the original
Houston Country Club on Rice property adjacent to Jefferson Davis
Hospital and Buffalo Bayou), an isolated plot in what is now Riverside,
another just west of the University of Houston, and "wooded acreage
down the Ship Channel" had similar and other disadvantages.

Chapter Two 35

By far the best location, Dr. Lovett concluded, after being shown it
and each of the above, would be in the area "along the (trolley) tracks
on Main Street." Property was available there at a quite reasonable
price from George Hermann, another philanthropist. Hermann had
expressed much admiration for William Marsh Rice's original gift to
the Institute in 1891. Two years later, Hermann had indicated that the
founder's generosity influenced his own decision to offer land in this
location for a charity hospital, and for a future park. Hermann Park
was to provide lasting protection from commercial invasion for both
Rice Institute and the elegant subdivision of Shadyside, just north of
the Institute's principal entrance on Main Street.

And, having recommended a location upon which the trustees
would soon agree, Candidate Lovett gave them another extremely
important piece of advice: "Have in hand a comprehensive architec-
tural plan before breaking ground for anything." [2]


Edgar Odell Lovett was quickly a strong favorite of the trustees,
but it would be almost eight months later, during Thanksgiving week
of 1907, before they voted unanimously to offer him the presidency.
He wrote many years later: "I arrived in Houston one night [April

10, 1907], [and it was] about six months before the trustees took any
further notice of me." [3]

It was decided that the invitation to Dr. Lovett to accept the
presidency should be extended in person by William Marsh Rice

11. The founder's nephew had received an unqualified commenda-
tion of the trustees' choice from Woodrow Wilson, whom he would
also call upon while back East. Rice went to Princeton nine days
before Christmas, four weeks after the unanimous vote of the
governing board.

During a cordial meeting with Rice, Lovett seemed to be torn
between the Rice Institute and his excellent connections and prospects
with Woodrow Wilson. The Princeton president, perhaps already
contemplating an entrance into politics, had advised the young
professor to seize the opportunity in faraway Texas, as much as he
was valued where he was.

36 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

Lovett told Rice how greatly he was honored by the invitation to
become the founding president. Rice offered him a $7,000 salary
with a home provided, plus a five-year contract. In reply, Lovett
mentioned the obvious advantages of guiding the new institution even
before it had curricula, faculty, staff, a physical plant, or for that
matter, specific objectives. However, he told Rice that he would like
to consider the matter further. Contracts, he added, were in his
judgment out of place in higher education.

William Marsh Rice 11 suggested that the offer lie on the table for
thirty days while the candidate made up his mind. Lovett accepted
this, and spoke of how much he had been impressed by all the
members of the governing board during his visit to Houston the
preceding spring. Rice then left for Houston, where a meeting of the
trustees was convened soon after his arrival to hear a detailed report
on the Princeton interviews with Lovett and Woodrow Wilson.

Captain Baker reacted almost immediately, in a classic letter that is
preserved in the Fondren Library archives. It strongly urged Dr.
Lovett to accept. After praising the candidate for his high qualifica-
tions and, additionally, for his insight and candor. Chairman Baker
cannily emphasized two telling points. He hinted clearly that the
original $4 million had grown substantially in less than four years
(which it had), and pointed out that the trustees "practically without
. . . experience in educational matters , . . will be disposed to give
you a very free hand," Then came the strong summation, worthy of
a master lawyer who knew how to plead a vital cause: "The
opportunity ... is an unusual one, and however promising may be
your prospects at Princeton, you ought to be slow in declining [it].
Such an opportunity comes rarely to one so young."

Within days, Lovett wrote to William Marsh Rice n. He would
accept the presidency so graciously offered him. He had been to see
Woodrow Wilson, who congratulated him on the decision while
expressing regret at the loss that Princeton would suffer in his
departure. President Wilson had kept Lovett's professorship and
chairmanship in effect through the 1907-1908 academic year, but
would arrange for him to be in Houston after the midterm break in
February 1908.

The trustees of Rice Institute confirmed the appointment on
December 28, 1907 in an immediate telegram and following letter.

Chapter Two 2)1

President-elect Lovett responded formally on the first working day
of the new year, with a splendid letter that was made part of the
records of the governing board. He promised to work with the
trustees in ". . . combin[ing] in the [Rice Institute's] personality
those elements . . . largeness of mind, strength of character, deter-
mined purpose, fire of genius, devoted loyalty . . . which make for
leadership in institutions as in men ..."

An illustrious founding presidency that would last thirty-eight
years had been launched. In time, some would compare it to the
presidencies of William Rainey Harper at Chicago, Daniel C. Oilman
of Johns Hopkins, Andrew D. White at Cornell and David Starr
Jordan of Leland Stanford.


As agreed with Woodrow Wilson, President Lovett came to
Houston in March 1908, a month shy of his thirty-seventh birthday.
And he arrived brimming full of sound, well-thought-out ideas.
Mary Ellen stayed behind with their first two children, the eight-
year-old Adelaide and six-year-old Henry Malcolm, until the end of
their school year in Princeton. Another daughter, Ellen Kennedy, had
died in infancy. Their second son, Laurence Alexander, would be
born in 1913.

Lovett had immediate, significant goals as he arrived in the city that
was to be his home for the remainder of his long and productive life.
He took up temporary quarters at the Rice Hotel and began to plan.
First of all, he wanted to clarify and reinforce the vital concept of the
Rice Institute as a university. It might be a university starting its
existence with a narrow scope, but it was a university nonetheless — a
high-level university directed both to excellent teaching and to
meaningful research from the very outset. It was not to be another
technical institute.

This crucial matter was soon resolved with the trustees, probably
to a considerable extent because of Dr. Lovett' s memorable remarks
concerning the various interpretations of the word "institute" during

38 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

his April 1907 visit to Houston. And with this fundamental decision
came another determination that also pleased the new president. As
he had recommended, the trustees would operate out of income
without invading the endowment corpus.

There remained many matters, two of them quite essential, in those
earliest months of the Lovett administration. The first was to, as soon
as possible, get the process of choosing an architectural firm to
produce both a master plan and designs for specific buildings under
way. The president wanted to be open for classes in September 1910
if at all possible and, of course, in the Institute's own buildings. The
idea of temporary, leased quarters was never entertained. Further,
more than 130 acres (or about half of the total acreage required for a
campus) had already been purchased, much of it from George
Hermann. The location was directly across from the future Hermann
Park, in the area isolated from commercial development that Presi-
dent Lovett had recommended in 1907. Other tracts seemed to be
available, although updated surveys, ongoing negotiations, and the
drawing up of contracts could be time-consuming.

The choice of an architect. President Lovett soon came to realize,
would have to be deferred until he could deal with another matter that
was quite fundamental and even more timely. He was determined to
carry out a project unique in higher education: a journey around much
of the world to observe practices, evolving trends, and even experi-
ments in higher education firsthand. During this odyssey, he would
amass invaluable data and personal knowledge of curricula, research
methods and innovations, and the recruitment of faculty. One of his
main objectives was to seek out potential faculty members, as well as
distinguished delegates to the academic festival he already had in
mind for the formal opening of the Rice Institute.

To get the process of choosing an architect under way in his absence.
Dr. Lovett was authorized by the trustees to issue an invitation to a
dozen of the nation's preeminent architectural firms to indicate their
possible interest in this significant commission. His brief letter, issued
July 21, 1908, as he prepared to leave on his lengthy journey, was an
eye-opener. It began with two sentences guaranteed to gain the attention
of anyone in the profession: "In the course of the next twelve months,
we shall seek the services of an architect to design the buildings for
the Rice Institute at Houston, Texas. This institution starts with an

Chapter Two 39

endowment of seven million dollars, and should rank substantially with
the representative universities of the country."

Half of the firms contacted were in New York City. The remaining
six were scattered among Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, and
Boston. The list had apparently been compiled to a considerable
extent by Lovett himself, and filed with a copy of the July 21 letter
of invitation. There are notations as to various honors won by the
firms selected, in his precise and distinctive handwriting.

Ninth on the list was Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson of Boston,
headed by Ralph Adams Cram. The firm had won a national
competition in 1902, thereby gaining a coveted contract to devise a
new general plan for the expansion of the U.S. Military Academy at
West Point. Four years later. Cram was appointed supervising
architect for Princeton University.


As specific planning began for what would involve an absence of
ten months abroad, Lovett hired the fledgling institution's first
employee, Fontaine Carrington Weems, a member of a distinguished
Houston family. He was hired as Lovett' s personal assistant and as
secretary to the William Marsh Rice Institute. Dr. Lovett had known
Weems as a student at Princeton [4] .

Weems accompanied Dr. and Mrs. Lovett on this tremendous
journey. He would recall it throughout a life marked by unusual
accomplishment and adventure. The itinerary was reminiscent of some
of the latter-day, world-girdling travels of U.S. secretaries of state.
Landing at Liverpool on the first day of August 1908, they went to
England's storied universities at Oxford and Cambridge after visiting
some of London's most renowned scientific and educational societies.

The next stop was Dublin. In the Irish capital. President Lovett read
the first paper presented by a representative of the Rice Institute. He
had especially wanted to do this, since Ireland had just celebrated the
centennial of the birth of one of his heroes, the famed mathematician
Sir William Rowan Hamilton [5]. A mathematics genius, as a
teenager Hamilton had discovered an error in La Pierre-Simon
Laplace's theory of celestial mechanics; was appointed professor of

40 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

Trinity College, Dublin at twenty-two; and gained increasing stature
as a mathematician and physicist of international repute during the
next four decades.

Lovett's epic journey continued through all of western Europe and
into Scandinavia. In Stockholm, he read a research paper before
mathematicians and astronomers from the ancient Swedish University
of Uppsala, and other representatives of the learned societies of the
Baltic nations. In Oslo, his distinguished mentor, Marius Sophus Lie,
arranged for him to be presented to King Haakon of Norway, King
Edward Vn of England's son-in-law.

These memorable experiences, however, were secondary to his
meeting with some of the world's leading scientists, men of letters,
and presidents and senior officials of renowned universities and
learned societies. The men he visited, and their institutions and
organizations, were to provide much of the inimitable and long-re-
membered impact of the three-day formal opening and dedication of
the Rice Institute four years later. It was through Dr. Lovett's
presence at so many world-renowned institutions, and his interaction
with their leading scholars and administrators, that he was able to reap
many lasting benefits for the Institute.

After months in England, Scotland, France, Italy, Belgium, the
Netherlands, and Scandinavia, the Lovetts and young Weems went on
to Moscow. There, in the last decade of a thousand years of rule by

Online LibraryPatrick James NicholsonWilliam Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute → online text (page 4 of 31)