When school opened in the fall of 1889, it opened on a new era for Austin College. The College having survived, barely, the rocky decade of the 1880s, the Trustees decided to adopt a military program to "promote Discipline and Physical Culture." The Trustees must have imagined the allure that military uniforms and polished brass might hold for adventurous young men, the better to increase enrollment with. And military discipline seemed to offer an appealing means for disciplining both the student body and spirit.
College Hill was defined by the Faculty as embracing a block in each direction from the college, and, for practical purposes, that described cadet limits as well. The cadets were required to live within these venturing beyond only with the expressed permission of the Faculty. This was not as unreasonable as it sounded, since there was nothing much beyond the college campus until one reached Sherman about a mile and a half away.
"A neat and attractive uniform is prescribed," declared the college bulletin. Cadets were allowed to wear their own clothes until their second term. After that they were required to wear only the college uniform. The uniform was government standard, cadet gray, "made by a responsible clothing house," and was deemed "very serviceable and economical." The prescribed wardrobe included: "Dress coat cut after the West Point pattern, worn with cadet collar; fatigue coat, close fitting sack, with six buttons, pockets inside only; trousers with watch pocket only, inch and a quarter wide black strip on outer seam, and cap of dark blue cloth." Only uniforms made by the recognized clothing house and obtained by the Commandant were acceptable. The fatigue suit-coat vest and trousers-cost $15 or $16 according to size. The dress coat at $10, and cap "of best quality" at $1.50, were considered a great bargain. Buttons were cast from a special die, designed exclusively for Austin College.
The uniform changed slightly from time to time. The novelty, though, seemed to wear thin with the cadets after awhile. By spring of 1893, evidence of disenchantment began to appear. Seniors were not required to wear uniforms on Commencement Sunday. In fall 1894, action by the board of trustees to excuse seniors from wearing college uniforms raised a furor among the faculty.
Appearing out of uniform was a punishable offense. As the years passed, the cadets grew more daring in flaunting the rule and more creative in their excuses for appearing out of uniform. Five cadets at once were called before the faculty for appearing out of uniform and offered five different excuses for appearing in citizen’s clothes, all highly suspect.
The 1889-90 catalog boasted that cadets were supplied with the "latest pattern of the sharp military rifles and McKeever accoutrements." The citizens of Sherman contributed "a magnificent regimental flag."
In October 1890, the trustees invested between $800 and $1000 of the College’s endowment money in two dormitories. Four of these wooden barracks were eventually erected, although one or two may have served other purposes such as hospital barracks.
The main building was a two-story brick structure measuring 42 feet by 74 feet. It housed administrative offices, classrooms and a library. Mrs. Jewel Link Luckett, wife of President Samuel Luckett, offered $2000 toward adding a wing to the original structure, provided the trustees pledged to finish it. In June 1891, the board of trustees appropriated $4000 for the purpose of completing a two-story wing on the west side. In 1894, F. M. Files donated a cotton compress to the school. It was sold and the proceeds used for the erection of an east wing. Trustee and east Texas lumber baron, J. M. Thompson, donated $500 worth of lumber to be used in the building.
The upper stories of these wings were furnished as meeting halls for the literary societies. Cadets petitioned tirelessly for a gymnasium. In fact, Old Main, eventually did house a fine gymnasium, but not until several years later.
Membership in one of the literary societies was mandatory. Cadets were not only required to join, they were required to attend the meetings. The purpose of the societies was to promote education in rhetoric. Those who could not bring themselves to associate with either the Athenaeum or Philennoian Society were forced to attend a class in rhetoric in addition to their regular studies.
The Reveille was the organ of the literary societies on campus. It began and flourished during the military era, but continued publication through 1907. It was a a monthly literary magazine which contained editorials, articles on literary, historical, and political subjects, "exchange" notes or excerpts from other institutions’ publications, campus news, and anecdotes. Very little concerning college life escaped mention, making The Reveille the most complete existing record of the military years at Austin College. The first issue appeared in March, 1891. The Reveille ceased to exist after 1907, supplanted by the annual Chromascope, but no student publication since has adequately taken its place.
Cadets followed a classical liberal arts curriculum. The college catalog stressed that great care had been given to the arrangement of the required course of study "to select such subjects as are best suited to give the mind thorough and varied training, and, at the same time, to fill it with the largest store of valuable, practical truths." During the military decade, curriculum was revised to reflect a new modern era. In 1890-91, Bible Studies were added to every term of every year. Students could pursue one of two courses of study: classical or scientific. During the 1890s, a course in Old English was added and two years of modern languages (Spanish, French, German) could be substituted for part of the Greek and Latin requirement.
Approximate cost for one year for a cadet who paid room and board was $240.50. This included two uniforms and laundry service. Students could rent a dormitory room for $1.00 per month, and purchase meals for $8.00 to $12.50 per month depending on whether they ate at a boarding house or the Student Mess Club. Dormitory students were expected to provide their own furnishings.
On January 5, 1891, the following Library rules were adopted:
Library hours were soon expanded to one hour each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon as well as Saturday mornings. The Library fee was fifty-cents per semester.
Study hall was mandatory, although requirements for it changed from time to time. Prior to the opening of the fall term in 1891, the faculty decreed that those whose monthly grades fell below 80 be required to attend. At other times all students were required to attend, at still others, seniors were excused. In 1890-91, Study Hall commenced at 7:15 p.m. and ended with tattoo at 10:00 p.m. This scheduling served the dual purpose of encouraging study and keeping cadets "on the hill" at night.
Though the daily routine was austere, cadets did enjoy certain annual entertainments. In addition to sports, prize drills and competitions, and the social events they shared with young ladies of Sherman Female Institute, North Texas Female College, and Carr-Burdette College, the cadets were usually permitted to attend the Dallas Fair each October. On October 1, 1891, the Dallas Fair Committee reported to the faculty that cars (railroad) could be secured at the rate of $1.90 per capita, round-trip. Cadets attended as a body. More spontaneous amusements included snowball fights and squirrel hunting. In the fall of 1896, The Reveille reported that "squirrel hunting on the campus [had] begun again and every evening after drill the usual number of gunners [might] be seen."
Each cadet company was allowed to choose sponsors and maids of honor. The ladies hosted parties and soirees during the year and a gala reception for their respective companies each spring. The girls’ schools in town were, if anything, stricter even than the military discipline at Austin College, but joint programs did take place, and the sexes did find opportunities to mingle under the watchful eyes of the faculties of the various schools.
Military rank was based on several factors including academic standing, dependability, behavior, and the willingness to assume the duties and responsibilities of a cadet officer. Prestige definitely had its price. When it came to enforcing discipline among fellow cadets, battalion officers sometimes found themselves distinctly unpopular.
Violations of the articles of discipline were punishable by "marking time" (referred to by cadets as "hitting the grit") or "doing time" in the guard house. Cadets sentenced to the guardhouse might spend a few hours or a couple of days there, depending on the severity of the offense. If confined for a day, the prisoner might receive bread and water only or no meals at all. If confined more than one day, only one meal per day was provided.
The community played an integral role in the lives of the college and its cadets. Although cadets were required to live on the campus, reality dictated that many live elsewhere as dormitory rooms weren't plentiful. Many families near the campus housed one or more Austin College cadets each term. However, as the numbers of students grew, the cadets sought rooms in the town as well as on College Hill. Some cadets requested and received permission from the faculty to live in hotels like the Binkley, or the American Hotel across from Union depot, where they worked for room and board. All heads of households where cadets resided received instructions from the faculty as to what was expected of them and of the cadets. Those who did not comply were placed "off limits."
At the faculty meeting on May 18, 1893, it was ordered that the following year all students be provided with a Bible and a hymnbook--Gospel Hymns No's. 5 & 6--for use at Chapel services, which all students were required to attend.
During the meeting of the board of trustees on May 31, 1893, members noted "with pleasure the handsome walk and other improvements on the campus," gifts of Mrs. C. M. Allen. The trustees directed that a dormitory and Mess Hall be erected with not less than 20 rooms. Whether this 20-room structure ever was completed is unclear, but a Mess Club was established and served resident students as well as those who roomed off campus.
Throughout the military era, sports thrived on the campus. Students and faculty both participated. Baseball, tennis, and football were the strongest organized teams. The baseball and football clubs competed with other area teams, usually by arranging match games. Each time one of the clubs wanted to play, however, it had to petition the faculty for permission to arrange the match, and permission to leave the campus to attend. Most frequent opponents were teams from Denison, Dallas, and Sulphur Springs. Although the faculty did allow the boys to travel to some games, support for such trips was not too enthusiastic. The baseball team seemed to fair slightly better in obtaining permission to play.
The faculty apparently had greater reservations about football. Not only did the cadets leave the hill, but the game was rough and rowdy, provoking some genuine concern for the welfare of the players. Under persistent pressure from the students, the trustees capitulated and authorized intercollegiate athletics at the college in 1896.
During the military years, two fraternities organized on the Austin College campus. As early as 1890, a request was made to the board of trustees for a hall for secret societies. The board responded that it could not see its way clear to furnish such a hall or approve such societies.
In September of 1893, a group of seniors came to the faculty seeking permission to organize a Greek fraternity. President Luckett referred the request to the trustees. A committee appointed to consider the subject of secret fraternities, following three days’ deliberations, reported: "We fear such fraternities will be productive of more evil than good and recommend that the petition of the students with reference to them not be granted."
The cadets, however, refused to give up the cause, and prevailed the following year. On November 22, 1894, Alpha Alpha Chapter of Phi Phi Phi was established, and a chapter of Alpha Tau Omega, the first on Texas soil, was established March 12, 1895. The eleven charter members were described as "students of the highest standing in the classroom, social circles, literary society, and parade ground, and are men of such character and energy as to make the success of the chapter a certainty."
This optimism proved to be premature. By 1896, discipline in general had deteriorated to such an extent that it inevitably spilled over into the secret organizations. Rivalry between them was fierce to the point of violence (of particular concern since all were armed with military rifles). Undoubtedly because the faculty had never been enthusiastic about the idea of secret societies, because there truly was a lack of decorum, and perhaps partly because they were secret, the faculty resolved that the Greek Letter fraternities were "a serious detriment to the harmony and welfare" of the student body, and urged the board "to take such steps as may remove them from our midst."
For their part, the trustees admonished the fraternities to avoid rivalry and bitterness, and placed the societies on probation. This action was not at all what the faculty had in mind, and became just one precursor of a series of controversies over discipline in which the Faculty failed to garner support that it sought from the trustees. In June 1897, the Board appointed a committee to inquire into the workings of Greek fraternities. The committee promptly tabled action for one year. Among the last in a string of defeats for the faculty, combined with the occurrence that April of the most severe instance of misbehavior yet, it may well have contributed to, though it did not entirely cause, the resignation of the entire faculty on the following day.
Many significant events in the life of the College took place between 1889 and 1897. The faculty and student body increased in numbers as did the variety of courses offered. Students began publication of The Reveille, a monthly magazine sponsored by the literary societies on campus. Two major additions were made to the College building; dormitories and other outbuildings were erected. The YMCA established a vigorous chapter in January 1891, and after several years of ups and downs, intercollegiate baseball and football teams were approved by the Trustees. Two national fraternities organized chapters on the Austin College campus, and at least one fraternity house was built. Electricity and plumbing came to College Hill, and William Jennings Bryan came to Sherman.
At the same time, amid the glitter and pomp of ceremony and drill, faculty/student relationships strained. A cauldron of resentment and rebellion simmered, occasionally boiling over. Mischievous pranks gradually evolved into truly outrageous, even dangerous, behavior, and the Faculty, with a sense of growing tension, became increasingly severe in its reactions and judgments. The Trustees, under pressure to retain students, frequently undermined Faculty discipline. Filled with extraordinary color and excitement along with a nervous sense of potential disaster, crowned in June 1897 by the resignation of the entire faculty, the military era came to an end with an audible, collective sigh of relief from students, parents, faculty, and trustees alike.
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