Pat Neff Hall, Baylor University
For over 70 years, Pat Neff Hall has stood overlooking the grounds of Baylor University’s campus in Waco. The university held a Masonic cornerstone-laying event on December 7, 1938, marking the start of construction on the iconic building. The hall was completed in 1939, but not officially dedicated until the following year’s Founder’s Day, February 1, when the university celebrates its founders and the anniversary of its charter. The completed structure measured over 46,000 square feet and cost $250,000. A portion of that cost ($50,000) was offered to the university by the New-York Based General Education Board, who’s dedication was supporting higher education institutions. The hall was named after Pat Neff, who served as the 9th president of the university and was also a two-term governor of Texas.
Backstory and Context
Neff graduated from Baylor, held a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, served as Texas Governor for two terms, was president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention, and served as the 9th president of Baylor. The most distinctive feature of the building, one that is now part of the school symbol, is the gold roof atop the central tower. Originally the second stainless steel roof in the nation, gold was added in 2000. The equally famous carillon is housed within the golden tower, currently containing 48 bells as the original 25 chimes donated in 1939 inevitably wore out. Pat Neff Hall serves as Baylor’s Administrative building, housing the president’s office among other administrative officials. A more recent athletic tradition came around in the late 1970s when the building would be lit up with green following a game victory. Pat Neff Hall has served as a centerpiece to the campus and people of Baylor for almost a century, and it has become a center of the school’s traditions as well.
The history of Baylor University date back to the Union Baptist Association meeting of 1841, 35 delegates accepted Reverend William Milton Tyron’s and District Judge Robert Emmet Bledsoe Baylor’s suggestion to open a Baptist university in Texas. In 1844, the Texas Baptist Education Society petitioned the Congress of the Republic of Texas to charter a university. Following the signing of the Act of Congress by Republic President Anson Jones, Baylor University was officially established on February 1, 1845. Of the four communities who bid for location of the institution, Independence was selected, and preparatory classes began in May 1846 with college courses coming in June. Henry Gillette was the first professor of the new university, teaching a class of 24 students. Baylor became the first school in Texas and second west of the Mississippi to teach law in 1849 (the law department was established in 1857 with Texas Supreme Court Justice Royal T. Wheeler heading the school) when R. E. B. Baylor and Abner S. Lipscomb started teaching classes on the “science of law.” In 1854, Baylor awarded their first degree to Stephen Decatur, and the following year saw Mary Gentry Kavanaugh become the first female graduate from the institution. The next major graduate milestone came in 1858 when 13 students became the first law graduates. Over the coming years, Baylor kept growing and accepting more and more students despite the hardships of Reconstruction.
Baylor’s second president Rufus Burleson resigned from the position in 1861 following disputes over methodology and moved with some male faculty to Waco, where he became the president of Waco Classical School. In September of that year, Burleson reopened the school as the all-male Waco University. Despite the university beginning to compete with Baylor, the two institutions managed to coexist for years, supported by separate Baptist associations. Following the consolidation of the separate associations into The Baptist General Convention of Texas, Waco University and Baylor University consolidated on the Waco campus, keeping the Baylor name. Rufus Burleson was named president of the consolidated schools, making him the only Baylor president to hold the title twice.
The first building project for Baylor in its new location was the completion of the Main Building in 1887. That year also saw the completion of the first women’s dormitory in Waco, Georgia Burleson Hall. Over the next years, more building projects were completed, including a new library, chapel, science building, and additions to Carroll Field. New schools and colleges opened during the early 1900s, such as the School of Nursing, College of Fine Arts, and School of Education. Baylor’s first men’s dormitory, Brooks Hall, was completed in 1921.
The late 19th and early 20th century not only brought in new buildings and programs for the university, but also new traditions. In 1897, the Baylor student body adopted green and gold as their official colors, based on a student’s observation of wild dandelions. Upon seeing them through a train window, he stated that the flowers make a “lovely combination.” Baylor adopted the bear as mascot following a 1914 vote of the student body. The first live mascot, named Ted, was donated to the university by the 107th Engineer Battalion in 1917. Much later in the tradition of the mascot, it was decided that the bears’ names would be “Judge” followed by a surname to honor a previous mascot and the university’s namesake. Another tradition born in 1917 was the freshmen wearing a green felt cap with anticipated graduation year, which later earned the nickname “Slime Cap.” Following the rise of competitive sports, the first cheerleaders (they called them yell leaders) were elected by the student body. The squads were all male until 1968, when females were allowed to join. The Ring Out tradition began at the commencement ceremony in May of 1927, where the senior women passed a symbolic chain to the junior women, signifying the change in leadership. The Baylor University Marching Band received their nickname “Golden Wave” in 1929 when a reporter remarked that the new uniforms made the band appear as a golden wave sweeping across the field. Enid Markham’s rewrite of “That Good Old Baylor Line” was embraced as Baylor’s school song in 1931. She found the original lyrics to be a misrepresentation of the university. “Old Fight!” was selected as Baylor’s fight song in 1947, as the original “Bear Down Baylor Bears” was deemed “horribly hard to sing.” More information on the many Baylor traditions can be found in the links below.
Baylor University continues today a leader in higher education. Baylor remains the largest Baptist University in the nation with total enrollment of 17,217 in 2018. The university offers around 250 degree programs. The school is classified as a research university and offers plentiful extracurricular activities around its campus, including 330 clubs and organizations, 40 fraternities and sororities, and 19 varsity sports.
"History." About Baylor. Accessed March 09, 2019. https://www.baylor.edu/about/index.php?id=88778.
"Overview." About Baylor. Accessed March 09, 2019. https://www.baylor.edu/about/index.php?id=88791.
"History Timeline." About Baylor. Accessed March 09, 2019. https://www.baylor.edu/about/index.php?id=90029#event-preserving-knowledge.
"Fight Song." About Baylor. Accessed March 09, 2019. https://www.baylor.edu/about/index.php?id=89272.
"History of Ring Out." Student Life. Accessed March 09, 2019. https://www.baylor.edu/student_life/index.php?id=86611.
"History." Baylor Bear Program. Accessed March 09, 2019. https://www.baylor.edu/bear/index.php?id=947807.
"Slime Caps." Game Day for Students. Accessed March 09, 2019. https://www.baylor.edu/students/gameday/index.php?id=867044.
Amanda Sawyer, “Pat Neff Hall,” Waco History, accessed March 13, 2019, https://wacohistory.org/items/show/105.