A Rare Piece of UT History is Reunited with Texas Exes

 

On March 31, the Texas Exes Houston Chapter held its annual Outstanding Houston Texas Exes celebration at the River Oaks Country Club.

High-profile guests included Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. Even the Texas Cowboys made an appearance, greeting guests and posing for photos.

The event raised an astounding $100,000 for the Houston Chapter’s scholarship fund. But what really stole the show was a faded little book from nearly a century ago.

This year’s Outstanding Houston Texas Ex award went to steadfast University supporters Scott Caven, BBA ’64, LLB ’67, and Vivian Caven, BS ’72, Life Members, who recently funded the renovation of the Caven Lacrosse Field.

Caven family friend Tom Dunning, BBA ’65, Life Member, presented a surprise gift to the couple: a 1915 book called Why Joe Harris Came to The University of Texas.

Dunning is an occasional collector of rare Texas books, and when a book dealer called him about an unusual volume, he was hooked.

The book is a collection of letters sent in 1915 by a prospective UT student, Joe Harris, to his parents. Harris believed that UT was a waste of money, or “the loitering place of a lot of easy-going fellows,” as he puts it in one letter. But a friend and UT student told him otherwise.

The two young men agreed to a bet: Harris would come to UT and check it out for himself. If it proved to be worthless, his friend would quit school. But if UT turned out to be a valuable education, Harris would enroll.

Over 32 pages, the letters track Harris’s reluctant conversion from skeptic to UT’s biggest fan. The teenager details his visits to the College of Engineering, the School of Law, the Department of Home Economics, and even the UT Medical School in Galveston. At every turn, he expects to see rich, lazy students, but Harris is pleasantly surprised.

In the Department of Home Economics, Harris watches young women sew, cook, and learn to decorate. His initial queasiness at attending college alongside women quickly gives way to admiration.

“Did you know that the girls up here are preparing themselves to be scientific managers of the business of a home, as well as vote when they get the ballot, and transact business? I didn’t until today,” one letter says. “I was a bit upset when I heard it, and didn’t want to believe it—but a woman changed my mind for me.”

Some things haven’t changed a bit about the University since 1915: “Football brings in considerable money thus helping to support other forms of athletics,” Harris observes.

Other things have changed drastically. A dormitory room cost $2-4 per month, and a typical cafeteria plate was just 12 cents, Harris writes.

In his last letter, Harris announces that he’s lost the bet and can’t wait to enroll: “I’m for the University! My investigations convince me that the faculty are doing their dead level best to fit men and women for life.”

Dunning and the Cavens agree that the book will eventually find a home at the Alumni Center.

Top: the book cover. Right: a mechanical engineering laboratory at UT in 1915.

 

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