Susan Ripley Hilliard has always been fascinated by history. As a little girl she lived in Nashville, TN, Charlotte, NC, El Paso, TX, Washington, NC, New Orleans, LA, and Oklahoma City, OK, as her father was transferred many times, working as an engineer with General Electric. Through these experiences she developed a unique sense of home, building friendships all over the country and learning the history and cultures of numerous American cities. She has now lived in Houston for over 40 years and in that time she’s become very familiar with its neighborhoods. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America and the stories of how its neighborhoods came to be are just as varied. Susan has a narrative behind one of her favorite Houston neighborhoods, Boulevard Oaks.
The story of Boulevard Oaks, my neighborhood, actually starts with William Marsh Rice. In 1839, an enterprising young import-export merchant from Massachusetts came to Houston after a brief stay in Galveston. He proved to have an ability to perceive what investments would prosper. He invested in Houston land, hotels, cottonseed oil mills and railroads. During the Civil War, because of all the Union blockades, Rice moved all his operations to Matamoros, Mexico, and he even continued to prosper all throughout the Civil War.
His visions and ability to amass such fortunes got him thinking of what he would leave to posterity. Even though Rice had dropped out of school at fifteen, he started to think about the importance of education. He decided that he wanted to establish an institution of higher learning in his name, so in 1891, a charter was created for the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art to be founded posthumously. The charter was drawn up by Rice’s attorney, Captain James A. Baker, in May of that year, and signed by the seven other trustees.
After Rice’s untimely death in 1900, the trustees realized that none of them possessed the acumen to search for a candidate to “head” the Rice Institute. Wisely, they remembered Samuel Johnson’s words, “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves or we know where we can find the information upon it.”
The logical place to begin their search was at every top university around the globe. Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University at the time, was one of the first persons they consulted. Unequivocally, he told them, Edgar Odell Lovett, the head of Princeton’s Department of Mathematics and Astronomy was the perfect man for the job! The trustees took his advice and Edgar Odell Lovett was approached to be president of the Rice Institute.
This invitation could not have come at a better time for Lovett for tragedy and disappointment often intrude when least expected. Edgar and his wife Mary welcomed a new daughter, Ellen Kennedy, in March of 1905. In fall of that year, Mary became ill and sometime after so did the baby. There is no clear evidence, but once the baby was weaned, they think that she might have been lactose intolerant, as she died of dehydration in August of 1906. Needless to say, Mary blamed herself for her daughter’s death and fell into a terrible depression.
Their doctors suggested that the best thing for her was to get away and travel, which is part of what made the timing of the Rice Institute offer so favorable. The offer included sending Lovett and his wife to travel the world for two years visiting the most outstanding universities. Through tours and meetings with faculty and administrators at these many universities, Lovett was able to gather a great deal of knowledge concerning the fundamentals of how to start a successful university.
Due to this brilliant opportunity, Lovett was able to not only herald the beginning of the Rice Institute and its endowment of $5.5 million dollars (equal to almost $142 million today), but he also was able to lure many world class professors to Texas and the new institute.Rediscover, Resources
- Boulevard Oaks
- Edgar Odell Lovett
- James A. Baker
- Rice Institute
- Rice University
- William Marsh Rice
- Woodrow Wilson