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University Builder

Edgar Odell Lovett and the Founding of the Rice Institute

John Boles

Publication Year: 2012

Rice University, one of America's preeminent institutions of higher education, grew out of the vision, direction, and leadership of one man: Edgar Odell Lovett (1871–1957). University Builder is the fascinating story of this extraordinary educator and the unique school he created. Widely acknowledged, almost from its founding in 1912, as one of America's best universities, Rice is distinguished as both the smallest and the youngest institution in the top tier of American universities. In telling the tale of Lovett and his innovative, enduring vision for Rice, John Boles provides both a compelling biographical narrative and a refreshing new view of American higher education in the first half of the twentieth century. Lovett was not a Texan; he was not even a southerner. Rather, with two Ph.D.'s in hand, he was a rising star at Princeton University when the trustees of the newly founded Rice Institute--chartered in 1891 by wealthy Houston merchant William Marsh Rice--called him in 1907 to be the school's first president. Working with a significant endowment, a vague charter, a supportive board, and a visionary's gift for planning, Lovett set out on a fact-finding tour of educational institutions around the globe. He transformed the idea of the Institute into a complete university, one that emphasized research as much as teaching and aspired to world-class status. He sought the best architect available to design the campus, lured distinguished faculty from leading universities across the globe to Texas, and constructed a far-reaching vision of a small, carefully planned, elite university that incorporated the most advanced educational practices and shaped Rice's development for the next century. Lovett served as president of Rice for nearly forty years, proving himself to be an exemplary and charismatic leader who inspired two generations of students. He was the creator of Rice University in practically every way. Indeed, perhaps no other American university has been so shaped by its founder's vision. Boles's exceptional account of Lovett's remarkable academic achievement is a vital contribution to the legacy of Rice University and an important addition to the historiography of education in the early twentieth-century South.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

When our family moved from the Boston area to Houston in 1985, we looked forward to the adventure of living in and learning about a new city. We were especially pleased at the way Houston welcomed newcomers. Even if native Houstonians always occupied a special niche, fresh arrivals were readily accepted and quickly absorbed into...

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pp. xiii-xiv

In practically any listing of the nation’s outstanding academic institutions, Rice University ranks generally in the top twenty, one of only two or three southern universities to do so. Moreover, it is both the newest and the smallest university in the nation to merit such ranking. And it is located in a state that for many Americans is stereotyped as...

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1. Dual Beginnings

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pp. 1-34

Edgar Odell Lovett said or wrote very little about his parents or his childhood in the small northeastern Ohio town of Shreve, population 1,200, where he grew up. He once remarked that “I come of a race of teachers and preachers,” but he said no more of that inheritance, except that his paternal grandfather “was widely read in our beautiful science ...

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2. Farewell to Princeton

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pp. 35-62

The twentieth century dawned with Edgar Odell Lovett feeling on top of the world. In June of that year he was promoted to the rank of full professor of mathematics at Princeton University, with a substantial raise in pay, and that fall he and his wife began a glorious sabbatical year in Paris. Returning to New Jersey in 1901 after the Parisian so-...

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3. The Grand Tour

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pp. 63-88

Edgar Odell Lovett was making final preparations to leave Princeton University and completing the plans for his upcoming round-the-world trip, his secretary, F. Carrington Weems, still in Houston, sent him an undated Houston newspaper clipping based on an interview with Lovett in which he had explained to the reporter the purposes of his ...


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pp. PS1-PS18

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4. The Launching of the New University

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pp. 89-119

When the Rice trustees engaged Edgar Odell Lovett as president of the Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science, and Art, they fully expected him personally to plan and lead the development of all phases of the new university, and that is precisely how Lovett understood his role. So when, at his initial board meeting following the...

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5. Academic Administration in Peacetime and War

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pp. 120-155

The formal opening ceremonies had been filled with academic glamour, intellectual excitement, and the buzz of great expectations, but after those heady days invigorated by the presence of important visitors and expansive visions came the steady, hard work of actually getting...

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6. Steadying the Course in the Roaring Twenties

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pp. 156-193

Although—or perhaps because—Edgar Odell Lovett had been born in a small town, had earned his first degrees at colleges and universities located in small academic villages, and had spent most of his career teaching at small-town Princeton University, he loved cities. His correspondence makes clear that he was invigorated by the pace, excitement...

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7. Confronting the Great Depression

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pp. 194-226

Perhaps the defining character trait of Edgar Odell Lovett was his steadfast optimism, a conviction—not just a hope—that his life-defining goal would be achieved. Given the opportunity entrusted to him in 1908 to take William Marsh Rice’s vague charter and, backed with a substantial endowment, build a university, he had developed a...

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8. War, Stress, Change, and Promise

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pp. 227-256

Only Edgar Odell Lovett truly understood how difficult it had been for him, in May 1941, to offer his resignation, effective upon the choice of a successor, of the presidency of the Rice Institute. For thirty-four years, almost half his life, he had dedicated his considerable energies and intellect to planning, administering, and leading000

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9. Full Circle: Retirement, Transition, Renewed Momentum

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pp. 257-280

The World War II years were a period of sustained boom for Houston. Shipyards and plants for the production of high-octane aviation fuel, artificial rubber, and a smorgasbord of other petrochemical derivatives fueled population and employment growth, and it was during these years that Houston overtook New Orleans to become the largest...

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pp. 281-284

So many people have helped me over the years that I hardly know where to begin, and since this book for more than a decade simmered on the back burner while more urgent projects demanded my attention, many who assisted me probably despaired of ever seeing a finished product. The amazingly competent staff of the...

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Note on Sources

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pp. 285-290

Since I matriculated as an undergraduate at Rice University in 1961, I have been interested in the history of the institution and in its founding president. Over the decades I have read and collected materials, discussed the university’s early days with older alums, and given many lectures on the topic as well as taught several special undergraduate...


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pp. 291-298


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pp. 299-311

E-ISBN-13: 9780807135228
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807145203

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: updated edition