Happy π Day

Time to celebrate the mathematical constant π, on, as the NYT says, a holy holiday for the mathematically inclined.

Lately it’s become a tradition to enjoy pie on Pi Day, so I leave you with this delightful recipe from the Rice University Cookbook of 1993, courtesy of Professor Emeritus Chandler Davidson:





Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995)

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month by discussing one of my favorite collections on the life of Oveta Culp Hobby.

Mrs. Hobby lived an extraordinary life during tumultuous times; among other duties, she was a news editor and publisher, the first Director of the Women’s Army Corp during WW II, and the first Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services) under President Eisenhower.

Swearing in ceremony

The Association of the United States Army awarded her the George Catlett Marshall Medal in 1978.  In her award, given with great admiration and respect for her past and enduring service, she is described as:

Newspaper woman, soldier, public servant, and philanthropist.

Every call to service has been answered with dedication, courage, and integrity.

You can find out more about Mrs. Hobby in her papers at the Woodson Research Center and in the Rice History Corner.

News editor and publisher

Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1955


Architects in the Archives – Arthur E. Jones (1923-2014)

Arthur E. Jones graduated in Architecture from the Rice Institute in 1947, becoming a designer for Lloyd & Morgan, and a partner in the firm in 1962. The very collaborative firm became one of the most influential advocates of modern design in Houston, and was responsible for the Astrodome, the American General building on Allen Parkway, and Four Allen Center (the Enron Building.)


Four Allen Center (Enron Building)

In 2007 Jones was interviewed for Cite Magazine ; he discussed some of his favorite buildings, formally restrained modern designs that Jones compared to “a lady’s little black dress.” The guide to Jones’ architectural records in the Woodson can be found here.


Ruth Young McGonigle (1902-1984)

Ruth Young McGonigle, 1923

Ruth Young McGonigle was the first woman to practice architecture in the lower Rio Grande valley. In order to take art classes she studied architecture at the Rice Institute, and became the first woman to graduate from Rice with a B.S. in Architecture, in 1924. She worked for her former professor, William Ward Watkin, until her marriage to George McGonigle, Jr the next year. The family moved to Brownsville, TX and she began her own practice there.

Interestingly, when the state of Texas instituted the licensing of architects in 1937 McGonigle never sought to be licensed, nor did she call herself an architect. Her independent practice mostly consisted of designing single-family houses which referenced the 19th century Creole building traditions of the border lands; she also designed public buildings in Brownsville. The Ruth Young McGonigle architectural papers were donated to the Woodson by her estate.

House Plan; May 15, 1983

Cleveland Sewall house architectural drawings (1923-1926, 1940)

Blanche Harding Sewall (class of 1917) at groundbreaking of Sewall Hall, 1969




Lately the WRC archivists have been considering all that’s required in building a home, and that brought to mind the Cleveland Sewall house, and the related architectural drawings.

Cleveland Sewall and his wife, Blanche Harding Sewall, built one of the early homes in River Oaks. Blanche, who went to Rice, was delighted and inspired by the Mediterranean design of Rice’s architecture, and determined to commission Ralph Adams Cram to design her own home. She provided sketches for the home and travelled to Spain to acquire appropriate artifacts and furniture as well. The Woodson has close to 180 blueprints, floor plans, and structural and mechanical details for the house, garage, stable, and landscaping. Here is a link to an article including more recent images of the home. We would love to have additional photos of the home for the collection.

Mrs. Sewall, artist, philanthropist, and patron of the arts, helped found the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She was also an active member of the Garden Club of America, traveling to Japan with the club in 1935. A woman of many gifts, she assumed management of her husband’s wholesale grocery company at his death in 1942, and later donated funds to Rice for the construction of Sewall Hall. She was posthumously awarded the highest award presented by the Association of Rice Alumni, the Gold Medal.


Artists in the Archives- Elinor Evans (1914-2016)

Evans working in her home, 2006

Elinor Evans had an extraordinary eye for seeing and appreciating natural forms. Born in Kansas and raised on a ranch in Oklahoma, her grandfather was her earliest teacher in seeing the beauty of nature.  Evans translated this appreciation into works of art inspired by the natural world. While most of her exhibitions focused on her leaf collages, she was equally renowned as a weaver and for her creative use of many types of found, homely, simple materials.

An alumna of Oklahoma State University, she earned an MFA at Yale before joining the Rice School of Architecture in 1964 to teach design, earning many awards for superior teaching and for her art. She retired as a professor emerita from Rice in 1985, and continued teaching, lecturing, and creating the rest of her life.

Mixed Media, Portfolio, 1959

On the first floor of the library in the Hobby Information Concourse you can enjoy examples of Evans’ work; the “Art of Elinor Evans: Learning to See” exhibit features selections from the Elinor Evans Academic and Professional Papers (MS 700). The works include woven baskets and hangings, delicate collages, and a “portfolio of ideas” in mixed media.

Architects in the Archives – Lenard Gabert, Sr. (1894-1976)

Lenard Gabert Sr. at the 1916 class picnic

One of our newest architectural collections is the Lenard Gabert, Sr. Architectural Records (Lenard is the handsome fellow sitting on the far left of the table in the picture above.) Gabert was part of the first class to matriculate at Rice, and one of the first students to earn a B.S. in Architecture at the Institute (in 1917.) During his long career he designed residential and commercial buildings of all kinds in Houston, including a dog pound, a zoo service center, warehouses, schools, clinics, and churches.

Gabert’s most famous buildings are his synagogues, including temples for Congregations Israel, Shearith Israel, Emanu El, Beth Yeshurun, and Adath Emeth and Beth Jacob (now part of United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston.) Here is one of my favorite drawings from the collection, an elegant rendering of the floor plan of Temple Emanu El:

Architectural drawing of Temple Emanu El, 1946

And a bonus picture from this morning: Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Chanukah!


Architects in the Archives – Ralph Anderson, Jr. (1923-1990)

Ralph Anderson Jr. in Army uniform

Ralph Anderson, Jr. was a native Houstonian, and graduated in 1943 with a B. A. in Architecture and in 1947 with a B. S. in Architecture, both from the Rice Institute. While at Rice, he won The American Institute of Architecture Student Medal, and was the first architectural student at the university to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He began his practice early, designing several homes on the east side of Houston which were built before he achieved his first degree; you can see pictures of a couple of these homes here in the Rice History Corner.

After being inducted into the Army in 1943, he was sent to Harvard University. Upon completion of an Advanced Studies Program, he went to France where he served in the European Theatre of Operations. As a result of a head wound received at the Battle of the Bulge, he was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Like so many in his generation, his service in the war remained very important to him; six boxes of his collection are related to his service in World War II. Anderson later wrote a military history and designed spaces for military veterans, including a war memorial, a service men’s center, and a rest camp for veterans.

Drawings of proposed War Memorial (undated) and proposed School of Architecture at the Rice Institute (1947)

More about Anderson’s architectural practice, his many architectural awards, his activities as an artist, lecturer, and writer, can be found in the Ralph Anderson Jr. papers.


Memorabilia Monday: Bowling Trophy

Chinese American Citizens Alliance Bowling Trophy (men), ca. 1960’s

Much of the memorabilia in the Archives remains there, waiting for interested scholars and community members to revisit them in the Woodson. Not this bowling trophy! It began as a prize for the bowling champ of two Texas chapters of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, one in Houston and one in San Antonio, trading communities during the 1960’s as different players won the trophy. It finally landed with the Houston chapter for good, and came to the Woodson as a part of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance records (MS 606.) When my colleagues Anne Chao,  Amanda Focke and I attend events to talk about the Houston Asian American Archives here at Rice we like to bring along the trophy as a fun example of of items collected to document the communities and their activities.

We encourage families to donate memorabilia, photos, correspondence, business records, oral histories, and more to document the history of Asian American citizens in Houston.  Our goal is to collect materials that scholars will use to tell more of the stories of the community; please let us know if you want to contribute.

Architects in the Archives – Anderson Todd (b. 1921)

Anderson Todd sketching during a class, 1962

Anderson Todd earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Architecture from Princeton, serving in WWII between his degrees. He seemed to live at the center of 20th century American life: waving to Albert Einstein daily on campus at Princeton, challenging Frank Lloyd Wright at a lecture, and meeting Mies van der Rohe, the enormously influential modernist, who would serve as his architectural and philosophical mentor throughout his career.  William Ward Watkin, who had an exceptional eye for recruiting faculty, brought Todd to Rice in 1949, and by1969 Todd had assumed the duties of the Director of the School of Architecture and won the George R. Brown Award for Excellence in Teaching. More information about his creativity as an educator, his contributions to the MFAH, his many awards and accomplishments as an architect, and his partnership with Rice Professor William T. Cannady (whom we will talk about at a later date) can be found in the Anderson Todd Architectural Academic and Career papers.

One surprise in Todd’s materials were his doodles and sketches, which he apparently made wherever he went, on cards and scraps of paper. Here are a few examples:

doodles, pen and ink on paper

scallywag, pencil on paper

Hotel Porto, Torri del Benaco, Italy, pen and ink on paper