Foundation at the Institute

As Rice’s centennial approaches, Dorothy Zylicz Bowman ’38 looks back on her college years

In her southwest Houston living room, Dorothy Bowman pages through a copy of the 1938 Campanile. Her photo is on page 58, in the “Seniors” section of the dark-blue, worn-out yearbook.

“Oh my goodness,” she said, gazing at her 20-year-old face. “Those were the pigtail days. I wore my hair long then.”

Bowman – who was Dorothy Zylicz then – graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Rice in the spring of ’38. And for the nearly 75 years since, she has carried fond memories of the campus, her classes, her professors and Rice’s first president, Edgar O. Lovett.

Dorothy Bowman

Dorothy Bowman

Last month, Bowman read a newsletter emailed to alumni from Rice’s current president, David Leebron. She hit “reply.”

“Thank you for writing the long report,” she wrote, “which I read with great pride and thanksgiving that I can say I am a Rice graduate.”

In October, as Rice celebrates 100 years, Bowman will turn 95 – which makes her, she pointed out, “only five years younger than the institute.”

Rice was, of course, known as the Rice Institute when Bowman earned a degree in history. Decades have unfolded since then. But she distinctly remembers her awe for Lovett. She recalls a Rice campus that was just a handful of buildings, and she remembers Houston as a city of a few hundred thousand.

Bowman grew up in Houston and entered Rice in 1934 along with many of her classmates from San Jacinto High. Like most of the local kids, she lived at home, not far from the Rice campus. Rice didn’t charge tuition then, and Bowman said that made college possible.

“This was in the ’30s, during the Depression,” she said. “I don’t know where I would have gone to school if Rice hadn’t offered tuition free. And there were a lot of us in that category.”

Though she remembers football games and literary clubs, Bowman’s time at Rice was devoted mostly to academics.

“I spent it all in the library,” she said. “I really did. But that was what I wanted to do.”

She remembers longtime librarian Alice Crowell Dean ’16, who also taught Math 100.

“She was the librarian and the freshman math teacher,” Bowman said. “Some people were scared to death of her, but I got along well with her because I had a real good high school algebra teacher.”

That skill in math would serve Bowman later, but at Rice, she pursued history. In fact, when she married in 1942 and had a daughter, she named her only child Ann Lear Bowman. Lear was the name of a favorite history professor.

“His full name was Floyd Seyward Lear,” Bowman said. “He was a medieval specialist.”

Lear, who was then an assistant professor, arrived at Rice in 1925 after graduate work at Harvard; he didn’t leave the university until 50 years later, when he retired in 1975.

Bowman took several classes from Lear — “I’d say at least four” — and was one of his graders.

“I used to go over and visit with him and his wife,” she said. “So you know, we got kind of close outside the classroom.” Bowman’s daughter, who lives in California now, carries the memory of that friendship in her name.

Bowman also has vivid memories of Lovett, who served as Rice’s president from the institute’s beginnings until he retired in 1946.

“He was a very austere man, I guess you would say,” Bowman said. “Everybody stood in awe of him — I sure did.”

Near the end of her undergraduate years, Bowman got called to Lovett’s office. Nervously, she entered his office on the top floor of the Administration Building, now Lovett Hall.

“I didn’t know whether to genuflect or not,” Bowman said, laughing.

Lovett’s news was good: She would be awarded one of Rice’s most prestigious academic honors.

“He told me that I had been chosen for the Graham Baker scholarship,” Bowman said, “along with Katherine Tsanoff.”

Tsanoff ’38, the daughter of a longtime Rice philosophy professor, became Katherine Tsanoff Brown and made her own career at Rice, where she taught art history and served as dean of undergraduate affairs.

“She and I had been in the same class at San Jacinto (High School),” Bowman said. “I was always sort of goggle-eyed when you talked about Katherine Tsanoff — she was a lovely person, just beautiful manners, even as a teenager.”

When the scholarship was announced, Bowman said, “I don’t know whether I was more impressed at Dr. Lovett telling me I’d been chosen, or at simply being put in the same class with Katherine Tsanoff.”

Bowman still has her Rice diploma rolled up in a tube; she has never framed it. But she is happy to unroll the sprawling parchment and show Lovett’s precise, clear signature — and the tight, perfect cursive he used to handwrite “with honours in history.”

After Rice, Bowman went to Cambridge, Mass., to earn a master’s degree in history at Radcliffe College. In the ’40s she began a long teaching career at Houston’s Jesse H. Jones High School — teaching not history, but math. (“You know what American history classes can be like in high school,” she said. “I was pretty good in math, so I ended up teaching math.”)

“I used to feel like I had not fulfilled all that I could have done in history,” Bowman said. “But then, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided that you need people who can teach foundations — and that I could do, in math.”

She hasn’t been back to the Rice campus since a few years ago, when she attended a Class of ’38 reunion. But Bowman believes her education at Rice was her own foundation.

“Every now and then I’ll get a letter saying ‘Mrs. Bowman, you taught me so much,’” she said. “And I think, ‘I don’t know what I taught them.’ But whatever it was, I give all the credit to Rice.”


About Alyson Ward

Alyson Ward is a writer in Public Affairs at Rice University.