Exactly 100 years after the Rice Institute matriculated its first class Sept. 23, 1912, an official Texas Historical Commission marker honoring Rice University was unveiled Sunday just east of Founder’s Court.
“We are thrilled to have this marker, which helps celebrate the importance of Rice University to Harris County, the city of Houston and the state of Texas,” Rice President David Leebron told the guests invited to the dedication ceremony by the Rice Historical Society.
“The university was from the very beginning designed to make a contribution to the growth and progress of Houston,” he said. “Today, instead of being surrounded by the marshland that was here in 1912, we are surrounded by our city’s museum district, medical center and a great park — a testimony to the success of that commitment and that vision.”
Leebron said the historical marker commemorates the importance of the university as a whole, “which includes, of course, our importance to the cultural institutions of Houston, the development of the energy industry, our participation in the space program and many other things.”
At the ceremony, Rice alumnus and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett ’71 proclaimed Sept. 23, 2012, as “Rice University Day in Harris County.” He said the words on the marker explain the history of Rice but do not convey “the real gift of Rice University – its graduates, the people who have been at this institution and have contributed not only to Houston, not only to Harris County and the state of Texas, but the nation and the entire world.”
Emmett said he hopes the marker will cause people to remember those who attended Rice. “Having this marker will not only capture the past but will encourage people to look more into this wonderful world-class institution that we call Rice University.”
Rice Historical Society President Helen Toombs ’79 said that in addition to Harris County, proclamations were sent by the city of Houston, the Texas Senate and the U.S. Senate.
“This day was a long time coming,” Toombs said, noting that the whole process of acquiring a historical marker for Rice University took about four years.
Nancy Burch ’61, a member of the Harris County Historical Commission, brought the idea for a historical marker to the Rice Historical Society back when the university was starting to plan for its centennial. The society’s request then had to go through the local county commission and on to the state. And then there was a lot of “back and forth” on approving the text on the marker, Burch said.
Telling Rice’s history in 250 words, which is about all that will fit on the marker, was difficult, said Lee Pecht, university archivist and treasurer for the Rice Historical Society. “To get the history of the campus, you have to write practically a book to start with because the commission wants everything in there. Then you have to hone that down.”
The Rice Historical Society didn’t get to write the actual text for the marker. The Texas Historical Commission wrote the narrative using materials from the university archives, and the Rice Historical Society suggested revisions throughout the process because it had a better understanding of “the complete story behind the campus,” Pecht said. “That marker is filled with details because there’s so much to say.”
“Rice Historical Society deserves a tremendous amount of credit for getting this done,” said Burch, who also serves as vice president of the organization.
Pecht, who also is head of special collections at Fondren Library’s Woodson Research Center, said it was very exciting to get the marker completed and installed on campus. “Now we’ll be able to share the history of Rice with Rice graduates and Houstonians for many generations to come.”