Polytechnic College (1891) published the first volume of its yearbook, the Panther City Parrot, in 1906. The title of the yearbook, of course, did double duty, evoking the panther legend of Fort Worth and playing on the similarity of the college’s name to the “Polly” name often given to parrots. (Polytechnic College would become Texas Woman’s College in 1914, Texas Wesleyan College in 1935, and Texas Wesleyan University in 1989.)
What was the world of those Polytechnic College students like in 1906? For starters, those students of 113 years ago were born about 1885-1888, when the Civil War was still a too-vivid memory for many people, when Grover Cleveland was president, when the U.S. flag had but thirty-eight stars. Then came the presidencies of Harrison and McKinley. By 1906 Teddy Roosevelt was president (and had come to town the previous year), and the flag now twinkled with forty-five stars. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Civil War veterans were still alive. Why, in 1906 there were still enough surviving veterans of the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto for those men to hold their final reunion.
These 1906 students had read about the Galveston hurricane in 1900 and the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.
The year 1906 brought passage of the federal Pure Food and Drug Act, which was designed to regulate, among other consumer products, patent medicines.
What about money in 1906? How far, for example, would a penny go? Pretty far. A penny would go further than a quarter goes today. And when those Polytechnic College students of 113 years ago spent a penny, it was the Indian head one-cent piece, first minted in 1859—before the Civil War.
Not until 1909, when many of those Polytechnic College students had graduated, would they spend what is so familiar to us today: a Lincoln penny, designed by Lithuania-born Victor David Brenner (see “V.D.B.” at bottom of reverse side). The new penny would first be minted on the centenary of Lincoln’s birth and would replace the Indian head penny.
In 1906 Fort Worth’s population was about 52,000. Polytechnic Heights had not yet incorporated. Poly’s population was less than 1,000. Polytechnic College had an enrollment of 618.
In 1906 the senior class went green: It planted a tree. Reckon that tree is still standing after 113 years? And if it is still standing, reckon anyone on the TWU campus today knows that the tree is not just your run-of-the-mill tree but rather the Class Tree of Aught-Six?
When the aught-six college term began, most of Polytechnic College’s 618 students who came from out of town probably had arrived via train or even by horse. Students who lived closer may have arrived by streetcar or interurban from Fort Worth or Dallas or Glenwood.
But their world was changing in 1906.
Only three years earlier the Wright brothers had flown.
Also only three years earlier, in 1903, Henry Ford had introduced the Model A as flivver fever spread over the globe at the turn of the century.
In fact, by 1906 some Polytechnic College students might have owned an automobile themselves. Perhaps on Sundays they took their automobile for a spin at the driving park, where in April of that year daredevil autoist Barney Oldfield set a world auto speed record for two miles, averaging almost sixty miles per hour. A. B. Wharton, an early auto enthusiast, put up a $500 purse at the race. In 1904 Wharton, the man of the house at Thistle Hill, had opened Fort Worth’s first “auto livery,” selling and renting Winton, Columbia, Franklin, Hayes, and Elmore automobiles. Clip is from the April 28 Dallas Morning News.
Fort Worth was booming in 1906, in large part because of the Stockyards and packing plants. Ten railroads served the city, with eighty-five trains coming or going daily. That year on the North Side Sam Rosen‘s White City trolley park opened, and North Fort Worth Townsite Company began developing Belmont Terrace addition, with Grand Avenue as its showcase street. All Saints Episcopal Hospital and William Eddleman’s Western National Bank Building were completed. Consolidated Improvement and Construction Company incorporated to develop Chase Court with fourteen houses along a private drive on the South Side. De Zavala and Van Zandt ward schools opened. Boyd Clarke and Howard Bunting began developing Hi Mount on the West Side.
What might those 618 Polytechnic College students have read and listened to in 1906? Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Mark Twain’s What Is Man? were published that year. Popular sheet music included “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Dill Pickles Rag.” In 1906 the Victor Talking Machine Company introduced an internal-horn phonograph. The Victrola sold for a pricey $200 ($5,000 today). Popular recordings included “Wait ’Til the Sun Shines, Nellie” and “How’d You Like to Spoon With Me?” (Spooning is what young couples did before sexting was invented.) Clip is from the August 20, 1907 Dallas Morning News.
The first volume of the Polytechnic College yearbook in aught-six was dedicated to Methodist Bishop Joseph Key (born in 1829—only three years after the death of Thomas Jefferson). (Yearbook photos from Amon Carter Museum.)
Two faculty members.
By 1906 professor W. F. Mister was a veteran Fort Worth educator. He had run a private school named “Fort Worth High School” before the city opened its public school system in 1882 and built its Fort Worth High School in 1891.
(Don’t you know that W. F. Mister achieved the title of “professor” just so he would no longer have to answer to “Mr. Mister”?)
The Polytechnic College freshman class yell was “Look out for me, look out for mine, we’ll be the Goods in 1909.”
Most of the student body (including members of the Wild West Club) was born about the time of the Short-Courtright shooting.
The college’s baseball squad.
The Poly baseball team opened the 1906 season against its cross-town rivals at Fort Worth University. At the Major League level in 1906 American League teams were Chicago White Sox, New York Highlanders, Cleveland Naps, Philadelphia Athletics, St. Louis Browns, Detroit Tigers, Washington Senators, and Boston Americans. National League teams were Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Brooklyn Superbas, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, and Boston Beaneaters.
The Polytechnian was a publication for the college’s literary societies. Polytechnian exchange editor was Leona Sensabaugh. More on her later.
Senior officers and senior class yell: “Re Ray, Re Ray, Re Ray, Rix! We’re the Class of Naughty Six!”
The main building. Note an automobile in the left foreground and a streetcar in the left background. The Polytechnic streetcar line began in 1891 to serve the new college and the new Manchester cotton mill.
Women’s and men’s dormitories with chimneys aplenty in those days of heating with wood or coal. The students of 1906 would recognize only two buildings on campus today—the Boyd House (1895) and the Oneal-Sells Administration Building (1903).
The Order of Rejuvenated Sons of Jove was a national club of electricity enthusiasts with the motto “All together, all the time, for everything electrical.” It was formed in Austin in 1899.
Officers of the Korosophian Literary Society.
This concludes a brief look at the world of the 618 students of Polytechnic College 113 years ago. We can only wonder about how the remainder of the lives of those young people played out: “the rest of the story.” Except . . . we do know the rest of the story of one student. In the bottom photo above, Leona Sensabaugh, born in 1886, was the daughter of Reverend Oscar Fitzgerald Sensabaugh, presiding elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Worth and one of the founders of SMU in Dallas. Life for Leona—despite being the daughter of a church elder—was probably fairly normal in 1906. Ah, but that would begin to change two years later. In 1908 Leona would meet Eric Muenter, aka “Frank Holt,” who had just enrolled at the college. Holt also briefly would be a Spanish teacher at the college. Leona shared Holt’s affinity for languages. Leona and Holt fell in love. In 1909 Leona and Holt would graduate from Polytechnic College. He would spend a year teaching at the University of Oklahoma; she would spend a year in Cuba. In 1910 the two would be married in her father’s home in Amarillo, where Reverend Sensabaugh led a church. Holt would then teach at Vanderbilt in Nashville and then at Cornell in Ithaca, New York. In late spring 1915 Holt and Leona would be preparing to leave Ithaca and move to Dallas, where Holt would teach French at SMU. Then, on July 2-3, 1915, Holt—remembered by Reverend Sensabaugh as “quiet and peaceable”—would plant a time bomb that damaged the U.S. Capitol building, shoot financier J. P. Morgan Jr. in Morgan’s mansion, and plant a time bomb on a ship carrying munitions to England.
After Holt committed suicide in jail shortly after his rampage, Leona’s academic career would somewhat echo that of her husband: She, not he, would join the faculty of SMU, where she would be a professor of Spanish (as Holt had been at Polytechnic) for nineteen years and dean of women for two years. For the rest of her life she would refer to herself as the widow of Frank Holt. But when she died in 1941 at age fifty-five her obituary in the Dallas Morning News would not mention her late husband.