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Summer 2002
 
 
Baylor Alumni

A Brisk Pace

A professor who set high standards in class and far afield
By Lisa Asher


if you had been on the baylor campus in 1915, you probably would have seen a tall woman, dressed in a white shirtwaist and an ankle-length skirt, briskly striding from the science building toward Old Main, stopping for a quick smile or word with a student before hurrying on. Dr. Lula Pace was an anomaly in many ways--the first female teacher at Baylor to hold a PhD, she was also one of only five female instructors at Baylor when she was hired in 1903. But unlike the other women, Pace taught not in humanities, but in the male-dominated area of science.

From her early years at Baylor to her untimely death in 1925, Pace taught biology, botany, and geology, and she also led countless field trips throughout Central Texas, New Mexico, and the Rockies. (She is pictured, center, with two students during a trip to Day's Lake.) But through her lively manner, her professionalism, and her strong commitment to excellence, she also taught what women were able to accomplish.

Born in Newton, Mississippi, in 1868, Pace was one year old when she moved with her family to Temple, where she would develop a lifelong love of and appreciation for Central Texas and its plant life. She said her mother taught her the "supreme importance of sound education."At an age when most women were finished with schooling, Pace was only beginning. She earned a bachelor of science degree from Baylor Female College in Belton in 1890, and pursued a master's degree and a doctorate from the University of Chicago, teaching in Temple during the school year and taking classes in Chicago for nine consecutive summers.

During her first four years at Baylor, Pace was an assistant professor of biology, and after she earned the PhD in 1907, she became the head of the Department of Botany and Geology. She left Baylor for a year in 1910 to study with renowned botanists at the University of Bonn in Germany.

Whether as a teacher or a student herself, Pace was constantly researching. Today, Baylor's Texas Collection contains boxes of her small notebooks, which are lined with notes and findings, all carefully written in a looping script. Those findings led her to publish two highly regarded books, The Geology of McLennan County and A Few Texas Plants, and oil geologists came to rely on her expertise. She was among the first to show that there is double fertilization in plant life, and she proved that plants vary in reproduction.

Pace applied the same exacting standards to her students' work as she did to her own. A former student, Burr Powell, remembered, "If you failed to do your work, she made you aware of it, and you felt ashamed you hadn't done it." Edna Payne Caskey said that one of the greatest moments of her life was when she finally earned a high grade from Pace. "She held out her arms and . . . kissed me lightly on the forehead [and said], 'A perfect paper, little girl!'"

The woman that students described as "genteel" and "always a lady" was not afraid to get her hands dirty in pursuit of knowledge. Her field trips to places like Yellowstone National Park became the stuff of legends. One Baylor student, J. Weldon Jones, took a three-week summer course that Pace offered in conjunction with the University of Boulder. "I was struck by Dr. Pace's knowledge of organizing a camp, cooking, laying in provisions," he remembered. "Her physical stamina amazed us all. She knew how to 'pace' herself and came through a sixteen-hour trip up to the Arapaho and back much better physically than her younger charges!"

Pace refused to make any types of concessions when it came to her classes. The curriculum in her botany courses included the teaching of evolution, a fact that enraged some people, including the famed pastor Dr. Frank Norris, who called for Pace's resignation. According to Dr. Cornelia Marschall Smith, one of Pace's former students, Baylor President Samuel Palmer Brooks defended Pace's teaching, and hundreds of Waco citizens marched from the Alico Building downtown onto the Baylor campus in support of Pace.

On June 16, 1925, Pace died of pernicious anemia. She was buried on a rocky hillside in her beloved Temple.


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