For approximately half a century, it was accepted that classes began at the Texas School of Mines (now UTEP) on September 23, 1914. The histories written for the school’s 50th and 75th anniversaries mentioned the 23rd, but a closer reading reveals that the authors harbored some questions–questions that would not be answered until the 100th anniversary.

First Histories

In his narrative of the events of 1914 for the 50th anniversary, English professor Francis Fugate noted that after Worrell arrived in El Paso “It was soon announced that the school would open on September 23” (pp. 11-12). Fugate did not cite a source, but must have discovered one of the announcements in the El Paso Herald (May 4, p. 3) or El Paso Morning Times (May 5, p. 3; Aug. 30, p. 24) that did in fact mention September 23. Yet, when it came time to describe the opening, Fugate said only “The doors of the school opened on September 23, as scheduled” (p. 14), hinting that he was unable to confirm the school’s opening date and simply followed the announcements.

A quarter of a century later, Nancy Hamilton tried to retrace Fugate’s steps. Her research took her to the city’s newspapers where she came up short of a confirmation, reporting “The opening of the School of Mines was not even mentioned in the September 28 El Paso Herald account of a meeting of the Board of Regents.” She therefore relied on Fugate to write that “Twenty-seven students entered the School of Mines on opening day, September 23” (p. 19). Clearly, Hamilton was looking for corroboration but the only answer was silence.

A New Question

In August 2013, while preparing for the new tradition of New Miner Convocation, I asked P. J. Vierra, a doctoral students working in UTEP’s Centennial Office, to verify the number of students enrolled at TSM on the first day of class. He came back with some published numbers that contradicted each other–21 here, 24 there, 29 in another spot–but it was the source for one of the numbers that startled us most:

“The El Paso School of Mines opened Monday for its initial session.”
El Paso Herald, Sept. 30, 1914, p. 6

The El Paso Herald was published in the evenings, Monday through Saturday. This story, published on Wednesday, September 30, stated that classes began on September 28!

The Hunt for Confirmation

The first task at hand was to verify the newspaper’s report. The Herald had already published September 23 as the start date and this particular article even contradicted itself, stating in one paragraph that 24 students were enrolled and then later listing only 21. We were not ready to rely on the word of the Herald alone.

At first, all we could find was context. The El Paso Morning Times (published the morning after the Herald) confirmed that Worrell had spoken to the press the day before, stated the date for the first football practice, cited 29 students–but no first day of classes. On September 28, the Herald ran a report of the first day of class at the University of Texas (in Austin) but did not link to TSM. Bulletins published in subsequent years confirmed that TSM opened in “September” (no date) 1914 and that it eventually adopted the UT start date of September 28 as an annual tradition, but they did not confirm that it actually happened that way in 1914.

More disconcerting were the silences. There was simply nothing at all about the school in the El Paso Morning Times from September 1-30. The minutes of the meetings of the Board of Regents (three of them that year) discuss deeds, appropriations, and expenditures but no start date. Various state and local newspapers noted the school’s opening, but none mentioned a date for the first day of class. Did UTEP’s Special Collections department have a collection of newspaper clippings? No. Any special set of papers related to the school’s founding? No again.

There was only one remaining hope, but it was a hopeless one. The minutes of the October 27 meeting of the Board of Regents cited a letter from Worrell dated September 22. Its purpose was to identify faculty whose salaries should be paid. The minutes did not reproduce the letter; they only mentioned it. Did the letter still exist somewhere? If it did, could it be found? If it were found, could answer the question? Since Worrell was writing on the eve of the first day of class, would he not have mentioned something about the events of the next day? But where was the letter? No collection of Worrell’s personal papers has survived, neither at UTEP nor in Austin. Some of his correspondence has been recovered in the collections of other persons, but to track it down that way would take another century.

Then we remembered an anomaly. A few weeks earlier, while looking at the inventory list for the collection of UT Presidents Papers at the Dolph Briscoe Center in Austin, P. J. had discovered two boxes of papers related to the Texas School of Mines. Could these boxes contain the September 22 letter that Worrell sent to the Regents? Possibly. Were the papers accessible? Sort of. The papers are stored off site and require 3-5 days to retrieve. Would the archivist call up the boxes and look for a specific letter? Yes. All we could do was wait.

“registration begins with us tomorrow”
–Dean Steve H. Worrell, September 22, 1914

Confirmed, in black and white, by none other than the dean himself. Registration on September 23, first day of classes on September 28, 1914. A century later, UTEP is an aspiring tier-1 public research university. Every day, somewhere on campus, a discovery is made by one of UTEP’s faculty and student researchers–from cancer treatment to space travel to water desalination to frog species. This time, the discovery happened to be about our own history. It is a humbling and exciting time to be a Miner.
References

Bulletin of the University of Texas, No. 312 (Jan. 20, 1914): Catalogue 1913-1914, p. 4; No. 5 (Jan. 20, 1915), p. 451; No. 1723 (Apr. 20, 1917): Catalogue 1916-1917, p. 522; No. 1925 (May 1, 1919): Catalogue 1918-1919, p. 304.

El Paso Herald, May 4, 1914; September 15, 16, 21, 28, 1914.

El Paso Morning Times, May 5, 1914; August 30, 1914; October 1, 1914.

Fugate, Frontier College, (1964), 11-14.

Hamilton, UTEP: A Pictorial History (1988), 19.

“Minutes of the Meetings of the Board of Regents,” April 28, 1914, pp. 347-348; June 8, 1914, pp. 397, 401; October 27, 1914, p. 414.

Worrell, Steve to President of University of Texas, September 22, 1914, UT President Papers, Box VF 8/A.a “College of Mines and Metallurgy (El Paso), 1913-1927.”

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