A Brief History
Lovett Hall early 1900's
On May 18, 1891, Massachusetts-born businessman William Marsh Rice chartered the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science, and Art as a gift to the city of Houston, where he made his fortune. The terms of the charter required that work on the new institute would begin only after Rice’s death.
On Sept. 23, 1900, Rice was chloroformed to death by his valet, Charlie Jones, who had conspired with an unscrupulous lawyer, Albert Patrick, to murder the aging millionaire and claim his estate using a forged will. When an autopsy ordered by Rice’s attorney, Captain James A. Baker, revealed evidence of poisoning, Jones agreed to provide state's evidence in return for immunity from prosecution. Patrick was convicted of murder and sent to Sing Sing. He was pardoned in 1912, the same year that classes began at the Rice Institute.
In 1907, the trustees of the Rice Institute acted upon the recommendation of Woodrow Wilson (then president of Princeton) and named astronomer and mathematician Edgar Odell Lovett the first president of Rice. Lovett called for the establishment of a university “of the highest grade,” “an institution of liberal and technical learning” devoted “quite as much investigation as to instruction.” [We must] “keep the standards up and the numbers down,” declared Lovett. “The most distinguished teachers must take their part in undergraduate teaching, and their spirit should dominate it all.”
The Rice Institute opened on Sept. 23, 1912, the anniversary of Mr. Rice’s murder, with 77 students enrolled in that initial academic year taught by a dozen faculty. An international academic festival celebrated the opening three weeks later, a spectacular event that brought Rice to the attention of the entire scholarly world. Four years later, at the initial commencement, 35 bachelor's degrees and one master's degree were awarded, with the first doctorate conferred in 1918.
Rice Academic Seal and Logo
The academic seal of Rice University was designed in 1912 by Pierre de Chaignon la Rose of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who combined the main elements of the arms of 16 prominent families bearing the names “Rice” or “Houston.” Owls of Athena-symbolic of wisdom were chosen for the charges. The Athenian owls on the Rice seal were patterned after a design found on a small, silver tetradrachmenon coin dating from the middle of the fifth century B.C. And because Rice University was dedicated by its founder to the advancement of “letters, science, and art,” these words also were incorporated into the seal.
Rice Colors: Blue and Gray
In 1912, Rice’s first president, Edgar Odell Lovett, chose as the school colors “a blue still deeper than the Oxford blue” and “the Confederate gray, enlivened by a tinge of lavender.” It has been suggested that blue and gray were chosen in recognition of the fact that Rice's founder amassed much of the fortune that formed the initial endowment of the Rice Institute by trading with both the North and the South during the Civil War.
Rice Mascot: Owl
When athletic activities began at the Rice Institute in 1912, the teams adopted as their mascot the owl from the Rice seal. Over the years, Rice’s various mascots have included students dressed in owl costumes, live Great Horned Owls, and large owl statues of fiberglass and of canvas, the latter being particularly famous in Rice lore (see below).
Mascot Name: “Sammy”
An early symbol of Rice’s athletic teams was large canvas owl, a tempting target for the institute’s rivals. In 1917, when students from Southwest Conference football rival Texas A&M kidnapped the owl, Rice students pooled their resources and hired a private detective to go to College Station to find the missing mascot. When the detective, having recovered the owl, sent a coded telegram to Houston that read “Sammy is fairly well and would like to see his parents at eleven o’clock,” the Rice mascot had a name.
Alma Mater: Rice’s Honor
All for Rice’s Honor, we will fight on.
We will be fighting when this day is done.
And when the dawn comes breaking,
We'll be fighting on, Rice, for the Gray and Blue.
We will be loyal, to Rice be true.
(To the tune of “Our Director March,” written by Ben H. Mitchell ’24 in 1922)
Rice Fight Song
Fight for Rice, Rice fight on, loyal sons arise.
The Blue and Gray for Rice today, comes breaking through skies.
Fight, fight, fight! Stand and cheer, Vict’ry's near, Sammy leads the way.
Onward go! to crush the foe, we’ll fight for Blue and Gray.
(Words and music by Louis Gerard ’40)
The MOB — Rice University’s Marching Owl Band
Rice Fact and Fiction