University History: Cousins Era

by Dr. Peter Petersen, professor emeritus of history

The R. B. Cousins Era, 1910-1918

Old Main BurningOn Sept. 20, 1910, almost exactly a year after the announcement of the location committee's decision, President R. B. Cousins and a faculty of 16 welcomed 152 students to West Texas State Normal College. By the end of the first three quarters, total enrollment had increased to 227. Enrollment continued to increase and passed the 500 mark in 1913, seemingly indicating a bright future for the new institution. But on March 25, 1914, the explosion of a workman's torch set off a fire that quickly destroyed the Administration Building, the only classroom, laboratory, library and office structure on campus. In an emotional address to faculty, students and townspeople later that day, President Cousins spoke of the disaster as a "temporary inconvenience" and declared that great institutions do not burn. "If West Texas State is nothing more than brick and mortar," he said, "it ought to die." Those in attendance leaped to their feet and pledged support for the school. While classes continued in churches, courthouses, vacant buildings and hastily erected "shacks" on campus, workers cleared away the rubble and architects began designing a replacement structure.

On April 16, 1916, only 25 months after the fire, a new four-story Administration Building, containing not only classrooms and offices but also a library, swimming pool and gymnasium, was dedicated. Described then as the "greatest building in Texas, the Capitol only excepted," this magnificent structure, now called "Old Main," still serves the campus well. (Among the faculty who welcomed students to the new building was Georgia O'Keefe, destined to become a world-renowned artist and one of the most famous individuals to teach at West Texas A&M University.)

West Texas A&M Presidential Eras