Review: “A Ph.D.’s Reverie” by Charles Francis Guittard

by Cole Niles | January 28, 2020

A new book details the personal and societal musings of the late Frank Guittard, the legendary professor who taught at Baylor for nearly 40 years in the early 20th century.

Originally travelling down to Texas from rural Ohio as a young man, Guittard quickly established himself as a mainstay in Waco by founding and becoming the first chair of the history department at Baylor in 1910. When he left to pursue his Ph.D. at Stanford, he remained engaged in Baylor’s happenings, as is seen throughout this volume.

Over the course of a decade, Guittard penned letters back and forth with his wife, Josie, as well as sons Francis and Clarence. These letters, contained within the book, comment on a range of topics from politics to religion, extending even to his beloved Baylor University. Likewise, the book also includes essay material from Guittard’s time at Baylor, and even leads off with a beautifully illustrated poem by Charles Francis Guittard, the grandson of Frank Guittard and author of this book. This intimate collection humanizes the intellectual giant, providing insight into the famed professor’s legacy not only as an academic, but as a man who holds deep convictions about faith and family.

The first collection of letters, referred to as “The Courtship Letters”, were written from 1920-22 and illuminate Guittard’s long distance courtship of his future wife, Josie Glenn, from Waco to Houston, where Glenn taught as a schoolteacher. These letters, often with subtle emotional power, penetrate into the core of Guittard as a person. In classic Guittard fashion, the famed professor announces his intentions to marry Glenn from the outset of the courtship, and as their correspondence carried on, the reader follows the process of her heart’s warming to the idea.

The second collection of letters, “The Palo Alto Letters” range from 1923-1930 when Guittard completed his doctoral work at Stanford. These letters cover the daily goings on of life for the new Ph.D. student, from the trivial struggles of taking shower baths instead of soaking in a tub, to the very real stresses of testing through a doctoral program. It is in this collection we also see Guittard’s intentional efforts to stay engaged in his sons’ lives, keeping up with their daily routines.

A Ph.D.’s Reverie uncovers a simple man—not in the quality of his thought, something that few will argue is the case—but rather in his direct approach to life. For every striking line of political or religious thought, Guittard inserts a farming tip to boot. Never one to mince words, the simplicity and brevity of the letters speak volumes to the man Guittard was.

One of the joys of A Ph.D.’s Reverie comes in seeing love through another person’s eyes. Whether it be through his two sons or his beloved Josie, the joy of their own words leaps off of the pages. Josie’s correspondence to Frank comprises large portions of the book, allowing for a deep look into what love looks for those far from each other. Likewise, one can witness the affection for their father shared by Frank’s sons, Clarence and Francis, in simple updates on the boys’ rock collections. These oftentimes brief moments often end up being the most powerful in the entire work.

The reader is able to see Frank Guittard through the eyes of many—Guittard the intellectual, Guittard the husband, and Guittard the father—all culminating in a comprehensive view of the man behind the legend.

A Ph.D.’s Reverie is a fantastic look into the heart and soul behind one Baylor University’s greatest minds. While his intellect is easy to spot, the greatest aspect of Frank Guittard’s writing certainly comes in his emotional style. It comes between the lines, not in long, prosaic exposition, but rather in the poetic intimacy of everyday life. The daily ponderings, victories, and struggles found throughout the book culminate in a genuine and holistic understanding of Frank Guittard’s personal life and feelings. The book is a truly worthwhile read for both scholars trying to understand the mind of the famed academic, or simply those with close ties to Baylor University and Guittard’s legacy.

2 thoughts on “Review: “A Ph.D.’s Reverie” by Charles Francis Guittard

  1. EveryBaylor graduate should read this book. It serves as a permanent reminder both of the vision of President Samuel Palmer Brooks and the effort outstanding faculty made to lay the foundation for Baylor to become a major university.

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