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Alumna Gives First-Hand Account of Opening Years

Wilma Leslie, an alumna from the class of 1930, paints a rare snapshot of the university's history.

Written by Lori Cortez

Wilma Leslie, who majored in home economics, attended the college from 1928-1930 when tuition was  a mere $30.

Wilma Leslie, who majored in home economics, attended the college from 1928-1930 when tuition was a mere $30.

It’s 1928 in Lamesa, a city 60 miles south of Lubbock, and the graduation ceremony from the town’s high school just took place. The class composed of girls and boys includes Wilma Jones, now Wilma Leslie. Two years after, later-governor of Texas, Preston E. Smith would graduate. Both individuals would leave Lamesa to attend Texas Technological College, now Texas Tech University, Leslie with a certificate in home economics and Smith graduating with a bachelor of business administration.

Smith passed away in 2003, but Leslie lives today at 100 years old. She still remembers her contact with Smith and returns every five years to their high school’s combined reunion.

Leslie attended the college from 1928-1930 during the academic and summer sessions. She said she still remembers the terms were divided into three sections: a fall, winter and spring session. Leslie can vividly recall many specific events that went on during her time at Texas Tech including professors, leisure time and landscape.

White Glove Test

“I remember one professor, Dean Weeks, she wore white gloves and went around the windows to see if we dusted well,” Leslie said. “Inspection was about once a month and somebody was always watching and waiting for her.”

Although Margaret Watson Weeks, dean of home economics, was a tough professor, Leslie said she had good intentions.

“We were scared of her. She was strict and wanted our sewing and cooking to perfection, but it was good for us. We did learn,” Leslie said.

When Leslie went to Texas Tech, in the first eight years of the college, it was common that most students lived off campus in private housing which had to be approved by the college. Leslie said she lived with seven other girls in a house where they had one telephone that was not used much and where she got along well with her roommate.

“The woman who owned the house we lived in would cook for the girls in the house and others who came over to eat,” Leslie said. “There were rules in the house. Boys could come visit, but of course could not go upstairs. There was a curfew, too. It was probably 10 on school nights and a little later on weekends, maybe 11.”

For fun, Leslie said there was not much to do, so she and her friends would drive around in someone’s car or ride the bus all throughout downtown since it did not cost much. If they felt adventurous she said they would go off campus and dance, but many of the dance halls were not approved for college students, so they could face probation. Most of the time Leslie said she and her friends would hang out at their favorite place.

“There was this drugstore on College Avenue, now University, where we would drink Cokes in the afternoon and just sit around and yak,” she said.

Leslie said all the girls always had a game of bridge, the card game, playing on someone’s bed. It was something they all enjoyed and to this day she still plays and wins. In terms of the courting process, Leslie said when she went on dates she did about the same things she would do with her friends; going to the movies and driving around was how you got to know someone.

“In those days you didn’t pick up the phone and talk to someone for a while. I met my husband when he was a senior at Tech and I was a freshman. After he finished school we started corresponding, and after about a year and a half we married,” Leslie said.

Leslie recalls her home economics professor setting high standards, expecting their sewing and cooking to be perfect.

Leslie recalls her home economics professor setting high standards, expecting their sewing and cooking to be perfect. Photo provided by the Texas Tech University Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.

Texas Tech Paid Off

Will E. (Bill) Leslie and Wilma Leslie were married 58 years. Bill Leslie graduated in 1929 in the first four-year graduating class from Texas Technological College with a civil engineering degree, though he worked more in the electrical engineering field and then became a florist in Memphis, Texas. Wilma Leslie said she and her husband were ever grateful for his education from Texas Tech when the Great Depression hit.

“Bill always had a job and didn’t get laid off. While it affected others, we didn’t really suffer. Texas Tech paid off,” she said.

Wilma Leslie went to college when tuition was only $30 and Paul Horn, the first president of the university, presided. Classes were held in only five buildings at the time: the west engineering, textile engineering, dairy barn, administration and home economics buildings. The football team was called the Matadors. The Leslies have seven great-grandchildren and five grandchildren that went on to attend Texas Tech.

“Texas Tech has changed by leaps and bounds since I went, but it is a wonderful school, and I think one of the leading universities. I hope and I’m sure that my family will continue to attend,” she said.


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10 Responses to “Alumna Gives First-Hand Account of Opening Years”

  1. Ryan Bitzer Says:

    That’s my great grandmother! :D GO RAIDERS GO! It has been, it is, and it will forever be entwined in my life! It’s the college where I feel most at home.

  2. Florence Gum Says:

    I had the privilege of attending Mrs. Leslie’s 100th birthday party last December. She is a special lady and the dear mother of my long-time Westminster Presbyterian Church friend, Linda Sanders! I appreciated the opportunity to read her story produced by Tech’s Office of Communications and Marketing. Florence Gum, Lubbock.

  3. David Sterling Says:

    This is my grandmother. As you can see, the Texas Tech heritage runs deep in our family. I’m a proud Tech alum, and even more proud of my grandmother.

  4. Kay McCarty Says:

    This is my Mom. Her TTU education served her well as she made all of our clothes when we were growing up (4 girls). She is a very special person to her family and friends.

  5. Shari Posey Watson Says:

    I did not realize until I read this story that Wilma Leslie and I had so much in common. I have known her all my life. I am a BS and MS in HEED from Texas Tech and I came back home to Memphis to live after graduation. She is a wonderful person and I am so proud I know her as a friend, former business lady, Tech Ex Student and College of Human Sciences alumni. Way to go Wilma and way to go Raiders.

  6. Mikell Bollinger Says:

    This is my wonderful grandmother – an amazing lady! She and my grandfather began a family legacy at Texas Tech and instilled the value of an education in each of us. I was blessed to attend my grandfather’s 50th college reunion with him at Tech in 1979 and meet other members of the class of 1929. I am proud to be their granddaughter and proud to be a Tech alum.

  7. sherilyn West Says:

    My mother-in-law graduated from Texas Tech in 1930 also. Her name is Mary Gladys Gilbert West.
    She taught school since her degree was in English and Spanish. She is 103 years old.
    She married a local farmer,J.R. West. He is deceased since 1965. She later received her Masters from the University of Texas which she still calls Varsity. Her son graduated from Tech in 1967 and I graduated in 1966. Her daughter received her degree from Baylor. She , too, lived in a private home with other women. I wonder if she is the oldest alumna?

  8. william jackson Says:

    For me Texas Tech has been and always will be the family university .
    My Grandfather Dr. William A. Jackson Dean of Political Science , My father Mr. William A. Jackson Sr. and my sister Ellen E. Jackson. Texas Tech has so much rich history.

  9. WGV Says:

    Awesome story, amazing to think of what life would have been like as a red raider (or matador) in the 30′s. Tech should publish more stories like this! Guns Up!

  10. Jeff Says:

    I love Texas Tech and I hope that my kids go there someday. It is an awesome place to mature and learn!

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