Texas Tech University

103-Year-Old Alumna, World War II Veteran Witnessed Texas Tech's History

Glenys Young

October 1, 2018

(VIDEO) Catherine Royalty remembers Lubbock before there was a Texas Tech.

There aren't many people still in Lubbock today who can remember what it was like before Texas Technological College opened its doors on Oct. 1, 1925. Even fewer are those who remember the time before Lubbock was chosen as the home for what would become a thriving university.

In fact, there is only one person now alive who remembers that, earned both bachelor's and master's degrees at Texas Tech, served during World War II and then spent more than three decades as an educator.

Catherine Royalty
Catherine Royalty

That person is Catherine Royalty.

Early years

The daughter of one of Lubbock's founding families, Catherine was born during a snowstorm on Feb. 17, 1915, in the office of Dr. M.C. Overton just across the street from the Lubbock Avalanche newspaper. Her father, Walter “W.W.” Royalty, had arrived in Lubbock in 1901. By the time Catherine was born, he owned one of the only car dealerships in town, Royalty Motor Co., and was a member of the volunteer fire department.

Her mother, Lyda May Royalty, had come to Lubbock from Oklahoma in 1905 and worked as the city's first court reporter. She was an active member of several social clubs including a dominoes-playing group, the 1911 Needle Club, the South Plains Independent Order of Odd Fellows Association, the Lubbock County Sunday School Association and the Twentieth Century Club.

W.W. and Lyda appeared frequently in the Avalanche's Society Items. They rubbed elbows with families whose names are still known in Lubbock, such as Wolffarth, Bledsoe, Rush, Slaton, McWhorter, Murfee, Overton, Wheelock and Roscoe Wilson.

When the decision was made to put down brick streets in 1920, work began near the train station at Avenue F and Main Street and proceeded west down Main.

“I rode my bicycle up and down while they were laying the bricks,” she remembered, “and I could ride farther every day.”

Catherine attended elementary school in a little white building at 14th Street and Avenue Q.

“I don't know that it ever had another name, we just called it the little white building,” she said. “The high school was a red brick building at the same place.”

Texas Tech's founding

On Feb. 10, 1923, just one week before Royalty's eighth birthday, Texas Gov. Pat Neff signed legislation creating Texas Technological College, a new institution of higher education to serve West Texas, but it didn't yet have a home. So in July, a committee began searching for a site.

With competition from 36 area towns, Lubbock residents turned out in full force to convince the committee members. Among those were Walter and Lyda Royalty.

“Each car dealer gave a car and a driver to transport the committee, and my mother was the driver for the Dodge car,” Royalty said. “She took them around to see whatever they wanted to see. The town really cleaned up and tried to be as well in appearance as it could be.”

On Aug. 8, 1923, the committee announced it had unanimously chosen Lubbock on its first ballot.

Construction on the campus began Nov. 1, 1924.

“Where the campus is had been a ranch owned by Mr. Ellwood,” Royalty remembered. “He had a house on the corner of 19th and University, right across from the campus, which he donated to Texas Tech. He was a wealthy man; he was one of several men who invented barbed wire – there were several different kinds and he invented one kind. That added to his riches.

“Before Tech came, we used to drive out to that ranch on Sunday afternoons. Of course, it wasn't a very long drive.”

Texas Tech welcomed its first class in October 1925, and Royalty says the biggest difference she saw as a result was in Lubbock's population.

“We had people coming in, but not too many people had enough money to go,” she said. “I think it was $6 a credit at that time, and there were no dorms – they had to stay with people. So it increased the population a little bit and helped the merchants, of course.

“One of the popular places was Mark Halsey Drug Store right across from the campus east, and business grew around the campus.”

Undergraduate years

After graduating from Lubbock High School, Royalty began attending Texas Tech in the mid-1930s.

“I went to Texas Tech during the Great Depression, so the students did not have cars,” she said. “I walked to school and back every day from about Avenue Q and 19th Street.”

She remembers only two buildings on campus at that time: the Administration Building, which housed most of the academics, and the Barn.

“The barn was used for entertainment as well as a gym because there was no other place for assembly,” she said. “The library was on the second floor of the Administration Building, but of course it wasn't large enough for too many people at one time, so they put long tables and chairs in the hall – that became study hall.”

One particular Texas Tech faculty member is still memorable even now.

“I had one teacher – a tall, lean lady – who scared me to death,” Royalty said. “She was my Spanish teacher and when we answered, we had to stand. She would say, ‘Miss Royalty' or ‘Mr. Jones,' and by that time I forgot any answers I knew. But after two years of Spanish with her, she said, ‘Miss Royalty, don't you want to major in Spanish?' I think she was being sarcastic, but I said, ‘No, thank you.'”

Instead, Royalty studied journalism throughout her undergraduate years. In addition to being a member of the chorus and the YWCA, she was a member of the Press Club and worked on the student newspaper, the Toreador, for one year. She graduated in 1936 with a degree in English and journalism. Finding no vacant teaching positions in Lubbock schools, she went to Post, where she taught English and served as the school librarian for four years.

“During the fourth year, they called and said they had a place for me here in Lubbock, so I came back and started teaching here,” she said. “I was here in Lubbock when I enlisted.”

World War II

Royalty's motivation to enter into the Second World War came the same way as many people's in her generation: on Dec. 7, 1941.

“Of course, we were appalled, as everybody was,” she said. "Whole teams of athletes joined together; they thought they would be together during the war but, of course, they were separated.

“Everybody was patriotic, I think. We were united on that.”

As a woman, Royalty's war efforts began with distributing ration booklets, which people needed in order to get sugar and other basic supplies.

“We didn't have coffee or sugar or tires or gasoline or silk, but people didn't seem to gripe about it,” she recalled. “They were willing to give up some things. Everybody seemed to accept it. Of course, there were drives to sell war bonds and lots of parades.”

Eventually, Royalty decided she wanted to do more.

Catherine Royalty

“We had a family history,” she explained. “My father was a French derivative. I don't know if his ancestors came with that brigade that was sent from France to help us or if he came on his own, but we had a Royalty in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and World War I. I didn't have any brothers, so I thought I'd better get in there and join.”

She enlisted in the women's branch of the U.S. Navy, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). The Navy wanted to train Royalty as a meteorologist – she had other plans.

“My mother was postmistress at Texas Tech and I'd had some experience with her, so I told them I'd like to be in the post office,” she said. “I'm surprised – they usually just put you wherever they wanted you, but they let me be in the post office.”

She completed six months of basic training in New York City and six months of additional training in upstate New York then ended up at the fleet post office in San Francisco. Her job was to keep up with where all the ships were located so important messages could reach them.

“Ships had a long name with a lot of letters and numbers in it, and we had a booklet that we had to study and refer to for the address of all of the ships,” she explained. “When they moved, we had to send word and send the mail to the new place.

“A group of us, I think there were eight, were sent into what was called ‘The Locator.' It was a one-room, windowless place. They locked us in and we got the new ship movements and changed all the listings. Sometimes they were short and sometimes they were long. If they were short, we got to go home early. If it was a long list, we had to stay overtime.”

The Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, marked the end of World War II. In early February 1946, Royalty was discharged from the Navy and came home to Lubbock.

Back in education

Besides the opportunity to serve her country and continue the family tradition, serving in World War II had another benefit for Royalty. Upon her return to Lubbock, she was able to get her master's degree under the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights, which provided free university tuition and living expenses for returning veterans.

She focused again on journalism until she had a revelation. In her final year, she realized teachers were paid better than journalists – a teacher's starting salary was $70 a month at the time – so she took four education courses and got her master's degree in journalism and education.

“At that time, the junior high schools mimeographed their newspapers; the high schools could get theirs printed,” she said.

It was a topic she was already intimately familiar with, because while pursuing her master's, she had returned to teaching in Lubbock. She was the adviser for The Cowboy World, the mimeographed newspaper of O.L. Slaton and Central junior high schools, in May 1948, when it received a special commendation from the Interscholastic League Press Conference.

Of course, when she wasn't publishing the news, Royalty occasionally became the news. It happened in 1950 when she was hit by a car on the Texas Tech campus, receiving a head contusion and bruises, and again in 1961 when she attended a WAVES reunion.

Catherine Royalty

Along the way, she was an active member of the Wesleyan Service Guild and a devoted educator. She earned her master's degree in 1951 and taught English and journalism at J.T. Hutchinson Junior High and W.B. Atkins Junior High, in addition to O.L. Slaton and Central, which became Carroll Thompson Junior High. In 1957, she helped create a journalism handbook for junior high students.

In May 1977, after a 34-year career, Royalty retired from teaching.

Later life

She has spent most of the last four decades traveling and devouring books – she typically reads one a day now. She was halfway through a book on the history of the Congo on Sept. 21 when she came to Texas Tech to share her own history.

As more than 80 students, faculty members and administrators packed into the Horn/Knapp Residence Hall lounge to hear Royalty speak on that rainy Friday, Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec knelt by her chair to hear her over the crowd noise.

“Mister President,” she immediately quipped, “you don't have to kneel to me. I'm not that kind of royalty.”

Schovanec with Royalty
President Schovanec talks with Catherine Royalty.

After she was introduced as the oldest living veteran in Lubbock, a student asked about the most bizarre technological development she's seen in her lifetime. Royalty paused for a moment before answering.

“The telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the television and now computers,” she listed. “I miss teaching, but I don't know that I could do it today. I don't do computers.”

Looking back on the changes she's seen at Texas Tech, the former teacher said the biggest difference between her years here and now is in the multitude of opportunities for students to find a niche in which they can succeed.

“We have so much advancement at Texas Tech now, in the addition of the medical school and the law school and engineering,” she said. “I think they can find a place in some of these schools and do well. I'm very proud of Texas Tech.

“I haven't been very proud of the football team lately,” she added, jokingly, “but this year they seem to be doing well.”