From dean to PR director to Centennial chair, Lily Russell did it all for Baylor for half a century
You may not be familiar with Lily McIlroy Russell (AB 1911, MA 1931), but her legacy at Baylor runs deep. Her impact on students (who dedicated the 1955 edition of the Baylor yearbook to her), events across campus, and the telling of Baylor history is remarkable.
Russell’s connection to Baylor started literally from birth. She was born in Kerrville, Texas, on Jan. 24, 1887 — the daugher of an early Baylor graduate, Rev. Chester A. McIlroy. The family moved around in her early years, but eventually ended up in Waco. She attended Baylor and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1911, then taught English at Baylor and got married. (She and her husband eventually divorced, but she kept the name Russell.)
Russell left Waco for Oregon in 1924, but she returned two years as assistant to Baylor’s dean of women. Early in her tenure, Russell and her dean, Irene Marschall King, put the first communal Christmas tree on campus. Their idea became a whole event, with the lighting of the tree, a performance by the Glee Club, and an appearance by Santa Claus — the beginnings of Christmas on 5th!
In 1931 — around the same time she earned her master’s degree from Baylor — Russell was promoted to dean of women by President Pat Neff. In this role, Russell was involved in many aspects of female student life at Baylor, coordinating countless special events across campus (including Baylor’s still-growing Christmas festivities).
After nine years in that role, President Neff named Russell the university’s director of public relations in 1940, also tasking her with chairing the Baylor Centennial Committee. Celebrating even amidst the end of World War II, campus events included the unveiling of new monuments dedicated to Baylor’s founders, a time capsule, the planting of many new live oak trees along Founders Mall, and dozens of guest speakers.
After Baylor’s Centennial celebration in 1945, Russell continued as public relations director until 1948, when she accepted a new position as the first dean of the newly opened Union Building (now the Bill Daniel Student Center, or SUB). The building was expressly aimed at providing students with a place to socialize before, between and after classes — a sort of “home away from home” — and Russell worked to fill it with such regular events as Fun Nights, Singspirations, Reading Hours, Forums and banquets.
Russell spent her last years at Baylor as its official University Historian, from 1950 until her death in 1958. The position took advantage of Russell’s vast institutional knowledge and collection of information about Baylor’s history. She even began to write a complete Baylor history, though it was not complete when she passed away. Thankfully, two other women — Lois Smith Douglas Murray Strain and Sue Moore — used her research and completed her dream with the publishing of Baylor at Independence in 1972. (Fittingly, the book is dedicated to Russell.)
Today, Russell’s legacy lives on in the Texas Collection, where 35 boxes of her collected materials, writings, photographs and correspondence give researchers a detailed look at the life and accomplishments of this remarkable Baylor Bear.
Sic ’em, Lily Russell!