Tidwell Bible Building stands as a physical memorial not only to the formation of Baylor’s modern Department of Religion, but also as a symbol of the university’s dedication to Christian ideals.
Prior to 1910, Baylor’s Bible Department offered primarily professional training for ministers. Yet the entire department moved to Fort Worth after becoming a theological seminary officially independent of the university in 1908. As the new head of the Baylor religion department, Josiah Blake Tidwell shifted the focus of the department toward the education of undergraduates. Though it reflected Tidwell’s highly traditional and conservative values, he viewed the department as a primarily academic department, and his work served as the origin for the current religion department.
Strongly influenced by his work, 125 of Tidwell’s students met at the Baptist General Convention of Texas at Mineral Wells in 1936 to discuss plans to erect a building on the Baylor campus bearing his name. Although the students launched a fundraising campaign for the construction of a simple building that same year, it took nearly eighteen years for the realization of their vision.
As enrollment increased at Baylor University and classroom space dwindled, the Tidwell Bible Building Committee formed in the mid-1940s when the university realized the practical need for a new building for the religion department. The committee employed different marketing strategies in order to obtain enough money to complete the project. For instance, December 2, 1945 was declared Tidwell Bible Building Day, and Baptist churches throughout the state took up collections to fund the construction. But it was a pamphlet produced in the late-1940s and early-1950s bearing Guy A. Carlander’s suggested design for a grandiose building which ultimately secured enough pledges for the groundbreaking ceremony to take place in 1949.
Baylor president W. R. White spoke at the dedication held in Tidwell Bible Building’s Miller Memorial Chapel on October 22, 1954. Designed by the architectural firm Birch D. Easterwood and Son to bear enough symbolism to indicate its use for religious purposes without resembling a church structure, the seven-floor building cost around $600,000 to construct.
Sixty-eight limestone panels depicting biblical scenes make up one of the most distinctive features of the building. Planned by Baylor religion professors and designed and carved by Ira Correll and son, the ornate panels encircle the building twice bearing images of stories from both the Old and New Testament.
In addition to housing enough classroom space for up to 800 students, the new building also held space for the Tidwell Bible Library, office space for faculty, and Miller Memorial Chapel. Since its dedication in 1953, the structure has housed classes for the religion, history, philosophy, sociology, nursing, modern foreign language, and sacred music departments. Today, Tidwell Bible Building remains home to the religion and history departments, and towers over the campus as a physical reminder of the university’s commitment to Christian ideals and education.