Batsell Baxter (1886-1956) was a leader in Christian higher education for much of the first half of the 20th Century. He was also a fine Bible teacher, a skilled writer, and a faithful gospel preacher.
He was born in Sherman, Texas. He became a Christian there in 1895, during one of the longest gospel meetings ever conducted. In that soul-saving effort, T. B. Larimore preached daily and nightly for almost six months, resulting in many baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins.
When Baxter’s father abandoned the family, and the household became a single-parent home, Batsell took on an added measure of responsibility in helping his mother.
Baxter attended the Nashville Bible School from 1908 to 1911. This school, founded in 1891 by James A. Harding and David Lipscomb, was renamed David Lipscomb College after the death of its co-founder in 1917. It was during these student years that Baxter did his first preaching, in Nashville.
The Baxter Family
In 1912, at age 26, Baxter married Frances Scott. The Baxters had one child, a son, Batsell Barrett Baxter, born in Cordell, Oklahoma, in 1916. Because of their name similarity, the two are easily confused. The Baxters were married for twenty-eight years until her death in 1940. Batsell Baxter was a widower for the last sixteen years of his life.
Baxter’s career as a leader in Christian education began (after receiving a B. A. from Texas Christian and an M. A. from Baylor) by serving first as the dean of Cordell Christian College in Oklahoma. Then, two years later, he became the dean of Thorpe Spring Christian College near Ft. Worth. Next, he was at Abilene Christian from 1919 to 1932, the last eight of those years as president of the college
He was then called to Nashville to become president of Lipscomb. The college was in a crisis. Baxter was president there from 1932 to 1934. These were perhaps the bleakest years of the decade-long Great Depression. Besides that, the campus had suffered fire losses. The worst loss was the women’s dormitory fire. Besides suffering burns, some students suffered other injuries when they were forced to jump from the upper stories to escape the fire.
Firmness and Humility
The qualities of firmness and humility may be what people observed most about Baxter. His firmness is illustrated by what occurred at his first meeting with the school faculty as Lipscomb’ new president in 1932:
“Because of our severe financial situation,” Baxter said, “effective immediately, I am cutting the salary of each instructor in half.” The irate teachers said immediately that his proposal was unacceptable.
President Baxter’s response: “This is the alternative: I have here the keys to the college; I am prepared to shut the college down this afternoon.” It took little time for the faculty to realize that a half-salary was better than no salary.
Founding Pepperdine College
In 1934, after returning to teach Bible at Abilene Christian, and then back to Lipscomb in 1937 for a very short time as vice-president, Baxter responded that same year to a call from Los Angeles to become the founding president of Pepperdine. Within months of Baxter’s first meeting with George Pepperdine and Hugh Tiner in February, 1937, they bought the land, constructed the campus buildings, employed the faculty, and welcomed the first student body in September! The school was awarded accreditation as a four-year college during its first year of operation.
After launching Pepperdine successfully, Baxter went next to Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, as Bible instructor. Then, in 1943, he was called back to Nashville to serve as president of Lipscomb once again. He remained there for the rest of his life, serving as president until 1946, and then, for the final ten years of his life, as Bible department chairman.
The Closing Years
Batsell Baxter’s son, who was also teaching at Lipscomb during those years, had this to say about his companionship with his father:
“During the last half-dozen years of his life, as we taught together at Lipscomb, we arranged our lunch schedules so as to have two hours free, time enough for us to go off-campus to eat lunch together. The conversations, going, coming and during the meals, as we talked of anything and everything, were among the richest experiences of my life. Somewhat lonely during the last sixteen years of his life, after my mother’s death, he looked forward to these daily visits at lunchtime.”
Brother Baxter died Sunday evening, March 4, 1956, after suffering a stroke in the afternoon. He had taught his regular Sunday Bible class that morning. He was 69.