Rufus Burleson and the "Brazilian Girl": The Story of Antonia Teixeira.

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Author: Mikeal Parsons
Date: Spring 2021
From: Baptist History and Heritage(Vol. 56, Issue 1)
Publisher: Baptist History and Heritage Society
Document Type: Viewpoint essay
Length: 4,572 words
Lexile Measure: 1490L

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In 1892 Z.C. Taylor, a Southern Baptist missionary in Brazil, brought Antonia Teixeira to Waco, Texas, to be educated at Baylor University.

Antonia was the daughter of Antonio Teixeira de Albuquerque (1840-1887). Teixeira had been consecrated as a Catholic priest in 1871, but under the preaching and influence of a Presbyterian minister he left the Catholic church, first affiliating with a Methodist congregation. In 1880 he joined up with the Baptists and was on the same day baptized and ordained as the first indigenous Brazilian Baptist minister. (1) In 1882 Teixeira teamed with Baptist missionaries William Bagby and Z.C. Taylor to organize the first Baptist Church of Bahia. Tbgether, Taylor and Teixeira published the "Rules of Order and Regulations for the church" in 1883.

Antonia was the primogenita, the firstborn daughter of Antonio. (2) Five years after her father's death, Taylor brought Antonia to Waco. (3) Rufus and Georgia Burleson, president and first lady of Baylor University, offered to take Antonia in, furnishing her with "board, tuition, books and clothing." Burleson also promised to "teach her housekeeping as requested, on Saturdays, mornings, evenings when not conflicting with her studies." (4) In return for their efforts, all Burleson asked "was that the girl would become... useful in the cause of religion and education in Brazil." (5)

At the end of her first term at Baylor in 1893 Antonia received passing marks in reading (80) and penmanship (78), but "deficient" grades in arithmetic (70) and orthography (70). (6) Her grades were understandably marginal, given that she was a young female adjusting to a foreign land and language without the support of her nuclear family. Still, Antonia's conduct grade was "100"; she received no "Demerits" for that term. At the least, she began to fulfill part of Baylor's goal for female education, which was "to encourage character, piety, and the thirst for education in the female students of Baylor." (7) Antonia's place in the new world, however, soon took a sharp and devastating turn.

Antonia's host, Rufus Burleson, whom she referred to as "Gran'pa," failed in helping her navigate the tragic series of events soon to follow, choosing instead to attempt to protect his own family, reputation, and the Baylor "brand." It is perhaps past time to (re-)tell Antonia's side of the story and to examine more closely Burleson's role in the episode dubbed by him, "The Brazilian Girl and Baylor University."

The Incident

In early 1895 it was discovered that Antonia was pregnant. Burleson wrote: "We immediately wrote to Galveston, Dallas and Ft. Worth to find some safe Reformatory where she could be placed," but they finally settled on entrusting her to the care of a local woman, Mrs. Ollie Jenkins, who "had some skill in reforming 'fallen women.'" (8) Critics would later charge that the Burlesons had "attempted to conceal her condition from the general public; and she was placed in a private house, no steps being taken to discover the responsible man." (9)

Antonia's condition, however, soon drew public attention,...

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A669891897