Lucile Gilbert Sandefer
First Lady of Hardin-Simmons University
Lucile Gilbert Sandefer was born on February 27, 1869 to Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Gilbert of Fayetteville Tennessee.
From an early age she recognized the value of education. After public schools, she attended Martin Female College at Pulaski, Tennessee; Howard Female College at Gallatin, Tennessee; and the Southern Female University at Birmingham, Alabama. In addition, she studied art and music at the Nashville Conservatory.
She married Jefferson Davis Sandefer on December 26, 1893 and embraced his love of service to institutions of higher learning. Early in his career at Strawn College in Strawn, Texas, she served on the faculty with him.
Throughout her long, active life of 81 years, Mrs. Sandefer had the philosophy that “women should do something for society outside of home activities.” As First Lady of HSU, she was well known by the student body and faculty for her interest and involvement in their lives and contributions to their environment.
During her record thirty one years as First Lady of HSU, she was active in various activities which included starting a museum, leading the effort to have electricity extend from downtown to the Forty Acres and founding the HSU Round Table Organization for the purpose of cultivating friendships among wives of the University professors. Under her capable leadership, the organization engaged in entrepreneurial efforts to financially support the beautification of the campus through the planting of trees and flowers, installing an irrigation system and establishing a permanent loan fund for student scholarships.
For more than fifty years, she was active in local, state and national women’s organizations. At the time of her death, she was serving as District Chairman of the Texas State Federation of Women’s Clubs.
As her husband was the son of a Confederate soldier and her father had six sons who fought for the Confederacy, she was a member and served as Vice-President of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. A leader in genealogical circles, she served as Record Chairman of the Daughters of the American Revolution and took pride in tracing her lineage back to James Polk, 11th President of the United States. Her grandfather’s six brothers all fought in the Revolutionary War.
She held memberships in the West Texas Historical Society and the First Baptist Church of Abilene. In addition, she served as president of the Women’s Missionary Society and the Jonathan Hopkins Society.
Lucile Sandefer understood the importance of embracing the past while looking to the future. She initiated the project to save the cracked University bell, which had dutifully awakened the campus and prompted students to their classes during its prime, by having it mounted near the campus triangle. She participated in the groundbreaking for the Sandefer Memorial Building and Smith Hall and in 1916, laid the first brick for the Mary Frances Hall dormitory.
About Lucile Sandefer, Yvonne Stackhouse wrote in Hardin-Simmons University: A Centennial History, “The wife of the president enjoyed the affection of the whole campus. . .” Quoting from a 1950 Range Rider, “Her heart and soul have been entwined in the building of this worthy institution…Her loving personality, keen mentality, splendid character and unusual faith exemplify all the virtues of a gracious and kindly womanhood.”
In the 1940 Bronco, Mrs. Sandefer said, “My service here has been one of love and devotion. To those who have had the privilege of passing the Hardin-Simmons way, and to those who may come, I extend every good wish. I believe that Hardin-Simmons University is in its embryonic state and I sincerely trust that the service we have rendered here will be but the stepping stone of a brilliant future.”
Lucile Sandefer passed away on September 26, 1950. Her body was buried beside her beloved husband in the small cemetery in front of what is now Moody Center. Yvonne Stackhouse wrote that memorial gifts in her memory were given to “. . . the beautification of the campus, since that had been one of her life-long interests.”
For her dedicated service and leadership, it is a high honor for Hardin-Simmons University to posthumously induct its longest serving First Lady, Lucile Gilbert Sandefer, into the Hall of Leaders.