The “Xavier University Alma Mater” is a beloved tune to the tens of thousands of graduates of Xavier University and Xavier University Preparatory School. One can scarcely count the number of times it has been bellowed by eager high schoolers and young collegiate under the caring direction of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Alma Mater was written by the then Miss Nellie Hester Crawford, who graduated in the first high school class of Xavier University in June 1917. Miss Crawford went on to enter the Normal School at Xavier when it was opened the following term. The Normal School was opened in response to an action of the city’s school board which required teachers to have a normal school certificate. As the law did not go into effect immediately, many students like Nellie, left after the completion of one year, took the teacher’s examination, and obtained positions. She was a founding member of the Xavier University Alumni Association.
Nellie H. Crawford was born in 1897, the only child of August G. Crawford and Millie Ann Veal. She was reared in Uptown New Orleans, where her father worked for twenty-five years as a warehouseman for J. Aaron & Company. During the time when she attended Xavier, Nellie and her family resided on Jackson Avenue.
The first graduating class from Xavier University Preparatory, twenty-five students who completed the high school course of studies, took place in the school’s auditorium on Sunday, 10 June 1917. During the commencement program, Nellie performed selections from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, along with Mary E. Bauduit and Helen M. Boyd. Nellie was the valedictorian of her class and rendered an address entitled “The End Crowns the Efforts.” Perhaps the highlight of her high school career however, was penning the words to the Alma Mater. The words were set to “Annie Lisle,” a tune which though often attributed to Boston songwriter Henry S. Thompson, is actually an old and once-popular Irish song.
After graduating, Nellie began teaching in the public schools of the city. She taught for several years each at Thomy Lafon School and McDonogh No. 6 School. She also taught music in the Adult Education Program of the public schools for several years. She married Osborne Uter (a native of Belize) on 23 July 1920. She married Edgar J. Reed, a young pharmacist on 27 June 1924. The marriage ended in divorce. She later married Mr. Andrew Parker (a longtime porter at City Hall) a marriage which continued until her death on 30 December 1958. She was buried from Payne Memorial African Methodist Church and interred in her family plot in Mount Olivet Cemetery. She was survived by her husband, Mr. Andrew Parker, and a daughter whom she raised, Gladys (Mrs. Zachary) Knott.
We provide below, the words of the Xavier University Alma Mater and hope that the Xavierites among our readership will remember Mrs. Nellie Crawford Parker, Class of ’17 when they sing it.
In the Mississippi Valley,
In the Crescent Bend
Stands our loved and noble Xavier,
Far her praises send.
Wave her colors bear them onward
Gold and white so true
Hail to thee, all hail, dear Xavier
Hail, all hail, X.U.!
The sailor loves his haven pier,
The flowers love the dew;
Thy children love no name so well
As thy dear name, X.U.
Xavier, ever be our guide
And lead us on the way,
Through life’s journey, onward, upward
To the eternal day.
Sources: The Times-Picayune, 1 January 1959, page 2; The Times-Picayune, 16 June 1917, page 7.
J. C. H.