Seeking justice for a 19th-century rape survivor

In 1894, Baylor University covered up the rape of a 14-year-old girl on campus. Two Baylor professors make the case against the university.

The God of Amos despised the people’s festivals and fatted animal sacrifices, and he cared not for their solemn assemblies. Much less did God care for the material wealth and abundance of Baylor University in 1894, when Steen Morris, a guest of the university president, repeatedly raped a 14-year-old student named Antônia Teixeira. The character of God has not changed since the time of the prophets, and what God wanted then is what God wants now: learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Nearly 130 years after Baylor’s disgraceful mimicry of the chastised people of the Old Testament, Mikeal C. Parsons and João B. Chaves attempt to do just that.

Remembering Antônia Teixeira reads more like a dissertation than a beach read. The authors relitigate the charges brought against Morris when Teixeira gave birth to his child, and they deliver their own damning verdict. Though the book begins with an unnecessarily long backstory about Teixeira’s father and generally appeals to a more academic readership, Parsons and Chaves succeed mightily in their efforts at retroactive condemnation. In keeping with the communal experience of justice established in the Old Testament, the authors convict not only Morris but also Baylor University and, by extension, the entire Baptist community.

Like a first-rate legal team, the authors leave no stone unturned in their case against the defendants. To make an airtight case, Parsons and Chaves chronicle the life and influence of Teixeira’s father, Antônio, a Baptist leader in Brazil, to set a precedent for the church’s propensity to rewrite unsavory history. While such exhaustive accounting might lend itself to a courtroom, it is gratuitous in this context—56 pages of a 143-page text—and bogs down the narrative. The authors might have accomplished their aim in a succinct handful of pages, especially given that Antônio played no part in his daughter’s life in Texas (let alone the case she brought against her alleged rapist), having died years earlier.