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People and Politics, Passages and Places: The Rich Forty-Six-Year History of the American Studies Association of Texas, 1956-2002
Jeff H. Campbell
Midwestern State University

Slightly edited from the original, published in the Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas, 2003 (vol. 34, October).

A complete chronicle of the forty-six-year history of the Ameri­can Studies Association of Texas would require a full-length mono­graph.' Such a treatment cannot be undertaken in a single issue of the Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas (JASAT), but even an abbreviated account of some of the highlights of the association's history is called for as ASAT approaches the half-cen­tury mark. There has been so far only one published historical sketch, one which covered the first twenty years of ASAT. Written by Gwin Morris, it was published in the 1977 issue of JASAT, occu­pying only four pages (2-5). When John Tisdale, editor of JASAT in 2000, asked me to undertake the task of offering a fuller sketch of major events and developments in the life of ASAT, I was some­what hesitant. But when I realized that my activities in the organi­zation span forty years, I decided that gathering information from other long-time members, consulting the association's archives, go­ing through past journals, and offering a record of at least some of the people, politics, and places that have made ASAT what it is today would be a worthwhile challenge.

What follows is the result of my year of poring through correspondence, minutes, newsletters, and journals, and my drawing on my own memories and those of others. The story is in some sense a memoir since I cannot separate myself from the ASAT tradition. I hope to tell a story that will convey the continuity and growth of an organization that has made significant contributions to the development of broad-based scholar­ship in Texas for nearly fifty years.

As I worked through the many and various materials available to me, I concluded that there have been three significant periods in the history of ASAT. The first period is 1956-1969, from the founding of the organization to the establishment of the annual journal. The second period is 1970-1987, the period in which the journal's pri­mary purpose was to record the minutes and programs of each meet­ing and to publish the papers presented at those meetings. In 1988, the year the third period began, the journal changed its scope and purpose, becoming a refereed journal indexed by MLA and others. There are other significant developments that characterize these changing periods as well, but the launching and the changing of the scope of the journal make convenient milestones by which to mark progress and change.


The official founding date of ASAT is March 24, 1956, but we need to go back just a little further to get the full story. The national American Studies Association (ASA), growing out of a post-World War II burgeoning of interest in programs studying American cul­ture in a broad, interdisciplinary sense, was founded in December 1950 (Long 78). Until that period, many universities did not have separate courses in American literature. American history had its niche, of course, but American literature was in English, after all, and American authors were rather minor adjuncts to the major Brit­ish authors and were included, sometimes rather hesitantly, in period courses. But in the late forties and early fifties, it became fashionable to believe that there was something unique about the American experience—of literature, art, music, philosophy—that justified its treatment as a subject for serious academic inquiry. To­day that belief is called "American exceptionalism," usually with pejorative connotations. But in the late 1940s and early 50s, it was an innovative call to a fresh evaluation of American culture. Actu­ally, universities such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, George Wash­ington, and the University of Pennsylvania had tentatively begun programs in what they called "American Civilization" back in the 1930s. It was not until later, though, that institutions such as the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota entered the field. By the late 1940s, there were sixty institutions offering un­dergraduate degrees in what they still called American Civilization, and there were fifteen graduate programs (Long 79). So by 1950, there was an interest in forming a professional organization to pro­vide encouragement and stimulation to scholars engaged in the new interdisciplinary field. History, literature, and art groups could no longer satisfy their needs. Thus the American Studies Association was begun, with Carl Bode of the University of Maryland elected as its first president. In 1951, American Quarterly (the national ASA publication) began. Soon the association had over a 1,000 mem­bers, who paid annual dues of $5.00, which included a subscription to the quarterly (Long 79).

Louis Rubin, Jr., was the first executive secretary of ASA, and he undertook to encourage the formation of regional chapters, asking Hudson Long of Baylor University to be chairman of a committee to explore the possibility of a Texas chapter. Rubin also asked Gordon Mills of the University of Texas to be secretary-treasurer, and careful consideration was given to the make-up of the original committee. Rubin wrote letters inviting people to the first meeting, to be held at Baylor on March 24, 1956. That date is considered to be the official founding date of ASAT. There were fourteen at that meeting, now considered to be the "founders" of ASAT: Hudson Long (English) of Baylor and Gordon Mills (English) of the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, plus John Q. Anderson (English), Texas A&M University; Paul F. Boiler, Jr. (History), Southern Methodist University; J. D. Bragg (History), Baylor University; Louise Cowan (English), Texas Christian University; Joe B. Frantz (History), the University of Texas at Austin; C. D. Johnson (Sociology), Baylor University; Joseph Jones (English), the University of Texas at Aus­tin; Martin Shockley (English), University of North Texas; R. W. Steen (History), Texas A&M University; James Tinsley (History), University of Houston; Donald L. Weismann (Art), the University of Texas at Austin; and Ann Whaling (English), the University of Texas at Arlington (Morris, "The American" 2). (I have used the current names of the institutions.) The occasion was deemed impor­tant enough to justify a picture of these fourteen founders in the Waco Tribune-Herald.

A nominating committee confirmed Long and Mills as nominees for their offices and added Shockley as vice president, and these officers were officially elected. Shockley was chairman of the ap­pointed program committee, which recommended that the associa­tion meet the following fall—no later than October—and not in conjunction with any other professional society. Several thought that perhaps the meeting ought to be held in conjunction with an­other meeting that people might already be planning to attend, but the committee stuck with the decision to have a completely separate meeting time, place, and identity. The meeting was to be from 10:00 a. m. until noon, with that time devoted to reading four pa­pers—one each in literature, history, art, and anthropology. Then there was to be a two-hour luncheon period, with Louis Rubin in­vited to address the group, followed by a business meeting from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Although later than October, December 8, 1956, was chosen for the newly formed ASAT's first conference, with Baylor as the site (Minutes 24 March 1956).

Letters were written to all institutions of higher education in Texas, announcing the date and place of the meeting and asking for suggested names from the relevant departments who might be inter­ested in such an organization. Gordon Mills then sent out 1,400 letters to individual faculty members "nominated," so to speak, by their administrations (5 Sept. 1956). The national ASA office printed and mailed the program announcements to those who re­sponded with interest. The literature paper was presented by Lon Tinkle from SMU: "Regionalism Is Not Enough"; the history paper was presented by Walter Prescott Webb from UT Austin: "The American West: A Problem in Civilization"; art and anthropology were combined in the presentation of Elizabeth Wilder Weismann from UT Austin: "Reflections on Folk-Art: Artistic and Historical Aspects." Louis Rubin did indeed present the luncheon address: "Tom Sawyer and American Studies: Some Remarks on Novels and Regionalism" (Program 8 Dec. 1956). Webb's address was later published in Harper's and Rubin's in American Quarterly (Morris, "The American" 3). Eighty-five people attended that first meeting—perhaps not a very high percentage from 1,400 letters but a good beginning for a new organization (Sign-up Roster 8 Dec. 1956).

Paul Boiler, one of the founding fourteen, recalls that when he went to that first meeting, he had never heard Walter Prescott Webb speak and had not realized he was still living. "It was a wonderful experience for me to hear him lecture, having admired his book so much" (Letter 26 March 2003). Boiler recalls, "Webb began his lecture by posing a puzzle; he said we could work on it when our minds began wandering. But no one's mind did wander. The paper was a fascinating discussion of Southwestern culture, its achieve­ments and deficiencies. . ." (qtd. in Morris, "The American" 4).

The pattern of a one-day, Saturday-only meeting with a morning of papers followed by a luncheon address and a business meeting became the norm for the next several years. Also the practice of meeting on the first Saturday in December continued until colleges switched the end of the fall semester from January to December. When the semester didn't end until January, there was time for an early December meeting. Once the schedule changed, the meetings were moved to the weekend before Thanksgiving. The second meeting, in 1957, was held at the University of North Texas, with a theme of "We Hold These Truths." Floyd Stovall of the University of Virginia was the featured luncheon speaker; his topic was "Jef­ferson and the American Idea in Education," later printed in Ameri­can Quarterly. The three morning papers were from religion, law, and literature, and all dealt with a phrase from the Declaration of Independence (Program 7 Dec. 1957). The secretary reported that there were 97 members and the treasury had a balance of $65.15 (Minutes 7 Dec. 1957). There was no official report of the attend­ance at that meeting, but 57 people signed in. Institutions repre­sented were Baylor University, North Texas State College, Abilene Christian College, University of Houston, UT Austin, Texas Chris­tian University, Lamar State College of Technology, Stephen F. Austin High School, Texas College, Texas A&M, Midwestern Uni­versity, Southern Methodist University, San Antonio College, Ar­lington State College, University of Arkansas, East Texas State College, Stephen F. Austin State College (Sign-up Roster 7 Dec. 1957). (This time 1 have used the institutional names as they were in 1957.) Representation from Texas College is of interest since the original committee raised the question of inviting Negroes to join but decided that since the national ASA made it clear that anyone might join, no further statement should be made (Minutes 24 March 1956). At this second meeting, only one black college, Texas Col­lege, was represented. As we shall see, the number of institutions represented has increased considerably over the years.

The pattern of one-day Saturday meetings continued, as did the practice of having a theme for each meeting and inviting speakers to present papers on that theme. In 1958, the meeting was at UT Aus­tin, and the practice of having both morning and afternoon papers began. The topic for 1958 was "Urbanization of American Life"; for 1959, "The Impact of Darwinian Thought on American Cul­ture"; for 1960, "The Conflict and Merger of Anglo and Latin American Culture of the Southwest"; and for 1961, "Mark Twain's Ordeal; A Reconsideration of Van Wyck Brooks's Thesis." Among the speakers at these early meetings were Henry Nash Smith, then at the University of California at Berkeley; Lewis Simp­son, then at Louisiana State University; Stowe Persons, State Uni­versity of Iowa; Will Wilson, Attorney General of Texas, who spoke on "The Spanish Legacy of Texas Law"; Rabbi Levi A. Olan of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas; and John Chapman, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. By 1961, three papers were presented in the morning and three in the afternoon, by members of the association (Programs 1958, 59, 60, 61).

An especially significant development in 1960 was the establish­ment of the association's archives in the Texas Collection at Baylor University, which also rated a picture and story in the Waco Trib­une-Herald (see fig. 2). In the first batch were 160 items, and the collection continues to grow. I went through 13 3/4 linear feet of boxes, all filled with neatly filed materials, designated by years and/ or subject. This priceless trove of information probably would have been mostly lost without these archives. Most newsletters, minutes and programs of meetings are there. But in addition, there is a wealth of correspondence—carbon copies in many cases—that would likely have been discarded when the original keepers of those files died or retired and cleared out their offices.2

The first meeting that began on Friday evening, rather than Satur­day morning, was also the first meeting I attended—at UT in 1962. The theme was "Individualism in 20th century America." This meeting was underwritten by and the papers subsequently published by UT. Speakers included Louis Hartz of Harvard University, Les­lie White of the University of Michigan, Paul Samuelson of Massa­chusetts Institute of Technology, David Potter of Stanford University, and Frederick J, Hoffman of the University of California at Riverside (Program 1962). Obviously such a meeting was a spe­cial occasion, and the following year the one-day meeting pattern resumed.

Resolutions in those early days were seldom the routine thank- yous that we now seem to expect. In 1960, the meeting was in San Antonio and 55 registered, pretty good considering the total mem­bership that year was 89. But those 55 were not shy about expres­sing their opinions to people in power. Three resolutions were passed. The first was directed to Governor Price Daniel of Texas, and it urged him to discourage the setting aside of desegregation laws, urging instead strict adherence to the law as interpreted by the US Supreme Court. A second resolution opposed the imposition of any kind of religious oaths to be taken by faculty at state colleges, and a third, sent to the Texas Legislature, urged serious attention to the matter of increased salaries for college professors so that Texas might keep pace with other states (Minutes 3 Dec. I960). In 1961, this trend continued but became somewhat more personal. Resolu­tion #1, offered by founder Martin Shockley, censured J. Evetts Haley, a Canyon, Texas, rancher, whose right-wing organization "Texans for America" had raised objections to the teaching of Paul Boiler and Texas icon J. Frank Dobie and had specifically attacked Boiler's high school American history textbook being considered for adoption in Texas schools. The resolution affirmed the associa­tion's "confidence in the personal integrity and professional compe­tence of Dr. Paul F. Boiler, Jr., Professor of American History at Southern Methodist University, and in Dr. J. Frank Dobie, of Aus­tin, one of Texas' most distinguished men of letters." The resolu­tion continued:

We affirm no confidence in Mr. J. Evetts Haley, either as censor of textbooks or as spokesman for American values. We censure the Texas Education Agency for permitting Mr. Haley's scurrilous personal attacks upon Dr. Boiler and Dr. Dobie. We condemn the Texas Education Agency for [a] procedure under which testimony was ad­mitted from [an] incompetent and non-professional wit­ness with no opportunity for rebuttal or defense by [a] competent professional witness. We recommend to the Texas Education Agency and to responsible State officials that in the future textbooks be adopted by competent members of the teaching profession unhampered by ef­forts of unqualified laymen to impose their personal prejudices upon our profession. (Minutes 2 Dec. 1961)

Copies of the resolution were sent to Governor Daniel; the Attor­ney General; Mr. J. B. Golden, Director, Textbook Division, TEA; Dr. J. W. Edgar, State Commissioner of Education; and the press (Minutes 2 Dec. 1961). Governor Daniel responded to Edwin Gas­ton, ASAT secretary-treasurer, that he appreciated "having this ex­pression of your group" (14 Dec. 1961). He remarked that the State Board of Education, as a State agency, could "not ignore the views of any person or group" and that he was "confident the views of the ASA will be considered . . . just as Mr. Haley's arguments were heard" (14 Dec. 1961). Then he added, in a more personal vein, "As you probably know, Mr. Haley has expressed himself just about as strongly on many other matters, including my administration and me personally" (14 Dec. 1961). Mr. Golden wrote the only TEA response, and it perfunctorily expressed appreciation for the letter containing the resolution, not­ing that both letter and resolutions had been filed "with the State Textbook Committee for their consideration" (Letter to Edwin Gas­ton 14 Dec. 1961). No further notice or action was taken, and Sec­retary Gaston noted in concluding his report on responses to the resolutions that: "Significantly, the Texas press, to which copies of all of the resolutions were directed, had ignored the action" (News­letter 5 Jan. 1962). A second resolution condemned the extremism of the Minutemen, the John Birch Society, and the Communist Party, thus proving ASAT to be an equal opportunity critic of ex­tremism (Minutes 2 Dec. 1961). I found no record of what response that resolution may have received from any of the parties involved.

Activist resolutions continued in 1962, this time deploring the ri­ots at the University of Mississippi over the admission of James Meredith, with a copy sent to Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. The resolution said, in part: "We condemn the attitude of state au­thorities who did nothing to protect American citizens who were attacked and suffered from mob violence" and express our "sympa­thy for the large number of faculty who have taken a stand to obey the laws" (Newsletter 15 Jan. 1963). A second resolution set forth the association's opposition "to discrimination against any Ameri­can citizen on grounds of race, creed, or color" and affirmed it to be the policy of the association "to take into consideration the availa­bility of desegregated facilities in accepting future invitations for its annual meeting" (Newsletter 15 Jan. 1963). A final resolution "deplored the unjust dismissal" of Rupert Koeninger, Professor of So­ciology for fifteen years at Sam Houston State Teachers College, and requested the college "reconsider its arbitrary action and offer to reinstate" Koeninger (Newsletter 15 Jan. 1963). There is no re­corded evidence that these resolutions changed any votes or the po­sitions of important political leaders. But they were a vocal representation of concerns for justice and the defense of constitu­tional rights. I found only one resolution since 1962 that expressed calls for action or challenges of vested authority, perhaps because ASAT is now so much a part of the establishment and status quo that such calls seem inappropriate.

Not all meetings were so overshadowed with serious issues. The 1963 meeting was held on the first Saturday in December at Texas A&M. Total recorded attendance that year was 78. It was the usual format, with four papers in the morning, a luncheon speaker, and then five speakers in the afternoon—straight through. No break from 9:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Program 1963). After sitting through four papers and lunch, we were told that the first scheduled after­noon speaker had become ill and would not be able to present his paper. I'm not sure about all the others, but at least I and my col­leagues breathed a great sigh of relief that there would be only FOUR papers to sit though that afternoon, thus shortening the mara­thon of sitting still in uncomfortable folding chairs. Before we could enjoy the relief, however, the chairman announced that they had found someone to take the sick man's place. It seemed that an A&M professor just happened to have had a paper prepared on Queen Marie of Rumania, and they had persuaded him to come pre­sent it. I don't think there were audible groans, but there was cer­tainly no great joy as the poor man stepped to the podium. Well aware that his paper was too long for the time allotted, he spoke at breakneck speed for the next thirty minutes. I heard more than I ever wanted to hear about Queen Marie—and it was certainly quite a stretch to figure out what she had to do with "Concepts of the American Character," the theme of the day.

While I was fidgeting, Boiler was arriving, not having left Dallas in time for the morning session. There were two conferences going on at A&M that day, and Boiler and his friend peeked into the one they thought was ASAT. But they heard somebody breathlessly discussing Queen Marie of Rumania, so they tried the other room— where they found people talking about mathematics. His friend, who was next on the program, was shortchanged for time before he ever began. When he realized he was running over, he stopped reading and tried to summarize his paper. But that, too, took longer than he expected, and, as Boiler recalls,

as he rushed on, his distress became obvious. Finally, when he got to the point where he mentioned that the pa­per currency issued by the Continental Congress was so inflated that the expression "not worth a Continental" be­came common, he added ruefully, "just like this paper of mine," left the podium, grabbed his wife, and they both hastily left the lecture hall. (Letter 18 June 2003)

The 1965 tenth anniversary meeting was once more at Baylor. The Saturday format was followed: three papers in the morning, three in the afternoon, with Sculley Bradley as luncheon speaker (Program 1965). A digest of Bradley's address was published in the spring ASAT newsletter (15 March 1966). The twelfth annual meeting at the University of Houston in 1967 featured Joel Porte from Harvard Business School. Eighty people attended, and ab­stracts of all the papers were distributed tor the first time (Minutes 2 Dec. 1967). The meeting in 1968 was at UT Austin, with Norman H. Pearson, president of ASA, as luncheon speaker (Program 1968). Henry Rule from Lamar University, president of ASAT, proposed that we try beginning the meetings on Friday afternoon, with pa­pers, and concluding on Saturday afternoon, with a roundtable dis­cussion on an announced topic. Although John Q. Anderson from A&M worried that people could not get there for a Friday session, the idea was approved (Minutes 7 Dec. 1968).

There was no Saturday afternoon roundtable, but the 1969 meet­ing at Texas A&M did begin Friday afternoon, although not until 4:00 p.m., with only one session of papers. Then there was a ban­quet that night with Lon Tinkle from SMU speaking on contempo­rary Texas in fiction. The Saturday morning session began early, since presumably everyone had arrived the afternoon before, so there were two sessions with a total of six papers in the morning. There were four papers Friday afternoon, six Saturday morning, plus the banquet and luncheon speakers (Program 1969). It was also at this meeting that Edwin Gaston of Stephen F. Austin State University, Jerry Dawson of Texas A&M, Eugene Jones of Angelo State University, and Gwin Morris of Wayland Baptist College "discussed the possibility of initiating a publication for the ASAT." The proposal was well received at the business meeting, and Melvin Mason's motion to authorize incoming president Gaston to appoint a committee to study the proposition was quickly passed. "Subse­quently, Wayland Baptist College offered to subsidize the journal and provide office space. President Gaston appointed Gwin Morris editor" (Morris, "The American" 5), and with the publication of volume one of the Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas in 1970, the second era of ASAT arrived.

Part 2 continues here