American Studies Association of Texas
People and Politics, Passages and Places: The Rich Forty-
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-
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-
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
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
The pattern of one-
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-
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-
Resolutions in those early days were seldom the routine thank-
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-
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-
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