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DeGolyer Library

 

Chronicling The Journey Of The American West
By Deborah Wormser

From the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World to the railroads, industry and technology that changed the landscape of the new frontier, SMU’s DeGolyer Library contains the rare documents and artifacts that tell the stories of human discovery – and beckon scholars to keep exploring.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the foundation that provided the original collection of materials. It began with one man’s yearning to collect, learn and share.

Renowned oil entrepreneur and philanthropist Everette L. DeGolyer Sr. (1896-1956) began acquiring one of the greatest private libraries of the 20th century after he discovered a first edition of Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers in a London bookstore in 1914. DeGolyer went on to build a fine collection of literary first editions, most of which he gave to the University of Texas, but he also achieved fame as a collector in the fields of the history of science, a collection he gave to the University of Oklahoma, his alma mater, and Western Americana, a collection now housed at SMU. How that collection came to SMU, however, is a somewhat circuitous journey.

In his will DeGolyer created and endowed the DeGolyer Foundation, which first met in 1957. Under the direction of his son, Everett L. DeGolyer Jr. (1923-1977), a private library was transformed into a public trust and deeded to SMU in 1974. Supported since then by the DeGolyer family, SMU alumni, faculty and friends, the collection has nearly tripled from the core 40,000 volumes of 1957.

Now housed in the original Fondren Library building, DeGolyer Library contains about 120,000 rare books, half a million photographs, 3,000 early maps, 2,000 periodicals and newspaper titles and more than 2 million manuscripts in 2,500 separate collections. Each year nearly 2,000 users, including students, faculty and visiting scholars, patronize the library, which also hosts exhibits and seminars on its collections. Annually the library staff answers more than 3,000 reference queries through the mail or the Internet.

Concentration on particular subjects such as the American West or the railroad has enabled the DeGolyer Library, in the words of Everett DeGolyer Jr., “to provide exquisitely detailed information on a handful of scholarly concerns.” As a result, there are materials at the DeGolyer available nowhere else.

“Without the DeGolyer Library, the History Department could not have moved forward to build a Ph.D. program that specializes in Southwestern America or to operate the Clements Center for Southwest Studies with its emphasis on postdoctoral work,” says David Weber, Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History and director of the Clements Center. “The DeGolyer houses the manuscripts and imprints that support cutting-edge research and help us recruit outstanding faculty and graduate students.”

WORKS ON THE RAILROAD


Embrey Engineering Building


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The younger DeGolyer’s chief interest was transportation – from sailing ships to aircraft – but the history of railroads was his passion. As director of the family’s foundation, he snapped up as much industry memorabilia as possible.

“A lot of foundation board members were really critical of him for that. They saw the railroad collection as a diversion from the Western collection, something a little too narrow that would not lead anywhere,” says DeGolyer Library Director Russell L. Martin III (B.A. ’78, M.A. ’84), who also holds a doctorate from the University of Virginia.

History has validated the vision of DeGolyer Jr. “Because so much of the West was developed by the railroad, it is very difficult to separate the two,” Martin says. “Mr. DeGolyer saw that the fields were complementary. He also knew the market and acquired much of the railroad collection when it was comparatively inexpensive.”

Since 1957 the railroad industry that opened up the settlement of the West has dwindled to a handful of companies. In contrast, the SMU collection has grown into one of the nation’s finest repositories of railroad memorabilia, documenting nearly 4,000 railroad companies and lines in the United States as well as Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. The collection includes company documents such as timetables, route maps and photographs, the latter composing part of the DeGolyer’s massive photography collection.

Scholars worldwide are taking notice. Recently, a researcher in India scoured the world for photographs of 19th-century architecture in that country. He found what he was looking for at SMU because photographers who documented the construction of India’s railroads also documented the towns being added to the lines.

“I believe that if you collect long enough, there will be some use for it that you cannot foresee,” Martin says.

SHOWING THE MONEY

For example, the DeGolyer houses the best collection of Texas bank notes in existence, from the earliest days of the Republic of Texas to 1933, when a change in the banking laws meant that local banks could no longer issue notes. A parallel can be drawn between railroads and bank notes. Both were common on the frontier, yet today many U.S. residents have never traveled by locomotive or held a privately issued bank note in their hands.

Little hard currency existed on the Texas frontier and none during the Civil War, so commerce relied on loans and other paper obligations, such as notes issued by banks, merchant houses or state and local treasuries, Martin says.

The notes reveal early printing and engraving techniques – another SMU collection specialty – and show both the difficulties of doing business in a rustic economy and the creative ways business and government leaders overcame those challenges. The collection includes proof sheets for all of those notes, too, says John N. Rowe III, who attended SMU, 1955-58. Founder of Southwest Numismatics, Rowe donated the collection in 2003 with his brother-in-law and co-founder, B.B. Barr.

OVERLAND TALES

SMU’s collection depicting life west of the Mississippi is one of the finest in the country. In addition to vast collections on Texas, California and other western states, DeGolyer chronicles the details of voyages and other travel.

The library recently staged an exhibit on overland narratives – first-person accounts of travel. Items documented the fur trade as well as the lives of Plains settlers and mountain men, Mormons, foreign visitors, military life, literature, art, the gold rush, stories of captivity and early accounts of encounters with Native Americans.

Many of the documents are travelogues filled with practical advice on choosing a route or staking a gold claim, while others are more personal, such as the only known copy of Mountain Charley, or the adventures of Mrs. E.J. Guerin, who was thirteen years in male attire. An autobiography comprising a period of thirteen years life in the states, California, and Pike’s Peak (Dubuque, 1861).

DeGolyer’s collection on the history of the West includes the library’s oldest book, the Latin edition of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discovery of the New World, published in Rome in 1493. Unsure of what he had found, Columbus set about convincing his royal patrons that the expense of the journey was worth it and that the islands he had discovered warranted further investigations. He described the land as “extremely fertile,” with “broad and sheltered harbors, incomparably better than any I have ever seen.” Future western narratives often contained similar enticements – as well as accounts of disappointments, Martin says.

PETTICOAT PIONEERS

The Archives of Women of the Southwest represents an area that DeGolyer is steadily building. The Archives documents the historical experience of women in the Southwest through the papers of leaders in women’s organizations, the professions, the arts and voluntary service, along with papers of families and of women in private life, among other records. One recent significant acquisition is the donation by Gayle Eubanks Coleman of the papers, photographs and awards of her late mother, Julia Scott Reed. As a reporter and columnist for The Dallas Morning News for 11 years starting in 1967, Reed was the first African American writer to be employed full time at a major Dallas daily.

Also in the collection is the Diary of Lucy Pier Stevens (1863-1867), materials that tell one of the most dramatic stories in the library’s stacks, Martin says. Lucy Pier Stevens was visiting friends and relatives in Texas when the Civil War broke out, trapping her in the state. To escape she hopped a blockade-runner on the Gulf Coast and went to Cuba. From there, she was able to return to Ohio and eventually marry. Folders include two diaries and two albums: one of photos and the other of locks of hair from people mentioned in her diary.

THE NEWS AS HISTORY

Newspapers are among the most valuable sources for scholarly work because the creation of a community newspaper indicated a town’s success. DeGolyer houses a collection of some 2,000 newspapers in English and Spanish, from Europe, the United States, Mexico and South America. The collection includes small-town weeklies as well as papers from metropolitan centers, such as The London Chronicle from 1755-1865 and a nearly complete run of Gazetas de Mexico, one of the earliest Mexican newspapers, from 1785 through its demise in 1808.

Martin’s personal favorite is the only known complete file of the Harmon News, an amateur newspaper from Lamar County (Harmon, Texas, 1902-1905). “Amateur newspapers were like a Web page in their time. Most were produced by kids who had hobby presses and would write and print their own newspapers, noting what was going on in school and the usual things kids are concerned with,” Martin says, adding that the Harmon News was unique. Its 14-year old editor and proprietor, Jesse Drummond, actually covered the news in his small town, which lacked a regular paper.

PENNEY AND HIS THOUGHTS

The great American retail merchant James Cash Penney (1875-1971) opened his first store in 1902 in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and named it “The Golden Rule.” By doing so, Penney was proclaiming the idea that set his store apart from his competitors, namely, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” His initiative changed the way Americans do business with retail merchants.

JCPenney donated the papers of its founder and its corporate archives to DeGolyer in 2004. The Penney Archives include more than 20,000 photographs as well as 1,500 linear feet of letters, speeches, advertisements and other publications chronicling more than a century of corporate history. Some of the company’s papers will be digitized for access on the Internet. DeGolyer also includes Penney’s personal papers and correspondence starting in 1895.

CALCULATING TECHNOLOGY

In conjunction with its 75th anniversary, Texas Instruments donated the TI Historical Archives to SMU in 2005. The elder DeGolyer was a silent partner in Geophysical Services Inc., a precursor to TI, Martin says. The archives include some rather unbookish items: TI’s first transistor radio, first Speak and Spell educational toy, invented by SMU alumnus Paul Breedlove (’67), and first hand-held calculator, as well as TI engineer Jack Kilby’s 2000 Nobel Prize medal for his work inventing the integrated circuit, which put Dallas on the map as a hi-tech research hub.

Because Margaret Jonsson Rogers, daughter of TI co-founder J. Erik Jonsson, had given SMU her father’s personal correspondence and business papers, the DeGolyer seemed a natural repository when TI began looking for a home for its corporate archives, Martin says. Jonsson became mayor of Dallas in the uncertain times after the Kennedy assassination. Professor Emeritus Darwin Payne (’68), who covered the assassination as a Dallas Times Herald reporter and served as chair of the Journalism Department during his 30-year teaching career at SMU, is using the collection to research a book on Jonsson.

“The city turned to him to lead it out of its despair and to find some way to recover its balance after the awful effects of the Kennedy assassination,” Payne says. The Jonsson papers is one of many “very important collections that are relatively untouched and still there for our scholars to pursue and investigate.”

FROM RETAIL TO REBUILDING DALLAS

In 2003 SMU received the private library of another world famous Texas book collector, retailing innovator Stanley Marcus (1905-2002), of Neiman Marcus fame, prompting the DeGolyer to name its reading room in his honor. The collection’s 8,000 volumes and Marcus’ letters and other memorabilia reflect his wide-ranging interests in art and art history, business history, English and American literature and the craft of printing books.

Marcus was a longtime SMU trustee and member of the Meadows Museum advisory board during the expansion of Meadows School of the Arts. Like Jonsson, Marcus also was involved in post-Kennedy assassination reflections on Dallas and its image. He published a book containing the speech Kennedy would have delivered the day he was killed. In response, Marcus received letters from Jacqueline Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, U.N. Representative Adlai Stevenson, White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, violinist Isaac Stern and others.

A BULLY PRESIDENT

One of the most prominent presidential collections featured in DeGolyer Library is the Doris A. and Lawrence H. Budner Theodore Roosevelt Collection, comprising thousands of books, periodicals, broadsides, photographs, manuscripts and other items documenting the life and times of the United States’ 26th president. “It’s the most important Roosevelt collection in private hands, and SMU is fortunate to have someone with Larry Budner’s foresight and generosity,” Martin says. “It will add tremendous depth and breadth to our resources for the study of the American presidency.”

EXPANDING HORIZONS

To round out DeGolyer’s holdings in literature and entertainment, as well as business, law and government, Martin has targeted SMU’s distinguished alumni and friends in those fields. He plans to stage an exhibit of American trade catalogs drawing not only from the JCPenney and Neiman Marcus collections, but also from the recently donated Roger Horchow Collection.

The Horchow Collection fits well with DeGolyer’s focus on business history but it also feeds other interests. The collection includes playbills, posters and other memorabilia from the Broadway shows Horchow produced, strengthening DeGolyer’s collections devoted to entertainment and the performing arts, including the Horton Foote Collection, the African American Film Collection and the Larry McMurtry in Film Collection.

In addition, Martin is working to expand the DeGolyer’s collection of children’s books. The library already owned first editions of books in the Tom Swift and Horatio Alger series, as well as both British and American first editions of Huckleberry Finn. The Marcus collection added signed first editions of Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline and Eloise by Kay Thompson. DeGolyer’s comprehensive collection of the works of SMU alumnus William Joyce (’81) “is essential for us,” Martin says. “Joyce is one of the most distinguished children’s authors and illustrators today.”

For DeGolyer Library’s immediate future, Martin’s chief goal is to increase financial support and physical space. “We need proper space to house our collections of primary materials,” he says. “And even though we are 50 years old, we are only beginning to collect.”

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Peter June 30, 2009

    I found your blog very informative. Keep it that way.

  2. Avatar
    Petticoats May 31, 2008

    Thank you so much for this article. I have learned so much today by reading this. I came across your site while looking at petticoats, only to find out about the petticoat pioneers (amongst other things).

    Well done deborah :)

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