American Agricultural Movement: Tractorcade!

AAM plaque From March through mid-June, the Southwest Collection is exhibiting their American Agricultural Movement (AAM) records in an exhibit entitled Tractorcade! It commemorates the 35th anniversary of the AAM’s last great Tractorcade in 1979. Bringing together a host of oral histories, photographs, newspaper articles, and artifacts such as the plaque above, our curators attempt to tell this unique story of authentic American grassroots activism.

The AAM formed in Campo, Colorado, during 1977. Wanting the U.S. Government to address their concept of “Parity”—defined loosely as economic balance between agriculture, other industries, and the U.S. government—the AAM attempted to organize a farmer’s strike. Although widespread strikes didn’t take off immediately, later that year around 5,000 farmers held a tractor rally in Lincoln, Nebraska. Farmers in other states soon followed with their own rallies.McAllen photo2Sadly, sometimes the AAM’s activism would lead to violence. For example, on March 1st, 1978, a large group of protesting farmers was trapped on the International Bridge south of McAllen, Texas by city police on the U.S. side and Federal troops across the Mexican border. Protesters were tear-gassed and beaten, with 200 arrested and jailed. By the next day 2,000 more farmers arrived to join the protest. A thousand miles away on March 15th, 30,000 farmers arrived in Washington D.C. with the express intent of seeing the 1977 Farm Bill replaced. These events and many others were chronicled in local publications such as the American Agricultural News, digital copies of which—along with other digitized AAM materials—are available at the SWC.capitol tractorNot all efforts spawned violence. In January 1978, around 3,000 farmers drove their tractors to Washington D.C. The following year, farmers and their tractors made the trip to D.C. a second time, creating huge traffic snarls as they slowly made their way through the city. When at last they stopped at the National Mall, the police quickly penned them in with their squad cars and, later, with city dump trucks, hoping to prevent any further traffic disruptions. In spite of the heightened tensions caused by the corralling, there were only a few scuffles between farmers and police. By far most interactions between demonstrators and public officials were friendly, and often helpful. But in many cases top-level government and city leaders remained unsympathetic, as did public opinion.snowed inThen came Presidents’ Day weekend, when a massive winter storm dumped two feet of snow on the Capitol city. The only vehicles capable of operating in the mess were the tractors, and soon the farmers were carrying policemen to emergency calls, transporting nurses, doctors and other emergency personnel to hospitals and fire stations, bulldozing the snow drifts that blocked whole streets, and generally helping out wherever possible. The trouble-making farmers were now heroes; what AAM leader Gerald McCathern dubbed “Gentle Rebels.”buttonsToday, AAM serves as a watchdog for farmers as well as providing information useful to both elected and appointed officials who are responsible for forming farm policies. In June 2013, members from the AAM held a reunion in Lubbock, Texas, to discuss their shared history. The SWC worked with AAM members to collect oral histories, photographs, scrapbooks, and artifacts such as these to be preserved at the SWC. These materials are now available for research, and our helpful Reference Staff would be happy to help you find them.

– Andy Wilkinson

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The West Texas Historical Association

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The Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library has long been proud to house the offices of the West Texas Historical Association (WTHA.) Organized in 1924 in Abilene at Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University), the WTHA arrived at the SWC in 1996. The organization has two hallmarks. The first, its annual meeting, a conference at which lay and professional historians share their research over the course of two days, will be held for the 90th time in Odessa, Texas this April. The second is its annual publication, the West Texas Historical Review (formerly West Texas Historical Association Year Book), the most recent cover of which can be seen above.

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The WTHA also partners with other local and regional organizations to preserve the history of West Texas. Most recently it has worked with the Quanah Parker Trail to promote that organization’s installation of “Giant Arrows” marking locations of historical significance to the life of late-nineteenth-century Comanche chief Quanah Parker. The image above comes from the ceremony celebrating the arrow that was planted at the American Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock, Texas in July 2012.

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Although the West Texas Historical Review—which we’ll tell you more about below—is the repository of the WTHA’s scholarship, its newsletter The Cyclone is the main method through which it shares information about upcoming events, related organizations, and various other topics. The most recent issue of The Cyclone can be found here.

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The most significant contribution made by the WTHA to the preservation of West Texas history is the West Texas Historical Review. Its first volume appeared in 1925, and has continued publication to the present day. The forthcoming 89th volume will contain articles on a host of topics, including depictions of West Texas on television, reexamining accounts of Civil War battles in the region, and the unexpected connections between San Angelo, Texas and Africa’s 19th century Boer War. Reviews of books about West Texas history as well as a thorough bibliography listing books and periodicals published about the region’s history in the past year are also included.

So head on out to Odessa this April to attend the WTHA Annual Meeting. At the very least, take a look at the WTHA on Facebook to see the images documenting West Texas History that they regularly share. And if you’re interested in becoming a member of the organization (which includes a subscription to the Cyclone and the Review!), don’t hesitate to do so.

Women of Texas Music

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Mary Jane Johnson (photo courtesy of Texas Monthly™)

March is Women’s History Month, and in recognition of that the Crossroads Music Archive at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library has curated an exhibit entitled The Women of Texas Music.

Mary Jane Johnson La Fanciulla

The most prominent musician among those featured is Mary Jane Johnson. Counted among the great dramatic sopranos and considered one of opera’s premiere interpreters, Johnson has toured North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Among her many heralded interpretations, that of Minnie in La Fanciulla del West stands out. It has been heard on stages around the world including the Teatro Communale in Bologna, the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, on tour in Japan with La Scala, and with the Santa Fe Opera Festival. Her career went to the next level when she appeared with Luciano Pavarotti in a televised performance as Musetta in Puccini’s La Boheme with the Opera Company of Philadelphia.

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Susan Grisanti, known as the “First Lady of Classical Guitar in the Southwest,” was a recognizable figure in Lubbock, Texas music for over four decades. A gifted guitar instructor, she taught over 5,000 students during her career and served as a resident house musician at local Lubbock institutions. The Crossroads Music Archive contains the materials donated after her death in 2013. In fact, the “Susan Grisanti Memorial Fund” was established to help preserve her music legacy at the Crossroads Music Archive.

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Beginning in the 1950s, the Hancock Family helped usher in the era of modern Lubbock Music. The family has participated in notable bands from The Roadside Playboys to the Texana Dames. The Dames was an all-female trio, with mother Charlene Hancock and siblings Traci and Conni Hancock. Their career spanned some 25 years. The Dames music varied from cumbia to country, and was a favorite for dancers.

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The Heart Beats were an all-female garage rock band based in Lubbock and founded around 1966. They were led by drummer and lead vocalist Linda Sanders, along with younger sister Debbie Sanders (guitar), Debbie McMellan (bass guitar), and Jeannie Foster (guitar and keyboards.) They attracted nationwide attention in the summer of 1968 when they won the battle of the bands on the popular ABC-TV variety show Happening 68, hosted by Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere of Paul Revere & the Raiders.

The materials documenting the lives and careers of musicians both female and male can be found at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library. In fact, our always-helpful Reference Staff would be happy to arrange for you to view them yourselves.

– by Curtis Peoples & Robert Weaver

The Women Who Shaped Texas Tech University

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March is Women’s History Month, and so we’re sharing with you selections from the Texas Tech University Archive’s exhibit, The Women Who Shaped Texas Tech. Our University Archives, whose staff works beside us here at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, serves as the institutional memory for Texas Tech University (TTU). Their collections range from administrative and faculty records, to publications, photographs, and video and audio materials.  The legal, fiscal, administrative, intellectual, and cultural and social aspects of student life are all documented. No small part of these materials concern women’s history at Texas Tech, and that’s where this exhibit, which will be displayed for the forseeable future in the SWC’s Formby Room, comes in.

Student life lies at the heart of women’s history at TTU, although not all of it revolved solely around academics. Just look at the photograph above from 1957. It depicts three freshmen students posing with their “Fish Caps.”  Part of the freshmen tradition was the purchasing and wearing of the “Fish” or “Slime” cap. The caps, or beanies, bore the student’s last name preceded by the word “Slime” along with their year of expected graduation, their room number, and their residence hall. Sometimes a fraternity or sorority name was added.

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Administrators were also key figures in the history of women at Tech. Elizabeth Howard West, the First Head Librarian of the University from 1925 to 1942, was a great champion of establishing and maintaining strong libraries and archives in the state of Texas. Her road to Tech was an impressive one. She began her library career as a cataloger at the Texas State Library in 1906. West also worked as an assistant at the Library of Congress, and went on to serve as the Texas State Library archivist (1911-1915), the director of the San Antonio Library (1915-1918), and finally was elected State Librarian in 1918, making her the first woman department head in the Texas state government. Once at Tech, she diligently pursued the construction of a separate library building in order to properly provide for researchers’ needs. As a result, the first free standing library building on the Texas Tech campus, named after Governor James V. Allread, was completed in 1938. West didn’t stop her advocacy at libraries. She also founded the Lubbock chapter of the American Association of University Women.

Doaks BEST

Those familiar with Tech’s campus may have run across Doak Hall. Built in 1934 under its original name, Women’s Dormitory No. 1, it was later renamed to honor Mary Woodward Doak. She was the first Dean of Women at Tech, and among her many contributions outside of student residential life was a presentation to colleagues after a trip to the British Museum in 1928 that spawned the idea of establishing a museum at Texas Tech, an institution that still thrives to this day.

Weeks BEST

This is a picture of Margaret Watson Weeks, the first Dean of the School of Home Economics. She helped organize TTU’s Home Economics Club in 1925, established the Home Economics Loan Fund, and helped form the Double Key Honor Society in 1930 as well as the first Texas chapter of the Phi Upsilon Omicron National Honor Society in 1938. Weeks successfully orchestrated the construction of the Home Economics Building addition in 1952, and was one of the organizers of the Women’s Recognition Service ceremony which ran from 1932-1947. Like Doak, one of the dormitories was named in her honor in 1957.

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Let’s end with something a bit wackier: Tech Tips, a publication of the Association of Women Students designed to acquaint female students with TTU activities and traditions. Here are a few of the pearls of wisdom contained its “Watch your Ps and Qs” section:

  • Never break a date with one man for another. Once you’ve picked him, you’re stuck with him.
  • If you get a lemon of a date, be a peach about it.
  • When they ask you to go coking, don’t order a double fudge sundae with nuts.

Advice not exactly modeled after the philosophies of second-wave feminism, but still amusing. All issues of Tech Tips from 1942-1975 have been digitized and placed online, along with a host of other University Archives materials. The University Archives’ tumblr  shares entertaining examples from their collections as well. And, as always, those who’d like to see more can always contact our helpful Reference Staff to arrange a visit.

Texas Independence Day: In the News in 1836!

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Last Sunday, March 2nd, was a date that many hold dear. Among other things, it is the birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev, Jon Bon Jovi, Dr. Seuss, and the author of this blog. Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game on March 2nd, 1962. One-time President of the Republic of Texas, Governor of Texas, and later U.S. Senator from Texas Sam Houston was born on that day as well. That last one is fitting, because March 2nd is also Texas Independence Day, celebrated statewide since 1836. With that in mind, we’re sharing many of our newspapers dating from that era!

For our first example we have page 3 of March 24, 1836’s Staunton Spectator, the newspaper of record for Staunton, Virginia that ran almost continuously from 1823 to 1916. This brief snippet reports the arrival in south Texas of the Mexican army headed by former President of Mexico General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. News traveled slowly back then, as by the time this issue was published the Battle of the Alamo had occurred nearly three weeks earlier.

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This article, published two weeks later in the Albany Journal of Albany, New York, relates the tale of the Battle of the Alamo. This report doesn’t shy away from melodrama: 150 men killed, their bodies thrown into a heap! Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie dead! Alamo commander William Travis committing suicide rather than being captured! Every Texian inflamed with a passion to fight until “every Mexican east of the Rio del Norte should be exterminated!” (Texian, by the way, was the name for residents of Mexican Texas and, later, the Republic of Texas.) It’s doubtful that anyone in Albany could verify these claims, nor were they aware of the fact that the town of Goliad, mentioned toward the end of the article, had fallen on March 27th. Regardless, as we read these we often wonder what images were conjured in reader’s minds about events transpiring over 1,600 miles away.

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The next article, once again appearing in the Staunton Spectator, portrays the Texas Revolution as a slowly-losing cause. As we’ve seen two times already, 19th-century newspaper information had a habit of being out of date. Sam Houston’s army had defeated a portion of general Santa Anna’s forces at San Jacinto, Texas back on April 21st, forcing the end of the conflict and freeing Texas from Mexican control. The most entertaining part of this article, however, is the lionizing of Davy Crockett. Check it out: “Crockett was found (within the Alamo)…on his back, a frown on his brow, a smile of scorn on his lips–his knife in his hand, a dead Mexican lying across his body, and twenty-two more lying pell-mell before him….”

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Word finally caught up with the east coast by the end of May 1836, as we can see here in Exeter, New Hampshire’s Exeter News. It details the Battle of San Jacinto, the routing of Mexican forces, and the capture of Santa Anna. The latter event contains more of the entertainment that we’ve come to expect. After over 600 Mexican troops laid down their arms, mounted riflemen began chasing a few attempted escapees. Only one continued to elude them, a chase that lasted 15 miles and ended when one pursuer guessed that “like a hard pressed bear, (the fugitive might) have taken a tree. The tree tops were then examined when lo, the game was discovered snugly ensconced in the forks of a large live oak.” The captors allegedly didn’t know who they’d nabbed until the Mexican troops began hailing the prisoner as Gen. Santa Anna when his captors walked him through the camp.

Vermont Gazette_June 14, 1836-2

We’re ending this with a more sedate piece, free of the drama of Davy Crockett, generals in trees, and Texans hell-bent on exterminating every last one of their enemies. The Bennington Vermont Gazette instead describes events as they transpired from San Jacinto onward, culled from other news sources such as the New York Courier & Enquirer. Nope, no melodrama at all…oh, wait: “The poor devils…would hold up their hands, cross themselves, and sing out ‘me no alamo,’ but nothing could save them; the blood of our countrymen was too was too fresh in the memory of our people to let one Mexican escape, until worn down with pursuit and slaughter, they commenced making prisoners.” Perhaps the real magic of these papers was not so much contemporary takes on the Texas Revolution as it was the histrionics of 19th-century newspapers!

We have a vast newspaper collection here at the Southwest Collection, some of which can be found in digital form. We also have manuscript materials about the Texas Revolution and its participants, most notably the Temple Houston Morrow Papers, a series of letters and documents collected by Sam Houston’s grandson, some of which were items composed by Houston himself. And, as always, our Reference Staff would be happy to help you peruse these or any of our other fine collections.