The History of the Junior Historians of Texas

A concise and well-written history of this fine organization still waits to be written. What follows is a brief attempt to describe the program's origins and how it came to be what it is today. The first segment is drawn from The Junior Historian Movement in Texas, A Guidebook and a History edited by Dr. H. Bailey Carroll, who was the first individual to directly oversee the program. This publication, which also served as a "sponsor's handbook," was printed in 1961 and gave a glimpse of the first 20 years of the program. The second portion is a summary of the program based on the research provided by Dr. Richard McCaslin in his manuscript for the History of the Texas State Historical Association. Together these paint only a small piece of the colorful story that is the Junior Historians of Texas experience.


Edited by H. Bailey Carroll

THE JUNIOR HISTORIAN movement was conceived in 1939 as a unique, purposeful program in basic education. A new phrase, "social studies," had become increasingly current by the late 1930's; while the old standard subjects, Texas history and American history, made less frequent appearances, watered-down courses in the fields of world, national, and state history took the place of the fundamental courses which had been offered in the past. Historians and educators with vision recognized the danger in this process and attempted to point out the effect it would have upon the nation, but the warnings went virtually unheeded. In order to combat the frightening spread of intellectual atrophy throughout the secondary schools of the state, the Texas State Historical Association launched its junior division.

Moving away from the social science wave and craze, the Junior Historian program was not designed especially to popularize history but to give talented youngsters the opportunity to become researchers and writers at an early age. Insofar as the state organization in Texas is concerned, the basic objective is to have students produce through real research methods writing that is worthy of publication. Although the primary emphasis has always been upon the work of students in the final year of high school, the process has been adapted with success in junior high schools as well as in the senior grades.

The initial announcement of plans for the establishment of a junior state historical association among the high school students of Texas was made in October, 1939.1 Among the history teachers who cooperated with the Association in pioneering the Junior Historian movement were Miss Ruby Mixon, of Paschal High School in Fort Worth, and Miss Llerena Friend, of Wichita Falls High School. To these trailblazers of the movement fell the task of organizing the Texas history clubs that served as the pilot organizations. Their records of club activities gave the Association the knowledge necessary to set up a definite plan of operation for the proposed junior association and are one reason the Junior Historians operate so successfully today

On December 1, 1939, the Association's executive council met in called session in San Antonio to examine the data collected by the teachers in the experimental Texas history clubs. After careful study, the council found the project worthy of further development and authorized the formal organization of the Association's junior division in high schools throughout the state. The Texas history clubs already in existence were invited to become members by complying with a few simple requirements set up by the Association.2 Suggestions were made as to the type of work the Junior Historians were to attempt, obligations to be placed upon members, and methods to be used in promoting chapters. In order that local interest in the movement might be further stimulated and enhanced, other regional meetings were planned for the early months of 1940 to be held in Arlington, Houston, and Nacogdoches.

Organization proceeded at a gratifying pace, and Junior Historian delegates were present for their first session with the Association at the annual meeting on April 25, 1940. In one of the first prize-winning essays written by a Junior Historian, Marie Huper of the Wichita Falls chapter preserved the spirit as well as the factual history of the first annual meeting of the Junior Historians:

We went up to the mezzanine floor of the Driskill Hotel where some of the meetings were held. There we met many other Junior Historians from all parts of Texas. We found out what each was doing and what they had found in their communities. Everyone was enthusiastic over his work as well as that of others; and each time we talked to another, we got new ideas about things we could do at home. While we were there, we had the honor of meeting many Texas historians whose names we had heard every day since we began our Texas studies. . . .

This meeting was to be quite eventful, for it was the first of the Junior Historical Society. This was the beginning of something I knew was destined to grow into a great and powerful organization in high schools all over Texas. I am proud that I should have been so fortunate as to have been a participant in its organization.3

The achievements of the Junior Historian experiment during the 1939-1940 school year more than justified the most sanguine hopes of the founders. On the basis of the first year's accomplishments, a program for the future was announced which was to include the organization of additional chapters throughout the state, the initiation of regular Texas tours in June, 1941, and the publication of the members' best historical writing.

Of the several proposals announced in 1940, the most auspicious was the publication project. Notices of Junior Historian activities had been printed in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly during 1939 and 1940, but the inadequacy of the practice was patently clear and inspired the development of what has proved to be the premier contribution of the Junior Historian movement to state and national historiography-the Junior Historian magazine. Conceived as a supplement to the Quarterly, the Junior Historian was a unique publication in that it was to be written by as well as for young Texans. Herein the Junior Historians had a publication in which they could publish their own findings, their own stories, in their own way, completely freed from adult competition.

As the plan for a magazine for the Juniors developed, it became necessary to secure assistance in the Association office at the University of Texas. Accordingly, in 1940, H. Bailey Carroll, an active member of the Association and a teacher of history at North Texas Agricultural College, came to Austin to work with the Junior Historians and to edit the new magazine. At a meeting of the Junior Historian sponsors in Fort Worth, called in conjunction with the Texas State Teachers Association convention on November 22, 1940. Dr. Carroll discussed the forthcoming publication and announced that the first copy would be issued in January, 1941.


From the time that the members of the Texas State Historical Association began to discuss the idea of forming a junior organization the questions of promotion and finance arose regularly. The budget of the Association was conservative and there were virtually no surplus funds to invest in the Junior Historian movement; thus the establishment of the Junior Historians and the publication of the Junior Historian magazine were both acts of faith on the part of the senior members. The results of both actions have proven that the faith was justified.

The early success of the Junior Historian movement can be attributed primarily to the dedicated work of Association members under the leadership of Dr. Carroll, who gave freely of his time and energy to promote the young organization. Aided by assistants in the Association office. Dr. Carroll sent out innumerable letters that explained the aims and purposes of the junior project and answered the many questions that the enterprise had stimulated.

In addition to maintaining a voluminous correspondence, members of the Association staff traveled over the state addressing regional meetings of Association members and the meetings of local history clubs. These labors kept the idea before interested Texans that the history of a people must become a part of their lives, and that young persons are capable of finding and preserving that history at the local level.

Working with the trained historians were high school teachers and administrators who realized the need for a program of historical research to revitalize the teaching of history in the public schools of the state. These informed educational leaders knew that the citizens of their communities were not opposed to the teaching of history but primarily were simply unaware of the dangers which lay in the lack of knowledge concerning one's heritage. Inspired by the possibilities of the new program, these men and women carried the story of the Junior Historian movement into the state and county teacher organizations.

On November 21, 1941, the advisory council of the Junior Historians met in Houston to discuss the problems of expansion that faced the organization. Dr. Walter P. Webb, the director of the Association, announced that thirty-five Junior Historian chapters had been established and seventy-five subscriptions to the new magazine had been sold. Dr. Webb reported that the Association had financed the first four issues of the Junior Historian, at a cost of $100 each, but that it was doubtful whether the senior organization could carry the publication any longer.

The advisory council thereupon suggested ways and means whereby the publication program might be financed. Members of the council agreed that Junior Historian chapters and interested individuals should be the agents for expanding the movement. Expansion should be by direct contact, and the larger chapters were urged to take the Junior Historian organization to smaller schools.4

Stimulated by a renewed awareness of widespread interest and growing support, the Association developed numerous methods whereby the Junior Historian movement might be expanded:

  1. Following the example set by Earl Vandale, Louis W. Kemp, and Louis Lenz, many Association members began giving Junior Historian magazine subscriptions to schools without chapters and to individual pupils, thus encouraging them to become active in the movement.
  2. Interested business concerns underwrote special editions of the Junior Historian. Leonard Brothers sponsored the Fort Worth edition; the Dallas Morning News paid for a Dallas edition; and the San Angelo Standard Times paid for the San Angelo edition.
  3. Association members wrote personal letters to citizens interested in the state's schools and local history.
  4. Letters were sent to principals of Texas schools with sample copies of the magazine enclosed.
  5. Gift subscriptions were given to educational leaders who were prospective Junior Historian sponsors.
  6. Junior Historians who had articles published in the magazine were given extra copies to distribute to their friends and relatives.
  7. Subscribers to the Southwestern Historical Quarterly were given complimentary copies of the Junior Historian.
  8. Local libraries received complimentary copies of the magazine and literature about the movement.5
  9. As the campaign spread across the state the newspapers publicized the organization; the Association began to issue regular press releases from Austin, and local chapters reported to their home town newspapers when special activities were held.
  10. Association staff members and sponsors appeared as special speakers at meetings of the Social Studies Division of the Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas Council for Social Studies, and the Texas organization for English teachers.6
  11. Individuals encouraged the Junior Historian movement on the local level by offering special prizes and awards to those members who had won in the writing contest or who had had articles published in the magazine.

The success of the magazine and the publicity concerning the movement brought many queries, not only from Texas schools but from all parts of the United States. The simple person-to-person campaign of selling was successful, and the junior organization began to carry itself. Newspapers, historical journals, and historical foundations were interested and gave space to the Texas organization, while Texans themselves began to look more closely at their own youthful writers.

The publicity and expansion program had far-reaching results among persons outside of Texas who were stimulated to adapt the Texas organization to conditions in their own states. S. K. Stevens, editor of the handbook of the American Association for State and Local History, wrote about the Texas Junior Historian movement in 1941:

I think it is a splendid idea and it is quite in line with some of the things we would like to do here. Would it be possible for you to send me about eight or ten copies? I would like to have them for distribution to key people in Pennsylvania.7

The present junior organization in Pennsylvania is the result of the interest thus created among the leaders of the American Association for State and Local History.

In recent years other means of promotion have been used. The problem is no longer to introduce the organization, as it is well known throughout the country, but to organize new chapters and to keep active those already chartered. Where there are several junior and senior high schools in a system, the first chartered chapter undertakes to establish new chapters in the neighboring schools. As an added incentive, each chapter receives extra points toward merit awards when it succeeds in organizing a new group. A good example of this procedure is found in the Amarillo area. Bishop L. J. FitzSimon of Amarillo became interested in the Junior Historian movement and sponsored two chapters in the parochial schools. When interest lagged in the city schools, Sister Ita Patrice and her Junior Historians of St. Mary's Academy visited each of the schools and urged them to reactivate the old chapters and to charter new ones.8 Other similar campaigns have been successful in the Houston and San Antonio areas, and the same idea was carried out in a somewhat different way in Austin County. School officials united in an effort to organize a single county chapter to include the several smaller schools of Austin County which felt that they could not maintain a chapter alone.

Colleges with teacher training programs offer a fertile field for recruiting trained and enthusiastic sponsors. For that reason the Association has welcomed every opportunity to present its junior program to student teacher groups. During the summer of 1959, furthermore, the Seminar of American Culture at Cooperstown, New York, included the work of the Texas Junior Historians as part of the' program. In addition, experienced Junior Historian sponsors attending teacher training courses throughout Texas are constantly on the alert for good sponsor material. Persons who show promise are strongly encouraged to start Texas history clubs in their schools with the idea of later affiliating these groups with the Junior Historian organization.

Alert Sponsors also submit to the central office the names of persons in schools without chapters. Promotional material is thereupon mailed directly to the prospective sponsor, accompanied by a personal letter from the director of the Association. Another procedure on this order is the mailing of cards to the principals asking them to fill in the name of the teacher of Texas history in the school and return the card to the office. Promotional materials and a letter then go directly to the teacher.

The program of promoting the Junior Historian movement and magazine has not ended. It is a continuous project that must go on year to year. As it was in the beginning, so it is today; the indifference of many Texas educators to their great heritage continues. Members of the Association and the Junior Historians, hand in hand, by word of mouth and pen, continue to bid them awake.

There is no fear of failure for the Junior Historian movement, but it does require nurturing. Because youngsters grow into adults, sponsors retire or move away, school administrations change, and history continues to be made, the simple person-to-person expansion program of the Junior Historians of Texas continues. Each fall literature is mailed to sponsors and principals urging the continuing of Junior Historian chapters in the schools, and Association staff members speak for the movement when the opportunity is presented.

The greatest needs today are to revive inactive chapters and to finance the expanding program. Sponsors within the school systems and co-sponsors from the local communities must be recruited, while every effort must be made to acquaint administrators with the value of the program to their school and to encourage them to establish new chapters.

1"Texas Collection," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XLIII, 237-288.

2Ibid., 393-399.

3Marie Huper, "My Trip to the First Annual Junior Historian Meeting," Junior Historian, I (April, 1941), 1-4.

4Junior Historian files, 1941 (MSS., Office of the Texas State Historical Association, Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas).

5"On February 13, 1943, the Dallas Morning News commented: "No publication in this state is welcomed by the State Press with more anticipation than the Junior Historian, the publication which the Texas State Historical Association sponsors. . . . The Junior Historian is already unearthing many fascinating and valuable items on Texas history, particularly stories of special interest and significance in [Texas] localities and communities."

6Examples of this important patronage were: W. Scott Schreiner, who offered $25 to any Tivy High School Junior Historian who succeeded in having an article published in the Junior Historian; the San Jacinto Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas offered a special award to the boy or girl from senior high school who wrote the best essay of one thousands words on the subject "Texas Junior Historians"; and E. G. De Montel, who donated the cost of an issue of the magazine.

7 K. Stevens, "Letters to the Editor," Junior Historian, I (April, 1941), 6.

8During the 1959-1960 school year, the Junior Historians of St. Mary's Academy enlarged their efforts to canvass the Catholic parochial schools throughout Texas on behalf of the Junior Historian movement.


By Stephen S. Cure

There have been many changes in the forty-four years since Dr. Carroll published the history above. During his term as director of the Association from 1946-1966, Carroll played a very hands-on role in the Junior Historian program and by 1961 had more than 150 active chapters in existence.1 He was assisted in this effort by Frances V. Parker. However, in the period from 1961-1969, the numbers began a rapid decline to the point that in 1969 there were only 69 active chapters.2

In 1969 Kenneth Ragsdale took over as Director of Educational Services for the Association and with the assistance of Larry Perry and later Lucretia Graham began to rebuild the program.3 Ragsdale developed the program so successfully that by 1970 the Junior Historians met separately from the Association for the first time.4 By 1977 Dr. Ragsdale had increased the number of chapters to 139 with a membership of over 4,500 and 1,200 in attendance at the Annual Meeting.5 It was under the leadership of Dr. Ragsdale that the Roadrunner newsletter would first appear, as well as the introduction of the judging of historical exhibits during the Annual Meeting. Dr. Ragsdale retired from the Association in 1977.6

In 1977 Dr. David C. De Boe became the Director of Educational Services and once again struggled with a program that began to decline in participation.7 In 1986 participation at the Annual Meeting had dropped to around 800 yet by 1990 Dr. De Boe had attendance back up to over 2,000 with 130 active chapters.8 Dr. De Boe expanded the history fair held at the Annual Meeting to mirror that of the National History Day program that he had instituted in Texas. He also saw to the establishment of a variety of awards to increase participation, including one funded by chapter sponsors in honor of Dr. Ragsdale for the best entries in the exhibit competition. Sadly, Dr. De Boe passed away in September of 1997 after a lengthy battle with cancer.9 In the spirit that made Dr. De Boe so endeared among those who knew him, his bequest made possible an annual award to sponsors for their outstanding achievement which was named in his honor.

The passing of such an extraordinary leader left a vacancy that would take until early 1998 to fill. Dr. Kathleen Rice became the Director of Educational Services in 1998 and attempted to solve what appears to be a cyclical saga of declining participation. Dr. Rice left the Association in 2002 and was replaced by Dr. Holly O'Rear. Dr. O'Rear's background in business prompted an evaluation of the Association's educational programs, including Junior Historians. Shortly after completing her assessment and list of recommendations, Dr. O'Rear also left the Association in early 2004. This time Dr. Ron Tyler, Director of the Association called on Stephen S. Cure, a Junior Historian sponsor who was active in the Association's educational programs and those of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to serve as Director of Educational Services. When I began in June of 2004, I was given a list of recommendations based on Dr. O'Rear's assessment, the freedom to make changes, the support of the Board of Directors and 41 active chapters. Having seen the value of Junior Historians in the lives of young people, I look forward to climbing the mountain of success so that the young people of Texas can benefit to the fullest extent possible.

1Richard McCaslin, "Old Man Texas Himself" (Manuscript, Texas State Historical Association, Austin, TX 2002) p. 9.

2Richard McCaslin, "In the Shadow of Webb" (Manuscript, Texas State Historical Association, Austin, TX 2002) p. 25.


4Ibid, 26.

5Ibid, 25.

6Ibid, 26.


8Richard McCaslin, "Completing the First Century" (Manuscript, Texas State Historical Association, Austin, TX 2002) p. 33.

9Ibid, 35.

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