Southern Methodist University

John O. Beaty controversy papers

A Guide to the Collection


Creator: Beaty, John Owen, 1890-
Title: John O. Beaty controversy papers
Dates: 1949-1964
Abstract: Contains the papers of Dr. John Beaty, English professor at Southern Methodist University from 1919 to 1957. The papers pertain to controversy surrounding his 1954 publication of a pamphlet entitled "How to Capture a University," which asserted that un-Christian and even communist influences were infiltrating SMU. This collection includes copies of that pamphlet, in addition to depositions and exhibits taken by a school committee, newspaper clippings, and letters both condemning and supporting his charges.
Accession No: SMU 1992.0167
Extent: 3 boxes (1.5 linear feet)
Language: Material is in English.
Repository Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Biographical Note

John Owen Beaty (1890-1961) taught English at Southern Methodist University, from 1919 until his retirement in 1957. During this time, he also served as head of the English Department from 1927 until 1940. Beaty, a native of Crow, West Virginia, received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Virginia, and later completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at Columbia University in 1921. Professor Beaty also spent a semester studying in France at the University of Montpelier.

Dr. Robert Hyer, first president of Southern Methodist University, appointed Beaty to the English Department in 1918. Beaty taught courses in sophomore English, as well as in Old English and the history of the English language. He served in active duty during World War II in the Military Intelligence service, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. He remained in the army reserves for a total of thirty one years.

Dr. Beaty published fourteen books, including "Race and Population" (1928), "Swords in the Dawn" (1937), "Image of Life" (1940), "The Iron Curtain over America" (1951), and "Crossroads." Dr. Beaty also served as a co-editor of "Facts and Ideas," and "Famous Editions of English Poets," as well as working with the Modern Language Association of America and the Dictionary of American Biography. His writing was not confined to his own areas of academic interest, as he also wrote various newspaper articles on foreign affairs. Dr. Beaty was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and other honors include membership in the Modern Language Association, Texas Institute of Letters, the American Legion, and serving as president of the Conference of College Teachers of English.

Claims made in his 1951 work "The Iron Curtain over America," as well as a pamphlet published shortly thereafter, "How to Capture a University," triggered much controversy within SMU during the early 1950s. Dr. Beaty was charged with being anti-Semitic and spreading claims in his work that either could not be supported with the references he cited, or that were the product of inappropriate use of sources. "The Iron Curtain over America" attracted a great deal of attention and apparently was widely read, going through eight reprintings in 1952 alone. The context of the times when these two works appeared is especially important: the fear of communist expansion worldwide in the years after World War II, the fall of China to communist forces in 1949, and domestic efforts—both on the part of the Truman administration and by Congress (including by Senator Joseph McCarthy) to expose communist infiltration—gave Beaty’s work a very receptive audience. "The Iron Curtain over America" charged that communism could be characterized as a Jewish conspiracy, and that world communism was rapidly gaining ground everywhere, with little or no response from the Democratic Truman administration. His later pamphlet argued that Southern Methodist University, while responsible for teaching Christianity and promoting Christian values, was nevertheless being infiltrated by communist and un-Christian influences.

Such claims garnered support, certainly, but also charges of anti-Semitism and shoddy research, and SMU responded by setting up a committee—comprised of members of the SMU board of trustees and several Methodist bishops—to investigate Dr. Beaty’s claims. SMU President Umphrey Lee charged the Board of Trustees with addressing the allegations Dr. Beaty made in his 1954 pamphlet. The Board established a special committee charged with investigating those claims, and that committee’s findings—depositions, exhibits, and final report—are a major portion of the collection. That committee eventually found his charges to be unsupported by any evidence, and the Board of Trustees subsequently voted to censure him.

Dr. Beaty continued to serve in the English department until his 1957 retirement. He later moved to Virginia, and died in September 1961.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Beaty Papers contain the pamphlet "How to Capture a University" and the reactions to it from within the university and from members of the general public.

The entire collection can be roughly divided into three series. First are the results of the university special committee—letter to the university community announcing the formation of the committee, exhibits cited by the committee in the course of its work, statements by committee members as well as Dr. Beaty, and the final letter from the committee rejecting Dr. Beaty’s claims.

Second are copies of Dr. Beaty’s writings and reactions to it—copies of "How to Capture a University," his later pamphlet entitled "The Cry of Anti-Semitic," correspondence of Dr. Beaty responding to the praise/outcry over his writing, and reviews/letters from both members of the historical profession and general public both supporting and condemning his writing.

Third is a collection of newspaper articles from the early 1960s concerning disputes over textbooks that were being considered for adoption in Texas public schools. Several of the books, including economic texts, were thought by some to be too critical of capitalism and free enterprise; as such, they do not directly relate to the mid-1950s controversy over Dr. Beaty’s work. However, the articles are a valuable resource in highlighting both the perceived need to keep out communist or anti-American influences—or anything that could be interpreted as an endorsement of either—from schools and universities, as well as the supposed susceptibility of educational institutions to subversive ideologies.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is organized into 3 series:
Series 1: Results of the SMU Special Investigative Committee on the Beaty Controversy
Series 2: Dr. Beaty’s Writings/Correspondence, and General Reaction to Controversy
Series 3: Newspaper Clippings on 1960s Textbook Controversy and Miscellaneous


Access to Collection:

Collection is open for research use.

Publication Rights:

Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.

Copyright Statement:

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following terms in the Southern Methodist University Libraries' online catalog. Researchers desiring related materials may search the catalog using these terms.
Beaty, John Owen, 1890-
Southern Methodist University --Faculty --Attitudes.
Southern Methodist University --Faculty --Political activity.
English teachers --Texas --Dallas
Communism in education.
Antisemitism in education.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

John O. Beaty controversy papers, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Acquisition Information


Processing Information

Finding aid written by Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2007.

Encoded by

Lara Corazalla, 2007.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Results of the SMU Special Investigative Committee on the Beaty Controversy
1 box

Box Folder
1 1 Beaty Committee Report, 1954
2 Report of Special Investigating Committee Appointed by the Board of Trustees, SMU
3 Report of Special Investigative Committee on Beaty Matter, 1954
4 Special Investigating Committee, 1954, Report—Beaty Controversy

Series 2: Dr. Beaty’s Writings/Correspondence, and General Reaction to Controversy
2 boxes

Box Folder
2 1 Beaty Essay, "The Cry of Anti-Semitic"
2 "How to Capture a University," and Campus Reaction
3 Jewish Community Response
4 Public Affairs Luncheon Club (correspondence and statements regarding a resolution passed by the Club which took a critical stance toward some of the speakers that SMU invited to deliver lectures on campus; this, and not the debate over Dr. Beaty’s charges, was the real issue as far as the Club was concerned)
5 Patrick Henry Brigade, American National Research, etc. (assortment of materials from various right-wing organizations—included are many of the same ideas expressed by Dr. Beaty)
6 Academic Freedom
7 Methodist Church Response
8 SMU Press
9 Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News (Articles on local reaction to claims, actions taken by the SMU Board of Trustees, retirement and death of Dr. Beaty)
10 Correspondence about Beatty
11 Correspondence
12 Correspondence
Box Folder
3 1 "Southwest Review," Autumn 1948 (Margaret Hartley article, "The Apotheosis of Average," in reference to President Willis Tate’s August 1954 commencement speech, in which he argued that the desire to conform and refrain from expressing individuality, not communism, was the greatest threat to the United States)
2 "Southwest Review," Summer 1952 (Margaret Hartley article, "The Subliterature of Hate in America")
3 "Southwest Review," Autumn 1953 (Margaret Hartley article, "The Protestant Underworld")
4 Reviews in National Press (of "The Iron Curtain Over America")
5 "The Cross and the Flag," May, June 1953 (conservative periodical, May 1953 issue contains a brief review of "The Iron Curtain Over America"
6 Reading List for Military Intelligence

Series 3: Newspaper Clippings on 1960s Textbook Controversy and Miscellaneous
1 box

Box Folder
3 7 Illustrations for Henry George’s "Progress & Poverty"
8 Dr. Beaty, 1954 (Newspaper clippings, photo negatives)
9 Textbook Controversy, 1960s, Dr. Paul Boller (Boller was a professor of history at SMU during this period, and argued that the supposed communist threat in the United States had been greatly exaggerated)
10 Bibliography of Newspaper Articles regarding Beaty Controversy (also copy of April 12, 1954 issue of "Time;" article on Beaty, pg. 57