Southern Methodist University

Robert S. Hyer papers, 1899-2001:

A Guide to the Collection


Creator: Hyer, Robert Stewart, 1860-1929
Title: Robert S. Hyer papers
Dates: 1899-2001
Dates (Bulk): 1911-1916
Abstract: Robert Stewart Hyer served as Southern Methodist University's first president, from 1911 until 1920. This collection contains biographical information about Hyer, awards and honors, correspondence, writings and addresses by and about Hyer, and information on Hyer's vision and plan for the SMU campus.
Accession No: SMU 1994.0203 and SMU 1994.0203x
Quantity: 1 box (0.5 linear feet)
Language: Material is in English
Repository Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Biographical Note

Robert Stewart Hyer served as Southern Methodist University’s first president, from 1911 until 1920. Prior to his arrival in Dallas to direct the construction and opening of the new Methodist university, Hyer devoted himself to teaching and research as a science professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. He played a major role in how SMU was built, choosing the architectural style and geographic orientation of the university’s first building, Dallas Hall. It has been said that the real monument to Robert Hyer is indeed SMU itself.

Hyer was born October 18, 1860 in Oxford, Georgia. His father, William L. Hyer, was a locomotive engineer; his mother, Laura Stewart Hyer, was the daughter of a Methodist minister. The Civil War was the dominant event in American history during his early years, and despite being only four years old in 1864, the burning of Atlanta by the Union army that year was an event Hyer would remember for the rest of his life.

Hyer and his younger sister, Annie, were schooled in Atlanta until 1874, when his mother, Laura, died on his 14th birthday. Robert and Annie were taken to Oxford, Georgia to be raised by their Aunt Ray Stewart and Uncle Joe S. Stewart. The latter was a major influence in Hyer's life, and guided him through his education at Emory. Hyer was an excellent student, never receiving a grade below 97, and graduated first in his class in 1881. He received a Masters Degree in physics the following year.

A friend from Emory had begun teaching English at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. That professor and friend of Hyer’s, Dr. Morgan Callaway, persuaded Hyer to come to Southwestern to teach, and the future president of the university arrived there in 1882. During his time at Southwestern, Hyer taught physics, geology, chemistry, and biology. He remained a devoted teacher and researcher all his life, preferring those pursuits to the administrative duties he later took up, first as president of SU, and then of SMU.

Hyer was first married to Madge Jordan, of Savannah, Georgia. They wed in 1881, but she died two years later in childbirth. It was during his teaching career at Southwestern that Hyer met his second wife. Maggie Hudgins (Margaret Lee Hudgins Hyer, 8/15/1867-6/26/1934) was a student at SU, and took one of Dr. Hyer’s physics classes (although it was rather unusual for a girl at the time to take physics). She was, like Hyer at Emory, the first in her class (graduating in 1886), and they were married on February 24, 1887.

Hyer’s scientific interests included X-ray technology and wireless radio. He built his own X-ray machine, which he demonstrated to the faculty of Southwestern in 1896. He also experimented with wireless radio, possibly beating Guglielmo Marconi by a year in successfully transmitting a wireless message in 1894. Hyer sent a message from SU to the city jail in Georgetown a mile away.

Southwestern was faced with the task of selecting a new regent (president) in 1897, and when the university’s Board of Curators offered the job to Dr. Hyer, he declined. His refusal, and later reluctance to take the position when it was offered a second time, stemmed more from his genuine desire to remain in the classroom. The next year, during which SU was led by an interim president, Hyer was again asked to accept the presidency—and this time, he agreed.

Hyer served as president of Southwestern University from 1898 until 1911. During his tenure, he developed plans for the construction of new campus buildings, a greater endowment, improvement of the curriculum to make it comparable to other first-class colleges, and improvement of the school’s library. Faculty size and student enrollment increased, a (short-lived) medical college overseen by Southwestern was established in Dallas, and the overall physical plan of the school improved, with Hyer designing one of the new buildings (Mood Hall, currently Mood-Bridwell Hall).

In addition, President Hyer oversaw the completion of SU’s new main building (currently the Cullen Building). The massive new building was finished in 1900, and Hyer located his office—as well as the departments of physics and chemistry—on the first floor.

The problem for SU at the turn of the century, was its location. Some, including Hyer, thought the fact that the university was located in a small town instead of a larger city would ultimately undermine efforts to attract more students and greater funding. Especially with the University of Texas nearby, Hyer thought that the future of SU could be assured if it was moved to a better location. The direct cause of efforts by Fort Worth, and later Dallas, to move SU was the drawing up of plans by the university for a new Memorial Hall (one proposed design was quite similar to the later design of SMU’s Dallas Hall).

Hyer expressed interest in moving Southwestern, and he was not the only one. President Hiram A. Boaz, of Polytechnic College in Fort Worth (currently Texas Wesleyan University), contacted Hyer and proposed that SU be relocated to Fort Worth and merged with Polytechnic. That encouraged Dallasites to make their own counteroffer to the university, and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce set up a committee charged with raising money to improve the city’s offer to support the relocation.

Hyer ended up supporting the idea of relocating to Dallas. He had initially appeared to oppose moving, writing to President Boaz that Southwestern was not interested in going to Fort Worth. But Hyer’s release of a letter to the Trustees of the university, asking if they were in favor of accepting Dallas’ offer to move, convinced some that Hyer was in fact actively working to move the school. The Trustees later adopted a resolution stating that Southwestern would remain in Georgetown, and ordered all faculty and administration (including Hyer) to stop any efforts to move the university.

Such opposition convinced advocates of a major Methodist university in the North Texas region to continue efforts to build such an institution, but to leave Southwestern where it was. A commission established by the Methodist Annual Conference decided on that course of action, and after serious competition from Ft. Worth, Dallas was chosen for the new university.

Hyer was unanimously elected as the first president of SMU on April 13, 1911. Shortly thereafter, he resigned as president of SU, although he completed the academic year there, and was on hand for that year’s Commencement ceremony.

Hyer and his family moved to Dallas in May 1911 to begin preparations to build a new university. The new president developed a very ambitious plan for the future layout of the campus. The site where SMU is located today was nothing but farmland, on the distant edges of the city in 1911, but Hyer’s vision was of a campus with 30 buildings (although SMU at the time had nowhere near the amount of money needed to finance such a plan). But his plan, grandiose as it may have seemed at the time, was faithfully followed in later decades, and his original selection of a Georgian, red-brick design for Dallas Hall has been copied for the vast majority of the major campus buildings constructed since then—giving the entire university a distinctive architectural unity.

The opening of SMU for its first academic year was supposed to take place in 1913, but construction of Dallas Hall took longer than anticipated, and the opening was delayed until 1914, and then until 1915. His work on behalf of the new university also included, as it did at Southwestern, establishing a library and developing curriculum. His role as SMU’s president did not stop him from continuing to teach science, and he helped acquire laboratory equipment for the school.

In addition, President Hyer also chose the colors of SMU (Harvard red and Yale blue, some indication of where he thought the new institution would eventually stand in the ranks of higher education). The motto of SMU, taken from the New Testament, "Veritas liberabit vos," was also chosen by Hyer.

SMU opened for its first academic year in the fall of 1915. 706 students were enrolled for its first year, and at the end of Hyer’s presidency in 1920, SMU’s student body had grown to 1,118.

Hyer served as president until 1920, when he was suddenly asked to resign. As could be expected for a recently-established university, the financial situation of SMU was tenuous, and Hyer was accused of neglecting the important duty of attracting greater sources of funding for the school.

Although Hyer retired from the presidency (and was succeeded by Hiram A. Boaz), his resignation does not appear to have been unduly bitter or divisive, as he was designated President Emeritus of SMU, and continued as professor of physics. He also taught Bible classes. A new physics building named in his honor (the Hyer Hall of Physics, next to Fondren Library) was dedicated in 1925. Hyer continued teaching until his death in May, 1929.

Robert Hyer was rightfully proud of what he had done in helping to create the university, but he also challenged others not to be content with the present. The present should be used, he argued, to build the future; as he said, "While we rejoice over our success, we must remember that the task to which we have set ourselves has only begun…and make claims to victory only to encourage ourselves to press on to greater things."


Robert S. Hyer, "Biographical Information," Box 1, Folder 1 in collection.

William B. Jones, To Survive and Excel: The Story of Southwestern University, 1840-2000. Georgetown: Southwestern University, 2006.

Ray Hyer Brown, Robert Stewart Hyer: The Man I Knew. Salado, Texas: Anson Jones Press, 1957.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The collection contains the papers of SMU’s first president, Dr. Robert S. Hyer. There are three series, "Personal and Administrative Papers," "Annual Reports," and "Speeches and Writings of Hyer." Series one includes biographical information on President Hyer, some of his correspondence, articles about him, and reports and administrative papers from his time as SMU president.

Series two consists of four annual reports of the president of SMU, dated, 1913, 1916, 1919, and 1926. Series three includes Hyer’s speeches and writings, some dated and some undated. There are also three oversized items.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is organized into 3 series:
Series 1: Personal and Administrative Papers
Series 2: Annual Reports
Series 3: Speeches and Writings by Hyer


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.

Sensitive Material Statement:

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications for which DeGolyer Library assumes no responsibility.

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.
Hyer, Robert Stewart, 1860-1929.
Southern Methodist University -- Administration -- History.
Southern Methodist University -- Presidents.
Universities and colleges -- Texas.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Robert S. Hyer papers, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

Acquisition Information

Deposit. Gift, 2005. Transfer, 2010.

Robert Hyer Thomas (Hyer’s grandson) donated copies of two speeches, "A Municipal University for Dallas," and "Alchemy," in 2005.

Twenty additional folders and one diploma were transferred to the Southern Methodist University Archives in January 2010 from the Bridwell Library (BridArch 303.08).

The provenance of all materials is unclear.

Processing Information

In 2010, when the new materials were transferred from the Bridwell Library, the Hyer collection was re-organized. Since there was no original order from either the SMU collection or Bridwell collection, the archivist made a decision to combine the two. All speeches and writing by Dr. Hyer were united in series three. Other materials about Hyer were placed in series one.

When the second collection of materials was transferred from Bridwell, each speech or writing was in its own folder. In the SMU collection, all of the writings and speeches were in one folder. We made a decision to re-folder each speech individually, and organize all of them chronologically.

Different handwriting and label styles will be noticed from Bridwell and DeGolyer collections.

Finding aid written by

Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2008. Revised by Joan Gosnell, 2010.

Encoded by

Lara Corazalla 2008, 2010.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Personal and Administrative Papers

Box Folder
1 1 Biographical Information
2 Biography of Robert S. Hyer from Handbook of Texas online and printouts of obituaries from Dallas Morning News
3 Obituaries and Eulogies
4 Writings and Addresses about Hyer
5 Awards and Honors
6 Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News clippings
7 Semi-Weekly Campus, Dallas Times Herald, and Dallas Morning News clippings
8 Article: "A Sacrifice Hit" Dallas Journal Feb. 9, 1920
9 Mustang Magazine, May-June 1972, article on President Hyer
10 Dictionary of American Biography article and correspondence about Hyer
11 Correspondence
12 Hyer’s Vision and Architectural Plan for SMU Campus
13 Hyer and SMU (Legacies Spring 2001)
14 SMU Course Schedule, Fall 1915
15 SMU Chaplain’s Christmas Note, 1915-1929
16 President Hyer’s Grade Rolls, circa 1923
17 Journal of the Eighty-Fifth Annual Session of the Texas Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1924
18 SMU School of Theology publications, 1922-1924
19 Mustang [focus: Perkins School of Theology], February 1956
20 Miscellaneous

Series 2: Annual Reports

Box Folder
1 21 Annual Reports of the President of SMU, 1913, 1916, 1919, 1926

Series 3: Speeches and Writings by Robert S. Hyer

When the second collection of materials was transferred from Bridwell Library, each speech or writing was in its own folder. Previously, all of the writings and speeches were in one folder in the DeGolyer collection, although we had prepared a listing of each speech or writing. We made a decision to re-folder each speech individually, and organize chronologically.
Box Folder
1 22 "Some New Measures of Electric Waves," in Transactions of the Texas Academy of Science 2 no. 1 (1899): 57-68
23 "Southwestern University and the Dallas Proposition," circa 1910
24 College Endowments," circa 1910-1915
25 "A Municipal University for Dallas," circa 1910-1917
26 Upon What Basis and by Whom Shall Colleges of the First Class be Determined in Texas," December 28, 1911
27 Untitled speech [Founding of SMU], circa 1911
28 The Challenge to Methodism," 1911-14
29 [fundraising campaign letter], circa 1912, and "The Challenge to Methodism"
30 "The Purposes and Ideals of a University," in Campus 1 (1912-13)
31 [re: Medical Department at SMU] (fragment), circa 1913-1915
32 [re: Medical Department at SMU], circa 1914
33 "Alchemy," an address before the Texas Bankers’ Association, Fort Worth, Texas, 1914
34 Presidential address on fraternities, circa 1915
35 "Considerations Favorable to the Success of Conducting a Real University by Our Denomination or Any Other of the Christian Church," Jan. 1916?
36 Introduction of Dr. Stockton Axson, Professor of English at Rice University, before Shakespeare Club, March 1916
37 "Why Texas Boys and Girls Should be Educated in Texas," circa 1916
38 "The Ultimate Aim of Education," 1916-1917
39 Welcoming Russian Visitors, August 3, 1917
40 [an address urging support for the nation’s war effort during World War I], fragment, circa 1917
41 "Education Outside of Texas," circa 1918-1919
42 "The Influence of Universities," circa 1920-1929
43 [Hyer’s Account of the Founding of SMU], newspaper clipping, Dallas Times Herald, January 26, 1933
44 "Adequate and Permanent Financial Support for Higher Educational Institutes," undated
45 "The Higher Education in a Democracy: An Analysis of Principles," undated
46 "Some Phases of Modern Spiritualism: Have We a New Science?" undated
47 [An Address to employees of the Methodist Publishing House in Dallas, Texas, managed by W. C Everett], undated fragment
48 Untitled fragment [about SMU – possibly by Hyer], undated
Folder Item
2 (oversized) 1 King's Messenger, March 1918
2 Daily Times Herald, March 29, 1925
3 Diploma: Doctor of Laws, Baylor University, 1910