Southern Methodist University academic and admissions correspondence
A Guide to the Collection
Southern Methodist University opened for classes on September 22, 1915. The new university was made up of 35 faculty members and 706 students. The entire university (other than housing) was originally housed in Dallas Hall.
Dr. Robert S. Hyer served as the first president of SMU from 1911, when the university was chartered, until 1920. Frank Reedy worked as SMU’s first bursar. In that capacity, Reedy was technically the school’s financial officer, but his duties went far beyond simply keeping the books in order. He also worked as a public relations officer and performed various other duties.
John H. Keen served as dean for the first several years of SMU’s existence. Keen had come to SMU from the University of Texas, and he worked at the new university until 1918. John Preston Comer temporarily worked as dean for about a year, and President Hyer appointed Albert Shipp Pegues as the new permanent dean of the College of Liberal Arts in 1919, although users should note that the collection’s correspondence coming from the dean’s office was directed to either Keen or Comer.
SMU set high expectations for students. Academic requirements remained largely unchanged until the 1940s. Students were required to take one year of both English composition and literature. Two years of a foreign language were necessary to gain entry into SMU, as well as a Bible course; students were also expected to take math, two science lab classes, and two classes in physical education. Attendance at chapel services was also required, and class attendance was strictly monitored; many of the letters from the Dean’s office in this collection reprimand students for excessive class absences. Tuition in 1915-16 was $35 for a term of twelve weeks.
In terms of university affairs, the principal activity during these early years was expansion of both the school’s physical plant and the number of faculty and students; this expansion led to considerable financial troubles. Student enrollment grew from 706 in 1915 to over a thousand in 1917, and over two thousand by 1924.
Faculty size also increased, but university debt grew through the mid-1920s. Operating and building construction costs left SMU with a debt of about $262,000 at its opening. Although the school could boast a modest endowment, SMU sustained $363,000 in debt by the time President Hyer left office in 1920.
World War I no doubt adversely affected the school’s ability to recruit students and build up its revenue. The university had only completed one full academic year by the time the United States entered the war in April 1917, and enrollment plunged 30 percent for the 1917-18 year. President Hyer encouraged as many male students as possible to remain in school until called into military service, and he also called for military science classes to be instituted.
Although SMU was not able to secure the services of a trained officer from the War Department to oversee military-related classes and drilling, the federal government instituted the Students’ Army Training Corps. The program enabled male college students less than twenty-one years of age to receive some army training, in preparation for possible call-up by the draft, but without having to put their college education on hold. A unit of the SATC was established at SMU; those in the Corps received regular pay, wore army uniforms, and lived under army regulations.
Many Americans entered the armed services to fight in World War I, but American participation in the war only lasted about a year and a half. The armistice signed in November 1911 led to the demobilization of the SATC the following month.
Bulletin of Southern Methodist University: Annual Catalogue 1915-16 (Vol. I, No. 7), June 1916, pg. 21.
Maddox, Ruth Patterson. Building SMU: A Warm and Personal Look at the People who Started Southern Methodist University, 1915-1957. Odenwald Press: 1995.
Terry, Marshall. From High on the Hilltop: Marshall Terry’s History of SMU, with Various Essays by His Colleagues. Dallas: DeGolyer Library and Three Forks Press, 2009.
Thomas, Mary Martha Hosford. Southern Methodist University: Founding and Early Years. Dallas: SMU Press, 1974.
Series 1 of this collection contains correspondence to and from the SMU Dean relating to admissions and students’ academic standing. Specifically, the correspondence regards inquiries from prospective students and parents for information on the new university, questions on the Students’ Army Training Corps program established at SMU (the U.S. having entered World War I by this time), current students’ questions about their credit hours, and the issue of transferring credits from SMU to other schools or vice versa.
Further topics covered by the correspondence in this series include housing arrangements for incoming students, and notifications from the Dean to current students on skipping classes and failure to satisfy course requirements.
The correspondence in this series is arranged in alphabetical order, either by the person making the inquiry or the student about whom the letter is concerned.
Series 2 includes correspondence on the hiring of new university faculty members (as well as inquiries about faculty hiring), and requests from administrators at high schools and other universities for course catalogs. This series also contains letters ordering books and other supplies for the university.
Correspondence referring to World War I and the Students’ Army Training Corps, not in reference to any particular student, is also arranged in this series.
Series 3 is made up of correspondence between SMU and other colleges and universities, as well as public school systems in Texas and various educational organizations such as the Texas Board of Education. In the public school letters, SMU asks school administrators to encourage their students to think about attending SMU; many of the letters to other colleges and universities relate to questions over transfer of credits, curriculum changes, and academic requirements.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
Southern Methodist University academic and admissions correspondence, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2009.
Lara Corazalla, 2009.
Detailed Description of the Collection