Who was Retta Murphy?

Who was Retta Murphy?

One hundred years ago, in 1919, Retta Murphy arrived to San Marcos, Texas to teach history on the faculty of what is now Texas State University. Although she did not have her PhD when she arrived, she eventually went on to become the first Texas State University woman faculty member to hold a Ph.D. (Latin American History from U.T.-Austin in 1938.) Thousands of people have taken classes in the building that bears Dr. Murphy’s name, Taylor-Murphy Hall—the home of the Texas State Department of History.

In his book, Up the Hill, Down the Years, Dr. Ronald Brown writes: “When the History Department moved into the old Fine Arts Building, the faculty requested that the building be renamed to honor James Taylor and Retta Murphy, who had shaped the modern History Department and were early advocates of gender equity.” Dr. Murphy certainly left her mark on the University.

Dr. Emmie Craddock—a history professor, former mayor of San Marcos, and the founder of what is now the Texas State University Honors College—shared an office with Dr. Retta Murphy for a time. She called Dr. Murphy “one of the great legendary figures” of Texas State University.

Many years after Dr. Murphy’s death, Dr. William C. Pool said of Murphy, “She was a tower [of] strength… in the department…[She had] a fine dry wit that was almost unbelievable. Yes, we all loved Retta Murphy.”

Describing Dr. Murphy at a commencement address, Dr. Craddock said, “For years on end Dr. Murphy arrived at her office every morning at nine and left at five, except on Saturdays when she went home at one; and she studied as diligently on the last day she ever taught as she had from the first day of her teaching.”

Dr. Craddock continued, “Literally thousands of students who were lucky enough to have a course with her felt the clarity of her mind, the absolute integrity of her life in all of its aspects. She had no time for preten[s]e or sloppy thinking and she dearly loved to deflate the arrogant, a feat she could accomplish instantly with a comment both cryptic and deadly.”

Although she was known for “a rather brusque exterior” Dr. Craddock said underneath that “lay a heart as malleable as a child’s and a generosity of spirit which knew few bounds.” For Dr. Craddock, “[Murphy] never demanded more of others than she asked of herself, and few ever left her classes without feeling the rapier thrust of her mind and the breadth of her learning. She also had a quick and wonderful wit.”

Although, as a woman, Dr. Murphy certainly faced her obstacles. Despite temporarily serving as chair of the Division of Social Sciences, Dr. Murphy was not offered the position permanently. When asked why she was not named chair herself, she replied, “Because I wear my pants on the inside instead of the outside.’”

“She was a marvelous Presbyterian, a wonderful history teacher, straight as a die, and not afraid of anything, the devil included,” Dr. Craddock said of Dr. Murphy.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dr. Murphy coming to San Marcos, we wanted to share with you her 1909 travels through Europe, 110 years ago, which lasted from 14 June-4 September 1909. Her entire scrapbook is available online through Texas State University Archives. 

Here is a sneak peek:


Texas State History condemns bigoted speech

Texas State Logo

The Texas State Department of History embraces all of our students and all of our histories, and strongly condemns bigoted speech. Our entire faculty has met today and want to thank Texas State students for their courage in confronting racism. Please always feel welcome to come speak to our Chair or any faculty member if you feel uncomfortable in class-related activity.

Our Statement on Diversity and Inclusion

The department of history recognizes that the students, staff, faculty, and administration of Texas State University have been threatened because they adhere to the University’s stated value of “A diversity of people and ideas, a spirit of inclusiveness, a global perspective, and a sense of community as essential conditions for campus life.” As historians, we are acutely aware of the diversity of historical narratives. As teachers, we are dedicated to introducing our Texas State students to the variety of cultures and peoples that co-exist in our world. Therefore, committed as we are to the freedom of expression, we condemn bigoted speech, which threatens public safety, restricts academic freedom, and tacitly justifies hate. This rejection affirms our belief that a fuller understanding of our diverse pasts is essential to understanding our shared history and our common present.

TXST Faculty Members to Present at American Historical Association Meeting in NYC

AHA 2020

Congratulations to all our faculty members who will be presenting at American Historical Association 134th annual meeting in January in New York City!

Introducing Dr. Dwonna Goldstone!

Photo of Dr. Dwonna Goldstone

We are excited to welcome Dr. Dwonna Goldstone who joins Texas State to launch the new African American Studies minor!

After 18 years at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee—where I taught African American literature and coordinated their African American Studies program—I am super excited to join the history department at Texas State, where I will also be coordinating the new African American Studies minor.

I am originally from Moline, Illinois, home of the John Deere Tractor, and I did my undergraduate degree in American Studies at the University of Iowa. After finishing my M.A.T. at Brown University, I taught high school English for three years in Fairfax County, Virginia, where I also coached 9th-grade girls’ basketball and boys’ and girls’ track. I wasn’t a very successful basketball coach, however; the team went 1-15 the first year and 7-9 the second year. In spite of that record, I enjoyed coaching and learned a lot—like losing is okay if we’re having fun.

I finished my PhD in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and my dissertation about black student integration eventually became my book—Integrating the Forty Acres: The Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas (University of Georgia, 2006). I have written several articles about African American history and culture, including “Home Economics,” a memoir about growing up poor and black in a midwestern town and “Stirring Up Trouble,” an article about teaching race at a PWI.

I am currently working on three essays—one about Barbara Conrad Smith, a black undergraduate student at the University of Texas in its first year of integration (1956-7) who was removed from the school’s opera; a second titled “Teaching While Black: A Black Professor in Trump Land”; and a third on teaching feminism in a men’s prison. This past year, I taught a class at the Lois DeBerry Special Needs prison in Nashville, Tennessee, and my students read feminist novels such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. My goal is to create an inside/out program at a prison in Texas, where Texas State students will take a class with students who are incarcerated.

This fall, I am teaching AAS 2310: Introduction to African American Studies. In the spring, I will teach AAS 2310 again and “Black Women. Black Protest.” I also plan to create new classes for the AAS minor, including “Race, Gender, and Sexuality”; “Blacks, Film, and Society”; “Negotiating the Color Line”; and “The Black Power Movement.” Please email me (dng66@txstate.edu) or come by my office (THM 205) if you have suggestions for classes or programming you would like to see offered in the minor or if just want to chat about your interests. You can also follow me on Instagram at dwonnanaomi.

When I am not teaching, writing, or creating programming for the African American Studies program, I train for half marathons, do CrossFit, and walk my dogs—Lena Horne, Ernie Banks, and Ralph Ellison. I also love to watch Judge Judy, so please come by my office and see my autographed picture of her!



Announcing: The Kenneth and Patricia Margerison Graduate Research Fellowship in History

Margerison fellowship

The Department of History is proud to announce the establishment of the Kenneth and Patricia Margerison Graduate Research Fellowship in History. The Fellowship provides support to full-time graduate students enrolled in the master’s degree program in history. Recipients will be awarded funds to fully cover graduate tuition and fees for the spring and fall semesters as well as research support. Recipients will qualify for in-state tuition. The Graduate Studies Committee will consider all first-year students as well as continuing students who demonstrate great promise as historians. In addition to the fellowship, students may also be offered a graduate Instructional Assistantship (IA), which includes a monthly salary. Recipients who maintain a 3.7 cumulative GPA may also have the fellowship renewed!

Please visit the History Department Scholarships website for specific details and requirements.

Learn more about Lauren Kahre-Campbell (top photo) and Amber Hullum (bottom photo), recipients of this inaugural fellowship:

Lauren Kahre-Cambell received a B.A. in international studies with a focus in international relations from Texas State University in 2012 and a J.D. from Michigan State University in 2015. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in History, with a focus in European History. Her areas of interest include early modern British history as well as women’s and legal history. While earning her degree, Lauren has served as a Liddle Teaching Fellow and been a recipient of both the Dennis and Margaret Dunn Scholarship and the Outstanding Graduate Student in History Award. Her thesis, “Where There’s a Will: Gender, Wills and Inheritance in Early Modern England,” explores gendered patterns of inheritance in early modern English wills. She conducted a portion of her archival research during the 2018 Texas State Chester study abroad program. Lauren hopes to forge a career that combines her legal background with her historical research interests.

How do you see this Margerison Fellowship helping you in your studies? 

Lauren Kahre-Cambell: As a non-traditional student, I face some unique challenges in financing my graduate degree. The Margerison Fellowship will really allow me to focus on completing my graduate thesis without additional financial stress. Writing a thesis can be daunting, so it’s nice to have the hard work acknowledged in a tangible way and receiving this fellowship makes me feel even more supported in my endeavors.

What have you enjoyed so far from your time in the Texas State graduate program?

Lauren: I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to delve deeply into my personal passions through the study of history. If I had to pinpoint one formative experience, it would be my participation in the Chester 2018 Summer Abroad program. While conducting my archival research, I had the opportunity to explore sixteenth century wills and manuscripts in person at the Chester Local Archives. I really appreciated the ability to make the kinetic connection with my research subjects, who wrote or commissioned these documents over 400 years ago.

Currently, your work is on women’s and legal history, how do your study of law and history complement each other?

Lauren: It has been so fascinating to approach the law from both its current application and to explore its origins. In the United States we share a common legal history with Britain, so my study of British legal history has been really informative for me in understanding the development of U.S. law. I find it particularly fascinating to explore which legal tenets have evolved or remained static over time.

I must confess that some subjects I found quite boring in law school (probate, inheritance, property rights) are much more interesting from a historical standpoint and have become the focus of my research.

Finally, in both my legal and historical careers I have focused on the intersection of women and the law and it is particularly interesting to me to see how some of the challenges that women face in accessing justice have remained the same through time.

Amber Hullum is a first-year graduate student working towards her master’s degree in Public History. Amber graduated from Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi with bachelor’s degrees in Theatre and in History, with hopes of marrying the two with living history. Amber has been doing living history for over four years and has also worked with the City of Corpus Christi in hosting “La Frontera,” a living history festival with multiple actors playing local historical figures who interact with visitors. After finishing her master’s degree at Texas State, Amber hopes to work with the US National Parks Service as well as museums around Texas to enact more living history programs which will harbor a greater interest for history in a much more exciting, interactive way.

How do you see the Margerison Fellowship helping you in your studies?

Amber Hallum: The Margerison Fellowship is already proving itself to be an enormous aid in my graduate studies. By covering my tuition, I am able to pour all my focus into my work rather than having to divide my time with another job to help pay for my courses and books. Further, now that I have the title of a fellowship behind me, I feel an increased fervor to succeed in my classes. I mean, you don’t really want to do poorly in a class that is getting paid for you by someone else!

You studied theatre and history in undergrad; how do you see those two helping inform your decision to study public history?

Amber: Theatre has been an invaluable part of my education. It has helped me with my communication skills, my creativeness, and has helped to grow my love of working with other people. History has always been exciting for me, ever since my grandparents would take me to annual trips to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I knew that these two components of my education would best be married through living history, which allows for me to serve others in a way that my two passions can co-exist. Thus, my studies have brought me to pursuing public history.

You’ve done work hosting “La Frontera” in Corpus Christi. What is one memorable experience from your time with La Frontera that inspires your work today?

Amber: While the entire festival was amazing to attend and watch my living historians/ actors interact with the community, the most rewarding moment was when an elderly couple approached me after speaking with some of the “characters” and exclaimed how exciting it was to talk with local historical figures, some of which they were related to. They had never seen anything like “La Frontera” before and they were grateful to have the history of their hometown and family be told. So many people around the state have never heard of– let alone experienced living history. To be able to share this with them, therefore, is why I am pursuing public history.



Making History with Margaret Vaverek: Tea and Snacks with History’s librarian

As just about any historian in the Department of History will tell you, research is often a long but rewarding process. One of the best resources for historians at Texas State is Margaret Vaverek, who is the History subject librarian at Alkek—and a History alum!

Whether you are a first-year student or a faculty member, she is  invaluable when it comes to tracking down the materials you need to do your research. On Thursday, 5 September, and Monday, 9 September, she will be having tea and snacks with students at Alkek. Stop by, say hello, and share your research interests with her. Not sure what a subject librarian does? She explains in her own words:

As history librarian, I will help you search for, find, and obtain better and more sources for your research project than you might have found on your own, and it’ll take less time and effort.

We call these sessions research consultations

During the consultation, we will work together to search the catalog, relevant discipline-specific databases, and other resources depending on your research needs.

By the end of the consultation, you will have:

  • Discovered lots of resources at Texas State and learned how to find and request materials from other libraries as well.
  • Discovered a whole lot more about how to do academic research effectively & efficiently

Here’s the research consultation request form.

Once you’ve pressed submit on your request, the request will come to me and I will then email you to schedule a time and provide directions to the space where the consult will take place.