If you have ever wondered what the first SFA axe handles looked like or what style of tiara past recipients of Miss SFA proudly wore, you’re in luck. These items are preserved for posterity thanks to the East Texas Research Center.
For more than 50 years, the center has focused on collecting, preserving and maintaining archival materials from the SFA and East Texas communities. Nearly two rooms full of shelves in Steen Library hold hundreds of boxes, each stuffed with memorabilia from East Texas’ rich history.
“Our mission is to preserve the history of the university and East Texas and to make it accessible to everyone,” said Alexandra Schutz, university archives librarian for the ETRC. “We accept a variety of items, such as photographs, alumni scrapbooks, diaries and correspondence from people who lived or worked in East Texas.”
The ETRC houses materials that date as far back as the mid-19th century. The center’s geographic reach encompasses the Gulf of Mexico north to the Red River, east of the Trinity River and Western Louisiana. All of the items the ETRC accepts emphasize East Texas life, culture, economy and/or history. This collection includes photographs of early settlers, newspaper articles, publications from SFA organizations and much more.
Alongside the traditional archival items you might expect to find, the center houses photos and memorabilia donated by prominent people, such as former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Navy Distinguished Public Service Medal, recordings of sermons by former heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic boxing gold medalist George Foreman, and former Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson’s congressional papers. In addition, photographs and documents of key events in East Texas history, such as the space shuttle Columbia disaster, are stored on the ETRC’s shelves.
Schutz said she has a favorite section in the archives — scrapbooks from the Ellen H. Richards Club, SFA’s former home economics club.
“The scrapbooks date from the 1930s through the ’70s,” Schutz said. “I love showing them to students because they’re so different from scrapbooks you see today. The objects they chose to display in the books are unique, like locks of hair, and the students often are fascinated by the subject matter and wonder why a woman would attend college to study home economics.”
Schutz emphasized that preserving history is important for both academic and historical reasons. The center aims not only to maintain materials, but also to make them available to the public. Archival materials are accessible by visiting the center on SFA’s campus, and a small fraction of materials is available virtually at digital.sfasu.edu.
“We have SFA faculty and staff stop by who are interested in researching old budget information or exploring how certain programs got started,” Schutz said. “We also have members from the surrounding communities utilize our center. For instance, people researching mineral rights or buying land might want to look through our documents, or often people come in to trace their genealogy.”
Genealogical research has proven to be a favorite topic among ETRC visitors. In the public reading room located in the front office area of the ETRC, visitors can relax and conduct research on their family’s heritage.
“People are just generally interested in family history,” Schutz said. “They are able to come here and trace their lineage, which often includes more than just surnames. For instance, they might locate diaries, photographs and additional items that really help them connect with their past.”
Each semester, the center relies on SFA student workers to help organize the materials. Various classes and student groups also visit the center to utilize its resources for class projects and to become more familiar with the region’s rich history.
While the shelves at the ETRC may appear to be overflowing, the center’s staff members are always looking for more items to expand the collection. As the university prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2023, Schutz said she’s hoping to gather even more items to help showcase past decades. She is hopeful SFA’s alumni and friends can help.
“I would ask that anyone who has documents, photographs, film, etc. — anything that would be of historical significance to the university and region — please consider donating it to the ETRC,” Schutz said. “It’s an easy process, and your treasured items have a substantial impact in telling our story.”
To donate, contact Schutz or any ETRC staff member at email@example.com or 936.468.4100.