SFA Story: The History of Stephen F. Austin State University

The Founding Years

Citizens Organize - The Citizens Committees

During "the founding years," there were many committees of citizens. After any use of the phrase "The Citizens Committee," the next question should be "Which one?" The one in 1915, the two in 1917, or the ones in 1921 or 1923?

The first Citizens Committee, elected at the meeting of prominent business men on March 12, 1915, consisted of John Schmidt, president; J. Thomas Hall, secretary; and W. T. Wilson, treasurer. These men in turn appointed a committee to take the steps necessary to start the move to get the college for Nacogdoches. (Daily Sentinel, March 13, 1915) This committee went to Austin to check on things and reported back to the city at the mass meeting held on March 22. An expanded general committee was appointed at the March 22 meeting. The following committee for general purposes was appointed: Professor R. F. Davis, Judge V. E. Middlebrook, Hon. S. M. King, Hon. A. T. Russell, Robert Lindsey, W. T. Wilson, D. K. Cason, H. T. Mast, Charles Perkins, E. H. Blount, S. B. Hayter, and John Schmidt, chairman.

On April 1, 1915, the Daily Sentinel reported that a subcommittee, consisting of Senator King of Nacogdoches, Judge V. E. Middlebrook, and Charles Hoya met with the governor and then reported back to Nacogdoches.

As stated earlier, these 1915 committees did not go anywhere. They did, however, outline the Nacogdoches case, establish the framework for the political action for the future, and positioned the city for the more important work in 1917. Although there is no record of any on-going committee work between 1915 and 1917, the members of the original committee did continue to work. Nacogdoches congressman W. E. Thomason, reintroduced the bill for SFA in the 1917 session of the legislature. It was Professor R. F. Davis, the Superintendent of Nacogdoches Schools and a members of the 1915 Citizens Committee, who called the first mass meeting in March of 1917. Senator Eugene Blount chaired the 1917 Committee. (W. T. Wilson died in an accident in September of 1916.)

1917 brought in new leaders and members to the citizens committees. After Davis called the March 20 meeting, Mr. W. U. Perkins was elected to chair and preside over the mass meeting, and J. R. McKinney acted as the meeting’s secretary. The people who addressed this meeting, labeled by The Sentinel as, "the most important mass meeting ever held in Nacogdoches," were "R. F. Davis, Hon. Beemon Strong, Judge S. W. Blount, Mr. D. K. Cason, Mayor Matthews, Judge Middlebrook, Mr. Hollis Mast, Hon. June C. Harris, Mr. Jesse Summers, and unnamed others." Prof. R. F. Davis, Mayor Matthews, and Mr. Sam Stripling were appointed as a nomination committee to select the new leaders of the Citizens Committee. They recommended and the others elected Eugene H. Blount, D. K. Cason, and H. T. Mast as an executive committee. According to The Sentinel, the men "accepted the responsibility with good grace and will establish headquarters and enter actively upon the work at once, never letting up until every possible effort is made. Energy and service is a characteristic with each of these gentlemen, and they were selected for their peculiar fitness."

No minutes on the work of this steering committee have been found. Presumably, this is the committee that oversaw the writing and publication of the Twenty-Three Reasons Why. The famous booklet, however, is a remarkably democratic document. No individual person is cited in the work. It was collectively signed: ‘The Citizens Committee of Nacogdoches.’ From all indications, many different people worked on the citizens committees. The planning group for the visitation of the site selection committee of the State Regents was especially large.

A section of the Nacogdoches Citizens Committee was responsible for deciding on the location and purchase of the property which was to be offered to the state for the campus. Among the names that crop up in the SFA abstract of the property are June C. Harris, W. U. Perkins, Charles Hoya, J. R. McKinney, and H. T. Mast, collectively responsible for an additional $5,555.04 to round off the total needed to purchase the 208 acres of land associated with the site north of the city.

When speaking of the effort to secure the SFA Normal School for Nacogdoches, the words "Citizens" and "Committees" should come to mind, both in the plural. (Editor - JLJ)