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

The Coming of War and Changes

Editing the Stone Fort in war conditions:
An Interview with Joyce Bright Swearingen

Joyce Bright Swearingen was the Sophomore Class editor of the Stone Fort in the fall of 1941 when President Birdwell announced his resignation. She had entered SFA in 1940, at age 16 and was to graduate in the summer of 1943, after editing the Stone Fort for that year. She witnessed the coming of the war and the changes the the Boynton administration which are featured in this week’s Heritage Series.

Joyce Bright entered SFA as a home economics major, but she changed to business major after her freshman year. She met her future husband, Doug Swearingen, on Freshman Day while she was pledging the Pine Burrs and dressed in their most embarrising get-up, a toe-sack with pine cones dangling everywhere. Doug Swearingen was the Stone Fort business manager for two years, and they worked together on the staff in 1941 and 1942. Joyce worked as the social editor on the Pine Log for two years and as class editors on the Stone Fort before being selected as its main editor for the 1942-43 yearbook. She admitted: “I always enjoyed looking at pictures and pasting them into scrapbooks. I do the same thing today; while I was at the bank for 15 years, I did it there, too. I even keep scrapbooks for the High School. Some habits you cannot get rid of!”

“I do not remember much about the war in Europe before America’s entry, but remember, I was only 16 when I entered college. The Birdwell assembly [in December of 1941] was my first war-time memory. I get goose-pimples just thinking about it. I personally had two close friends at Pearl Harbor. The guys started leaving immediately, some over the Christmas Holidays and even more once the semester was over.

Editing the annual was not as difficult in 1941-1942 as it was the next year. “Each year it became harder to get photographic supplies, such as film and good paper. In the meantime, Mr. Schluter [the local photographer] moved. Mr. Schluter had always taken the pictures for the annual.” While she said they made it somehow through the formal class pictures, “There was no film to take snapshots. That was a war product. We had to ask everyone to volunteer snapshots. Some way we found enough to make it work.”

“I dedicated my annual to the men at war. The Steck Publishing Company found someone to design an appropriate cover.” Bright and her staff decided to emphasize the things the country was fighting for. A series of banners–which read FREEDOM FROM WANT, FREEDOM FROM FEAR, FREEDOM OF RELIGION, AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH–was placed under an embossed great seal of the nation. In reference to the dedication spread entitled “They Pledged Their Allegiance,” Joyce said: “We dedicated the annual to the ones we knew who had fallen. I knew every one of them.” This was very early in America’s role in the war; the casualties on the dedication page date from 1941 to the fall of 1942.

The 1942-43 Stone Fort also carried a second dedication to the new leader of SFA, President Paul Boynton. “I was one of the Lumberjackettes who escorted the faculty down to his inauguration in the fall of 1942. From that moment on, Dr. Boynton and I were very close friends.” Mrs. Swearingen continued: “In my view, Dr. Boynton saved Stephen F. Austin. We had so few–actually, there were only about six senior boys in our class in 1943. We would be in trouble today. We wouldn’t have SFA if Boynton had not gotten the WAAC school.” Because of this, she concluded, “I dedicated the annual to him in 1943.”

“We did the beauty selection in a different way that year,” she said. Normally, the clubs elected their candidates, and then the pictures were sent off to a make-up studio for impartial selection. “We decided to sent the beauty pictures off to the Corpus Christi Naval Station. It was full of guys just our age who were also graduating, but from pilot school.” The men loved the task and even invited the beauties down to the base. This was the first time ever for something like that. Mr. and Miss SFA were selected on campus as usual by the entire student body...and announced at a big presentation as usual.” Miss SFA for the year was none other than Joyce Bright, the most popular girl on campus for the year.

The 1943 annual went to press in April and was distributed in early June. Joyce graduated at the end of the summer of 1943. She and Doug married in 1946 after he was discharged from the service.