J. Frank Dobie Papers
Scope and Contents
The bulk of this archive was acquired through Bill and Sally Wittliff, who purchased the material in an estate sale in 1985. (See Richard Holland's article in Corners of Texas cited above for a fuller description of the acquisition.) Dobie had already donated much of his library and papers to the University of Texas at Austin. The material at Texas State was what remained in his Austin house at the time of his death in 1964. It is divided into five series: Works, Personal, Bertha McKee Dobie and Edgar Kincaid Papers, Artifacts, and Newspaper Clippings. The series contain drafts of Dobie's posthumous books, research material, drafts of newspaper columns, magazine articles, lectures, transcriptions of radio broadcasts, correspondence, photographs of family and friends, property deeds, income tax records, personal items (pipes, clothes, a favorite chair), wills, and clippings about Dobie as well as articles, clippings and photographs that had belonged to Bertha McKee Dobie and/or Edgar Kincaid.
- Majority of material found within 1914-1964
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws. https://www.thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu/research/visit/policies/publication.html
J. Frank Dobie, teacher, storyteller, folklorist, historian, and author, was born September 18, 1888 on a ranch in the South Texas brush country of Live Oak County. Raised in the toughening, physically bracing traditions of a remote ranching region, Dobie nonetheless developed an early love for language and literature. His mother encouraged reading, providing her children with mail-ordered books, and his father developed the boy's narrative sense with nightly readings of the King James version of the bible. Dobie's mother saw to it that he and his siblings were sent away to relatives in the small town of Alice so that they could obtain the requisite schooling to pursue higher education.
Dobie received his BA from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. There, under the influence of Professor Albert Shipp Pegues, he became enthralled by the English romantic poets. There too he met the poetry-loving Bertha McKee, who would become his wife, lifelong companion, adviser, booster and critic. After Dobie received his degree in 1910, he taught at a high school in Alpine, Texas and worked summers as a newspaper reporter. Deciding he wished to teach poetry at a more advanced level than high school, Dobie pursued a Masters at Columbia University. He later admitted to being only a lackluster student who learned more from New York and the New York theater than he did from the university.
Returning to Texas, Dobie joined the English Department of the University of Texas at Austin. In his first year there, he officed with Stith Thompson who introduced him to the organization with which he became so closely identified, the Texas Folklore Society World War I soon wrested Dobie from the classroom and he was sent overseas shortly before the armistice. While he missed the fighting, he took the opportunity to acquaint himself with Europe.
Dobie returned to the University of Texas English Department after his discharge from the army. Still ambivalent about his life's direction, he left UT in 1920 to run an uncle's ranch. The ranching stint was unsuccessful and he returned to teaching, writing his wife that "in the university I am a wild man; in the wilds I am a scholar and a poet" (Tinkle 102). He began to settle on a scholarly pursuit that could make use of both environments. Dobie had enjoyed listening to the stories of one of his uncle's vaqueros, Santos Cortez. "It came to me that I would collect and tell the legendary tales of Texas as Lomax had collected the old-time songs and ballads of Texas and the frontier. I thought that the stories of the range were as interesting as the songs. I considered that if they could be put down so as to show the background out of which they have come they might have high value" (Tinkle 102). From that point, Dobie actively pursued the folk legends of the Southwest in his travels, readings, and writings. Dobie became editor of the Texas Folklore Society in 1921. He took a strong hand in the independent direction of the organization, which still follows the standards he set. Under Dobie, the Texas Folklore Society broke from the practices of the American Folklore Society. The national branch examined the subject from an objective scholarly viewpoint while Dobie and his followers instead collected and presented folklore as a living, breathing, participatory endeavor.
Dobie's second book, Coronado's Children, received national attention and broadened substantially the Texas writer's audience. In 1932, Dobie ventured into broadcasting with the radio program "Longhorn Luke and his Cowboys." He also published articles in magazines and continued to put out his folklore books. He frequently traveled in search of material for his books, and he became a popular speaker on the lecture circuit. In 1939, he began his syndicated newspaper column "My Texas." Successful in each medium, Dobie came to symbolize the essence of Texas in the popular mind.
Through all this activity, Dobie remained based at the University of Texas in Austin. In 1930, he introduced his course Life and Literature of the Southwest, and it became the most popular offering on campus. Its curriculum was copied in universities across the state. Dobie had always had a prickly relationship with the University of Texas based partly on his refusal to seek a PhD and partly on his belief that the Southwest was a sufficient scholarly focus in its own right. In 1943, Dobie left UT to serve a two-year stint as lecturer on American History in Cambridge, England. Upon his return, Dobie jumped right into a heated controversy when he spoke out in defense of Homer Price Rainey, president of the University of Texas, in the fight with the Board of Regents. In 1947, when then University president Theophilus Painter refused to grant Dobie another leave, Dobie resigned with the administration's acquiescence. He remained at his home in the University area and was always associated with the University of Texas though his formal days as a teacher were over.
Dobie endeared himself to the public both through his personality and his brand of tale telling. He boldly used his popularity to speak out on social issues and other causes that captured his attention. An ardent individualist, he constantly railed against censorship, demagogic religiosity, and those who would impede freedom of thought. "I have come to value liberated minds as the supreme good of life on earth" (Some Part of Myself 6). He championed black voting rights in 1945 and supported organized labor's right to strike. He considered certain college departments unsatisfactory as programs of learning. Journalism, he said, was the unctuous elaboration of the obvious. Of education-trained teachers he commented, "I have never encountered one possessed of a first class mind, though I have encountered a few fairly good ones. Many are dull well-meanders, cunning climbers, exponents of the paltry, and, worst of all, duelers of eager searching intelligence--especially of intelligence lodged in teachers not willing to knuckle" (Tinkle 170).
After Dobie's death in September of 1964, his wife Bertha, who had worked so closely with him throughout their life together, saw to the publication of two books under Dobie's name based on his notes. The Dobies had no children of their own but were particularly fond of Bertha's nephew, Edgar Kincaid. Kincaid moved in with the Dobies when he became a student at the University of Texas, and he remained in their Austin house on 26th Street to tend to them in their old age. Kincaid was an avid ornithologist and editor of The Bird Life of Texas (1974).
The Dobie name today is often spoken in the same breath with that of his two University of Texas contemporaries, the historian Walter Prescott Webb and the naturalist Roy Bedichek. The three friends have been titled Texas' intellectual triumvirate and are considered the forerunners to Texas literature. "[They] were living proof that serious persons could do independent cultural work in Texas" (Texas Observer 18).
Joe Frantz remarked that Dobie was "Texas' first liberated mind to achieve a wide audience and the first truly professional writer produced by the state" (Third Coast 1983). Many Texas writers openly credit Dobie with giving them the inspiration not only to be a writer but also to feel comfortable using their home state as a subject. Billy Lee Brammer admitted, "It never occurred to me--ever--until I read Frank Dobie, that I could be a writer. There simply were no writers in Texas" (Texas Observer 21). Fred Gipson confided that he had never realized it was possible to live in Texas and be a writer until Dobie set the example (Austin American Statesman B5). Publisher and screenwriter Bill Wittliff wrote Bertha on Dobie's death that "Dobie was the prime moving force of my life." Bertha and friends established a most fitting memorial to Dobie in light of his contribution to Texas letters, the Dobie-Paisano fellowship. The award provides money for writers and artists to work on their projects during a six month stay on Dobie's Paisano ranch in the hill country outside of Austin. Bibliography:
Dobie, J. Frank. Some Part of Myself. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1967. Dugger, Ronnie, "Dobie, Bedichek, Webb: Workers in the Culture," The Texas Observer 19 Aug. 1983: 18.
Frantz, Joe, "The Forty Acre Follies,” The Third Coast, Dec. 1983: 100.
Porterfield, Billy, "Dobie's Roots Helped Texas Writers Blossom" The Austin American-Statesman, 24 Sep. 1990: B1.
Tinkle, Lon.An American Original. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1978.
For further information on Dobie and his work see:
Dugger, Ronnie, ed.Three Men in Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967.
McVicker, Mary Louise. The Writings of J. Frank Dobie: A Bibliography. Lawton, Ok: Museum of the Great Plains, 1968.
Stone, Paul Clois. "J. Frank Dobie and the American Folklore Movement." Diss. Yale University, 1995.
For a history of the disposition of Dobie's manuscripts see:
Holland, Richard. "A Corner Forever Texas." Corners of Texas. Ed. Francis Edward Abernethy. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1993.
13.5 Linear Feet
28 boxes (Plus oversize.)
Language of Materials
Metadata Rights Declarations
- The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.
The collection is divided into five series: Works, Personal, Bertha McKee Dobie and Edgar Kincaid Papers, Artifacts, and Newspaper Clippings. The series contain drafts of Dobie's posthumous books, research material, drafts of newspaper columns, magazine articles, lectures, transcriptions of radio broadcasts, correspondence, photographs of family and friends, property deeds, income tax records, personal items (pipes, clothes, a favorite chair), wills, and clippings about Dobie as well as articles, clippings and photographs that had belonged to Bertha McKee Dobie and/or Edgar Kincaid.
Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use: https://www.thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu/research/makearesearchappointment.html.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by Bill and Sally Wittliff, 1988.
- Guide to the J. Frank Dobie Papers
- Gwynedd Cannan
- May 1994
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
- 2005: Inventory revised by Brandy Harris.
- 2021: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Susannah Broyles.