Town and Gown Club Records
An Inventory to the Collection
The Town and Gown Club was formed in the fall of 1902 by a group of Austin men who wished to establish a club composed of citizens of Austin ("Town" members) and faculty from the University of Texas ("Gown" members). At their first meeting on November 18, 1902, they determined that the purpose of the club should be to provide "social and intellectual entertainment" for the members. The seventeen Town founding members included seven lawyers, the Mayor of Austin, the Superintendent of the State Insane Asylum, and the Supreme Court Reporter. The ten Gown founding members included professors of the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities and the Director of the University Mineral Survey. They elected Alexander Penn Wooldridge as their President and William James Battle as their Secretary-Treasurer.
The Town and Gown Club met biweekly during the academic year. Two members were chosen on a rotating basis to serve as hosts, selecting the topic of discussion and presiding over the meeting. Meetings began with dinner and social conversation, followed by the presentation and discussion of the topic. This format remained unchanged throughout the history of the club. Topics from 1902-1903 included "Texas Mineral and Mining Law" and "The Science and Art of Education." More recent topics from 2000-2001 include "Harry Potter as a Cultural Phenomenon" and "Impressions of Zimbabwe and South Africa." The Town and Gown Club first met at Jacoby's Garden, a restaurant known for its beer and wine selection. They moved to the Driskill Hotel sometime between 1906 and 1910 and remained there until a remodeling project pushed them out in 1969. The Cambridge Tower Restaurant became their new meeting location; the restaurant did not have a liquor license but allowed the club to operate its own bar. The club continued to bounce from place to place. Following three years at the Cambridge Tower Restaurant, they spent one year at Villa Capri and then four years at the Commodore Perry Building. In 1977, they moved to Headliner's Club and have remained there to the present day. The club also held an annual picnic open to female guests. This social gathering typically marked the end of the club's year.
Membership in the Town and Gown Club was by invitation only. When a space opened up due to a member resigning or being placed on inactive status, each member was requested to nominate two men. The Membership Committee would choose from these nominees to fill the spot. The club aimed to keep membership limited so that all could fully participate. Membership was exclusive; the ranks of the club included such prominent Austin figures as U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, U. T. Chancellor Harry Hunt Ransom, and folklorist J. Frank Dobie. The Membership Committee sought to invite men who could provide intellectual stimulation and diversity of opinion. Most members remained in the club for long periods of time, often until old age and ill health prevented them from attending.
While the meeting format and purpose of the Town and Gown Club remained stable for a century, its policies regarding membership and conduct underwent controversial changes. The members' enjoyment of alcoholic beverages at the meeting dinners ended with Prohibition, and, despite occasional protests, alcohol was not available at meetings again until 1961. A more divisive issue for the members was whether women should be admitted. Prior to 1990, female guests were not allowed at meetings other than the annual picnic. In 1984, two women were nominated for membership, prompting a series of mail ballots on the subject. The failure of the resolution to admit women to the club led two members to resign. The vote was repeated in the spring of 1990, this time passing. In 1992, women joined the club for the first time in its 90th year. Smoking became a source of contention in the 1990s. Following the resignation of two members with respiratory problems, the club requested the few remaining smokers to sit in the back of the room. In 1997, the club voted to prohibit smoking entirely during meetings, this resulting in more resignations, this time by two smokers.
Privacy was a major concern for the members of the Town and Gown Club. The club shunned any publicity regarding its activities and even its very existence. The goal was to allow the members to express themselves freely without fear of repercussions outside of the club. An article appeared in The Daily Texan in 1990, which accused the club of using U. T. resources for private business because then Secretary-Treasurer Gene Wissler directed members to send correspondence to his office on campus. The article was particularly critical of the club because it was all-male, though this was soon to change. Despite the concerns of the club members, no repercussions followed, and the club has continued to avoid public notice since 1990.
Officers of the club were elected by members at their last spring meeting prior to the annual picnic. The President, Vice-President, and Secretary-Treasurer sat on all committees of the club, playing a major role in setting the tone of the club's activities. The Secretary-Treasurer served as the main contact for members for administrative purposes, maintained all records, and managed the finances. In 2000, the positions of Secretary and Treasurer were split. The combined tenure of Presidents Alfred Ernest Wilkinson, William James Battle, and Malcolm Macdonald accounts for seventy-six years of the club's first century. Wilkinson, President from 1905-1932, was a Texas Supreme Court Reporter. Battle was a Greek professor who briefly served as Acting President of U.T. In addition to serving as President from 1932-1955, he was the original Secretary-Treasurer and was Vice-President from 1924-1932. He served as an early historian of the club, writing papers for the 40th and 50th anniversaries. Macdonald, President from 1965-1990, was a government professor. Prior to his presidency, he was the Secretary-Treasurer for four years and the Vice-President for two years. Other long-term officers of the club include English professor L. L. Click, Secretary-Treasurer from 1935-1959; lawyer James H. Hart, Vice-President from 1932-1955 and President from 1955-1960; research scientist Chester McKinney, Secretary-Treasurer from 1969-1980 and President 1996-1998; and engineering professor Gene Wissler, Secretary-Treasurer from 1980-1981 and President from 1993-1996.
Presidents of the Town and Gown Club
Secretary-Treasurers of the Town and Gown Club
Correspondence, printed material, financial documentation, creative works, and lists, 1902-2002, document the activities of the Town and Gown Club of Austin. Administrative records, 1902-1979, constitute the bulk of the Town and Gown Club Records. Arranged chronologically, the administrative records contain within each year announcements of the Town and Gown Club's biweekly meetings, correspondence between the club's secretaries and its members, and financial documentation, such as membership dues and other miscellaneous club fees and various receipts. The announcements of the Town and Gown Club meetings provide the date and location of each meeting, the hosts of each evening's events, and a description of the lecture to be presented by a member of the club. Announcements of the annual picnic-its location and menu-are also contained in the club's administrative records.
The records of the Centennial Committee, 1902-2002, document the creation and publication of The Town and Gown Club: The First 100 Years, a book that provides an historical sketch of the club and its founding members. The records of the Centennial Committee consist primarily of materials collected by the committee as research for the book, 1902-2002. Collected materials include duplicates of the announcements of the Town and Gown Club meetings, correspondence between the club's secretaries and its members, and essays written by various members of the Town and Gown Club during its first 100 years. Correspondence between members of the Centennial Committee, 2002, document the progression of the committee's publication from its initial stages to its completion. A final copy of The Town and Gown Club: The First 100 Years is also housed with the records of the Centennial Committee.
The records of the 40th Anniversary of the Town and Gown Club, 1942, document the preparation of the dinner held in honor of the club's 40th birthday. Of particular interest in the records of the 40th Anniversary is W.J. Battle's (President, 1932-1955) essay, "Founders of the Town and Gown Club." In his essay, Battle presents biographical sketches of the club's 27 founding members. Four of the founding members, Battle among them, included in the essay were alive at the time of its creation-W.L. Bray, A.C. Ellis, and H.W. Harper. Some of the members memorialized in the essay are R.L. Brown (Vice-President, 1906-1910), A.E. Wilkinson (President, 1905-1932), and A.P. Wooldridge (President, 1902-1905). Also contained in the records of the 40th Anniversary are correspondence, 1941-1943, Battle's handwritten drafts of his essay, and a program from the anniversary dinner.
Similarly, the records of the 50th Anniversary, 1952, document the club's preparation for the celebration of its Golden Anniversary. Of particular note in the records of the 50th Anniversary is W.J. Battle's 31-page account of the club's history, "Memories of Past Days," a revision of his 1942 paper. The essay includes stories about prominent members of the Town and Gown Club, among them R.L. Brown, Alfred E. Wilkinson, Major Ira H. Evans, A.P. Wooldridge, R.L. Batts, Thomas Watt Gregory, and Lindley M. Keasbey (Secretary-Treasurer, 1906-1917), and concludes with an excerpt from Pioneer's Progress by Alvin S. Johnson (member, 1908-1910). Also included with the records of the 50th Anniversary are Battle's handwritten drafts of his essay, correspondence, 1952-1953, and a program from the anniversary dinner.
Memorials of past members of the Town and Gown Club, 1930-1956, are found in correspondence, creative works, and printed materials. These various forms contain biographical sketches of the following Town and Gown Club members: William James Battle, Judge Graham B. Smedley, Charles Wilson Hackett, Hanson Tufts Parlin, William Seneca Sutton, Dr. Joe Gilbert, Dr. Dalton Richardson, Johns William Calhoun (Secretary-Treasurer, 1923-1930), Robert Lynn Batts, Leonidas Warren Payne, Jr., Clarence Truman Gray, and Fred Carlton Ayer.
The records of the Scarbrough Teaching Award, 1954-1957, consist of correspondence between L.L. Click, engineering professor at The University of Texas at Austin and Secretary-Treasurer of the Town and Gown Club, 1935-1959, and faculty from the University of Texas. The correspondence contains nominations for the Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching at The University of Texas. The records of the Scarbrough Teaching Award do not relate to the activities of the Town and Gown Club; however, Click served as the chairman of the Lemuel Scarbrough Foundation during his tenure as Secretary-Treasurer of the Town and Gown Club.
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Eugene Wissler, secretary of the Town and Gown Club, 1980-1993, donated three boxes of organizational records on January 26, 2004. On the same day, Chester McKinney, secretary, 1969-1980, donated one box of records of the Town and Gown Club's Centennial Committee.
Town and Gown Club Records, 1902-2002 (AR.2004.004). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.
Donor #: DO/2003/021
Donation Date: 2004-01-26
Donor #: DO/2002/063
Donation Date: 2004-01-26
Initial Inventory and Preliminary Processing by Jennifer Hughes, Keri Hull, Alison Kilman in October-November 2004. Final Processing and Finding Aid by Jennifer Hughes, Keri Hull, Alison Kilman in November 2004.
Detailed Description of the Collection