John O. Beaty controversy papers
A Guide to the Collection
John Owen Beaty (1890-1961) taught English at Southern Methodist University, from 1919 until his retirement in 1957. During this time, he also served as head of the English Department from 1927 until 1940. Beaty, a native of Crow, West Virginia, received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Virginia, and later completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at Columbia University in 1921. Professor Beaty also spent a semester studying in France at the University of Montpelier.
Dr. Robert Hyer, first president of Southern Methodist University, appointed Beaty to the English Department in 1918. Beaty taught courses in sophomore English, as well as in Old English and the history of the English language. He served in active duty during World War II in the Military Intelligence service, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. He remained in the army reserves for a total of thirty one years.
Dr. Beaty published fourteen books, including "Race and Population" (1928), "Swords in the Dawn" (1937), "Image of Life" (1940), "The Iron Curtain over America" (1951), and "Crossroads." Dr. Beaty also served as a co-editor of "Facts and Ideas," and "Famous Editions of English Poets," as well as working with the Modern Language Association of America and the Dictionary of American Biography. His writing was not confined to his own areas of academic interest, as he also wrote various newspaper articles on foreign affairs. Dr. Beaty was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and other honors include membership in the Modern Language Association, Texas Institute of Letters, the American Legion, and serving as president of the Conference of College Teachers of English.
Claims made in his 1951 work "The Iron Curtain over America," as well as a pamphlet published shortly thereafter, "How to Capture a University," triggered much controversy within SMU during the early 1950s. Dr. Beaty was charged with being anti-Semitic and spreading claims in his work that either could not be supported with the references he cited, or that were the product of inappropriate use of sources. "The Iron Curtain over America" attracted a great deal of attention and apparently was widely read, going through eight reprintings in 1952 alone. The context of the times when these two works appeared is especially important: the fear of communist expansion worldwide in the years after World War II, the fall of China to communist forces in 1949, and domestic efforts—both on the part of the Truman administration and by Congress (including by Senator Joseph McCarthy) to expose communist infiltration—gave Beaty’s work a very receptive audience. "The Iron Curtain over America" charged that communism could be characterized as a Jewish conspiracy, and that world communism was rapidly gaining ground everywhere, with little or no response from the Democratic Truman administration. His later pamphlet argued that Southern Methodist University, while responsible for teaching Christianity and promoting Christian values, was nevertheless being infiltrated by communist and un-Christian influences.
Such claims garnered support, certainly, but also charges of anti-Semitism and shoddy research, and SMU responded by setting up a committee—comprised of members of the SMU board of trustees and several Methodist bishops—to investigate Dr. Beaty’s claims. SMU President Umphrey Lee charged the Board of Trustees with addressing the allegations Dr. Beaty made in his 1954 pamphlet. The Board established a special committee charged with investigating those claims, and that committee’s findings—depositions, exhibits, and final report—are a major portion of the collection. That committee eventually found his charges to be unsupported by any evidence, and the Board of Trustees subsequently voted to censure him.
Dr. Beaty continued to serve in the English department until his 1957 retirement. He later moved to Virginia, and died in September 1961.
The Beaty Papers contain the pamphlet "How to Capture a University" and the reactions to it from within the university and from members of the general public.
The entire collection can be roughly divided into three series. First are the results of the university special committee—letter to the university community announcing the formation of the committee, exhibits cited by the committee in the course of its work, statements by committee members as well as Dr. Beaty, and the final letter from the committee rejecting Dr. Beaty’s claims.
Second are copies of Dr. Beaty’s writings and reactions to it—copies of "How to Capture a University," his later pamphlet entitled "The Cry of Anti-Semitic," correspondence of Dr. Beaty responding to the praise/outcry over his writing, and reviews/letters from both members of the historical profession and general public both supporting and condemning his writing.
Third is a collection of newspaper articles from the early 1960s concerning disputes over textbooks that were being considered for adoption in Texas public schools. Several of the books, including economic texts, were thought by some to be too critical of capitalism and free enterprise; as such, they do not directly relate to the mid-1950s controversy over Dr. Beaty’s work. However, the articles are a valuable resource in highlighting both the perceived need to keep out communist or anti-American influences—or anything that could be interpreted as an endorsement of either—from schools and universities, as well as the supposed susceptibility of educational institutions to subversive ideologies.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
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John O. Beaty controversy papers, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University
Finding aid written by Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2007.
Lara Corazalla, 2007.
Detailed Description of the Collection