Herbert P. Gambrell papers
A Guide to the Collection
Herbert P. Gambrell (class of 1921 and 1923) worked as a history professor at SMU from 1923 until 1964. Gambrell was an authority on Texas history and worked at the Southwest Review. His published works include biographies of two presidents of the Republic of Texas and several other books and articles on the history of the state.
Gambrell was born in Tyler, Texas, on July 15, 1898. He graduated from Dallas High School in 1915 and began college at Baylor the following year. Newly-built Southern Methodist University opened in Dallas for the 1915-16 school year, and Gambrell transferred there; he received a B.A. in 1921. He also earned a M.A. from SMU three years later. He received a doctorate from the University of Texas in 1946, and his dissertation on Republic of Texas President Anson Jones was published in book form in 1948.
Recalling his years as a student at SMU, which corresponded with the first several years of SMU’s existence, Gambrell wrote,
It all seemed pretty grand, that university under a single roof. Of course, fumes from the chemistry laboratory and hamburger grill in the basement had a way of rising and penetrating; and the sounds of piano’s lungs and brass instruments at work on the third floor floated downward. Odors from the cooking laboratory beneath the library made hungry students drool and some complained that the embalming fluid in which biology specimens were preserved was unpleasant to smell in adjacent rooms. But it seemed all right and proper to us pioneers. Not many of us knew anything about higher education except what we observed in Dallas Hall. We just naturally supposed that these were things that made college different from high school.
In 1940, Gambrell married Virginia Leddy of Greenville, Texas. Virginia Leddy Gambrell became the first archivist of the Dallas Historical Society in 1934. She met Herbert Gambrell at the Hall of State, located at Fair Park in Dallas. Mrs. Gambrell later became director of the Hall of State in 1948 and served in that capacity until 1976.
Gambrell’s teaching career began the same year he graduated from college, when he taught high school history in Temple, Texas and later worked at Weatherford College. He accepted a teaching position at SMU in 1923.
His interest in Texas history led to the publication of his first book, coauthored with Lewis Newton in 1932: A Social and Political History of Texas. Two years later, he published Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar: Troubadour and Crusader, a biography of Texas’ third president from 1838-41. Anson Jones: The Last President of Texas, based on Gambrell’s doctoral dissertation, was published in 1948. Gambrell published a final book in 1960, coauthored with his wife, entitled A Pictorial History of Texas.
SMU bought the Southwest Review in 1924, and Gambrell worked as the managing editor from 1924-1927, as well as contributing articles. He also published material in the Journal of Modern History and the Dictionary of American Biography. In the midst of all of this, Gambrell also found time to serve as chairman of the Board of Education for SMU Press, founded in 1937, from 1939 until his retirement in 1964.
Beyond strictly academic pursuits, Dr. Gambrell also participated in several history-related societies and activities. He worked as the director of historical exhibits at the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936, held at Fair Park. He also worked on historical exhibits at the 1937 Pan American Exposition. Gambrell was active in the Philosophical Society of Texas, the Texas Institute of Letters, the Dallas Historical Society, and the Texas Historical Association.
Like her husband, Virginia Gambrell was active in several historical and literary groups, including the Texas State Library and Historical Commission, the American Association of State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists, and the Philosophical Society of Texas, in addition to her work as director of the Hall of State.
Mrs. Gambrell died in 1978. Dr. Gambrell received the title of chairman emeritus of the SMU history department, from which he retired in 1964. SMU honored him with an honorary doctorate in 1982, and he died in December of that year at 84 years of age.
"Herbert Gambrell of S.M.U.; Teacher and Texas Historian," New York Times, January 3, 1983 (no page given).
Romero, Rachel. "Virginia Leddy Gambrell," Handbook of Texas Online: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/GG/fga50.html.
Ruffcorn, Scott. "Herbert Pickens Gambrell," Handbook of Texas Online: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/GG/fga49.html.
Thomas, Mary Martha Hosford. Southern Methodist University: Founding and Early Years. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1974.
This collection is divided into four series. Because Gambrell served on the SMU faculty, the material related to his time as a professor has been placed at the front of the collection, in its own series. Series 2 holds several folders of correspondence, some personal and some academic-related.
Series 3 contains the majority of the collection’s material: manuscripts, notes, and book proofs from Dr. Gambrell’s book on Anson Jones, who served as President of the Republic of Texas from 1844-46. The book, which was published in 1948, was also Gambrell’s dissertation topic. Copies of Anson Jones: The Last President of Texas can be found in the SMU Fondren Library.
Users should note that some of the manuscript chapters for Anson Jones were originally titled and numbered differently from the way they appear in the book; this material has been arranged in the collection according to the published ordering of the chapters.
Series 4 contains other material on Gambrell’s writings, including articles for the Handbook of Texas.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
Herbert P. Gambrell papers, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2009.
Lara Corazalla, 2009.
Detailed Description of the Collection