John H. McGinnis papers
A Guide to the Collection
John Hathaway McGinnis was an editor of the Southwest Review, editor of the Dallas Morning News book page, and was professor of English at Southern Methodist University. Born in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania on December 21, 1883, McGinnis earned his BA in English at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri in 1904 and moved on to Columbia University to pursue his master’s degree in 1915. From 1907 to 1914 he taught at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. When the president of Southwestern, Robert S. Hyer, was chosen as president of the newly created Southern Methodist University, he chose McGinnis as one of the first professors hired. Before making the move to Dallas, Texas, McGinnis finished his master’s degree at Columbia. In 1915 McGinnis was the first professor to arrive for duty at SMU. He helped develop the early curriculum for SMU with the assistance of Frank Seay, professor of theology, and President Hyer.
At SMU, McGinnis became notorious on campus as a professor who was difficult to please and extremely demanding; however, he also became a favorite of SMU students. Many of his admiring students became respected professors and authors in their own right. Charles W. Ferguson, SMU professor and McGinnis student, said of his mentor after his death that he was "a sign of what man at his best has always been." Henry Nash Smith, a McGinnis student and distinguished professor at UC Berkeley, jokingly wrote a letter for McGinnis’ retirement in 1954. It read: "Greetings to my classmates in the John H. McGinnis Institute of Advanced Studies. Like all the rest of you, I am still trying to work off my incompletes and to learn to write prose which the Boss will accept for credit. Be of good cheer, we will get our degrees some day if we keep working." Yet another famous McGinnis student was Texas author Lon Tinkle.
McGinnis loomed large in Texas letters during the first half of the twentieth century because of his central participation in creating path-breaking avenues in publication. Beginning in 1916, he became the editor of the Sunday Book Page for the Dallas Morning News. Under his strong direction, it grew from a few articles to a multiple page weekly edition and became one of the most respected book pages in all of the Southwest.
In 1924, he took over the reins of the Southwest Review. Previously known as the Texas Review, with fewer than 20 subscribers, the journal moved from the University of Texas to SMU. Through the Southwest Review, McGinnis helped establish an important new strain of Texas regionalism—one that balanced regional, national, and international perspectives evenly. J. Frank Dobie, a former McGinnis student, wrote of McGinnis’ editorship "I have always admired the tone, the slant, you [McGinnis] gave the Southwest Review as well as the book page, though sometimes I had no interest at all in certain articles on international affairs that you printed in the Review."
McGinnis continued his ventures into publishing with the creation of the Southern Methodist University Press in 1937. He served as the editor until 1942.
McGinnis’ personal life was filled with ups and downs. When he met his future wife, Grace Gillett, she was engaged to another man. This did not deter McGinnis and he quickly fell in love with her. From SMU he wrote her multiple letters daily. In the spring of 1916 Grace came to Dallas to stay with family friends. McGinnis finally won her affections and they were married on October 29, 1916. They had four boys; Gillett, Albert and Edwin, who were twins, and John, the youngest. Unfortunately Gillett was mentally handicapped, and John drowned at age 6 during a family fishing trip.
McGinnis spent the rest of his academic career at SMU and retired in 1954. His friends and former students constituted a veritable who’s who of Texas and Southwestern letters. Outside of the region, many of his former students held positions on the faculties of various universities including Harvard and the University of Chicago. On April 8, 1960 John H. McGinnis passed away.
The John H. McGinnis papers include personal correspondence to his wife, correspondence congratulating him on his retirement, and various correspondence with his friends and colleagues.
Originally, the papers in this collection were arranged in several separate collections:
These three collections were combined into one collection. The John H. McGinnis papers are divided into seven series.
The first series contains personal correspondence between John H. McGinnis and Grace McGinnis, his wife.
The second series contains letters of congratulations on the retirement of John H. McGinnis and letters of condolence to Mrs. Grace McGinnis about the passing of John. Also included in this series are news clippings reporting both events.
The third series contains correspondence with various prominent people. It includes letters from J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, Lon Tinkle, and O’Neil Ford, among many others.
The fourth series contains correspondence that ranges from personal letters to a letter of complaint about the "vulgarity" of the Southwest Review.
The fifth series contains one letter dated April 13, 1864 from Benjamin Gillett, a relative of Grace McGinnis (whose maiden name was Gillett), detailing the battle that took place a few days earlier. The soldier stayed at a camp located near Shreveport, LA.
The sixth series is composed of photographs of the McGinnis family and some photos of Georgetown, TX. Also included in this series are miscellaneous items such as a grading book from the 1919-1920 SMU school year and a few magazine issues.
The seventh series contains a microfilm copy of John H. McGinnis’ master’s thesis from Columbia University. McGinnis’ topic was children’s poetry and the changes in its uses over time.
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.
John H. McGinnis papers, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Gift, Dick Ellinghouse, 1991.
Gift, Susan Byrne, 1992.
Gift, Susan Byrne, 1994.
Aaron Sanchez, 2009.
Lara Corazalla, 2009.
Detailed Description of the Collection