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Our year with J. Frank Dobie

By Joan Sibley

Thanks to support from the TexTreasures grant program of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the papers of Texas writer, folklorist, and educator J. Frank Dobie (1888–1964) are now described in an online finding aid. Dobie was a widely known and influential figure in Texas and the Southwest from the 1920s until his death in 1964, deeply involved in championing Texas literature and culture. In 1930, he pioneered his signature course at The University of Texas at Austin, “Life and Literature of the Southwest,” a class still taught here 85 years later.

 

Bill Malone Photography. Photograph of J. Frank Dobie in his office, 1955. Dobie’s office contents confirm that he was a keen collector of art, artifacts, and books concerned with Texas folklore, history, and language.
Bill Malone Photography. Photograph of J. Frank Dobie in his office, 1955. Dobie’s office contents confirm that he was a keen collector of art, artifacts, and books concerned with Texas folklore, history, and language.

 

Archivist Daniela Lozano and I spent a year repurposing descriptions contained in the Center’s manuscripts card catalog for 263 boxes of papers and cataloging another 90 boxes of later Dobie acquisitions, while also upgrading collection housing to improve long-term preservation. Through more efficient housing, the papers now occupy 288 boxes (120 linear feet).

 

Previous users of the Dobie papers had to visit the Ransom Center Reading and Viewing Room and search through 17,000 cards filling 12 drawers to locate described items and also review lists of several uncatalogued accessions. The new finding aid may be accessed worldwide by any user with a computer, who may now keyword-search to discover the manuscript works, correspondent names, and subjects represented in the complete Dobie papers.

 

During the project, Daniela and I were impressed by the wide scope of Dobie’s interests and connections, especially in his voluminous correspondence files, which represent more than 12,000 individuals or organizations, including many notable writers, folklorists, artists, educators, publishers, politicians, students, and readers, as well as family, friends, and everyday Texans. We were often surprised, delighted, amused, and even moved by particular items. These are only a few favorites we selected to give you a flavor of what we saw during the project. We invite you to come and discover J. Frank Dobie for yourself!

 

C. H. Dykeman,  Photograph of J. Frank Dobie at his desk, 1959. Note the wooden roadrunner on his desk and the open file cabinet drawer showing folders of papers.
Mrs. Paul Simpson. Letter to J. Frank Dobie, February 14, 1941, with Dobie’s February 21, 1941 reply. Mrs. Simpson was the mother of one of Dobie’s students, she asked him to help her daughter get over her fear of cows.
Mrs. Paul Simpson. Letter to J. Frank Dobie, February 14, 1941, with Dobie’s February 21, 1941 reply. Mrs. Simpson was the mother of one of Dobie’s students, she asked him to help her daughter get over her fear of cows. (p. 2)
Mrs. Paul Simpson. Letter to J. Frank Dobie, February 14, 1941, with Dobie’s February 21, 1941 reply. Mrs. Simpson was the mother of one of Dobie’s students, she asked him to help her daughter get over her fear of cows. (p. 3)
Mrs. Paul Simpson, Letter to J. Frank Dobie,  February 14, 1941, with Dobie’s February 21, 1941 reply. Mrs. Simpson was the mother of one of Dobie’s students, she asked him to help her daughter get over her fear of cows. (p.4)
Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967. Letter to J. Frank Dobie, May 9, 1934. Distinguished American poet, writer, and long-time friend of Dobie. He visited Dobie at his home in Austin, which now houses the Michener Center for Writers.
Bertram Rota, 1903-1966. Letter to J. Frank Dobie, November 19, 1962. Written by the famed English bookseller after Dobie was injured in an automobile accident. Dobie’s markup and comments seen on this item are fairly common practice on other letters in his archive.
Bertram Rota, 1903-1966. Letter to J. Frank Dobie, November 19, 1962. Written by the famed English bookseller after Dobie was injured in an automobile accident. Dobie’s markup and comments seen on this item are fairly common practice on other letters in his archive. (p. 2)
Allen Reid Robertson. Illustrated letter to J. Frank Dobie, September 24, 1941. Letter from former Dobie student then in military training. Note that the “thought bubble” over his head depicts the UT Tower. (p. 1)
Allen Reid Robertson. Illustrated letter to J. Frank Dobie, September 24, 1941. Letter from former Dobie student then in military training. Note that the “thought bubble” over his head depicts the UT Tower. (p. 2)
Allen Reid Robertson. Illustrated letter to J. Frank Dobie, September 24, 1941. Letter from former Dobie student then in military training. Note that the “thought bubble” over his head depicts the UT Tower. (p. 3)
Allen Reid Robertson. Illustrated letter to J. Frank Dobie, September 24, 1941. Letter from former Dobie student then in military training. Note that the “thought bubble” over his head depicts the UT Tower. (p. 4)
J. O. “Jack” O’Reilly.  Illustrated envelope addressed to J. Frank Dobie, 1955. Jack O’Reilly lived in San Francisco and was a reader of Dobie’s books and a talented artist who entered into correspondence with Dobie.
J. O. “Jack” O’Reilly.  Illustrated envelope addressed to J. Frank Dobie, 1955. Jack O’Reilly lived in San Francisco and was a reader of Dobie’s books and a talented artist who entered into correspondence with Dobie. (reverse)
J. Frank Dobie, 1888-1964. Letter to Stanley Marcus, March 22, 1948. Writes to the president of luxury retailer Neiman Marcus giving his method for cooking frijoles.
Will James, 1892-1942. Illustrated letter to J. Frank Dobie, April 27, 1923. The Will James Society describes James as a “cowboy, cattle rustler, and beloved author and artist of the American West.”
Willie Morris, 1934-1999. Letter to J. Frank Dobie, February 27, 1957. American author who was editor of the Daily Texan in 1956, writing from England where he was studying on a Rhodes Scholarship.
Henry Nash Smith, 1906-1986. Photograph of J. Frank Dobie in Zacatecas, Mexico, August 1933. Dobie credits the photo to Smith, later a fellow UT-Austin professor, co-founder of the American Studies academic discipline, and noted Twain scholar. (front)
Henry Nash Smith, 1906-1986. Photograph of J. Frank Dobie in Zacatecas, Mexico, August 1933. Dobie credits the photo to Smith, later a fellow UT-Austin professor, co-founder of the American Studies academic discipline, and noted Twain scholar. (reverse)
Austin Alumnae Chapter, Theta Sigma Phi. To the Texas Triumvirate, 1956. A verse written to honor Dobie and two close friends, naturalist Roy Bedichek and historian Walter Prescott Webb.
Austin Alumnae Chapter, Theta Sigma Phi. To the Texas Triumvirate, circa 1956. A verse written to honor Dobie and two close friends, naturalist Roy Bedichek and historian Walter Prescott Webb. (p.2)

 

Related Content

Grant allows expanded access to J. Frank Dobie archive

Meet the Staff: Archivist Joan Sibley

Read more interviews in our Meet the Staff series

View the finding aid for the newly re-cataloged J. Frank Dobie archive

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A Letter to Frank Dobie | The Alcalde
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[…] January | February 2016 issue of the Alcalde can be read here. For more information on Frank Dobie, visit the Harry Ransom Center, where this material […]

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