John Owen Beaty, teacher and author, was born to James Robert and Eula (Simms) Beaty at Crow, West Virginia, on December 22, 1890. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Virginia in 1913 and enlisted in the United States Army in 1917; he remained on active duty through World War I, then stayed in Europe and took graduate courses at the Université de Montpellier, France, before returning to the United States, where he joined the faculty of Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1919. He married Josephine Mason Powell in 1920. The couple raised four children. Beaty completed his Ph.D. in 1921 at Columbia University. In 1926–27 he was an American Kahn fellow in Asia and Europe.
In 1922 he was promoted to professor; he was selected chairman of the Department of English in 1927. He retained this position until 1940 and was honorary chairman until his retirement from the university in 1957. From 1926 to 1934 he was visiting professor during the summers at various universities, including the University of Texas. He authored and coauthored a number of articles for popular and professional journals and several books, including An Introduction to Poetry (1922), An Introduction to Drama (1927), Texas Poems (1936), Swords in the Dawn (1937), Image of Life (1940), and Crossroads (1956). In 1951 he published The Iron Curtain Over America. This highly controversial and widely criticized book contended that Jews not only were largely responsible for the success of the Bolshevik Revolution but dominated the Democratic party in the United States.
Beaty was chairman of the Modern Language Association's Old English group, 1938–39; president of the Texas branch of the Conference of College Teachers of English, 1937–38; and a member of the American Academy of Political Science. He also served as pronunciation consultant for the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary, published in 1934. In addition, he was a member of the United States Army Reserve until 1950; he retired with the rank of colonel.
After his retirement from SMU, Beaty and his wife moved to Campbellton Farm, which his father had established, near Barboursville, Virginia. He died on September 9, 1961, while hospitalized at Gordonsville, Virginia. He was a Baptist and a member of the Order of the White Cross, the Masonic order, and the Woodmen of the World.