Birdwell, Alton William (1870–1954)

By: C. K. Chamberlain

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: November 1, 1994

Alton William Birdwell, teacher and college administrator, oldest son of George Preston and Adelaide (Kilgore) Birdwell, was born near Elkhart, Texas, on September 18, 1870. In 1899 he enrolled at the University of Texas; he attended the University of Missouri in the summer of 1900 and the University of Chicago in the summers of 1910, 1912, and 1914. He received his M.A. degree from George Peabody College for Teachers in August 1915. In 1940 Southwestern University conferred on him an honorary LL.D. degree. Birdwell began teaching in Smith County in 1892, and in 1899 he became principal of North Side Elementary School in Tyler. In 1904 he was made the first county school superintendent of Smith County. In 1906 he became principal at Tyler High School. At Southwest Texas Normal School (now Southwest Texas State University) he became professor of history in 1910, head of the history department in 1911, and dean of the college in 1915. When Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College (now Stephen F. Austin State University) was established in 1921, Birdwell was president, a position he held until 1942. From 1925 through 1933 he spent a part of each summer teaching public school administration at George Peabody College for Teachers. He was president of the Texas State Teachers Association, a trustee of George Peabody College for Teachers, director of a bank, and a member of several professional associations. He was in great demand as a speaker and spoke in cities throughout the United States. Some 200 of his speeches are in the Birdwell Collection in the Stephen F. Austin State University Library. Birdwell married Margaret Shipe in 1915. He died on October 25, 1954, and was buried in Sunset Memorial Cemetery, Nacogdoches.

Bettye Herrington Craddock, The Golden Years (Waco: Texian Press, 1973). Polly A. R. Mallow, The Life and Work of Alton William Birdwell (M.A. thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1945). Patricia Ann Townsend, The Speeches of Doctor Alton W. Birdwell (M.A. thesis, Stephen F. Austin State University, 1956).
  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

C. K. Chamberlain, “Birdwell, Alton William,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994