Duflot, Joseph Leo (1881–1957)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: October 3, 2019

Joseph Leo Duflot, sociology professor, was born on May 4, 1881, in Kentucky. He received a B.S. degree from Vanderbilt University and a B.A. degree from Western Kentucky University at Bowling Green, where he met Elizabeth Meloo, a fellow student, whom he married in 1908. That year Duflot began his teaching career, and in 1915 he became principal of Amarillo High School. He held that position until the fall of 1918, when he joined the faculty at West Texas State Teachers' College (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon after doing graduate work at the University of Chicago. Duflot organized the college's sociology department and became its chairman. In 1929 he obtained his master's degree in sociology from the University of Chicago, where he worked as a Laura Spellman Rockefeller research assistant and completed residence requirements for the doctoral degree.

Duflot's philosophy, which he sought to pass on to his students, contrasted sharply with the conservative religious atmosphere prevalent in West Texas during the early decades of the twentieth century. Although he had joined the First Presbyterian Church in Canyon and begun teaching Sunday school shortly after his arrival in 1918, Duflot was dismissed by the church in July 1921 for allegedly mixing evolution with the Genesis account of creation and questioning the veracity of certain passages in the Bible. Wishing to maintain friendly relations with the denomination, he subsequently united with the Presbyterian congregation in Amarillo. From there Duflot's teachings eventually reached the ears of Jack L. Neville, a fundamentalist preacher whose show was known locally as the "Flying Parson of the Panhandle Church of the Air." When the Baptist State Convention met at Amarillo in November 1930, J. Franklyn Norris, Baptist pastor and editor of The Fundamentalist, arrived from Fort Worth to conduct a series of revivals, many of which were broadcast on Neville's radio program from Station KGRS.

Beginning the second week in December 1930, Norris instigated a series of personal attacks against Duflot and his "modernist" philosophy. Basically, the controversy involved two issues. For one thing, Norris had told a story he had heard from W. B. Riley, pastor of the Fundamentalist Baptist Church at Minneapolis, Minnesota, concerning a group of professors who had been tricked into believing that an abnormally large human tooth, recently extracted, was that of a prehistoric animal extinct for some six million years. Upon hearing that story, Duflot had asked his students to apply the principles of critical thinking he had taught them to the incident; the students concluded that the episode probably never happened. Norris considered that conclusion to be an attack against his honesty. Secondly, Duflot had circulated a questionnaire among his students on behalf of two seniors who were researching the behavior and characteristics of an only child. The professor had assured them that their responses were to be strictly voluntary, anonymous, and in private. Norris, who had somehow obtained a copy of the questionnaire, accused Duflot of trying to wrest lewd and improper information from his charges. The climax of the controversy occurred on December 12, when Norris staged a rally at the courthouse square in Canyon. Earlier, Norris had invited Duflot to meet him on that date in a debating session, which the professor had politely declined, preferring instead to play golf that day. At the rally Norris reiterated what he had broadcast over the airwaves, condemning Duflot as "an orangutang, God-denying, Bible-destroying, evolutionist professor" with atheistic tendencies and urging that he be dismissed from the West Texas State faculty. Although Duflot was called in for a hearing by the college's board of regents, he ably exonerated himself. Afterward, in reaction to Norris's printed speech in the December 19 issue of The Fundamentalist, Duflot wrote a forty-page manuscript in which he sought to clarify the issues involved and defend his belief in academic freedom.

Although his conflict with the fundamentalists was never entirely resolved, Duflot continued in his departmental chair at West Texas State. His students affectionately nicknamed him "Jumping Joe" because of his flashing eyes and expressive gestures that he used to get his points across. Duflot was a lifelong member of the Texas State Teachers' Association and served as president of the Canyon organization of University of Chicago alumni from 1936 to 1940. He also was president of the Southwest Sociological Society in 1946–47 and was a member of the American Sociological Society. In 1951, after thirty-three years as department head, he retired from teaching.

Duflot was the father of three children by his first marriage. After his first wife's death he married Agnes Warriner, a former West Texas State student, in 1956. They moved to Houston, where Duflot died on February 21, 1957. He was buried in the Memory Gardens Cemetery at Canyon. His papers are in the Research Center of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.

James T. Hickman, "The Preacher and the Professor," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 59 (1986). Ruth Lowes and W. Mitchell Jones, We'll Remember Thee: An Informal History of West Texas State University (Canyon: WTSU Alumni Association, 1984).


  • Education
  • Educators
  • Social Sciences
  • Religion
  • Presbyterian

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Duflot, Joseph Leo,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 23, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/duflot-joseph-leo.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
October 3, 2019