George Pierce Garrison, historian, seventh of twelve children of Patterson Gillespie and Mary Ann (Curtiss) Garrison, was born on December 19, 1853, at Carrollton, Georgia. He attended Sewanee College in Winchester, Tennessee (1868–69), and the Carroll Masonic Institute, Carrollton, Georgia (1870–71). He moved to Texas in 1874 and taught school in Rusk and adjoining East Texas communities for five years (1874–79). For two years (1879–81) he studied at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he received the certificate of literate in arts, as well as certificates of merit for proficiency in mathematics, natural philosophy, logic, metaphysics, rhetoric, and English and won the David Masson composition prize. He also joined the Masonic order while in Scotland.
Back in Texas, Garrison married Annie Perkins of Henderson in November 1881; they became the parents of four daughters. Garrison taught at Coronal Institute in San Marcos (1881–82) until compelled by tuberculosis to retire to a ranch for convalescence. In 1884 he was appointed instructor in English literature and history at the University of Texas. In 1888, when English and history were separated, he became assistant professor and head of the history department. Promotions came quickly to him; he was appointed adjunct professor in 1889, associate professor in 1891, and professor in 1897. He remained chairman of the history department until his death. Garrison completed a doctor of philosophy degree at the University of Chicago in 1896 and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Baylor University in 1910.
He contributed significantly to intellectual life at the University of Texas. He began offering graduate work in history in 1897 and was one of the first Texas writers to publish in major journals. He encouraged women to enter the history profession and to pursue graduate work in history, even before a doctorate for women at the University of Texas was a possibility. A building on the university campus, home of the departments of history and American studies, bears his name. He was one of the founders of the Texas State Historical Association and was editor of its Quarterly from its beginning in 1897 until his death. He was a member of the American Economic Association and the American Historical Association, as well as Phi Beta Kappa and Kappa Sigma.
Garrison labored unobtrusively but persistently to secure the passage of a law to place the Texas State Library under efficient control and make it more useful. He allied himself with the Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Texas Library Association to accomplish this goal. In 1909, partly as a result of his efforts, legislation established the Texas State Library and Historical Commission to supervise the state library. As senior professor of history at the university, Garrison was an ex officio member of the commission and was elected its first chairman. Garrison cooperated with Lester G. Bugbee in obtaining the Bexar Archives for the University of Texas, and he helped Guy Morrison Bryan to donate the Austin papers to the university. Furthermore, he originated the university's policy of transcribing documents from the Mexican National Archives. For several years he was a member of the Austin School Board. He was chairman of the building committee for the University Methodist Church in Austin and was also active in the Twenty-fourth Street Methodist Church. He was a generous supporter of the university YMCA and other community groups.
Garrison wrote a number of books and articles, including The Civil Government of Texas (1898), The History of Federal Control of Congressional Elections (1900), Texas: A Contest of Civilizations (1903), and Westward Extension, volume seventeen of The American Nation (1906). He also edited Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic of Texas (three volumes, 1907, 1908, 1911). His Texas was the first historic study by a Texas author sufficiently based on relevant Spanish and French sources.
On November 4, 1909, Garrison's friends celebrated his quarter century of service to the University of Texas at a testimonial dinner at the Driskill Hotel in Austin. President Sidney E. Mezes presided and toasted Garrison as "a successful teacher, an efficient administrator, a sound and productive scholar, a prudent, brave, and kindly man." Among Garrison's lesser accomplishments was his ability to sing old plantation songs and write poetry. On July 3, 1910, he died of heart disease at his home. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.