Herron, Ima Honaker (1899–1997)

By: Russell Martin

Type: Biography

Published: September 17, 2021

Updated: September 17, 2021

Ima Honaker Herron, pioneering literary scholar and the first woman to rise to the top academic rank of professor at Southern Methodist University, was born on March 9, 1899, in Farmersville, Texas. She was the daughter of William Patrick and Beulah Alice (Honaker) Herron. She was descended from North Texas pioneers on both sides of her family. Both of Herron’s parents valued education (three of their daughters and one son became teachers), and Ima Herron herself laughingly described her family as “dofobs,” or “damned old fools over books.” This personal background provided her with ample experiences to draw on throughout her career as an English professor, both in her teaching and her scholarship. “I gained an early understanding, through listening to oft-repeated family history, of the ways of pioneer townspeople, their hardships, and their folk aspirations,” she wrote.

After attending the Farmersville public schools, she graduated in 1919 from Kidd-Key College and Conservatory in nearby Sherman, where she was valedictorian, earning a scholarship to Southern Methodist University (SMU). At SMU, three professors, Jay B. Hubbell, John H. McGinnis, and Richard A. Hearon, were especially influential in turning her attention to “the significant role of small towns in both actual and literary history.” She graduated with honors from SMU with a B.A. in English and American literature in 1921. She briefly attended graduate school at the University of Chicago in 1924 and then returned to SMU in 1925 and earned her M.A. in English, American, and comparative literature in 1926. In 1935 she received her Ph.D. in American literature, under the direction of Dr. Jay Hubbell, at Duke University and graduated summa cum laude, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Her professional career retraced many of these steps. In 1921 and 1922 she taught English, biology, French, and a religious course at Farmersville High School. In 1923 she began teaching at Kidd-Key College as an instructor in English and became head of the department in 1925. From 1927 to 1931 she taught English at SMU. After studying and teaching as a graduate instructor at Duke, Herron returned to SMU in 1934 as an assistant professor, attaining the rank of professor in 1946 and chairing the SMU English department from 1951 to 1953. In 1962 she was named the E.A. Lilly Professor of English, a title which she retained until her retirement in 1964. She continued to teach as a professor emeritus for two years after her retirement and was a lecturer for the SMU School of Continuing Education in 1970 and for the American Association of University Women in 1971.

Herron served in various capacities at the local, regional, and national levels for a host of scholarly organizations. At SMU, she chaired the undergraduate honors program and helped establish the Phi Beta Kappa chapter on campus. On numerous committees, at SMU and elsewhere, she was the only female member. Though slender and small of stature, she was never intimidated by her male colleagues but quietly pursued excellence in all her endeavors. During World War II, she taught Naval V-5 and V-12 classes at SMU. From 1943 to 1950 she was an associate editor of The Southwest Review. She was a councilor of the Texas Conference of College Teachers of English and a member of the American Studies Association of Texas. She served as secretary of the South Central College English Association and was a delegate to the association’s 1957 national convention. She was a charter member of the Southwestern American Literature Association and the South Central Modern Language Association and served as the latter’s vice president in 1952 and as the American literature editor for its Bulletin from 1948 to 1950. She also edited the SMU graduate school’s Abstracts of Theses for several years. For more than twenty years, from 1932 to 1953, she contributed quarterly bibliographical reports for American Literature, the leading journal in the field.

Herron published two pioneering historical studies, The Small Town in American Literature (1939) and The Small Town in American Drama (1969), both encyclopedic in scope and testaments to her broad and deep knowledge of the field. They explore the ways in which small-town life has been depicted in American letters from the colonial period to the middle of the twentieth century. She was also the author of scores of articles and book reviews.

For these and other endeavors, Herron received numerous awards and honors. In 1955 Phi Eta Sigma, a freshman scholastic society, named her the “Outstanding Professor” at SMU. In 1962 she was given SMU’s Faculty Achievement Award. She was the first woman to receive either of these awards. In 1965 the SMU Alumni Association honored her with the Woman of Achievement Award, the female precursor to the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award. The Carnegie Foundation, the Danforth Foundation, and Shell Oil Company all provided her with research grants.

Colleagues and students regarded Ima Herron as an inspiring and demanding teacher, a careful and exacting scholar, and a good friend. She was held in high esteem by leading academics and writers in American literature, including Hubbell, Clarence Gohdes, David DeJong, William S. Hoole, and Earle Labor, a former student who dedicated an edition of Short Stories of Jack London (1992) to her and Laurence Perrine.

Herron was fluent in French, German, Spanish, and Latin. A devout Methodist, she attended Highland Park United Methodist Church, served as president of the Woman’s Home Ministry Society, and was a delegate to several Methodist Church conferences. She died in Dallas on January 19, 1997, and left no immediate survivors. She was buried in Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News, January 20, 1997. Ima Herron Papers, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. Ima Honaker Herron Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Ima H. Herron, The Small Town in American Drama (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1969).

  • Education
  • Educators
  • English and Journalism
  • Religion
  • Methodist
  • Women
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Scholars, Editors, and Critics
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Texas Post World War II
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Russell Martin, “Herron, Ima Honaker,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 08, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/herron-ima-honaker.

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September 17, 2021
September 17, 2021

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