The Philosophical Society of Texas was founded on December 5, 1837, by twenty-six Texans who met in the capitol of the Republic of Texas at Houston. The purpose of the organization was stated as "the collection and diffusion of correct information regarding the moral and social condition of our country; its finances, statistics and political and military history; its climate, soil and productions...animals...aboriginal tribes...natural curiosities...mines...and the thousand other topics of interest which our new and rising republic unfolds to the philosopher, the scholar, and the man of the world." The founders urged the society’s members and their successors to make the newly independent Texas “as resplendent for all the acts that adorn civilized life as it is now in glorious military renown." Charter members included Mirabeau B. Lamar (president); Ashbel Smith, Robert A. Irion, Anson Jones, Joseph Rowe, and David S. Kaufman (vice presidents); William Fairfax Gray, David G. Burnet (secretaries); Augustus C. Allen (treasurer); John Birdsall (librarian); Thomas Jefferson Rusk, William H. Wharton, Angus McNeill, George W. Bonnell, Joseph Baker, Patrick C. Jack, John A. Wharton, James Collinsworth, Littleton Fowler, Albert C. Horton, John W. Bunton, Edward T. Branch, Henry Smith, Hugh McLeod, Thomas Jefferson Chambers, and Sam Houston. Public announcements were made for a second formal meeting to be held in Austin on January 29, 1840, during the Fourth Congress of the Republic of Texas, but it is unclear how many attended. Several members attempted to keep routine sessions in subsequent years, but most of the charter members were deeply involved in the establishment of a new government, and, but the society became inactive before annexation and the end of the republic in 1845.
In 1935 the organization was revived by George Waverly Briggs, James Quayle Dealey, Herbert P. Gambrell, Samuel Wood Geiser, Umphrey Lee, Charles Shirley Potts, Ira Kendrick Stephens, Lucius Mirabeau Lamar IV, William Alexander Rhea, and William Embry Wrather. It was chartered on January 18, 1936, as a nonprofit educational corporation, the purpose of which was to perpetuate the memory and spirit of the men who founded the original society and to encourage research and the preservation of historical, literary, and philosophical documents and materials. On May 31, 1936, the revivalist incorporators composed a new set of bylaws intended to mirror the “spirit and effect” of the original society. This was followed by a “reorganizational meeting” in Dallas on December 5, 1936, and an inaugural meeting banquet on January 29, 1937, on the anniversary of the first recorded meeting, which took place 100 years earlier in Austin. Bylaws provided for 100 active members, fifty associate members and permitted the election of not more than twenty-five non-Texan members. Membership was by invitation only and active or associate membership was limited to persons who were born within or had resided in the geographical boundaries of the Republic of Texas and who had contributed to the achievement of the original aims of the society. The only "foreign" or non-Texan member elected up to 1949 was Alcée Louis La Branche, who was United States chargé d'affaires to the republic in 1837.
By the 1990s the bylaws, which had been amended several times, allowed for 200 active members and varying numbers of emeritus and associate members. The category of “foreign” or non-Texan members was eliminated, and the society required all to be current or former residents of Texas. Since 1987, active members have been required to attend at least one annual meeting every three years to retain active status. Those who cannot meet the requirement are automatically moved to associate status. The only exceptions are made for those in government service outside of Texas. The Philosophical Society had its office in the Hall of State in Dallas upon its reorganization, and by the 1990s the office was in Austin. At that time the society continued to hold meetings on or near December 5 of each year. In 2010 the society held its last meetings in December, choosing instead to move the date to February. The first February meeting took place in 2012; the society did not meet in 2011.Meeting sites since 1937 have included Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Lufkin, Galveston, College Station, Nacogdoches, Tyler, Arlington, Denton, Fort Clark, Kerrville, Laredo, Corpus Christi, El Paso, San Angelo, Abilene, Waco, and Salado. Sessions begin at dinner on Friday evening and are followed by an address. Saturday features a daylong series of symposiums on topics of current interest; there is also an after-dinner address. Since 1937 the Philosophical Society of Texas has published an annual volume of Proceedings.
Presidents between 1935 and 1949 were (in chronological order) Ira Kendrick Stephens, Charles Shirley Potts, Edgar Odell Lovett, George Bannerman Dealey, George Waverly Briggs, William James Battle, George Alfred Hill, Jr., Edward Henry Cary, Edward Randall, Sr., Umphrey Lee, and Eugene Perry Locke. Presidents in this period also included Louis Herman Hubbard, Pat Ireland Nixon, Ima Hogg, and Albert Perley Brogan. Presidents from 1950 through 1999 (again in chronological order) have been William Lockhart Clayton, A. Frank Smith, Jr., Ernest Lynn Kurth, and Dudley Kezer Woodward, Jr. Others were Burke Baker, Jesse Andrews, James Pinckney Hart, Robert Gerald Storey, and Lewis Randolph Bryan, Jr., as well as W. St. John Garwood, George Crews McGhee, Harry Huntt Ransom, Eugene Benjamin Germany, Rupert Norval Richardson, and Mrs. George Alfred Hill, Jr. (Mary Van Den Berge Hill). Other presidents during this time were Edward Randall, Jr., McGruder Ellis Sadler, William Alexander Kirkland, as well as Richard Tudor Fleming, Herbert P. Gambrell, Harris Kempner, Carey G. Croneis, Willis McDonald Tate, Dillon Anderson, Logan Wilson, Edward Clark, Thomas H. Law, Truman G. Blocker, Jr., Frank E. Vandiver, Price Daniel, Durwood Fleming, Charles A. LeMaistre, Abner V. McCall, Leon Jaworski, Wayne H. Holtzman, Jenkins Garrett, Joe R. Greenhill, William Pettus Hobby, Jr., Elspeth Rostow, John Clifton Caldwell, J. Chrys Dougherty III, Frank McReynolds Wozencraft, William C. Levin, William D. Seybold, Robert Krueger, Steven Weinberg, William H. Crook, Charles C. Sprague, Jack S. Blanton, Sr., William P. Wright, Jr., and Patricia Hayes. A membership of approximately 200 active members has been maintained through the years, as well as varying numbers of associate and emeritus members. Recent meeting topics included the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Superconducting Super Collider, the criminal justice system, medicine and medical policy, immigration, global energy, cyber security, architecture, and the arts. A book award was established by the society in 2000 for the best book on Texas published in the previous year. As of 2018, the society has expanded to three separate book awards: one for non-fiction, one for fiction, and a third award for poetry.