Stephen F. Austin State University

By: C. K. Chamberlain

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: November 2, 2001

The Texas Legislature, on March 2, 1915, authorized three new normal colleges, one of which was to be named for Stephen F. Austin. The Supreme Court of Texas was to appoint two members of the locating committee, but the court refused to make the appointments, so the law became inoperative. On April 4, 1917, the legislature authorized two colleges and named the governor, the state superintendent of public instruction, and the regents of the normal colleges to serve as the locating board. The city of Nacogdoches offered the state a 200-acre site, and the board, after extensive investigation, selected Nacogdoches as the college site. Much of the campus is on the homestead of Thomas J. Rusk, and the president's home is on the Sam Houston tract. Alton W. Birdwell was elected president when the site was chosen, but with the entrance of the United States into World War I, the legislature, in October 1917, repealed the appropriation for the school. In April 1921 the legislature again made appropriations for the college, and Birdwell was reelected president. Governor Pat M. Neff vetoed all appropriations except those for the building. The school opened on September 18, 1923, with 158 students and used facilities of the Nacogdoches public schools until May 1924. In 1927 a Wesley Bible Chair was installed just off the campus, and a Baptist School of Bible was inaugurated in 1948. The graduate division was established in 1937. In 1945 the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture established the East Texas Branch of the Forest Experiment Station at the college, the only case in which an act of Congress named an institution to cooperate in a forestry research program. Birdwell served until September 1942, when he was succeeded by Paul L. Boynton. Enrollment for the long session of 1946–47 was 1,000.

In 1949, by legislative act, the name of the school was changed from Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College to Stephen F. Austin State College. It was one of the fastest growing state-supported colleges in Texas during the 1960s. Funds for new classroom buildings were obtained through statewide referendums on constitutional amendments, and the Housing and Home Finance Agency of the federal government made dormitory financing available. The value of the physical plant was in excess of $18 million in 1965. Between 1961 and 1966 eight dormitories and twelve apartment buildings were constructed. During 1966 $4,250,000 twin-tower dormitories, a $4 million science building, and several classroom buildings reached the planning stage. By 1972 the university's physical plant was greatly enlarged. The library contained 331,480 volumes in 1969. During the 1974–75 term the faculty consisted of approximately 400 members, and the enrollment was 10,881; Ralph W. Steen served as president. The school became Stephen F. Austin State University in 1969.

Stephen F. Austin is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and a number of other state and national organizations. The university is divided into the colleges of applied arts and sciences, business, education, fine arts, forestry, liberal arts, and science and mathematics. The main campus is situated on 401 acres. The institution also operates a 477-acre beef and poultry farm, a 200-acre dairy farm, an experimental forest in southwest Nacogdoches County, and a forestry field station near Lake Sam Rayburn. The school has twenty-eight instructional buildings and nineteen dormitories, and the physical plant is worth $194 million. Stephen F. Austin has its own nine-member board of regents that governs the school. The Ralph W. Steen Library houses 1.5 million volumes. In the fall of 2000 enrollment was 11,484, of which 10,246 were undergraduates; the faculty numbered 670. The university confers a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Stephen F. Austin has a cooperative program with Texas A&M University that allows graduate students in some programs from the former to study for a Ph.D. at the latter. Stephen F. Austin has been served by the following presidents: Birdwell, 1923–42; Boynton, 1942–58; Steen, 1958–76; William R. Johnson, 1976–90; Donald E. Bower, 1990–91; William J. Brophy, 1991–92; Daniel Angel, 1992–99; and Roland Smith, 2000–01. Smith was succeeded by Tito Guerrero.

  • Education
  • Public Four-Year Colleges and Universities

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

C. K. Chamberlain, “Stephen F. Austin State University,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 2, 2001