Texas Folklore Society

By: Francis Edward Abernethy

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: May 14, 2019

The Texas Folklore Society (originally the Texas Folk-Lore Society) was formally organized by Leonidas Warren Payne, Jr., who served as its first president, and John Avery Lomax, who served as the first secretary. Killis Campbell presented the resolution for the formation of the Folk-Lore Society of Texas at the December 29, 1909, meeting of the Texas State Teachers Association in Dallas. Sixty-six members were enrolled that day, and charter membership, held open until April 1, 1910, totaled ninety-two. In addition to the contributions of Lomax and Payne, the organization's philosophical groundwork also benefited from the contributions of Texas writers Walter Prescott Webb, Emily Dorothy Scarborough, and Herbert Bolton. From its inception the society has been non-profit; all income from dues and publication royalties goes toward maintaining the office and continuing the publications program, which fulfills the society's main purpose of preserving and presenting a wide variety of Texas folklore. Membership in the organization, which is the second oldest continuously functioning folklore society in the United States (the oldest being the American Folklore Society), is open to anyone interested in folklore. Around sixty percent of the members are educators, the rest a conglomerate of professionals and history and folklore aficionados.

The society issued its first publication in 1910, a circular by Payne which listed the officers and explained the kinds of membership and the society's purpose. It also announced that the society's official organ was to be the Journal of American Folklore, a publication of the national American Folklore Society, which Texas Folklore Society members could join automatically upon paying the journal subscription fee. The following year, interest in the society was maintained through additional circulars to members, but it was not until April 8, 1911, that the organization held its first formal meeting in Austin at the University of Texas campus, where the society maintained its first headquarters. Annual meetings have been held regularly since 1911, except for interruptions in 1918–1921 and 1944–1945, caused by the two world wars. The society's first official folklore publication was a monograph by William H. Thomas entitled "Some Current Folk-Songs of the Negro" (1912). The society published the first volume in its serial book publishing program with Publications of the Folk-Lore Society of Texas Number 1 (1916), a miscellany edited by the society's first editor, Stith Thompson, and later reprinted under title Round the Levee (1935).

In 1923 J. Frank Dobie established the office of secretary-editor and was the first to serve in that position, which he held until 1943. During his first years in office he dissociated the society from its affiliation with the American Folklore Society, whom he considered too pedantic. He also edited sixteen society publications, including the classic Legends of Texas, Publications of the Texas Folk-Lore Society, Number III (1924). In 1925 the society, which had also met occasionally with the Texas State Historical Association, voted to affiliate with the Texas Academy of Sciences. In 1943 Mody C. Boatright, who with Harry Hunt Ransom had for some time assisted Dobie with the society's editorial duties, became the acting secretary-editor for the next twenty years. Under Boatright the society reestablished its connection with the American Folklore Society. In 1964 Wilson M. Hudson succeeded Boatright. In the 1960s an extensive collection of tapes was transcribed, and the society sponsored an annual contest for college students. Until 1971 the society maintained an office and archives on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, although it was not a part of that institution. Francis Edward Abernethy of Stephen F. Austin State University became the secretary-editor of the Texas Folklore Society in 1971, and the office was moved to that university campus in Nacogdoches.

The society's purpose of preserving and presenting Texas folklore is carried on through its publications on all forms of Texas folklore, including the tales, songs, customs, and beliefs of the state's various ethnic, geographical, and occupational groups. Articles in the society's publications might be the result of original field collecting or folklore studies and analysis and include many of the papers read at annual meetings. In addition to various newsletters and pamphlets, the society annually publishes or helps promote a book on various folklore topics; by 1996 the society had produced fifty-four volumes in its Publications of the Texas Folklore Society series. The society has also produced two special series: the five books of the Range Life series, produced between 1942 and 1945 under Dobie's editorship to preserve oral accounts of frontier life, and the five books in the Paisano Books series, produced under Hudson between 1966 and 1970 to provide an outlet for popular field folklore. The series bore the name of the society's emblem, the paisano or roadrunner. In 1954 the society published Texas Folk and Folklore, an anthology of articles from previous volumes. The society's publications are thoroughly indexed in James T. Bratcher's Analytical Index to Publications of the Texas Folklore Society (1973), which indexes thirty-six volumes according to a tale and motif indexing system widely used within the profession, and in Herbert C. Arbuckle III's comprehensive bibliography in the society publication T for Texas: A State Full of Folklore (1982). Other publications of the Texas Folklore Society include Legendary Ladies of Texas (1981), Hecho en Tejas: Texas-Mexican Folk Arts and Crafts (1991), and Corners of Texas: Publications of the Texas Folklore Society (1983). There were approximately 800 members of the Texas Folklore Society in 1996.

Francis E. Abernethy, The Texas Folklore Society (3 vols., Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1992, 1994). Mody C. Boatright, ed., When the Woods Were Burnt: Published in Memory of Leonidas Warren Payne, Jr.. (Austin: Texas Folklore Society, 1946). "Texas Folklore Society History," in Some Still Do: Essays on Texas Customs, ed. Francis Edward Abernethy (Austin: Encino, 1975). Texas Folklore Society Records, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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

Francis Edward Abernethy, “Texas Folklore Society,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 17, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-folklore-society.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 14, 2019