The Senator John G. Tower Papers & Special Collections
World War II would interrupt John Tower’s studies at Southwestern, but just thirteen years after his 1948 graduation he would be elected the first Republican senator in the state of Texas since Reconstruction.
July 24, 2023
July 24, 2023
September 29, 2022, marked the 30th anniversary of the opening of Southwestern’s Tower Reading Room and the Senator John G. Tower Papers, but the origin of this collection actually began in the fall of 1942, when seventeen-year-old John Goodwin Tower joined the freshman class of Southwestern University. Among those seventy women and sixty-nine men were some who, like Tower, would see their college career interrupted by a world war and a call to serve their country.
Tower and his freshman classmates were high school seniors when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, so when they set foot on the Southwestern campus, they knew life would be different for all of its 398 students.
Curriculum changes featured new courses such as “Research in Camouflage” and “Psychology of Morale,” while other defense-related courses included colloquial Japanese and Russian, as well as study in meteorology and aeronautics. All students were required to take five days of physical fitness that included wall scaling, boxing, cross-country running, wrestling, jujitsu, combative sports, and elementary marching techniques. Southwestern also became home to a V-12 Navy College Training Program in 1943, the same year Tower enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on an amphibious gunboat in the Western Pacific. He would not return to Southwestern until 1946, when he was discharged at the rank of Seaman First Class; he would remain active in the U.S. Naval Reserve until 1989.
When Tower resumed his studies at Southwestern, enrollment had more than doubled to 808 students. He became involved in the Kappa Sigma fraternity and in the student theater organization Mask & Wig. Tower also formed an important bond with Professor George C. Hester, a well-known author of books on Texas government and history who had served in the state House of Representatives and was a member of the Federal Power Commission during the New Deal. Hester was often called upon for advice from various political leaders, including Tower, who considered Hester a close confidant throughout his career. This relationship would lead to the creation of the Tower-Hester Chair at Southwestern in 1975.
Tower would graduate with a bachelor of arts degree in political science in 1948, and just thirteen years later would be elected the first Republican senator in the state of Texas since Reconstruction. Tower’s love of Southwestern continued throughout his life, which is why he donated his papers and other archival materials to the university three decades ago. The approximately 800 linear feet of materials primarily reflect his Senate activities and include documents, legislative files, correspondence, speeches, campaign items, photographs, and audiovisual materials. The collection also includes a few items from Tower’s days at Southwestern.
This year would have marked Senator Tower’s 98th birthday; he perished in a plane crash along with his daughter Marian on April 5, 1991.
In February 1850, Herman Melville sat down and began writing Moby-Dick, a significant event in literature, to be sure. But in 1828, nine-year-old Herman sat down and wrote something that was important to at least one person—it was a letter addressed to his Aunt Lucy Melville.
That letter is also important to Southwestern University and its Special Collections and Archives, which today is home to little Herman’s letter, perhaps the first he ever wrote.
The letter is among items in the Osborne Collection, which also includes Melville’s pocket compass and a number of prints that were among his personal possessions.
Special Collections and Archives was formally established in 1939 when Cody Memorial Library was built. Through generous donations from alumnus John Tower and others, Special Collections and Archives has grown from one locked room on the third floor to now occupying nearly all of the original Cody Memorial Library.
The collections cover a number of different areas, including literature, politics, women, art, local history, and Texana, including manuscripts and printed items by or about SU alumnus J. Frank Dobie. The oldest item in the collection is a cuneiform tablet from 2000 B.C., and perhaps one of the more unusual items is the bodice of a dress worn by the wife of a Southwestern president, which can reveal trends in early 20th-century fashion. Overall the collection consists of more than 20,000 printed works and more than 1,500 linear feet of archives.
Other objects of interest include nineteenth-century literary and historical artifacts, such as first editions of novels by Mark Twain, materials supplied by the Edgar Allan Poe Society, and medical textbooks from a physician who died at the Battle of the Alamo. Some of the newest additions to the collection include banned graphic novels, comic books, and campaign memorabilia.
Special Collections continues to work on making archival materials more accessible through digitization and the development of an online portal. Early literary magazines and The Senior newspaper are currently being scanned and will be available on the Portal to Texas History and JSTOR. In addition, staff have developed a new guide to help current students and alumni preserve materials related to student organizations.
Available to the SU community and the public, materials held in Special Collections serve as a rich hands-on learning resource and a source of creative inspiration for students, professors, and anyone who loves to discover and uncover the often quirky stories that make us what we are today.