Sam Houston's First Doctorate of Philosophy

by Dr. James D. Long
(From Biology Department Newsletter, 1993)


Previous departmental newsletters have briefly outlined some of the early history of the biology program at Sam Houston during the days of the State Normal Institute and State Normal College two and four year programs and to the first years of State Teacher's College era that began in 1923. This article will attempt to review program changes from the 1923 date to the retirement of Dr. S. R. Warner in 1947.

As cited earlier, Warner joined the Sam Houston faculty in 1912 when Karl Hartman left to begin doctoral studies at the University of Texas. Within a few years the program began to be called biology and had assumed many of the features it continues to possess today. By 1920, B. S. degrees in biology were being awarded and an increased range of courses was being offered. Although the biology faculty was listed with only one member, additional teachers were involved in handling certain subject areas on a part-time basis as early as 1917. During the 1920's the faculty increased, as enrollments grew, to four full-time members.

The early faculty at Sam Houston lacked very impressive academic credentials. They were experienced teachers noted for effective classroom skills. Degrees and academic backgrounds seemed less important than knowledge and tutorial abilities during the latter decades of the nineteenth century. By 1920, most of the faculty held baccalaureate degrees and many had begun working on master's programs during summer breaks or leaves of absence. Faculty members having master's degrees became common during the latter 1920's and having such a degree eventually became a requirement for employment by 1936. Although several of the early college principals (presidents) and some faculty were addressed as "doctor," none of these had earned degrees but held honorary titles awarded in special recognition of their accomplishments. By 1935, six faculty held earned doctor's degrees and two of these were biologists.

Over a period of several years around 1920, Warner took advantage of summer breaks to conduct research projects and to study toward advanced degrees. He was granted a Lakeland Fellowship to study at Washington University and the St. Louis Botanical Gardens under the foremost plant ecologist of the time, Frederic E. Clements. In 1923 he was awarded an M. S. degree from Cornell University and began a two year leave of absence to study at the University of Chicago. He was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy from this prestigious institution in 1925 and became the first member of the Sam Houston faculty to possess this distinction. His Ph.D. thesis, "Distribution of Native Plants and Weeds on Certain Soil Types in Eastern Texas" still makes excellent reading. Along with Clements, he was among the first in the U.S. to study plant and soil relationships as a factor affecting plant distribution patterns.

After returning to the Sam Houston faculty in 1925, Dr. Warner continued his interest in plant ecology and published a number of notable articles relating to this subject through the years. Other titles of note include "Soils, Vegetation and Ecological Succession in Walker County as Related to Wildlife," "A Comparative Study of Grazed and Ungrazed Quadrants on Two Forest Types in Southeast Texas" and "Some Quail Food Plants of Southeast Texas." His article entitled "Plant Life in Texas" was published in the 1936 centennial volume of the "Book of Knowledge," a major publication of the time.

Don Otto Baird, a native of Ohio, was employed on a temporary basis in 1923 to teach biology courses while Dr. Warner was away on leave. At the time, he held a B.S. degree in zoology from the University of Ohio at Athens and had taught in public schools in Ohio and Virginia. On Dr. Warner's return to the faculty in 1925, Baird was given a permanent position as a zoology instructor for the department. His employment as a second teacher with the department reflected the growth of the student body and their changing interests during this period. Studying mostly during summer breaks, Dr. Baird completed M.A. and Ph.D. degree requirements at Columbia University in 1928 and 1930, respectively. Much to Dr. Warner's chagrin, Dr. Baird majored in secondary education at the doctoral level, basing his dissertation on a review of high school biology instruction in the state of New York at that time.  Baird was active with a number of professional societies, serving as chairman of the Texas Public School Science Teacher's Association in 1934 and as a director of the Science Teacher Association and President of the Texas Academy of Science in 1937. Dr. Baird remained as a member of the biology faculty until his retirement in 1959.

Miss Cornelia McKenney was the third person to hold a permanent position with the biology faculty in the decade of the twenties. She was an early graduate of SHNI and the daughter of Col. A. T. McKenney, one of the group of local residents responsible for locating Austin College and later the first state normal institute in Huntsville. She had taught with the Huntsville public school system before becoming a Sam Houston faculty member in 1907 as instructor of women's calisthenics or gymnastics. After 1910, she began to teach a course or two with the biology program although listed as an associate professor of P.E. for women. By 1923 she was cited as a member of both the P. E. and biology faculties and in the 1930 Bulletin as an associate professor of biology. Her teaching emphasis remained in areas of human health and physiology throughout her tenure with our program. She qualified for the B.S. degree at Sam when this was authorized in 1919 and did postgraduate studies at N. Y. Chautaugua School of P.E., the University of Tennessee, Chicago Normal School and at the University of Colorado. Miss McKenney retired during the 1950's after a sixty year career as a Sam Houston student and teacher.

A fourth teaching position was authorized in biology in 1935 and Miss Emma Normand was appointed as an associate professor to fill this role. Miss Normand was a native of Belton, Texas, and after having attended Mary Hardin Baylor College briefly, she had earned a B.A. degree in zoology from the University of Texas in 1917. After teaching awhile in the public school at Trinity, she had been employed by President Estill in 1922 as a critic teacher in science with the SHSTC demonstration school. She held this position until 1928 when she began a leave of absence to complete graduate studies at the University of Texas. On being awarded the M.A. degree in 1932, she returned to the demonstration school faculty at Sam Houston. Her 1935 appointment to the biology faculty began a long tenure that lasted until her retirement in 1965. Miss Normand was an avid traveler and spent a number of summer breaks attending classes at other universities to improve her skills. After retirement, she remained active in a number of Huntsville community affairs until shortly before her death in the late 1980's.

The next faculty person to become associated with the Sam Houston biology program was Dr. Gustav McKee Watkins who taught here from 1941 through 1943. He had been born in Tehuacana, Texas, and attended the University of Texas (B.A., 1929 and M.A., 1930) and Columbia University (Ph.D., 1936). He had held a staff position in plant pathology at A&M College before coming to the Sam Houston faculty. On leaving Sam Houston and after a brief tour with the U.S. Navy, Dr. Watkins returned to the Texas A&M campus in 1949 where he remained for many years as a prominent member of the plant pathology faculty, subsequently holding a number of teaching, research and administrative positions.

After the close of World War II, Dr. Warner began to make plans for his retirement. In 1946, he employed Dr. Robert Lee Livezey as an associate professor and acting director of biology. Although Dr. Warner continued his teaching role, Dr. Livezey became the administrative officer for the program. Livezey was a recent graduate from Cornell University, earning his Ph.D. degree there in 1946, majoring in vertebrate zoology. Prior to his work at Cornell, he had completed a B.S. program in 1943 and an M. S. degree in 1944 at Oregon State College. Dr. Warner's retirement became official at the close of the 1947 spring semester and on this occasion Dr. Livezey was promoted to full professor and department head. Dr. Livezey retained this position for only awhile, however, and accepted an academic position in 1949 at Notre Dame University in Indiana. He remained there until 1954 when he became a member of the zoology faculty at the California State University at Sacramento, California. He remained in this position until his retirement a few years ago.