I was thrown for something of a loop yesterday by a discovery that was even more accidental than usual. I was on my knees putting something back on a low shelf in the back and for no reason other than that I was there I picked up the box that sat next to it. It turned out to be Floyd Lear’s correspondence files, all dated from 1925 to 1974. Apart from the legendary Queenie correspondence (here and here) I’d never really looked at them before.
There was a lot in there that left me with my head spinning. Lear was a prolific letter writer and he kept in close touch with a number of people who passed through the History Department over the years. A significant amount of this correspondence contains clearly articulated and precise assessments of the internal politics of both the department and the university as a whole, covering a span from the arrival of William Houston in 1946 to the aftermath of the Abbie Hoffman kerfuffle in 1970. I try not to get into this sort of thing here for a couple of reasons. Most of the skirmishes and frankly even many of the pitched battles of university life turn out to be absolutely unimportant in the long run and they also show people at both their worst and their most vulnerable. So I’m going to take Mr. Lear’s opinions, which were blunt but not uncharitable, under advisement and think about them hard until I understand better how they fit into the larger story.
In the meantime, here’s something wonderful from the collection, a letter from Lear to William Ward Watkin‘s daughter Rosemary about her recent gift to the Rice archives:
What he says is surely true. The old Rice is gone, really gone, except for what I can find in those old boxes.
Bonus: Here’s Dr. Lear in San Antonio, undated but I’d guess late 1930s or early 1940s. I believe that’s his wife Elsie on the left. He never referred to her as anything but “Mrs. Lear” in his letters.
Interesting that Rosemary Watkin wound up at Texas Tech, where William Ward Watkin designed the original buildings.