The History of the Webb Society
Inspired by the success of the Junior Historian Movement, a group of faculty and students from several Texas colleges and universities met at Baylor University in October of 1973 and created a state-wide nexus of college and university history organizations. Under the leadership of Kenneth Ragsdale, Director of Educational Services for TSHA and hosted by Tom Charlton of the Baylor Department of History, the meeting had as its stated purpose the development of goals and priorities for the organization. The new organization, named in honor of the legendary Texas historian, Walter Prescott Webb, author of The Great Plains, The Texas Rangers, and The Great Frontier, first took root at Lubbock Christian College and Wayland Baptist College later that fall. A special Webb Society session was incorporated into the program of TSHA’s annual meeting where the various chapters could report on their activities for the year. In its first full year of existence, with the enthusiastic support of TSHA president, Ralph Wooster, the C. M. and Cora Caldwell Memorial Awards were established through the generosity of Mr. Clifton Caldwell of Albany, Texas. Because of these early successes, new chapters were established at other colleges and universities laying the foundation for further growth and accomplishment. Under the leadership of Ragsdale the number of chapters grew to twenty-one. Participation expanded to include schools in most areas of Texas including affiliates at Tarrant County Junior College-Northeast, Austin College, Abilene Christian University, Sul Ross University, Lee College, University of Houston-Downtown, San Jacinto College-North, Central, and South, Lamar University, University of Texas at Tyler, and East Texas Baptist University. The involvement of Webb Society students at TSHA’s annual meeting grew to include sessions highlighting the research produced in conjunction with the Caldwell Awards. Each year a student representing the junior division (less than 60 credit hours) and another representing the senior division are chosen to present their award winning work. The Caldwell Awards also supported the presentation of awards to chapters for outstanding projects benefiting their communities. In addition to participation in the Association’s annual meeting a separate fall meeting was established to promote awareness of lesser known areas of the state and camaraderie among Webb sponsors and members.
Following the retirement of Kenneth Ragsdale, David DeBoe began his tenure as Director of Educational Services. One of DeBoe’s early contributions to the Webb Society program was the institution of Touchstone, the TSHA’s journal of undergraduate research. The journal, original proposed at the 1973 conference, began as a cooperative venture between the Association and East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) through its Center of American Studies Education. Sheridan Nichols served as editor with Gwin Morris of ETBU as Managing Editor and David DeBoe for TSHA as Associate Editor. The first issue offered nine articles by students representing East Texas Baptist University, University of Texas at Tyler, Wayland Baptist University, San Jacinto College-North, and Lee College. In 1991, Lee College became the managing editors under the leadership of John Britt and James Maroney. In Touchstone’s first twenty-four volumes, over one hundred-seventy student authored articles were published. In many cases this was the first time students had an opportunity to see their work in print.
The history of the Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society is one characterized by numerous noteworthy accomplishments. Through published research and historical activism, Webb Society members have added to the body of historical knowledge on Texas and the Southwest while encouraging an awareness of history through their varied activities and projects. Those individuals who first envisioned a network of college students dedicated to the study of history in their communities indeed left an enduring legacy. Thousands of students and college/university faculty have been inspired to continue their interest in history and the preservation of the heritage of Texas.