The Tennessee Philological Association first met in Sewanee in 1905 and has met annually (with a few exceptions, the last during World War II) since that time and in every part of the state, from Memphis to Bristol and from Martin to Chattanooga. We have been hosted by both state-supported and private institutions, and most meetings have been held on school campuses. Typically, the meeting moves from one grand division of the state to another, usually proceeding from east to west. The most recent meetings have been held in Johnson City (2017), Clarksville (2016), Henderson (2015), Nashville (2014), Knoxville (2013), Martin (2012), Cookeville (2011), Cleveland (2010), Memphis (2009), Clarksville (2008), Chattanooga (2007), Henderson (2006), and Nashville (2005).
Tennessee Philological Association: A History
- Allison R. Ensor
- University of Tennessee, Knoxville
The Tennessee Philological Association, now more than 110 years old, began with an October meeting at the University of the South in 1905, in response to an invitation sent out by Prof. Glen L. Swiggett to “teachers of language and literature in the colleges and secondary schools, largely from Central Tennessee, to meet with the interested members of Sewanee’s faculty for the purpose of forming a philological association, strictly defined.” The invitation read, in part: “It gives us great pleasure to announce that the first meeting of the proposed Tennessee Philological Association will be held in Sewanee, October 20th and 21st, 1905. You are cordially invited to be our guest at that time, and to lend your aid in effecting a permanent organization.” Part of the first session, on Friday evening, was devoted to a discussion of “the purpose and plan of the organization.” Professor Swiggett was one of seven men who read papers at the meeting, and he was elected secretary-treasurer of the group. (He was to serve as president at its 1911 meeting.) The first person elected president of TPA was J.M. Webb of the Webb School at Bell Buckle.
Fall meetings were common for the next few years, but beginning in 1911 winter was established as the time for the group to meet. The first February meeting took place in 1912, and for many years thereafter there was no variation from that. For some reason March began to look more appealing, and from 1931 through 1946, it was the preferred time. February prevailed, however, and since 1974 there has not been a meeting that did not include at least one day in February. It is now understood that the meeting will be on the last full weekend of February.
The first meeting of the organization was held over two days, and that practice was followed for many years, through 1944. World War II caused the cancellation of the 1943 meeting, and some of the meetings following the war took place on a single day. Obviously very few papers were read; in 1946, for example, there were only seven in addition to the presidential address. The printed program consisted of a single sheet. In time the meeting expanded to three days; from 1976 on, each meeting has begun with a Thursday evening session and ended with one on Saturday morning.
In the early years meetings took place at Vanderbilt, Grant University (forerunner of the University of Chattanooga, which was in turn the forerunner of UT Chattanooga), George Peabody College (later absorbed into Vanderbilt), UT Knoxville, Tennessee College (at Murfreesboro) and Maryville College. It did not return to Sewanee until 1914. Middle and East Tennessee were the exclusive hosts of the meeting until 1926, when Southwestern Presbyterian University (the forerunner of Rhodes University) and Central High School of Memphis jointly hosted it. As a rule only one school served as host; the greatest variation from this came in 1978 when five schools joined in hosting the meeting: Lambuth College, Union University, Lane College, Jackson State Community College, and Freed-Hardeman College (in Henderson). Members attended meetings at Lambuth (Thursday evening), Union (Friday), and Lane (Saturday morning).
The first several presidents of the organization were men, which is hardly surprising, given that so many professors were male in those days. Most of the papers were read by men; the first by a woman came in 1909, when “Miss Caroline Carpenter” of George Peabody College read a paper on the teaching of German. Hers was the only paper read by a woman at that meeting, though one woman participated in a roundtable discussion of foreign languages in the high school. The first woman to serve as president was Emily H. Dutton of the all-female Tennessee College, Murfreesboro, in 1916. Not until 1930 did another woman serve as president: Nellie Angel Smith of West Tennessee State Teachers College (later Memphis State Teachers College, now the University of Memphis). This time it was only three years until TPA elected its third female president, Ethel Claire Norton of Tennessee College. As time went on, more and more women served as officers of the organization. The only African American president to date has been Virginia Nyabongo of Tennessee A & I University (now Tennessee State University) in 1968.
For many years it has been understood that one can serve as president for only one term. This was not always followed in the early years. Charles E. Little of George Peabody College served as president for the meeting of 1917 and again in 1925. Ashton W. McWhorter of UT Knoxville served as president for the meetings of 1929 and 1936. A more recent instance of serving twice came in about in this way: at the 1988 meeting Henry Hall Peyton III of Memphis State University served as vice-president and was in line to move up to the presidency in 1989. But he was to be away that year and could not serve as president. Rather than move Styron Harris of East Tennessee State (the Executive Committee member at large) ahead, the nominating committee chose to call on someone who had already been president to serve a second term. That someone turned out to be Graham Landrum of King College, Bristol, who had been president for the meeting of 1976. Landrum served as president for the 1989 meeting, Styron Harris was president in 1990, and Peyton was president for the 1991 meeting.
As far as is known, the only instance in which a president died in office happened in 2001. Sally Young of UT Chattanooga was elected president at the 2000 meeting but died the following January. The vice-president, Sara Dunne of Middle Tennessee State, might have been expected to carry out the presidential duties at the 2001 meeting, but she preferred to hand these over to Isabel “Bonny” Stanley of East Tennessee State, who had served as president at the meeting of the previous year.
Another instance in which the TPA president did not attend came in 1944, during World War II. Philip M. Cheek of Middle Tennessee State had been elected president, but he was away, serving in the armed forces. The vice-president, Hill Shine of Maryville College, filled in for him.
There have been occasional instances of both a husband and wife serving presidential terms. Ivar Lou Duncan of Belmont College (later Belmont University) served as president in 1959, to be followed two years later by her husband Edgar H. Duncan of Vanderbilt University. Michael Dunne of Middle Tennessee State served as president in 1992; his wife Sara, also at Middle Tennessee State, was president at the meeting of 2002, ten years later. More recently, Charla White-Major of Austin Peay State University served as president at the meeting of 2013, and was followed by her husband David Major, also of Austin Peay, who presided over the meeting of 2017.
For many years TPA operated without a constitution, but in 1977 the business meeting gave the president authorization to appoint a committee to consider formulating a statement of purpose for the group, in order to obtain tax-exempt status. Louis Charles Stagg of Memphis State headed the committee. His response to the president in the fall of 1977 spoke of a “’constitution’ or statement of purpose.” Stagg and Lasley Dameron, also of Memphis State, drafted a constitution to present to the 1978 business meeting, but it was not accepted. Stagg was sufficiently discouraged that he stated at the 1980 business meeting that the adoption of a constitution appeared to be a “lost cause.” Nevertheless, the group voted to continue studying the issue for another year. A year later, at the meeting of 1981, Dameron, after giving a report for the constitution committee, moved its adoption, and the group agreed. The constitution and by-laws were accordingly printed in the 1982 Bulletin. They have been included in all subsequent issues.
In the 1990 the organization approved a proposal that certain persons could be designated as Fellows. The first two, in 1993, were Morris Landis of Lipscomb and Harry G. Merrill of East Tennessee State. Since that time nearly twenty have been designated as Fellows. These have been for the most part been past presidents of TPA, though there have been a few exceptions. Five Fellows were designated in 2001, but in many years no new Fellows have been added.
The Tennessee Philological Bulletin began publication in the 1960s. Volume 1, number 1 carried the date of 1964. Although the content has varied over the years, each issue now contains the presidential address, four or five papers on the topic selected for that year, abstracts of other papers, minutes of the business meetings, the reports of the secretary and the treasurer, and the constitution and by-laws. The Bulletin was originally issued from Memphis State; it was transferred to UT Chattanooga in 1986. Among its editors have been Henry Hall Peyton III, Charles Long, Michael Richards, Sally Young, and Katherine Rehyansky.
Business meetings have tended to be fairly short and routine, but from time to time controversies have broken out, and the time allowed for the meeting has hardly been sufficient. Various proposals to change some aspect of the meeting have sparked lively debate. Among these were the suggestion that TPA should meet only in Middle Tennessee or that its meetings should always be in hotels rather than on college campuses, in the manner of SAMLA and MLA. The adoption of the constitution and the choice of a logo for the organization also led to lengthy debate. For many years there was no refereeing of papers that were submitted; at one time it was proposed that certain members of the organization (persons not on the executive committee) should decide which papers were to be accepted.
Perhaps no business meeting has been quite like that of 1970 at Maryville College, when the nominating committee’s recommendation for president was overturned. Mildred Payne of UT Martin was the vice-president and was presumably in line to be elected president in 1970, though it has not always been the case that the vice-president moves up to become the president. Several months in advance of the meeting a TPA member contacted several influential members, arguing that Payne would not be a suitable president. That member, it should be noted, was on the faculty of UT Martin, Payne’s school. He was able to convince the nominating committee so that instead of Payne it nominated the organization’s secretary, Albert Wallace of UT Knoxville, for president. Understandably this did not sit well with others, and one TPA member in particular was very active in marshalling support for Payne. It may be noted that this was the same person who had urged that she not be nominated. Was this an elaborate scheme to curry favor with his department head? We may never know. What we do know is that the business meeting rejected the nomination of Wallace, choosing Payne instead. She served as president for the 1971 meeting, which was held at UTM. In contrast to what her detractor had suggested, she delivered a very creditable banquet address on the career of the prolific novelist and short story writer Harry Harrison Kroll, who had also taught at UTM. (Kroll had in fact been vice-president of TPA at one time but did not become president.)
The 1971 meeting was not without controversy, though, as Payne printed and distributed a “rival” program, with some corrections and with additional information. The secretary, who had compiled the official program, was not at all happy about this, and he asked the business meeting to rule as to who should prepare the program—the secretary, the president, or the host institution. The group readily agreed that there should be only one program, prepared by the secretary. Nevertheless, Morris Landis of Lipscomb sought to defuse the controversy; the minutes quote him as saying that “one program had always been eagerly looked forward to in the past, and that this year he felt doubly blessed, with two.” As for Wallace, he was again nominated for the presidency in 1973 and was elected with no opposition.
TPA did not take notice of its 25th anniversary, but the 50th seemed a time for celebration. The meeting of 1955 was hosted by the University of the South but was actually held at the DuBose Conference Center in Monteagle, six miles east. Glen Swiggett, who regarded himself as the founder of the organization, was then retired and living in Washington, D.C. Because of ill health he was not able to be present, and his paper, “Fifty Years Ago,” was read by Bayly Turlington of Sewanee. James Robbins of Vanderbilt, who read a paper on “The Earliest Years of the Association,” took issue with the implication that Swiggett was the sole founder of TPA. A third paper, “The First Half-Century,” was read by Arthur Moser of UT Knoxville.
There were hopes that the 75th anniversary in 1980 might also be celebrated at Sewanee, but this did not prove feasible, and the meeting was at Belmont College in Nashville. Albert Wallace of UT Knoxville read a paper, ‘TPA After 75 Years: An All-Too-Short Chronicle.” Ivar Lou Duncan of Belmont and her husband Edgar Duncan of Vanderbilt provided a series of questions and answers about the organization, with the title “TPA in Retrospect: Not So-Soon-Forgotten Memories.” One asked the questions, with the other answering.
The TPA centennial was held at Lipscomb University in Nashville. The unusual large-format printed program listed all of the meeting dates and places, along with the presidents and the schools with which they were affiliated at the time they served. The only paper relating to the anniversary was “Looking Backward: TPA at 100” by Allison Ensor of UT Knoxville.
The 125th anniversary will be observed in 2030.