Poetry Society of Texas marks 100 years; one of founding members lived in Stephenville

Patty Barberee Hullett
Special to the E-T
Dr. Jewel Wurtzbaugh, a former Stephenville resident and Tarleton State University professor, was one of the original seven founding members of the Poetry Society of Texas, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year.
The Poetry Society of Texas is marking its 100th anniversary later this year.

The Poetry Society of Texas has scheduled its 100th Anniversary Celebration this year, and the organization boasts that one of its founding members was a one-time Stephenville resident — Miss Jewel Wurtzbaugh.

Wurtzbaugh was later an English professor at Oklahoma University in Norman.

Founded on Nov. 5, 1921, in Texas, the seven Charter Members were Hilton Ross Greer of Dallas, Therese Lindsey of Tyler, Whitney Montgomery of Eureka, Karle Wilson Baker of Nacogdoches, Clyde Walter Hill of Dallas, Louella Styles Vincent of Dallas, and Jewell Wurtzbaugh of Stephenville, states an anniversary announcement from the organization.

“The purpose of the Society is to secure fuller public recognition of the art of poetry, to encourage the writing of poetry by Texans, and to kindle a finer and more intelligent appreciation of poetry, especially the work of living poets who interpret the spirit and heritage of Texas," the announcements states.

“The official celebration will be in November at our annual awards banquet.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, our annual summer convention has been canceled," said Stephenville resident J. Darrell Kirkley, the current director and president of Poetry Society of Texas.

“We are proud of our 100 years of sharing poetry with Texans and the world," Kirkley added. "We will be posting more specific information prior to the November big event."

“I joined PST in the fall of 1978, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me," said one of the organization's past presidents, Catherine L’Herission. "No one understood my need to write, and it was so wonderful to finally be involved with so many wonderful poets who have become family to me. It's just been a great part of my life for many years."

L’Herission joined the executive board in February 2007, and served in various positions/offices until she became the 22nd president from 2010-12. She remained on the board as vice president to help the next president, and was elected as the 24th president from 2014-16. L’Herission again remained on the board as vice president to help plan the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Inc. Annual Convention that PST hosted in Fort Worth in the summer of 2017.

“You may not know that the Poetry Society of Texas is the oldest state poetry society in the United States that has met continuously since it was founded," L’Herission said. "There was one other state poetry society that was formed before us, but it did not meet during World War II, so this 100th anniversary is a big deal for our chapter and its members. Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken its toll, and we have not been able to have some events for the public this year as we had originally hoped, but we are looking forward to our anniversary celebration in November.”

Another individual who has played a large role in the society is Budd Powell Mahan, who has held the position of president of PST three different times and has written a book titled, “A History of Poetry Society of Texas."

The book tells the history of the organization as well as its original seven founders, and features a collection of photos of poets who have made this organization stand out over the years.

According to Mahan’s book, “Jewel Wurtzbaugh was born in Jefferson, Texas, in 1895. She was among Jefferson’s elite, cited in a local paper for her instrumental solo during a music concert by Mollie MacLeod at the Jefferson Opera House in 1911.”

At the time of the organization of the Poetry Society of Texas, Wurtzbaugh was an instructor at Tarleton College in Stephenville. She was active in the poetry group upon its establishment in 1921, but she was not listed as a member in 1923 or 1924, according to the book.

When her membership resumed in 1925, she was living in New York City and the 1927 "A Book of the Year" listed her address as Norman, Oklahoma. That location is to be assumed that she began her career there as a teacher at Oklahoma University in 1926-27. That association led Wurtzbaugh to become a legendary English professor at OU, the book states.

"A traditional biography for her is very difficult to find, but the reminiscences of her students describe her as a character worthy of a book. She lived in a small house on Elm Street, where she received mail from all over the world. Those in her class called her Miss Wurtzbaugh, never Dr. Wurtzbaugh. 

"She could be seen in any season scurrying about the campus, always in a black wool coat and hat and carrying a black umbrella. The legend is still told that Miss Wurtzbaugh, passed too closely by a bicyclist, stuck her umbrella into the spokes to make her point. Whether this is fact or myth is debatable, but it is doubtful that Wurtzbaugh would appreciate being remembered more for her quirks than her vast knowledge," Mahon's book states.

"In a recollection by a 1964 student, it was said that Wurtzbaugh demanded her students leave the first three rows vacant in her classroom so as not to infect her with their germs. She claimed a bad liver and one lung, and was determined not to be done-in by a bacteria-laden student," the book further states.

Wurtzbaugh was reportedly an expert on British poet Edmund Spenser and so she named a campus street to honor him. The street, Faerie Queene Lane, was demolished in 2002 when a parking lot replaced the street. Today, Wurtzbaugh’s name continues to be memorialized in a scholarship given each year at OU. The Jewel Wurtzbaugh Scholarship is presented in recognition of writing skill in Women’s Studies.

Poetry Society of Texas is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and a Member of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Inc. 

To learn more about this organization, visit the Poetry Society of Texas website at www.poetrysocietyoftexas.org