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The Banners of our Legacy.

A Brief History of Texas A&M University-Commerce

It began with an ending.

On March 14, 1917, a telegram arrived on the campus of East Texas Normal College. The communiqué from Texas State Senator Richard E. Westbrook celebrated the approval of President Mayo’s urgent request of the state legislature. The private teachers’ college he founded and personally led through several difficult times would be invited to join the Texas public education system. Unfortunately, Mayo died minutes before the telegram arrived,confirming that the college would endure. Today, we are the beneficiaries of his foresight and commitment to making the dream of a college education an accessible and affordable reality. Westbrook closed his historic telegram with the line, “There is glory enough in this history for us all.” Whether we consider ourselves East Texas State or A&M-Commerce alumni, we are all immensely grateful and passionate about the university we call home.

We are lions, and it is time to tell the story of our historic century.

We invite you to join us on the Texas A&M University-Commerce campus walking mall to experience the beautiful new banners that tell the story of our Century as Lions.  Please use this site as a companion reference to dig deeper into our rich history.


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Paul Rountree reminisces about some of the teachers he had and also the things he liked about Commerce.

Buddie Barnes speaks about how Commerce reconnected him with Billy Marshall and what led him to choose to attend the university.

John Horn tells a humorous story about the correlation between his retirement and Commerce’s football team winning a championship.

Gordon Allen talks about his experience of an icy day on campus.

James Thrower talks about how the coaches at Commerce taught him to give his best.

Carl Richie talks about how he was challenged by professors at the university to inspire changes that would help him in his political career.

Jai Nagarkatti talks about how Commerce helped him meet his wife and the special place it has in his life.

Sandra Doyle talks about how a visit with her best friend to Commerce convinced her to enroll in the school.

Debra Nelson talks about the opportunity she had to read a poem to Sam Rayburn.

Robert Galvan talks about a speech that he made as a graduate student here at Commerce and the teacher who encouraged him to accept a gift.

Steve Sullivan talks about how going to Commerce helped with important career decisions and also meeting his wife.

Toby Harty talks about how she went to visit her mother at Commerce and then ended up enrolling during her visit.

J. Brian Duggan talks about how he was able to recover from financial hardship and go on to graduate from Commerce.

Billy Marshall talks about his experience at orientation and how it helped him after transferring to Commerce.

Richard Rothwell talks about giving back and what convinced him to look into engineering at Commerce.

Stan McKee talks about how the support at Commerce convinced him to stay in college.


As 1917 began, the country was on the eve of U.S. involvement in the First World War, officially entering when Congress declared war that spring. By March, Texas Governor James Ferguson was under investigation for impeachable offenses by the Texas State Legislature, and he was out of office by September.

In the midst of such political disorder, in March 1917, Professor Mayo’s college at Commerce was purchased by the Texas State Legislature. Mayo expected that state acquisition of the university would keep the institution open. Public funding was becoming the new model for higher education, and as such, Mayo’s college was one of several Texas institutions purchased by the state at that time.

Professor Mayo passed away just prior to the state’s acquisition of the college. Shortly after his death, state legislators renegotiated portions of the sale. First Lady Etta Mayo, with citizens of the City of Commerce, contributed tens of thousands of dollars to renovate buildings across campus prior to the final transfer to the state.

Ted Crim talks about the memories he has of the teachers in his classes here at Commerce.

Will Cureton talks about how he saw the integration of races while on the Commerce football team.

John Moss talks about a memorable teacher that he had at Commerce.

Talks about how this is a family university and about how generations of her family graduated from the school.

Larry Goddard talks about being involved with student life while a student at the university and enjoying the experience.


When it was constructed in 1929, the library’s reading room was the largest among state-supported colleges in Texas. It was 168 feet long, 48 feet wide, two-stories in height and could house 125,000 books. The old library, now the Hall of Languages, symbolized the university’s expanding academic opportunities, a sharp contrast with the economic privations of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

East Texas State Teacher’s College benefitted from New Deal programs, particularly the Public Works Administration (PWA) and National Youth Administration (NYA). PWA  permitted the construction of campus facilities, Mayo Hall, completed in 1935, and East Dormitory, now known as Henderson Hall, in 1938.

Additionally, President Samuel H. Whitley expanded the college’s academics, introducing its first graduate programs in English, history and education. In the summer of 1936, 238 students enrolled in these new programs.


The founding of the NCAA in 1906 sparked a national trend among higher education institutions to provide for competitive athletic sports on campuses. During Mayo’s years, an athletic program was introduced a few years before the college was acquired by the state. In 1931, East Texas State Teachers College was among the founders of the Lone Star Conference. Throughout the 1930s, college athletic teams consistently dominated, earning three consecutive and a total of five football championships, three basketball titles, as well as one championship each for tennis and track and field.


Despite President Roosevelt’s advice that Americans had “nothing to fear but fear itself,” rural Texans were deeply affected by the Great Depression. East Texas State Teachers College historically afforded its students opportunities for a better life and a brighter future. The Great Depression and the world’s apparent march towards war fueled lingering fears about the uncertainty and unpredictability. By the 1940s, Axis aggression threatened world peace, as members of the university community along with individuals nationwide began speculating about U.S. involvement in the war.

Although the country’s entrance into the Second World War ended the Great Depression, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 further shocked a disoriented campus community. President Whitley urged students: “Keep your head with calmness and deliberation.” Many students volunteered for military service or were drafted.

The college’s curricula shifted to prepare students to cope with wartime circumstances. Students learned to maximize food production, first aid procedures, and to use Morse Code. The college also hosted and helped train students for the services. From 1943, the college housed a group of 600 members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and enrolled male students in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).

When the war ended in mid-1945, the city and college communities honored their members lost in the war and celebrated the Allied victory with meetings and parades.


Over time, old campus traditions evolved or were replaced by new activities. Western Week originated in 1947. It was initially a male-only event in which participants dressed as cowboys competed in contests that included nail-driving, tobacco-spitting, potato-peeling and corn-husking. Campus women wore cowgirl costumes. The event soon incorporated fundraising elements, with funds used to purchase presents for “Orphan’s Christmas,” another annual event in which students became “big brothers” or “big sisters” to residents from three regional orphan’s homes; the gifts were distributed by a faculty member dressed as Santa.

National fraternities and sororities arrived by the end of the 1950s and joined the college’s well-established student organizations. Together, these groups engaged in a variety of social activities and collaborated with college administrators to bring to campus distinguished visitors such as Senator Lyndon Johnson, Pearl Buck, and to host concerts by the Dallas Symphony.


World War II blended into the Cold War, with the two superpowers threatening to destroy each other with their growing arsenals of nuclear weapons. In November 1947, President James Gee was inaugurated. Demobilized veterans returned from the war and seized the opportunity presented by the G.I. Bill to enroll in colleges throughout the country. East Texas State Teachers College experienced approximately a 100 percent increase in enrollment in the autumn of 1945, and the student population grew nearly 500 percent by the beginning of the 1950s.

Enrollment growth stimulated building construction on campus, especially housing facilities. In the decades following World War II, Binnion Hall, Education North Building, the Field House, and Memorial Stadium, as well as a new library, the Student Union Building and student housing were among the buildings constructed to accommodate continued enrollment growth. By 1965, enrollment equaled approximately 6,800 students.

The college’s physical expansion was accompanied by the introduction of new academic programs. In 1962, the Texas Commission on Higher Education authorized the college to offer doctoral degrees in English in the newly-created School of Education. This development also meant upgrading the quality of instruction by increasing the number of faculty members holding doctoral degrees.


On June 5, 1964, at the start of the second summer term, East Texas State College quietly integrated. Velma Waters and Charles Garvin were the first African American students to enroll. In the years to follow, the number of African American students would steadily increase. 

Racial tensions on campus reached a peak in the spring of 1968 following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. On the night of the assassination as the world grieved, black students established the Afro-American Student Society of East Texas (ASSET), an activist group that helped usher unprecedented change across the campus and community. ASSET delivered a “Declaration of Rights” to President D. Whitney Halladay that included demands for increased African American faculty and administrators, fair and equal housing, access to campus employment, additional courses in African American Studies, and access to African American literature in the campus library. President Halladay promised to address their complaints.

Dr. David Arlington Talbot, a professor of guidance and counseling, became ET’s first African American faculty member in 1968. In addition to his role as a faculty member, Dr. Talbot became ET’s first affirmative action officer, and in effect, Dr. Halladay’s ombudsman with African American students. He was joined by Dr. J. Mason Brewer, the first visiting African American professor. Dr. Brewer was a renowned African American folklorist and developed new courses in black literature and folklore within the Department of Literature. In the early 1970s, Dr. Talbot and Dr. Brewer were joined by the first African American administrator on campus, Ivory Moore. Mr. Moore was hired by President McDowell to oversee the Minority Affairs office. He would later oversee Upward Bound, MACH III, and the Multi-Cultural Center.