Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries
There are two kinds of people in this world: givers and takers. Jenkins Garrett is a “giver,” there is no doubt about it. Garrett has played significant roles in higher education in Texas, in various civic affairs in the Fort Worth-Arlington-Dallas metroplex, and in building and later donating one of the largest private collections of Texana to a public university in his home state. To understand Jenkins Garrett, however, one must first know something about his background.
Jess Jenkins Garrett was born on December 14, 1914, in Caldwell, Texas. He was the youngest offspring of Jesse and Sudie Garrett. Jenkins’ father was a successful attorney, but at age 35, in 1921, he reoriented his life to the ministry, and he moved his family to Fort Worth where he attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He accepted a pulpit in Fort Worth, which he held for thirty-two years. As a result, Jenkins Garrett spent most of his formative years in that city. Garrett graduated high school in 1931. He was a good, but not exceptional student. He was, however, extremely active in outside activities, such as the debate club, honor society, and school government.
Garrett entered The University of Texas at Austin in September 1931 at the age of sixteen. His career goal was to become an attorney. While at the university Garrett became immersed in campus life, participating in the activities of the Baptist Student Union and the YMCA, joining the debate team and Tejas Club, and being elected to the Judiciary Council and president of the Student Association. He graduated in 1937 with an A.B. in liberal arts and a degree in law.
It was at UT where Garrett’s interest in history was piqued. He was a junior at the time and needed another history class for his degree plan. His advisor suggested that he take Walter Prescott Webb’s class “History of the United States since 1865,” and because it fit into his schedule, he agreed to register for it. This one class was to change his attitudes toward history forever and, in the process, light a fire in him to read, understand, and ultimately collect history books, manuscripts, broadsides, sheet music, post cards, and other sources. What impressed Garrett most about Webb were his ideas that history was “high adventure” and the story of people and their impact over time. He also stressed the importance of Texas to the development of the West and the U.S. as a whole. Webb’s class opened Garrett’s eyes about the relevance of the past, and, for the first time, he started reading Texas history for pleasure and insight.
Garrett left UT in 1937 to pursue a master’s in law at Harvard. He received his degree in 1939, having studied with Felix Frankfurter among others on the Harvard faculty. Upon returning to Fort Worth, Garrett secured a position with the law firm of Walker, Smith, and Shannon. When war with Germany and Japan seemed imminent in the summer of 1941, Garrett tried to join the Navy. His inability to distinguish colors, however, caused him to fail the physical. Still wanting to serve his country, Garrett joined the FBI and served on the West Coast throughout most of the war. He also married Virginia Williams of Fort Worth in late 1941 and began raising a family in California. Shortly before the war ended, Garrett returned to Texas and became the regional counsel for the War Production Board located in Dallas. The Dallas office regulated the flow of material to businesses in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Arkansas.
After many years as house counsel for the various businesses of the Leonard brothers in Fort Worth, he and his partner opened their own practice in 1965, and this change provided Garrett the freedom to not only practice law, but also to pursue personal investment opportunities. His investments in the areas of homebuilding, printing and newspaper publishing, savings and loans, and aggregate rock and the lime business (to mention only a few areas), helped to make him a modestly wealthy man.
Garrett used his financial resources to support a number of worthy causes and personal interests, none with more vigor and zeal than collecting. Garrett began collecting in earnest in the late-1950s after meeting Fort Worth book dealer Nancy Taylor, who convinced him to purchase first editions and association copies of the books he was interested in. Garrett’s interest in collecting Texas history and materials reflecting the history of the U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848, evolved and eventually intensified to the point where he labeled it a “disease.” By the mid-to-late 1960s, collecting became a passion and one of his consuming interests. It was at this time that Garrett’s initial collection was broadened to include materials in any format that reflected the rich history of Texas.
Garrett is very proud of the collections he built and fervently believes that the collector’s role in the research process is pivotal. He has said, “The collector, by function, saves the written word from destruction, thereby preserving the recorded ideas and knowledge of both the past and present for the users to enjoy, to assimilate, to interpret, and to record. It is akin to the supplier who furnishes selected marble and tools for the sculptor.”
Garrett admits that his primary reward as a collector is to see his work of many years used and appreciated. To this end, Garrett donated his Texas and Mexican War collection to The University of Texas at Arlington Library in 1973-1974, where it became the impetus for the university to build an outstanding Special Collections area. At the time of the initial donation, the Garrett Collection, which consisted of more than 10,000 items, was the largest Texana collection in private hands. Since the establishment of the Garrett Collection at UTA, the Garretts have continued to support the library with additional donations of historical materials, providing assistance in fund raising, and helping with outreach efforts to promote the library to a wide and diverse audience.
In addition to his accomplishments for UTA, Garrett has left an indelible mark on his city, state, and nation. He is perhaps best known for his service to higher education in Texas. For example, Garrett served on the Board of Trustees, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1960-1968; Governor’s Committee on Education Beyond the High School Level, 1963; Board of Trustees, Tarrant County Junior College District, 1966-1971; and the UT System Board of Regents, 1969-1975. The University of Texas at Austin named Garrett a Distinguished Alumnus in 1995. He has also received numerous awards for his collecting pursuits and philanthropy, including the Philanthropic Award of the Texas Library Association, 1991; Sir Thomas More Medal of the University of San Francisco’s Gleeson Library, 1998; and the Award of Excellence in Preserving History sponsored by the Texas Historical Commission, 2003, just to mention a few.
Garrett is well known in Fort Worth for his civic activities and his work as a lawyer, and has been recognized for his many accomplishments. Among the awards he has received are the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities’ Mirabeau B. Lamar Award, 1981; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s B. H. Carroll Award, 1985; North Fort Worth Historical Society’s Tad Lucas Life Achievement Award, 1987; Tarrant County Bar Association’s Blackstone Award, 1988; Golden Deeds Award of the Fort Worth Exchange Club, 1990; and the Good Scout Award presented by the Boy Scouts’ Longhorn Council, 1996. Jenkins Garrett is active in numerous professional and historical organizations, and has served as president of the Tarrant County Junior Bar Association, Texas State Historical Association, Philosophical Society of Texas, Texas Map Society, and other groups.
Garrett has made significant contributions in writing and publishing, with perhaps his most important work being his massive bibliography entitled The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848: A Bibliography of the Holdings of the Libraries, The University of Texas at Arlington, published by Texas A&M University Press in 1995. This work has become a “must have” for libraries, scholars, and collectors interested in the Mexican War.
Garrett and wife, Virginia, live in Fort Worth and continue to dedicate their lives to their family, church, community, and collecting interests. They have three children and four grandchildren.
Jenkins Garrett has been a stalwart member of the Society for the History of Discoveries, and faithfully has attended and participated in our annual meetings. For his outstanding work in book collecting, his philanthropic record, and his most important role in establishing the Garrett Collection at the University of Texas at Arlington and its associated academic activities, we are honored to name him FSHD-Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.
Forty-fourth Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries
New Orleans, Louisiana
October 24, 2003
Prepared by Gerald D. Saxon