Virginia Garrett

Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries


When Virginia and Jenkins Garrett were honored by the Richard A. Gleeson Library Association of the University of San Francisco with their celebrated thirty-first Sir Thomas More Medal in June 1998, it was in much deserved recognition of them not only as companionable collectors of maps, books, and other valuable documents, but more importantly as unselfish donors and benefactors.  Through their generosity and leadership for more than a half century they have influenced so many of our students and us across the humanities and social sciences and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Born Virginia Williams in Fort Worth, Texas on 26 November 1920, she has been interested in maps since early childhood.  She was first drawn into their complexity in the late 1920s when she navigated for her father, using road maps, on then all-day journeys to visit her grandparents in Marlin, Texas near Waco. Her serious collecting started somewhat later.

Virginia Garrett graduated from North Side High School in Fort Worth in 1937, and went on for comptometer (proto-computer) instruction at the Burroughs Training School.  After graduation in 1938, she worked in the Auditing Department of the Continental Oil Company in Fort Worth until 1941.

At church, the Rosen Heights Baptist Church on the North Side of Fort Worth, Virginia met the minister’s son, Jenkins Garrett, whom she eventually married on her birthday in 1941, when he was a young attorney and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent serving in California.  They lived in California until 1943 and then returned to Fort Worth. They have three children: Dianne (b. 1943), Donna (b. 1945), and Jenkins, Jr. (b. 1947).

Her own cartographic interests plus her husband’s collecting of books, manuscripts, and other Greater Southwestern materials inspired Virginia to begin seriously collecting antique printed maps of Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Greater Southwest, dating from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries.  She also developed an interest in atlases from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She still remembers purchasing her first map in a Paris Left Bank bookstore in the late 1950s, after which she and Jenkins entered into the idyllic situation of complementary collecting.

Throughout their collecting days, the Garretts always made their materials readily available to researchers, especially young scholars and students.  In this important vein, in 1974 they donated a collection of some 10,000 items on Texas and the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 to the Special Collections Division of the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.  In 1990, Virginia donated her collection of 400 atlases to UTA, followed by a broadly representative and in-depth collection of over 900 maps on 1 October 1997 as the foundation of the Virginia Garrett Cartographic History Library.  The Garretts also helped to secure major funding from the Sid W. Richardson Foundation of Fort Worth, among others, to make this a world renowned cartographic research collection, today numbering more than 7,000 maps, 1,400 atlases and geographies, and several thousand supporting volumes relating to the discovery and exploration of North America, the Greater Southwest, and Mexico.  Virginia Garrett’s gifts have further contributed to the founding of undergraduate and graduate courses in the history of cartography, discovery and exploration, the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies and the History of Cartography, a Ph.D. program in Transatlantic History, and the biennial Virginia Garrett Lectures on the History of Cartography, as well as the creation of the prestigious Jenkins and Virginia Garrett Endowed Chair in Greater Southwestern Studies and the History of Cartography at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Even in retirement, the Garretts continue their unflagging support of the University of Texas at Arlington and Tarrant County College.  Virginia has a special interest in instructional outreach programs to the public schools of Texas like UTA’s Cartographic Connections that utilize old maps.  She also is internationally recognized as a knowledgeable and caring collector through her membership in and support of the Phillip Lee Phillips Society, of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, the International Map Collectors’ Society, the Texas Map Society, of which she is a founder, and the Society for the History of Discoveries.

For her contributions to the history of cartography and discovery and exploration, to the academic excellence of UTA and TCC, and to our own learned society, we honor Virginia Garrett and name her FSHD – Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Virginia Garrett, 91 years old, loving family member, distinguished map collector and philanthropist, died on April 21, 2012, in Fort Worth.

Forty-fourth Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries

New Orleans, Louisiana

October 24, 2003

Prepared by Dennis Reinhartz


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