Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award 2008
Mary-Agnes Taylor, Austin, TX
Professor Emerita of English at Texas State University-San Marcos
B.A. 1940 English and Speech
Remarks by Dr. Ann Marie Ellis
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts
Mary-Agnes Taylor has made profound and lasting achievements in the academic field of children’s literature.
She was born in Llano, TX, and graduated from Llano High School in 1937. That year, she came to then-Southwest Texas State Teacher’s College because, during the Great Depression, it was the only college she could afford. She was offered a job cataloging books for 20 cents an hour, under a federal youth employment program, the NYA.
At SWT, Mary-Agnes was a member of The College Players and of Pi Kappa Delta, the forensic fraternity. She was president of the fraternity during her senior year when it participated in 116 debates and won high honors in five public-speaking tournaments—including a number of prizes at the fraterinity’s national meeting in Tennessee. She remembers the trip to Tennessee fondly. The forensic squad drove in a station wagon with wooden sides and encountered a treacherous snowstorm in the mountains of Tennessee. How that car got through the mountains without chains was a miracle. The trip was also Mary-Agnes’ first time to travel outside of Texas, and the experience was so broadening that, many years later she established a scholarship at Texas State to help current English students to travel to deliver papers at professional conferences.
During her freshman year, Mary-Agnes met her future husband, George Taylor, an American whose family lived in Mexico. Mary-Agnes and George dated the whole time they were in college. She earned her B.A. in 1940 in English and Speech, and went to Yoakum, Texas, to teach for two years. Then World War II came, and George, who had joined the Navy, was assigned as the officer in charge of a radio censorship station in Arizona. Mary-Agnes joined him there and that’s where they were married. They lived together for 42 years, until George’s death.
For 25 years, Mary-Agnes lived the life of a Navy wife, largely in Washington, D.C., but also in San Francisco, Guam, and Japan. She and George raised four children—Dr. Ashley Taylor, who is a senior research scientist at the University of Wisconsin; Aliene Pylant, a counselor in Flower Mound, near Dallas, who helps to rehabilitate students with brain injuries; Theresa Bayer, a professional artist in Austin, and Dr. Lee Taylor, an anesthesiologist in a children’s hospital in Portland, Oregon.
While she was raising children, Mary Agnes received her M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from San Francisco State University and completed 32 hours beyond her master’s degree at three other universities, and she taught in a variety of schools. When George retired from the Navy in the 1960s, he and Mary-Agnes moved to Austin.
Now into this story comes another very important person in the life of our College—Dr. Ralph Houston, former Dean of Liberal Arts whose daughter Susie is on our advisory board. In Austin, Mary-Agnes received a phone call from Dr. Houston, who had been one of Mary-Agnes’ favorite professors from her years as an undergraduate. Dr. Houston asked her if she would like to teach children’s literature for the English Department. She said no at first, but he asked again, and it was in 1967, when she was nearing 47 years of age, that she began her career as a college teacher and a publishing scholar in the field of children’s literature. She taught in the Department of English for 24 years, retiring in 1991 at the rank of full professor. She loved teaching and she is proud that on her 75th birthday she was teaching a class in Flowers Hall. To honor her for her excellence in teaching and scholarship, the University named her Professor Emerita.
Mary-Agnes produced some of the first scholarship in the field of children’s and young adult literature—work that continues to be impressive for its depth of historical knowledge and its acute critical sensitivity. Her efforts as a scholar helped to build a field that was struggling to establish its place in the academy, and her academic achievements are especially remarkable considering that, when she began her career, children’s literature was not yet recognized as a specialization in English departments, and no academic degrees in the field were available. Mary-Agnes’ work had to be largely self-directed because there wasn’t much scholarship available in children’s literature. Today the situation has changed, due in part to Mary-Agnes’ efforts. At Texas State, she designed and taught the English Department’s first young adult literature class and the first graduate course in children’s literature. We now teach many sections of children’s and young adult literature and we have students writing masters’ theses in these fields. In June, we will send eight students and faculty to make presentations at the annual meeting of the Children’s Literature Association.
Mary-Agnes also helped to build her field through her strong record of publication in well-respected books and periodicals. She served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Children’s Literature Association and as associate editor of the Association’s prestigious journal. Even in retirement, Mary-Agnes has been an outstanding advocate in her profession: for 13 years, she has been a member of the National Selection Committee for the Tomás Rivera Award for Mexican American children’s and young adult books. She retired from the committee only this year.
Mary-Agnes has been a mentor for hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students at Texas State. She is a long-time member of the Alumni Association and the Century Club, which support scholarships for students in all disciplines. She has established two scholarships in Liberal Arts and English, and the Texas State University Alumni Association presented Mary-Agnes with its Key of Excellence Award and its Distinguished Alumna Award. These two honors attest to the respect that we in the University community, including former students, have for her. I am very pleased to add to Mary-Agnes’s accolades by presenting her with the College of Liberal Arts’ highest honor—the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.