Editing the Pass: Eugene O. Porter

By on November 9, 2012

Porter holding a copy of Password.

Eugene O. Porter began teaching history at Texas Western in 1940. World War II and later the Korean War drew Porter into the military for two periods between 1943 and 1951; he served primarily as an intelligence officer. When Porter returned to El Paso, he taught Russian and Far Eastern history. Porter taught these topics well, one of his greatest scholarly contributions came as a member of the El Paso County Historical Society through editing Password.

Cover of the first Password issue.

Porter’s appointment to editor seemed somewhat haphazard as he relayed the story in Oral History Interview no. 92. You can read the narrative in its entirety at http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/interviews/92/.

In 1955, as people were being assigned to the different committees in the newly formed Historical Society, Louise Schusler, a charter member of the Society and head of the Woman’s Department of the Chamber of Commerce, came to Porter and asked him, “What committee do you want?”  Porter responded, “I don’t want any.”  To which Schusler pressed, “You have to be on one.”  At an apparent impasse, Porter decided to clarify his position, “I don’t have to be on any. I don’t know anything about this history down here; my field is Russian and Far East. And I just don’t have time.” However, Schusler would have none of it, saying, “I’m going to put you down for one.” Seeing that he was doomed to participate, Porter made a play for the least amount of work he could get away with, “Well, I’m not going to be doing any research, so put me down for the editorial committee.”

Porter discovered very quickly that he was not just assigned as a member of the editorial committee but that he had been appointed Chairman. At the first meeting Porter told the rest of the committee, “Listen. I have never edited anything in my life. This is not my field. I just am not your man.” To which the committee replied, “We investigated you thoroughly and we find that you are without prejudices.” Porter was not sure how to reply and simply stated, “Well that’s a hell of a way to choose an editor.” This apparently not only settled the matter but was also effective criteria as Porter produced an excellent publication.

The Password cover changed somewhat until it settled on the layout you see here.

Porter’s effectiveness as an editor was largely due to his relatively unbiased approach to the cultural and religious politics of the region. Porter focused on producing an excellent publication rather than emphasizing any particular narrative. Under Porter’s editorial management, Password became a highly regarded magazine—even winning an award from the American Association for State and Local History for the magazine’s third volume. Porter edited Password through the 1974 winter issue, when he said his farewell.

Porter’s narrative reflects the experiences of many faculty members from the same time period. Many young academics came to teach in a region they did not fully understand or appreciate at the time. They were regularly asked to undertake tasks that they did not have sufficient background or funding to perform. However, they rose to the challenge and produced excellent products such as Password. Eugene Porter’s tenure began at Texas College of Mines in 1940, and he retired from the University of Texas at El Paso in May, 1969. Yet, Porter continued as Professor Emeritus until his death in 1975.

Among his publications:

Fallacies of Karl Marx / with an introduction by Samuel D. Myres. El Paso : Texas Western College, 1962.

Lord Beresford and Lady Flo. El Paso: University of Texas at El Paso, 1970.

San Elizario: a history / by Eugene O. Porter; drawings by José Cisneros. Austin: Jenkins Pub. Co., 1973.

For more information, please consult the Eugene O. Porter papers, MS84, C. L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, University of Texas at El Paso Library.

Andy Klooster served as an assistant in the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. He is currently an MA student in History at UTEP.