James Lee Kessler
Rabbi Jimmy Kessler, who died on September 14, 2022, was a Society member for almost 30 years (inducted in 1993). He retired in 2014 from being rabbi of Congregation B'nai Israel in Galveston and was made Rabbi Emeritus. Rabbi Kessler founded the Texas Jewish Historical Society in 1980 and was its first president. He served as director of the University of Texas Hillel Foundation in Austin. Kessler also served on numerous boards, was the director of several family funds in Galveston, and was a teacher and an author. His obituary can be read here.
Philosophical Society Membership
Membership is by invitation only and is limited to two hundred and fifty persons of distinction whose life and character have furthered the purposes for which the Society was established.
Only persons who reside within, were born within, or at some time have resided within the geographical boundaries of the late Republic of Texas, are eligible for membership. Election occurs in the fall and is determined by a majority of the active members who have voted. All members may nominate and second persons for membership.
Bylaws of the Philosophical Society of Texas
View, download, or print the Bylaws (.pdf, Revised 2021)
The History of the Philosophical Society
When the Republic of Texas was but a few months old, a group of gentlemen met in the capitol at Houston to organize The Philosophical Society of Texas. Aware of the potential greatness of the new Republic, these men were eager to provide for the symmetrical progress of the nation and to disseminate accurate information regarding the region. An account of the first meeting was published in the Telegraph and Texas Register for January 13, 1838, and the original draft of the By-Laws, signed by the charter members, is in the San Jacinto Museum of History.
The first meeting, on December 5, 1837, was attended by Mirabeau B. Lamar, Ashbel Smith, Thos. J. Rusk, Wm. H. Wharton, Joseph Rowe, Angus McNeill, A. C. Allen, G. W. Bonnell, Joseph Baker, Patrick C. Jack, W. Fairfax Gray, Jno. A. Wharton, D. S. Kaufman, Jas. Collinsworth, Anson Jones, Littleton Fowler, A. C. Horton, J. W. Bunton, Edward T. Branch, Henry Smith, Hugh McLeod, T. Jefferson Chambers, Sam Houston, and R. A. Irion.
The Memorial which was adopted at this meeting indicates that the founders used the word "Philosophical" in its general, not its restricted sense:
We the undersigned form ourselves into a society for the collection and diffusion of knowledge subscribing fully to the opinion of Lord Chancellor Bacon, that "knowledge is power"; we need not here dilate on its importance. The field of our research is as boundless in its extent and as various in its character as the subjects of knowledge are numberless and diversified. But our object more especially at the present time is to concentrate the efforts of the enlightened and patriotic citizens of Texas, of our distinguished military commanders and travelers of our scholars and men of science, of our learned members of the different Professions, in the collection and diffusion of correct information regarding the moral and social condition of our country; its finances, statistics and political and military history; its climate, soil and productions; the animals that roam over our broad prairies or swim in our noble streams; the customs, language and history of the aboriginal tribes that hunt or plunder on our borders; the natural curiosities of the country; our mines of untold wealth, and the thousand other topics of interest which our new and rising republic unfolds to the philosopher, the scholar, and the man of the world. Texas having fought the battles of liberty, and triumphantly achieved a separate political existence, now thrown upon her internal resources for the performance of her institutions, moral and political, calls upon all persons to use all their efforts for the increase and diffusion of useful knowledge and sound information; to take measures that will be rightly appreciated abroad, and acquire promptly and fully sustain among the high standing to which she is destined among the civilized nations of the world. She calls on her intelligent and patriotic citizens to furnish to the rising generation the means of instruction within our own borders, where our children to whose charge after all the vestal flame of Texian Liberty must be committed may be indoctrinated in sound principles and imbibe with their education respect for their country's laws, love of her soil, and veneration for her institutions. We have endeavored to respond to this call by the formation of this Society, with the hope that if not to us, to our sons and successors it may be given to make the star, the single star of the West, as resplendent for all the acts that adorn civilized life as it is now glorious in military renown. Texas has her captains; let her have her wise men.
In considering the Society, one is impressed by two things: first, by the fact that men who were busily engaged in laying the foundations of a new government nevertheless found the time to establish such an organization; and second, by the varied backgrounds and unusual personal excellence of the founders.
During the period of preparation for the celebration of the centennial of independence, a group of citizens of modern Texas decided to revive and perpetuate the Society as a memorial to the twenty-six founders. Many of its original functions have been appropriated by other organizations, and it is not contemplated that The Philosophical Society of Texas will overlap their activities in any manner. Rather it is hoped that it will become what, by inference, it originally was: a fellowship of persons who, in various fields of endeavor, have contributed to the achievement of the original aims of the Society.
On January 18, 1936, a charter for The Philosophical Society of Texas as an educational, non-profit-sharing corporation without capital stock, was obtained from the State of Texas by the following persons:
George Waverley Briggs, Vice-President, First National Bank, Dallas
James Quayle Dealey, Editor-in-chief of the Dallas News; Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Science, Brown University
Herbert Pickens Gambrell, Director of Historical Exhibits, Texas Centennial Exposition
Samuel Wood Geiser, Professor of Biology, Southern Methodist University
Lucius Mirabeau Lamar, Lawyer
Umphrey Lee, Dean of the School of Religion, Vanderbilt University
Charles Shirley Potts, Dean of the School of Law, Southern Methodist University
William Alexander Rhea, Professor of Law, Southern Methodist University
Ira Kendrick Stephens, Professor of Philosophy, Southern Methodist University
William Embry Wrather, Geologist; President, Texas State Historical Association
The Purposes of the Philosophical Society of Texas
- To perpetuate the memory and spirit of the men who in 1837 founded the original "Philosophical Society of Texas," and of those who, in later years, have by their research and writings furthered the cause for which the Society was organized;
- To establish research into literary, scientific, and philosophical studies in Texas and elsewhere;
- To foster the preservation of literary, scientific, and philosophical documents and materials;
- To establish and maintain such publications as are necessary to carry out the Purposes of the corporation;
- To have and to hold by purchase, grant, gift, or otherwise, real estate identified with the history and development of literature, science, and philosophy; and personal property consisting of books, manuscripts, and other materials relating to these fields of learning, and of those who, in later years, have by their research and writings furthered the cause for which the Society was organized.