Biographical or Historical Information
Alton William Birdwell was born on September 18, 1870 near Elkhart, Texas to George Preston Birdwell and Addie Kilgore Birdwell. After attending school till the age of 12, Alton suffered a bout of malaria and had to withdraw from school. He would continue his schooling at home till he was 19 when he in Troup and later attended summer normal schools in Omen. Birdwell would also go onto attended summer schools at the University of Texas, University of Missouri, and University of Chicago.
Birdwell started his career in education in 1892 at a school in Pleasant Retreat. He went on to serve as the principal in Tyler, a superintendent of schools in Troup, and the superintendent of Smith County Schools. In 1910 Alton went on to become a professor of history at Southwest Texas State University. In 1914 he married Maude Margaret Shipe, who also happened to be a teacher. Mr. Birdwell started taking classes in normal school administration from Peabody College and earned a master's degree in 1916. He returned to Southwest Texas State University and served as dean of the faculty.
Alton Birdwell was appointed the first President of Stephen F. Austin State Normal School in 1917. With the outbreak of World War I the opening of SFASNS was delayed and Birdwell stayed on at SWT until the end of the war. In August of 1922 Alton and his family moved to Nacogdoches, after the State Legislature approved an appropriation to for the construction of the first building on campus and for the maintenance of the institution, to supervise the construction of the new college, organize faculty and serve as president. The opening of the college was delayed as construction of the Austin Building was not going as fast as planned, but on September 18, 1923 Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College opened for classes. Mr. Birdwell was able to sustain SFA in the early years as falling enrollment and legislative cuts during the Great Depression strained the funding of the College.
Prior to his retirement President Birdwell was conferred an honorary Ph. D. in Philosophy from Southwest University of Georgetown for his leadership and contributions to the field of education in 1940. Upon retiring in 1941 Dr. Birdwell was bestowed the position of President Emeritus until his death on October 25, 1954.Note written by Greg Bailey