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Gilbert Courtland Fite papers

Identifier: MS-058

Content Description

This collection mainly depicts Gilbert Fite's career as a university history professor and a university administrator.

The University of Oklahoma series (Boxes 1-3) include correspondence with university staff and faculty, as well as the President. Correspondence with historians and writing partners Norman Graeber, Jim Reese, and Don Berthrong are also included. It also contains information on Fite’s time as head of the Presidential Search Committee, the inauguration of J. Herbert Holloman, and Holloman’s subsequent scandals and resignation. A brief bit on Fite’s financial records from the university is also in this series.

The India Visit 1969-1970 series (Boxes 4-5) includes correspondence between Fite and Oklahoma and former Indian colleagues, as well as correspondence with the American Studies Research Centre. June Fite’s correspondence to friends and family is also covered in this series.

The Eastern Illinois University series (Boxes 6-12) contains correspondence with Eastern’s collegiate departments as well as letters from former Oklahoma professors. Congratulatory letters on his appointment, inauguration, and resignation are also included, as well as letters to other university leaders, many addressing financial concerns at Eastern Illinois. Articles and newspaper clippings surrounding his time as president as well as menus and pamphlets from his farewell dinner are in this series. This series also contains speeches and speech notes from addresses given by Fite at this time.

The University of Georgia series (Boxes 13-22 and oversize Box 64) primarily contains correspondence between former and current colleagues of Fite. Much of this correspondence covers research done by Fite, particularly for his text on Richard B. Russell, American Farmers: the New Minority, and other works completed or edited by Fite. There are also numerous articles pertaining to lectures given by Fite or awards won while at the University of Georgia. Personal files, including correspondence and recommendations for former students are also included.

The Retirement series (Boxes 23-28) contains correspondence between colleagues and family. There is some brief correspondence between Fite and the University of Arkansas and Oklahoma Christian College. There is also correspondence written to federal and state government organizations and legislatures regarding Fite’s interest in immigration issues. Articles on Fite’s involvement in the town of Bella Vista, Arkansas are also included.

The Organizations and Conferences series (Boxes 29-32) mainly includes booklets and information pertaining to the organizations Fite was a member of and conferences he attended throughout the entirety of his career. There are multiple references to the South Dakota Hall of Fame and South Dakota State Historical Society, which Fite was a member of. Notes from speeches and lectures given at conferences are also included.

The Research and Publications series (Boxes 33-41) includes correspondence to and from publishing agencies and multiple university presses about the publication of the book and articles written or edited by Fite. Financial information about the royalties produced by the texts are also included. This series contains reviews of Fite’s book and articles, as well as reviews written by Fite. Also included are multiple publications with articles mentioning Fite and his work. It also contains some articles written by Fite. There are newspaper clippings, research correspondence, notes, and articles.

The Teaching and Service series (Boxes 42-47) consists of papers, speeches, lectures, conferences and workshops, notes, and correspondence. It also includes Associations, Organizations, Societies, Conferences, Committees and Symposiums. Mainly historical and agricultural related.

The Personal series (Boxes 48-58) includes documents on Fite’s human relationships, from early life through retirement. Records regarding the Fite family homestead and financial transactions are available here, as well as notes, files, articles, and letters pertaining to Fite’s parents, wife, children, and siblings. This series includes miscellaneous items from Fite’s friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, including former student writings and holiday cards. Finally, this series contains research notes for various texts and speeches. Items listed within the folders are highlights of the folder’s contents and not every item in the folder.

The Photograph series (Boxes 59-64) is organized by type for preventive conservation purposes. Sub-series include black and white, color, digital output prints, negatives, slides, and oversize. The series consists primarily of family photographs and collections of copy photographs from institutions and archives used in Fite’s research. The content is arranged alphabetically. Box 63, which contains negatives and slides, is housed in cold storage. The negatives and slides remain mostly unidentified. Box 64 contains the oversize photographs.


  • Creation: 1946 - 2010


Conditions Governing Access

This collection contains some restricted material. Researchers are advised to contact the Archives and Special Collections prior to visiting.

Restricted files contain personally identifiable information or materials protected by FERPA. Personal Series is also restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers must obtain a signed Permission to Publish Form if they wish to reproduce, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate information from published and unpublished works held by ASC. Permission to reproduce, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate information materials from ASC does not constitute permission from the holder of copyright or literary rights. The researcher is responsible for securing permission from the copyright holder to publish or reproduce content from materials found in the collections.

Biographical / Historical

Gilbert Courtland Fite was born on May 14, 1918 in Santa Fe, Ohio. Shortly after his birth, he and his parents settled in South Dakota. He first attended Wessington Springs Junior College, where he discovered his love of history. Fite then went on to attend Seattle Pacific College. He soon fell ill and was forced to return to South Dakota, where he was cared for by a nurse named Alberta June Goodwin, who he would later marry on July 24, 1941 and, have two sons, Jack and James. After overcoming illness, Fite returned to school at the University of South Dakota where he received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in History in 1941. He continued with his Ph.D. studies at the University of Missouri, where he completed his dissertation on South Dakotan Governor and Senator Peter Norbeck.

After graduation, Fite spent 25 years as a history professor at the University of Oklahoma starting in 1945. He was named chair of this department from 1955-1958. From 1968 to 1971, he received the title of George Lynn Cross Research Professor, named after the former University of Oklahoma president. Throughout his time at Oklahoma, Fite made two year-long journeys to India. The first, from 1962 to 1963, was as a professor at Jadavapur University in Calcutta and the second, from 1969 to 1970, as the Director of the American Studies Research Centre in Hyderabad. He published numerous works while at Oklahoma, including multiple American history textbooks, works on the prairie and South Dakota, two economic history texts, as well as several books and articles detailing agricultural changes throughout the United States and abroad.

After returning from India, Gilbert Fite left Oklahoma to take a position as the President of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. During this time, he was able to successfully handle a budget crisis and welcomed a visit from then Vice-President Gerald Ford. He left the university in 1976 to return to teaching and research.

In 1977, Fite was named the Richard B. Russell Professor of American History at the University of Georgia, a prestigious research professor position named after a former Georgian politician. He returned to doing research and compiling multiple books and articles, including Richard B. Russell, Senator from Georgia, which was completed after his retirement and won a Phi Alpha Theta Award for Best Book and American Farmers: the New Minority, among many others. He also served as acting Department Head from 1977 to 1978. Fite was named Emeritus Professor at the University of Georgia in 1986 and retired that same year.

Fite and his wife, June, retired to Bella Vista, Arkansas, where they became very politically active in their community and Gilbert took up playing golf extensively. He periodically continued to write, with his last book about the history of Bella Vista published in 1993. In failing health, Fite moved to Fort Meyers, Florida in 2005. He died July 13, 2010.

Fite was a member of the Society of American Historians, the Agricultural History Society (President 1960), the Southern Historical Association (President 1974), the Western History Association (President 1985), and Phi Alpha Theta, history's international honorary society (President 1981-1983). Fite served on the editorial boards of nine historical periodicals: Montana, The Magazine of Western History, Great Plains Quarterly, South Dakota History, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Agricultural History, Red River Valley Historical Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and the periodicals of the above-mentioned historical societies. In addition, he served as a consultant for numerous Universities, the Screening Committee Fulbright Awards, the National Park Service, and the United States Office of Education. Fite also served as a member of the Board of Trustees, Phillips University, Enid, Oklahoma, 1969-76, and a member of the Board of Trustees, Lexington Theological Seminary, Lexington, Kentucky, 1972-76. Fite received numerous honors and awards, including a Ford Fellowship, 1954-55, two Fulbright Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, 1964, and the Theodore Salautos Award for the Best Book in Agricultural History, 1985. In 1990 Fite was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.


38.5 Linear Feet (53 document boxes, 9 record cartons, 1 oversize flat box, and 1 cold storage box)

Language of Materials



This collection mainly depicts Gilbert Fite's career as a university history professor and a university administrator.


The Gilbert Fite Papers are separated into ten series: University of Oklahoma, India Visit 1969-1970, Eastern Illinois University, University of Georgia, Retirement, Organizations and Conferences, Research and Publications, Teaching and Service, Personal and Photographs.

Gilbert Courtland Fite papers
Stephanie Andell, Diane Frigge, Sam Herley, and Sarah A. Hanson
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Repository Details

Part of the USD Archives and Special Collections Repository