Gerald R. Sherratt Library
Featurette

Special Collections: Digital Archives

Howard R. Driggs Collection: Biography


Eighteen-ninety-seven was a significant year in the life of Howard R. Driggs. Following his graduation from the University of Utah he was married in the LDS Temple in Salt Lake City to Eva May Frampton, a fellow school teacher from his hometown of Pleasant Grove. They moved to Cedar City where he helped launch the Branch Normal School and served on its first faculty as an English instructor. 1897 thus began both their lifelong association with the institution and a lifelong friendship with the Bennion family.

During his distinguished career Dr. Driggs was both a Professor of English Education and historian of the American West. He was well known throughout the country as an author and speaker in both fields. He also became the President of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association in 1928. It later became the American Pioneer Trails Association which he headed until his death in 1963. Throughout his life he was active in the LDS Church, wrote extensively for church publications, and helped organize and lead many church projects and events. Shortly after his death he was eulogized in United States Senate by Senator Frank Moss, who remembered him as "one of Utah's most illustrious sons."

His parents, Benjamin Woodbury and Rosalia Cox Driggs, were among the early pioneers who crossed the plains to Utah as children. Howard was born in Pleasant Grove and during his childhood heard many exciting firsthand stories from his parents, grandparents and their friends of their dramatic pioneer experiences.

As a young boy he loved learning and he loved American history. This was evidenced by an incident when Howard was a young lad. Even before he could "officially" attend school he visited his brother Frank's fourth grade class and to his teacher's and mother's surprise when Frank was called upon to recite a poem in front of the class and hesitated, Howard stepped forward and recited the 40 stirring lines of the poem "Liberty Bell."

A few years later, he worked for a home builder and caught adobe bricks for 11 days, earning 25 cents a day to buy an American history book. When he finally found the one he liked, the store owner told young Howard that the price of the book was five dollars. Though very disappointed that he didn't have the all the money needed for the purchase he asked the owner, "You know my father, don't you? ... Could you trust him for the balance?" The store owner responded, "Howard, I can trust you." He related that incident in a book he wrote entitled "When Grandfather was a Boy." It tells us much of Howard Driggs' character and reputation, even as a youth. The history book that was purchased with the hard earned $2.75 down payment, One Hundred Years of American Independence, published in 1876, is now housed in the Driggs Collection at the Sherratt Library. On its cover page is a brief handwritten account of that purchase by Howard R. Driggs.

Education and history - the two fields to which he later devoted his career - were intense interests that he developed at an early age. He became inspired to learn stories from others about the history of the country and find a way to share them. He and some of his young friends enjoyed staging outdoor reenactments of historical events in their hometown.

While his family was living in West Jordan he attended his first school, the "Big Blue Schoolhouse," where William M. Stewart was one of his teachers. He later attended the Brigham Young Academy and was inspired to become a teacher by the noted head of the academy, Karl G. Maeser. After his graduation with a teacher's diploma, he taught in the public schools in Pleasant Grove in the early 1890s. He was inspired during this period by the leadership of David H. Christensen, one of Utah's noted school superintendents.

He entered the University of Utah, then a two-year institution, during the last year of the presidency of Dr. John R. Park. He graduated in the Class of 1897, which selected him as the Class Poet. David O. McKay was the Class President. He later received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University in 1908 and a Master of Arts degree in 1918. In 1926 he received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education from New York University.

In light of his goals, the opportunity to go to Cedar City in 1897 to help start a new institution was undoubtedly a tremendously inspiring challenge for him, particularly in light of the short time frame in which the school had to be launched. It also had to have been a very exciting period in their life for both Howard and Eva and the satisfaction of the experience was undoubtedly enhanced by the loyalty and support of the community. During this time Eva continued her career as a teacher in the Cedar City schools.

Howard and Eva spent the summer of 1898 in Chicago, where Howard studied at the University of Chicago. During this time Milton and Cora Bennion were also at the University and the couples continued their close friendship. Howard and Eva later returned to Chicago in 1905 where Howard continued his studies for two years. Howard won first prize in the Oratorical contest and went on to represent the University in the 1906 annual contest of the Northern Oratorical League, delivering a speech entitled "The Inner Light of Americanism."

Upon their return to Utah, Howard became the Supervisor of English in the State Normal School at the University of Utah and later the Principal of the Secondary Training School. In 1914, upon the recommendation of Dean Milton Bennion, he was promoted to Professor of English Education.

During these years he was active in other professional positions, including serving as President of the Utah Library and Gymnasium Commission, 1908-11; President of the Utah Education Association, 1916; and Editor of the Utah Educational Review, 1917-18. He also served as Vice President of the National Education Association in 1919.

His leadership of the Utah Library and Gymnasium Commission arose out of a strong belief in the importance of providing worthwhile reading materials for students and encouraging them to enjoy reading. He told one interviewer that he felt it was not enough to teach pupils how to read well; it was also necessary to provide worthwhile reading material and cultivate in them a lasting love for good books. His efforts were supported by parents and teachers in communities throughout the state and within a few years nearly one hundred tax-supported public libraries were established in Utah.

In 1913 he also began writing a series of highly successful textbooks for English teachers, Live Language Lessons. The books were widely adopted and resulted in many invitations to speak throughout the country. A later series of books, Our Living Language, was adapted from the research for his master's degree.

In 1918 he began a leave of absence from the University of Utah to study English teaching throughout the country. He went on extensive trips in which he addressed teacher groups, gave demonstration classes and gathered material written by thousands of students at all grade levels. His study and travel continued until 1923 when he joined the faculty of the New York University School of Education. The material gathered during this period was utilized in the preparation of his doctoral thesis at NYU, where he was Professor and Chairman of the English Department from 1927 until his retirement in 1942.

During these years he also pursued his lifelong passion of finding and preserving firsthand stories of pioneers. In the 1920s and 1930s he was a co-author and editor of a number of books in the Pioneer Life Series published by World Book Company. One of these books was Ox-Team Days on the Oregon Trail, on which he collaborated with Ezra Meeker, a well-known Oregon Trail pioneer. Meeker later formed the Oregon Trail Memorial Association and served as its first President. Howard Driggs and Dr. George W. Middleton, a fellow Utahn, were among the charter members of the association.

In 1930 the Association, of which Dr. Driggs had become the President, was the sponsor of the Covered Wagon Centennial, a nationwide celebration of the Oregon Trail, also coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ezra Meeker. President Herbert Hoover issued a Presidential Proclamation of the Centennial, the original of which is now among the items preserved in the Howard R. Driggs Collection in the Gerald R. Sherratt Library.

One of the highlights of the year was a large celebration at Independence Rock, Wyoming which drew nationwide attention to the activities of the Association. Over 10,000 people attended the event, including Boy Scout troops from all over the country. A large delegation from Utah was headed by George Albert Smith and included President Heber J. Grant. The event inspired many celebrations throughout the country and the Association was credited with promoting national awareness of the heritage associated with other pioneer trails as well.

In the 1920s, he was frequently invited to appear on radio stations in New York to present talks on Western history and the trail riders he had known. He received many appreciative letters from listeners. His brother Burton, who lived in North Dakota, wrote to describe how exciting it was to be able to hear his brother's voice in his living room. It is not difficult to imagine the excitement generated by the early years of radio and the ability to feel connected to speakers in distant places. Burton's letter was a very touching expression of the excitement he felt.

The Oregon Trail Memorial Association organized a re-run of the Pony Express Trail in 1935, the 75th anniversary of the trail. The association arranged for Boy Scouts to carry mail by horse from Sacramento, California to St. Joseph, Missouri. From there it was flown to Washington, culminating in a ceremony on the White House lawn, in which Dr. Driggs participated, where the mail was presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Another book in the Pioneer Life Series was The Pioneer Photographer, by William Henry Jackson, renowned as one of the original photographers of the West. Jackson was a member of the Hayden Expedition in the 1870s, organized by the United States Department of the Interior. Dr. Driggs collaborated with Jackson in the preparation of the book. This began a close friendship and association between the two which lasted until Jackson's death in 1942 at the age of 99. Jackson later served as the Research Secretary of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association and made many paintings of pioneer scenes which were used in some of the books written by Dr. Driggs, including The Pony Express Goes Through, Westward America and The Old West Speaks.

Dr. Driggs wrote a total of over 50 books during his busy life and received many honors and awards, both as an educator and historian. After his retirement from New York University he continued to serve as President of the American Pioneer Trails Association, wrote many books and articles, spoke throughout the country and remained active in the LDS Church. He was President of the Horace Mann League in 1946-47. He continued to lead summer treks throughout the West for the American Pioneer Trails Association, both organizing events for members and participating in local celebrations organized by others to commemorate the pioneer heritage.

He was also interested in other aspects of American history and through the American Pioneer Trails Association he organized a ceremony at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York in 1956 to mark the grave of Samuel Chester Reid (1783-1861), the designer of the American flag in its then -present form. His grave was unmarked for 95 years until this ceremony at which the Secretary of the Navy dedicated the monument.

In the 1950s he also wrote New Light on Old Glory, a pamphlet describing the origin of the American flag and an accompanying 78 rpm recording with the same name, which were adopted for use at Fort McHenry, Maryland. These materials were also adopted for use in the New York City schools to teach the story of the origin of the American flag.

Howard and Eva Driggs had two sons, Howard Wayne, born in 1902, and Harold Perry, born in 1907. Wayne graduated from the University of Utah, received his doctorate from New York University, and had a distinguished career in the field of education in Utah and the East. He was Director (President) of the Branch Agricultural College from 1945 until his death in 1951. Perry also graduated from the University of Utah and spent most of his career as an advertising executive with the J. Walter Thompson Company in Chicago. Prior to his career in advertising he worked with his father in the Oregon Trail Memorial Association and illustrated some of his books. He lived in Salt Lake City at the time of his death in 2003. Eva Driggs died in 1947, shortly after the couple's 50th wedding anniversary.

In 1948 he married Margaret Brazier Quarrier in Lawrence, Kansas. Prior to their marriage, Margaret had been a newspaper reporter and public relations director for a non-profit organization in Kansas City. She had also been an officer of the Kansas City chapter of the American Pioneer Trails Association. After their marriage she assisted him with the activities of the Association and with the editing of his books. She had three children from her prior marriage who were devoted to their stepfather and appreciated the strong influence he had upon their lives.

In 1953 she accompanied Dr. Driggs to a meeting at the White House at which he presented a collection of his books to President Dwight Eisenhower. The meeting had been arranged by Utah Senator Wallace Bennett, who knew of the President's interest in Western history and who attended the presentation. In subsequent correspondence to Dr. Driggs, President Eisenhower expressed strong interest in the subject matter of the books and his warm appreciation for the collection.

His death in 1963 ended a remarkable career. His legacy is reflected in the Howard R. Driggs Collection now being archived by the Gerald R. Sherratt Library. The extensive collection includes his papers, correspondence, diaries, honors, awards, photographs, memorabilia and poetry.

It also includes records of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association and the American Pioneer Trails Association and a wealth of historical information and artifacts valuable to researchers. The collection reveals the breadth of Dr. Driggs' life's work, the high regard in which he was held by others and the wide recognition he received at the time of his death. It encapsulates the central themes of his life: inspiring teachers and students, preserving history, and devotion to his family and church. It contains many items reflecting the vast number of people whose lives he touched and who were inspired and influenced by him.

In 1965, two years after his death, the Granite School District in Salt Lake City honored him by naming a new school after him - the Howard R. Driggs Elementary School. A bronze bust created by Avard Fairbanks is displayed in the entrance lobby of the school.

In 1999 Southern Utah University honored Dr. Driggs at the Founders Day Ceremony at which a portrait of him was unveiled, which now hangs in the Great Hall. Family members who attended the ceremony included Margaret Driggs, Perry and Clara Driggs and Beth Swensen Driggs, the widow of Wayne Driggs. Margaret died in 2008. Clara died in 2001 and Beth died in 2002.

Prior to his death, Perry Driggs established two scholarship funds at the University - the Eva and Howard R. Driggs fund in honor of his parents, and the Clara and H. Perry Driggs fund in honor of his late wife and himself. He was inducted into the Old Main Society in 2002. Perry and Clara are survived by two sons, Perry Jr. of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and Paul of Salt Lake City.

Wayne and Beth Driggs had five children, three of whom survive: Arthur of Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania, Ralph of Bountiful, Utah and Susan Driggs Staker of Austin, Texas.

His grandchildren remember him encouraging them to learn and gain perspectives on life. He advised them that when they visited a new city, "Go to the highest building or place. It will help you get a perspective of the area."

Dr. Driggs also loved teaching and sharing. On one visit to his son's home on his way West, a grandson who was busy studying for high school exams asked for help to get a better understanding of the subjects. He was curious how Grandfather Driggs could remember and recall so many facts and pieces of literature he had studied so long ago and that the grandson was just recently studying in high school and attempting to recall. Grandfather Driggs replied, "When I want to remember something, I give it and give it and give it away until it's mine." That thought on giving and learning is why Grandfather Driggs found teaching so rewarding because it expands both the "giver" and the "receiver." Dr. Howard R. Driggs was a master teacher.

During his lifetime he inspired countless other people through his teaching, writings, church activity, the historical organizations he led and through the high ideals he displayed in his personal life. He achieved his goal of preserving history for future generations and now his legacy is being preserved for future generations at Southern Utah University, where his distinguished career in higher education began.

Biography written by Perry Driggs and Camille Q. Bradford, grandson and stepdaughter of Howard R. Driggs.