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Mary Dengler Hudgins was a prolific writer of regional history in Arkansas. Her research and writing led her to amass an exceptional collection of publications and historical materials that document the history of Garland County, its county seat of Hot Springs, and the state of Arkansas.
Mary Hudgins was born in Hot Springs on November 24, 1901. She was the only child of Jackson Wharton and Ida Dengler Hudgins. Her father worked in the real estate business, and her mother was a teacher. She attended public schools in Hot Springs and then attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington Couny), where she majored in English and served as a reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, UA’s student newspaper.
After graduating with a BA in English, Hudgins taught English and social studies at the high school for the small community of Waldo (Columbia County) from 1924 to 1925. After attending Rice School for the Spoken Word in Massachusetts for a year, she returned to Arkansas to live in Hot Springs. She spent the greater part of the next fourteen years as a researcher and freelance writer. It was during this time that she started to amass her collection of books and historical materials.
Arkansas music and composers were special areas of interest to Hudgins. Her correspondence with prominent composers, such as William Grant Still, often sheds light on subjects for which there is no other documentation. Her broader interest in the history of Arkansas led her to work with Bernie Babcock on the Arkansas volume of the American Guide Series, a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Her articles, reviews, and commentary appeared in local and state newspapers, the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, and The Record: The Journal of the Garland County Historical Society. She also freelanced for greeting card companies and radio stations.
In 1940, she enrolled at the University of Chicago, where she took courses in library science. She took similar courses at the University of Wisconsin in 1941, as well as at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1952. She worked at the public library in Hot Springs for fourteen years, until 1943, and served as medical and post librarian at the U.S. Army and Navy Hospital at Hot Springs from 1943 to 1959. During this latter period, she had a weekly radio program on KTHS in Hot Springs that she devoted to discussions about books or historical events that occurred in Arkansas. Hudgins’s listeners and others who knew her came to recognize Hudgins as an authority on the history of Hot Springs.
When plans called for closing the Army and Navy Hospital in 1959, Hudgins was offered a similar position at another facility, but she retired from library work and continued to research, write, freelance, and collect books, pamphlets, documents, and historical memorabilia. Her collection of books numbered over 3,000 and included many copies that were autographed and inscribed by authors grateful to Hudgins for her advice. The collection was donated to her alma mater, UA. Hudgins also created an endowment in the UA Department of History to encourage students to pursue historical research on state and local subjects. She created another endowment, shared by the Department of Music and the Special Collections Department of the UA library system, to encourage the performance and preservation of Arkansas music. Income from these endowments continues to support intended activities. Among other things, this endowment led to the publication of A Directory of 132 Arkansas Composers in 1979.
Hudgins died on October 18, 1987. She donated her body to the University of Arkansas Medical Center for medical research.
For additional information:Dabrishus, Michael J. “Mary Dengler Hudgins, 1901–1987.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 47 (Spring 1988): 68–71.
King, Mikey, and Kim Allen Scott. “Against the Odds: The Dual Careers of Mary Hudgins.” Arkansas Libraries 47 (December 1990): 11–15.
Williams, Nancy A., ed. Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
Michael J. DabrishusUniversity of Pittsburgh
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.
Last Updated 3/16/2015
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