In his book “Miracle on the Mesa”, Bud Davis notes that two students — Marie Pope Wallis and Hector H. Lee — were the first to get their doctorates at the June 7, 1947 commencement.
Lee’s degree was in English — American Studies, American Civilization, and his dissertation was titled, “The Three Nephites: The Substance and Significance of the Legend in Folklore,” which was published by UNM Press in 1949. Lee went on to teach English at the University of Utah and Sonoma State College in California. He published over eight books and many articles and reviews. UNM has some of them, including “A Bibliography of the Archives of the Utah Humanities Research Foundation, Salt Lake City”, in 1947; a collection of recordings of “Folkore in the Mormon Country” in 1964 (which includes his own stories); “Tales of California from the History,” “Folkore of the Far West”, 1974 and “Heroes, Villains and Ghosts: Folklore of Old California”, in 1984. He died in 1992.
Wallis’ degree was in Iberian American Studies/Spanish and Ibero American Literature, and her dissertation was on “Modern Women Poets of Brazil.” She did a translation called “Intersection,” of the Peruvian poetry of Teresa Maria Llona in 1950. A condensation of her Brazilian poets study came out in 1972. She was received into the Brazilian Academy, one of the highest honors a literary scholar can achieve.
A search of the Access Newspaper yielded stories about the passing of Wallis in the Albuquerque Tribune of Nov. 24, 1975 and the Albuquerque Journal of Nov. 29, 1975. In the Journal article Marie Pope Wallis is described as the first UNM Ph.D. graduate. (Perhaps 1947 chivalry prevailed and President Wernette handed one to her first before Hector Lee?)
Wallis had an amazing life. She was from Iowa and beyond UNM had studied and worked in California and Oklahoma, as well as in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Peru. Wallis joined the Women’s Army Corps during WWI and help found the first army counseling library. She became the first Civil Air Patrol Coordinator for women pilots in New Mexico and the first in the U.S. to provide aviation training to teachers. Wallis set up the first Inter American training program for New Mexico Hispanics in 1929, was the first Community Service Consultant for the State Public Welfare Department, and was the Albuquerque WPA zone director. Wallis served with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Service in war torn Europe, and was a vaudeville actress who directed her own shows at the Albuquerque Little Theater. She was also president of the Albuquerque Historical Society in 1966.
Wallis earned six higher degrees, taught in the Albuquerque Public Schools, at the Laguna Indian School and in the UNM History and Language departments, as well as in Italy, Spain and South America. Some of her papers are at the CSWR and others at New Mexico State University.
Story by Nancy Brown Martinez