Austin Edwin Fife was born on December 18, 1909, in Lincoln, Idaho to Robert Harris and Mary Elizabeth Stocks Fife. When he was seven years old his father moved the family to Logan, Utah, and Austin graduated from high school and LDS seminary in Logan. In 1928 he entered the Utah State Agricultural College, now Utah State University. He interrupted his studies to serve a mission for the LDS Church in France from 1929 to 1932 where he developed a love for the French language and French literature.
Upon his return he continued studying at USAC for a further two years and in 1932, he met Alta Stevens from Bountiful, Utah. Alta was the daughter of George Henry and Clara Whitby Stevens. She was born on March 16, 1912, in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1919, her family moved to Bountiful, Utah. After she graduated from high school, she worked as a secretary and bookkeeper in Salt Lake. In 1932, she enrolled at USAC. However, in 1934, Austin received a fellowship to study at Stanford and he moved to Palo Alto, California where he completed his Bachelors in French. On March 27, 1934, Austin and Alta married in Palo Alto. Alta quit school and worked to support the couple. They remained there while Austin completed his Master of Arts degree in Romance languages, which he obtained in 1935. They briefly moved to Massachusetts where Austin obtained an MA in Romance Philology from Harvard University in 1937 and Alta worked as bookkeeper for the Harvard Psychological Clinic.
In 1937, Austin and Alta returned to Palo Alto and Austin obtained a PhD in Romance Languages from Stanford University in 1939. His thesis, The Concept of the Sacredness of Bees, Honey, and Wax in Christian Popular Tradition, showed his burgeoning interest in popular traditions and folklore. This was due in large part to his work as a graduate student with Aurelio Espinoza, a prominent Spanish folklorist. It was also in 1939, that Alta and Austin began to study the folklore traditions of their own background, the Mormon community of Utah and Idaho. While both had by this time become inactive in the LDS Church, they were nevertheless interested in the culture which the Mormons had developed in the Intermountain West. Austin early wrote articles saying that the Mormons were a distinct and autonomous culture deserving of study and rich with folklore and traditions. Austin began teaching French at Santa Monica City College in California, where he taught until 1942. In their free time they drove to Southern Utah to collect folklore from the Mormon communities. This first venture was to collect stories about the Three Nephites that figure so prominently in Mormon lore. This research was published in 1941.
In 1942 Austin entered active duty with the United States Air Force. During World War II, Austin served primarily as a historian for his battalion and even published articles covering the history of their campaigns during the War. From March 1944 to November 1945 Austin served overseas in the Philippines. Alta meanwhile moved in with her parents in Bountiful along with her first child, Carolyn who had been born in 1941. Alta continued to collect Mormon folklore while Austin served and Austin began collecting folksongs and stories from soldiers in the Philippines.
Upon Austin's return in 1945 he began teaching at the Occidental College in Los Angeles. In 1947, their second daughter, Marian, was born. Austin taught there until 1958 interrupting his service for three years to serve in the Air Force during the Korean War from 1951 to 1953. In 1953, he retired from active duty in the Air Force with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. During these years at Occidental College, Alta and Austin used every opportunity to gather Mormon folklore in Utah. Driving a mobile home, they traveled all over Utah and Idaho gathering folk music and folk tales from anyone who would talk to them. They even followed the Mormon trail from Vermont to Utah bringing their children along and gathering stories from the locals about the Mormons.
In 1958, Austin received a position at Parson's College in Iowa where he taught for one year. At the same time Austin served as a Language Specialist for the United States Office of Education. In 1960, he received an offer to return to his Alma Mater, Utah State University, and become the Head of the Department of Languages, a position he retained until 1971. They returned to Logan and soon began their work on folklife in Utah. The 1960s also became the greatest period of publishing for the couple. While they had published two books and numerous articles in the 1950s, most prominently Saints of Sage and Saddle: Folklore among the Mormons (1956) and a translation, done by Austin, of The Borzoi Book of French Folktales (1956), during the 1960s and early 1970s, Austin and Alta wrote or edited five well received books: Songs of the Cowboys (1966), Ballads of the Great West (1969), Lore of Faith and Folly (1971), and Bill Bailey Came Home (1973). Alta and Austin wrote these books together, and while Alta was often the main writer, it is virtually impossible to separate the work of this prolific wife and husband team.
While Austin taught mainly French and French literature while at college, his research continued to broaden into many areas of folklore and folklife. In 1950, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in France, in 1958 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study cowboy songs, and in 1970 they jointly received the National Endowment for the Arts Senior Scholar Award. Austin also served on many committees and on the boards of many organizations over his years as a scholar. From 1947 to 1971, he was an editor for Journal of Western Folklore. He was President of the Modern Language Association of Southern California from 1956 to 1957. He served on the Committee on Folksong for the Modern Language Association of America, besides being a Fellow the American Folklore Society. In 1959, and from 1967 to 1969, he served as Vice President of the American Folklore Society, and from 1967 to 1968, he was President of the Folklore Society of Utah. He was also on the Advisory board of the Utah Heritage Foundation, and a fellow of the Utah State Historical Society.
In 1966, Alta and Austin began donating some of their materials gathered over the years to Utah State University. These donations were the origin of the Fife Americana and Fife Mormon collections. In 1972, the USU libraries established the Fife Library of Western Folklore, later renamed the Fife Folklore Archives.
In 1971, Austin stepped down from being Department Head, but continued teaching. It was that same year that he finally began teaching the subject which had so preoccupied his research for so many years when he taught the first folklore class at Utah State University. In 1975, he retired from teaching, but not from his research. He continued to publish, and even produced one more book, a translation of the Manuel de Folklore Français (1985). He likewise worked during this time to establish a museum called "Man and His Bread," to be a part of the Jensen Historical Farm, now called the American West Heritage Center. Together, he and Alta continued the work of collating and organizing the Fife Folklore Archives at Utah State University. On February 7, 1986, Austin Fife succumbed to the Parkinson's Disease which had afflicted him for many years. After his death, Alta continued organizing their research. In 1986 she received the Utah Governor's "Service to Folk Arts" Award. She also edited and published a collection of Austin's most important essays on Western Folklore called Exploring Western Americana In 1991, she was honored for her many years of service to folk traditions by the Utah State University's Women's Center. Throughout her life Alta had been plagued by many different illnesses and on December 8, 1996 she passed away at her home in Logan, Utah.
Biographical Data of Alta S. Fife. The Papers of Austin E. and Alta S. Fife. Mss Coll 281, Box 1, Fd 15. Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University Merrill Library: Logan, Utah.
Curricula Vitae and Data of Austin Fife. The Papers of Austin E. and Alta S. Fife. Mss Coll 281, Box 1, Fd 3. Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University Merrill Library: Logan, Utah.
Fife, James Milton. "Memoirs of Austin Fife." The Papers of Austin E. and Alta S. Fife. Mss Coll 281, Box 1, Fd 21. Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University Merrill Library: Logan, Utah.
Hand, Wayland D. "Austin E. Fife: An Appreciation." in Folklore of Mountain and Plain. Privately Published (1972), 1-6.
Toelken, Barre. "Alta S. Fife: 1912 – 1996." Unpublished Essay. 1996.
The Papers of Austin E. and Alta S. Fife cover primarily the personal lives and correspondence of this prolific husband and wife research team who were the founders of the Fife Folklore Collection at Utah State University. Prior to her death, Alta Fife had organized much of her correspondence and personal papers as well as those of her husband. She also indicated in a note attached to the donated materials that much of the correspondence had been destroyed. However, what remains has been organized, as far as was possible, along the lines that Mrs. Fife proposed.
Box 1 is primarily personal, family, and genealogical information from both sides of her family. Oversize sheets used for genealogy are in Box 3. Box 2 contains Mrs. Fife's datebooks as well as journals kept by Austin Fife while in France in the 1960s. In addition to oversize genealogical data, Box 3 contains the journals Austin Fife kept during his LDS mission to France, written in both French and English, from 1929 to 1931. Boxes 4 and 5 contain correspondence between Alta and Austin, mostly during World War II while Austin was stationed overseas. It is important to note that during Austin's time in the Philippines, Alta and Austin numbered every letter they sent to each other to both ensure that every letter made it, and also to make referencing one another's letters easier. These numbers are noted on the folder descriptions. Boxes 6 through 11 contain all remaining correspondence grouped alphabetically. Mrs. Fife grouped her correspondence thematically so that all correspondence concerning one article are filed together and alphabetized by the primary reference. Thus, correspondence from various people may be found under one heading, and an individual or institution which has a separate folder, such as the Folklore Society of Utah, may be represented in other folders. Correspondence which had no clear reference to a larger issue, or which consisted of only one or two letters are filed under "A" Miscellaneous, "B" Miscellaneous, etc.
Box 12 contains the collected reviews of the Fifes' many books as well as a book given to Alta by Austin with an inscription in French to Alta on the title page. Box 13 contains items relating to the "Man and His Bread" museum Austin sought to establish in Logan, as well as newspaper clippings, articles, and advertisements relating to the Fifes and their work. Box 14, like boxes 6 through 11, contains correspondence, but this correspondence is focused solely on the Fifes' attempts to get permission to publish various musicians' and scholars' work, as well as permission granted by the Fifes to publish their work. This box likewise contains some miscellaneous items, such as collected articles by a friend, and an essay by D. Bufford which Alta helped to research.
Box 15 contains the papers relating to the establishment of the Fife Folklore Archives as well as research files used by Austin Fife to contains articles and essays useful to him in his work. The final box, Box 16, contains information regarding various committees on which Austin served, an index of every article written by Austin Fife, lectures given by Austin over the years, poetry written and translated by him, as well as many of his class notes and syllabi from his many years of teaching.
Restrictions on Access : Restrictions
Open to public research.Restrictions on Use : Copyright
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish from the owner of the copyright (the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates, or literary executors). The user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Utah State University Libraries, its officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting that he or she is an owner of copyright.
Permission to publish material from the Austin E. and Alta S. Fife papers must be obtained from the Special Collections Manuscript Curator and/or the Special Collections Department Head.Preferred Citation :
Austin E. and Alta S. Fife papers, 1910-1996. (COLL MSS 281) Utah State University. Special Collections and Archives Department.
Acquisition Information :
Austin and Alta Fife donated materials to Utah State University over many years beginning in 1966. Subsequent donations have come from their daughter, Marian Fife Rash, after the death of Alta Fife in 1996, mostly in 1997 and 1998. It is these last two donations from Marian that comprise the bulk of this collection.Related Materials :
Detailed Description of the Collection