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Otha Spencer Collection

Identifier: 2013.13

Scope and Contents

The Otha Spencer Collection contains personal papers, research materials related to his service in World War II, examples of his professional work as a photographer, and articles related to photography and photojournalism.

Series I. Personal Papers includes materials related to Otha's school classes, professional career, property ownership, and personal photos.

Series II. Hump Research Files documents Spencer's research for his book Flying the Hump. Included here are articles, book chapters, and correspondence related to the China-Burma-India theater of World War II.

Series III. Hump Research Photos and Negatives contains images of aircraft, soldiers, and East Asian society during World War II and collected for the Flying the Hump book.

Series IV. Subject Files includes magazine and newspaper clippings as well as correspondence and other papers about a variety of topics. Most of the materials are related to professional photography and photographers along with other topics of interest.

Series V. Photographs and Negatives contains images in positive print and negatives forms created by Otha Spencer during his photography career. Among the images in the series are many studio portraits, travel photos, and general topics of interest, especially nature specimens.

Series VI. Publications and Artifacts includes published volumes about the China-Burma-India theater and Claire Chennault, a draft of a history of Commerce, Texas, a videotape of railroad history, and a Claire Chennault hat.

Series VII. Slides contains individual images focused on topics of domestic and international travel locations including California and Great Britain as well as natural subjects such as flowers, birds, shells, and insects.


  • 1896 - 2009
  • Majority of material found within 1941 - 2002


Conditions Governing Use

Items in the collection are protected by applicable copyright laws.

Biographical / Historical

Otha Cleo Spencer was born on April 27, 1920 in Lone Oak, Texas. He was the son of Barney Byron Spencer and Flora Rudd Spencer. Spencer receive a Bachelor of Science degree from East Texas State Teachers College (now Texas A & M University Commerce) in 1941 and a Master of Science in 1946 from the same institution. He received a Ph.D. in 1955 from the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. He married Billie Ermine Abernathy in 1943 and they had two children.

During World War II, Otha served in the U.S. Army Air Force and was assigned to the China-Burma-India theater of the conflict. He was responsible for flying supplies over the Hump (eastern end of the Himalayas) from India to China. He also served as a B-25 instructor, weather reconnaissance pilot in the North Atlantic, and hurricane reconnaissance pilot in the South Atlantic.

Spencer returned to Commerce, Texas in 1948 as an instructor in photography and journalism, and he established the photojournalism program at East Texas State. He retired in 1978 and was given the title of Professor Emeritus.

In his retirement, Otha continued working as a commercial photographer, and with his wife, Billie, he ran an antique and custom framing shop called the Country Studio. He was also a prolific author, writing more than 300 articles and 12 books. Among his most well known works are Flying the Hump: Memories of an Air War about his experiences as a Hump pilot and Flying the Weather about his time as a weather reconnaissance pilot. In addition, Otha co-edited the Commerce Handbook, a history of the community and college, with his wife, and he also contributed to the Commerce Journal in a weekly column called "Bits and Pieces".

In his free time, Spencer founded the Commerce Public Library Literacy Program in 1991. He was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce where he tought Sunday School classes and assited with the church's foundation to help build the new church building. He was also an active member of the Madonic Lodge in Commerce.

Spencer was named the Citizen of the Year by the Commerce Chamber of Commerce in 1991, received the Spirit of Mayo Citation from Texas A & M University-Commerce in 1996 and 2006, and earned the Distinguished Alumnus Citation in 2007 from the same institution.

Otha Spencer passed away on June 1, 2012 in Greenville, Texas.


16 Linear Feet (13 records boxes, 3 slides boxes)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Collection includes one floppy disk that will require a disk reader to access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to Special Collections and University Archives by John and Mary Spencer, children of Otha Spencer, in 2013.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection was donated to Special Collections and University Archives by John and Mary Spencer, children of Otha Spencer, in 2013.

Otha Spencer Collection
In Progress
Sawyer Magnus
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, Waters Library, Texas A&M University-Commerce Repository