History of the American Spelean History Association

by Jack H. Speece

One of the original committees formed under the guidelines of the National Speleological Society was on folklore and was headed by noted historian, Clay Perry. After his death in the early 1950’s, the interest faded. Burton Faust made several contributions afterwards, but it was not an organized effort.

By 1967 the caving community was becoming more and more specialized. The concept for a spelean history group was inevitable. Authors were submitting their articles to a wide verity of publications including over 100 grotto newsletters. Historical articles were being overlooked in most abstracts. Research for verification and information was extremely difficult.

William R. Halliday set forth to organize the speleo historians and create a publication to serve as their outlet. After considerable preliminary informal discussions a formal meeting was held on December 28, 1967 to organize the group. William Halliday was elected temporary president and editor, Jerry Fraham as secretary-treasurer, with Harold Meloy and Tom Meador as additional trustees. Afterwards, Bill started publishing The Journal of Spelean History.

The first annual meeting of the American Spelean History Association was held on Friday, August 23, 1968 at the annual convention of the National Speleological Society, held in Springfield, Missouri. The constitution and by-laws were adopted and William Halliday, John Bridge, Harold Meloy, Tom Meador and Jerry Fraham were elected trustees. The trustees appointed John Bridge as president, Peter Hauer as secretary-treasurer and William Halliday as editor. Charter members were enlisted until the end of 1968 with a total of seventy one.

The main concern of the organization was the continuation of the publication The Journal of Spelean History. Bill Halliday did a splendid job of producing the Journal for the first six years before handing it to Pat Quinlan. Its existence stimulated the formation of the group and growth in membership. In addition the association was registered as a corporation with the State of Washington.

This all occurred during a time when the National Speleological Society was struggling from a bureaucratic Board of Governors and several splinter groups were being created to compete with the Society. Therefore, the members of ASHA felt that to avoid any conflicts or outside influences, the association should remain independent and have no affiliations. Its goal was to keep a broad perspective of history, international in scope, and serve a wide range of individuals. A philosophy of keeping it simple and allowing the members to “do their own thing” prevailed. This was a society which served its members and required no sacrifices in return.

By 1978 the politics of the National Speleological Society had stabilized and the splinter groups had disappeared. ASHA had served as the historical outlet for the NSS for over ten years and sponsored the history session at all of the conventions. At the annual meeting in Lovell, Wyoming, the question was proposed by the officers that ASHA consider becoming an official section of the NSS. This became a motion which was approved at the 1979 convention in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

The original concept for the Association has been maintained throughout the years with very little change. The Journal has continued as a quality publication and the membership has continued to grow. Politics has not has an influence and the members continue to do their own thing.

(From The Journal of Spelean History, Volume 27, Number 1, Issue #89, Jan. - Mar., 1993)

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Last updated or validated on October 24, 2011