Wilburn Cartwright Collection

1898-1951 (bulk: 1909-1951)

65 cubic feet

portrait of Wilburn Cartwright

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Biographical Sketch of the Creator of the Collection

The mountainous country of Meigs County, Tennessee, was the scene of Wilburn Cartwright's birth on January 12, 1891. After 1903 home became a hilly portion of Indian Territory that later became southeastern Oklahoma. There he attended the state teachers college in Durant and taught for several years in various rural and small-town schools (he was superintendent of the Krebs school district, 1922-1926). Simultaneously he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1917 prior to receiving a law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1920. During World War I, Cartwright served as a private in the Student Army Training Corps. He was a longstanding member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), and in 1934-1935 he held the office of Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma. In 1920 Cartwright married Carrie Staggs, a piano instructor at the University of Oklahoma, and the couple had two daughters: Doralyn, born in 1927, and Wilburta, born in 1928.

Cartwright's political career commenced in 1914 when he was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. In 1918 he moved over to the state senate, where he served to 1922. After unsuccessful attempts to gain nomination as the Democratic candidate for Oklahoma's Third District seat in the U.S. Congress in 1922 and 1924, he beat incumbent Charles Carter in the 1926 primary and then won the general election. He spent the next sixteen years in Washington, and sat on the House Indian Affairs and Roads committees (he chaired the latter 1935-1943). In 1942 he lost the Democratic primary to Paul Stewart.

Early on, the congressman climbed aboard the automobile bandwagon. For his first congressional campaign in 1922, he bought an old Ford and hit the road to pump arms with the constituents, some of whom he met as their horses pulled his mired car out of the muddy roads. In 1927 when he went to Washington, D.C., as a congressman, he drove his family there in seven days (it was quicker, he said, east of St. Louis because the roads were more consistently paved). Perhaps because of these early experiences, in the 1930s and 1940s Cartwright championed paved roads and a national superhighway system. During the Great Depression the congressman co-wrote many bills, with such colleagues as Carl Hayden, giving states huge sums of federal monies for road and bridge projects--means of reducing unemployment and improving the nation's highways.

Roads were not the only federal programs supported by the congressman. Cartwright helped gain for his state numerous New Deal construction projects, such as flood control dams, CCC camps, and WPA buildings. He and Texas congressman Sam Rayburn (their districts bordered the Red River) worked tirelessly for the Denison Dam, one of the region's largest, and its reservoir Lake Texoma. The substantial number of Native Americans in the Third District also received the support of the congressman, who played a role in issues surrounding Indian lands, hospitals, and schools. Such projects led to the Oklahoma representative's repeated reelection. One campaign slogan said it all: "Cartwright Gets Things Done."

After the 1942 defeat Cartwright temporarily left politics and joined the U.S. Army; he was a major during World War II and saw action in northern Africa and Europe. Returning to Oklahoma in 1945 meant a return to the political world, albeit at the state level: he was elected secretary of state in 1946, state auditor in 1950, and state corporation commissioner in 1954, 1960, and 1966. He died on March 14, 1979, in Oklahoma City.

Scope and Content of the Collection

The Wilburn Cartwright Collection comprises 65 cubic feet of documents and includes 11 scrapbooks. It spans the period 1898-1951, although most materials date from 1909 and after. Documents contained here include correspondence, legislation, publications, clippings, voting records, speeches, press releases, reports, proceedings, invitations, campaign literature, lists, memorabilia, and notes.

The Cartwright collection was given to the University of Oklahoma in 1951-1952 by the congressman. He made no further additions; therefore, these materials contain nothing from his later political career.

Detailed Description of the Collection

The following is a detailed listing of series, boxes, folders, and documents that can be found in this collection.

Series 1: Writings, 1926-1942

This cubic foot of material mainly includes Cartwright's unpublished memoirs, "Sixteen Years in Congress." There are also some press releases and newsletters.

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Series 2: Oklahoma State Legislature Files, 1914-1926

This series of 1.5 cubic feet includes legislation and correspondence from Cartwright's career in the state legislature and as a public school educator. The legislation is arranged by date while the correspondence is arranged alphabetically.

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Series 3: U.S. House of Representatives Files, 1926-1942

This series of 12 cubic feet includes material arranged alphabetically mainly by congressional committee name. Government project files are arranged by type of project and then alphabetically within the particular project. Topics in this portion of the Cartwright Collection include Native Americans, bridge and highway appropriations, Choctaw-Chickasaw coal and asphalt lands, the Talihina (Okla.) Indian hospital, World War I veterans, Civilian Conservation Corps camps, Oklahoma water projects, and World War II. Correspondents include Sam Rayburn, William Bankhead, John Collier, and Harold Ickes.

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Series 4: General and Personal Files, 1917-1951

This series of 10.5 cubic feet has predominantly correspondence between Cartwright and his constituents as well as between the congressman and his wife, children, and other relatives. The correspondence is divided between "general" and "personal" and is arranged alphabetically. The series also has other materials from Cartwright's personal life, including military papers, education items, and things about his children.

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Series 5: Campaign Files, 1910s-1950

This series of 10 cubic feet is a chronological arrangement of material on political campaigns of Cartwright and numerous other Oklahoma candidates for public office.

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Series 6: Fraternal Files, 1926-1950

This series of 6 cubic feet mainly concerns the congressman's involvement in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Items are arranged chronologically by document type.

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Series 7: Speeches, 1912-1950

This series of 3 cubic feet includes speeches by Cartwright and others as well as research materials used in the speeches. The arrangement is chronological.

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Series 8: Travel Files, 1926-1942

This series of 4 cubic feet documents Cartwright's congressional travels to the Pacific, Europe, and Latin America. There are also numerous North American automobile travel brochures stemming from the congressman's interest in that topic. The material is arranged by place name.

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Series 9: Post Office/Projects, 1928-1942

This series of 2 cubic feet includes material about the discontinuance of post offices, route alterations, locations of post offices, and personnel issues. The projects folders have materials on defense and military facilities. The arrangement is alphabetical by place name.

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Series 10: Publications, 1926-1949

This cubic foot of material includes miscellaneous popular magazines as well as a few government and religious publications. There are also a few Oklahoma telephone books.

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Series 11: Clippings, 1916-1949

This series of one cubic foot is divided by topic and by individual. There is an alphabetical arrangement within each.

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Series 12: Oversize, 1914-1950

This series includes eleven scrapbooks as well as thirteen boxes of newspapers, diplomas, election certificates, and memorabilia. Newspapers are arranged by topic and by individual.

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Series 13: Maps, 1915-1949

This series has fifty-four maps and includes several highway maps.

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Historical photos of the congressman's career are found in the Wilburn Cartwright Photograph Collection. For more information on the archival holdings, please contact the Carl Albert Center.


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