J. Howard Edmondson Collection

1958-1964

12 cubic feet

portrait of Howard Edmondson

Biographical Sketch of the Creator of the Collection

J. Howard Edmondson's political career is often described as "meteoric." The term is appropriate because it truly was sudden, spectacular, successful--and short. Born on September 27, 1925, Edmondson was the second son of a politically conscious family in Muskogee. His father, E. A. Edmondson, had served as a county commissioner for Muskogee County, and both Howard and his older brother, Ed, showed an early interest in politics.

After graduating from the Muskogee public schools, Howard Edmondson enrolled at the University of Oklahoma. World War II interrupted his education as he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Although he completed training as a bombardier, allergies and other ailments kept him in and out of hospitals until his discharge in 1945. Thereafter, he returned to the university, married Jeanette Bartleson, and received his law degree in 1948.

Howard Edmondson briefly practiced law in Muskogee. After his brother Ed became the Second District's new congressman in 1953, Howard relocated to Tulsa, where he was appointed chief prosecutor in the Tulsa county attorney's office. In 1954, he won the first of two two-year terms as Tulsa's county attorney. In that capacity, he won considerable local fame for battling corruption, sending one county commissioner to prison, and convicting three garage superintendents and a city clerk of embezzlement.

In 1958, Edmondson announced his candidacy for Oklahoma's governorship. Few gave him any chance. Midwest City's multi-millionaire builder W. P. "Bill" Atkinson seemed to have the Democratic nomination sewn up. Nonetheless, Edmondson's campaign took off like a "Prairie Fire," the name by which it came to be known. Demonstrating a mastery of television, Edmondson demanded reform of many of the state's political practices, particularly those associated with "Old Guard" rural Democrats. It was Atkinson who never had the chance. Edmondson overwhelmingly defeated him in the Democratic primaries and went on to carry each of Oklahoma's seventy-seven counties in a record victory in the general election.

At the age of thirty-three, Edmondson thus became Oklahoma's youngest chief executive to that time and one of the youngest ever to govern an American commonwealth. For most of his term, he battled the rural-dominated legislature. His victories were impressive, including repeal of prohibition, a merit system for state employment, and central purchasing for state agencies. His defeats were no less impressive, for the legislators refused to reform the notoriously inefficient (and corrupt) system of road-building or to allow their own reapportionment. In both of these instances, Edmondson took his case to the people in 1961 via referendum petitions, and he lost badly. Adding to the controversy that surrounded him was the prominent role that he played on behalf of John F. Kennedy's presidential candidacy, for the Catholic senator from Massachusetts otherwise had little support among Oklahoma's Democratic leaders.

Kennedy's lopsided defeat on Oklahoma's 1960 ballot coupled with his own loss over the 1961 petitions seemingly brought down Edmondson's political curtain. But only days before the gubernatorial term ended, United States Senator Robert S. Kerr died unexpectedly. Edmondson thereupon resigned the governorship, to be replaced by Lieutenant Governor George Nigh. On January 7, 1963, Governor Nigh appointed Edmondson to fill Kerr's Senate seat until the next general election. Assigned to the Agriculture and Forestry and Aeronautical and Space Sciences committees, Edmondson spent much of his time attempting to solidify his hold on the seat. In that he failed. In 1964, state senator Fred R. Harris defeated him in the Democratic primary for the final two years of the Kerr term.

Edmondson returned to Oklahoma, entered into a law practice in Oklahoma City, bought a home near Edmond, and occasionally considered a political comeback. It was not to be. He died of a heart attack on November 17, 1971.

Scope and Content of the Collection

The J. Howard Edmondson Collection is disappointingly small. Occupying 12 cubic feet, the papers span the period from 1958-1964. The collection consists of 4 series: Gubernatorial Papers; Senatorial Papers; Prospective Campaign for Governor; and Oversized Materials. Most of the materials in this collection are related to Edmondson's brief service in the United States Senate. For the most part, the Edmondson collection consists of correspondence. There are also speeches, press releases, records of travel, clippings, campaign materials, and audiovisual items. This collection is sparse outside of the general subject of Oklahoma state government. In the Gubernatorial Papers there are a few items of interest on Oklahoma's 1959 repeal of alcohol prohibition. Materials on the Arkansas River projects can also be found scattered throughout the entire collection.

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: Gubernatorial Papers, 1958-1963

This series includes 3.25 cubic feet of material. It consists of administrative files dealing with various agencies and individuals. There is also routine correspondence (primarily with constituents) as well as files relating to trips. Much of the material consists of speeches and speech materials, including those given outside of Oklahoma on John F. Kennedy's behalf. A much larger collection of materials relating to the Edmondson administration is available at the Oklahoma State Archives.

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Series 2: Senatorial Papers, 1963-1964

This series consists of 8.7 cubic feet of material. Again, there are many speech files and records of trips (mostly campaign trips) back to Oklahoma. There also are subject files that preserve correspondence to various entities or relate to various problems. Few in number, these are arranged in alphabetical order. Apparently all of the press releases issued by the senator's office are also available, as well as routine files of mailing lists and invitations. Most common to the Senatorial Papers are correspondence files relating to Edmondson's Senate appointment and the 1964 campaign. These are arranged by county of origin. A smaller volume of general constituent mail is arranged alphabetically by name.

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Series 3: Prospective Campaign for Governor, 1970

This brief series of 4 folders of material relates to Edmondson's prospective comeback in the 1970 governor's race.

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Series 4: Oversized Materials

This series consists of a few of items related to J. Howard Edmondson's Senate campaign as well as J. Howard Edmondson Jr.'s campaign for the Oklahoma Senate.

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Researchers are also directed to the J. Howard Edmondson Photograph Collection. For more information on the archival holdings, please contact the Carl Albert Center.


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