Congressional Centers: Connecting and Communicating

This blog was written by Debbie Davendonis-Todd, director of the Poage Library and the Bob Bullock Archivist.

Debbie Davendonis-Todd at the Library of Congress, May 2017

The Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC) was founded in 2003 as an independent alliance of organizations and institutions that promote the study of the U.S. Congress. The W. R. Poage Legislative Library is a founding member of ACSC. ACSC draws on the talents and resources of its members to promote a wide range of programs and research opportunities related to Congress. Like many of the member institutions, the Poage Library houses archival collections of former members of Congress and other related research collections.

Every spring, ACSC members gather in various locations for an annual meeting. This year, the ACSC returned to Washington, DC, and the magnificent Library of Congress (LOC). As our nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, the LOC is home to numerous congressional collections, is the primary research arm of the U.S. Congress, and the sponsor and host of many innovative programs and outreach initiatives, making the it an ideal location to meet.

I had the honor and pleasure of serving as the Program Chair for the annual meeting, so my trip to DC was the culmination of a year’s work. With the support of terrific colleagues from the Senate Historical Office and the National Archives Center for Legislative Archives, we developed a program, “Congressional Centers: Connecting and Communicating.” We focused on incorporating Library of Congress resources into our sessions and worked on strategies for reaching new audiences and strengthening existing connections.

Archivist Deborah Skaggs introduces Majority Leader of the House Mitch McConnell.
Highlights from this year’s meeting included a session featuring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his archivist, Deborah Skaggs of the McConnell Chao Archives at the University of Louisville and former Representative Barney Frank. Senator McConnell’s presence at the meeting marked the first time a sitting senator (and one with a leadership position, no less) met with our group. We also tried a couple new session formats to engage our members and shake up some of our old meeting standbys. The first was an edit to our typical keynote speaker address. This year we designed a fireside-style chat session. We were honored to have the Library of Congress’ Dr. Colleen Shogan, Deputy Director of National and International Outreach for a lively conversation. Dr. Shogan focused on the LOC’s core strategies for best practices related to the development, execution, and evaluation of outreach initiatives. Another fun element we added to the program was a speed-geeking session. Speed Geeking is a participation process used to quickly view a number of presentations within a fixed period of time. This session helped transform our member update session into a more engaged and participatory event. The meeting was a success and DC is always fun to visit, but it sure is nice to be back home at Poage!

Next year, ACSC heads to the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Honoring the Honorable: Sam B. Hall, Jr.

Written by Sylvia Hernandez, MLIS

Today we celebrate the nomination of Sam B. Hall Jr. as United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas. On April 17, 1985, President Ronald Reagan selected Sam Hall to fill the vacancy that would return him home to his beloved Marshall, Texas. This honor, among others, studded his career as lawyer, Congressman, and Judge.

Sam B. Hall, Jr. Army Air Corps Portrait, circa 1943

Sam B. Hall Jr. led a life of service dedicated to his community and country. After completion of his studies at the College of Marshall (now East Texas Baptist University), Hall joined the Army Air Corps during World War II, serving from 1943-1945. He studied at Baylor University and obtained a Law Degree in 1948. After passing the bar, he began practicing law in his hometown of Marshall, Texas. Sam Hall spent the next 28 years building upon his local upbringing and endearing himself to the area.

In 1976, a special election for the 1st Congressional District of Texas was held after the passing of Wright Patman. Hall ran a successful campaign and was voted to further serve his country and community as United States Congressman. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Veteran’s Affairs Committee, and several Select and Subcommittees, Hall made quite the impact throughout his tenure. This was recognized by Texas Business magazine in 1980 as he was voted “Best Conservative” for his efforts in regards to the business community.

As a proud Baylor University Alum, it was only fitting that Congressman Hall was selected as one of the Baylor Distinguished Alumni in 1984. Hall held his time at Baylor in high regard as he stated in his interview with the Baylor Line Magazine, “…[M]y education at Baylor sounded moral principles in harmony with my own. In the atmosphere Baylor creates, I was able to confirm the perception that religious values are not something you keep in a compartment of your life for Sunday mornings. Those values guide all your actions and words.”

Sam Hall (left) receives the Special President’s Award from Aubrey Bullard (right) of the National Association of State Directors of Veteran’s Affairs, 1985

His values consistently guided his actions. The National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs awarded his work with Veterans with the organization’s “Special President’s Award” and his constituency awarded him in five elections as Representative of the 1st Congressional District.

Hall’s consistent contact with his district, and continued interest in law, made him an ideal candidate for United States Judge for the Eastern District of Texas. He was nominated on April 17, 1985 by President Ronald Reagan and officially installed as a Federal Judge on May 10, 1985. His dedication to his community was evident in the speech he gave that day as he noted, “looking out over this audience … I see people I’ve known all my life … And there are no strangers here at all to me.” Over 250 members of his community attended a reception in his honor at the Marshall Civic Center following the installation ceremony.

Official portrait, 1991

Baylor once again honored Sam Hall in 1991; this time the Law School selected him as “Lawyer of the Year.” That same year he also witnessed the unveiling of his official portrait to hang in the courthouse in which he served. Sam Hall’s faith in God carried him throughout his life and career. In the moment, he was sure to give praise as he read the following passage:

I give you thanks, oh, God, for those who mean so much to me, those to whom I can go at any time, those with whom I can talk and keep nothing back, knowing that they will not laugh at my dreams or my failures, those in whose presence it is easier to be good, those who by their warnings have held me back from mistakes I might have made. Above all, I thank you for Jesus Christ, Lord of my heart, and savior of my soul.

Sam B. Hall, Jr. spent many years in the Marshall, Texas Court House. It was his home as he practiced law, housed his Congressional District home office, and provided a bench as he presided over court as Federal Judge. On May 25, 1995, the building was officially named the “Sam B. Hall, Jr. Federal Building and United States Court House.” A befitting honor to the man who served his community, constituents, and country until his passing on April 10, 1994.

Unveiling of the plaque naming the “Sam B. Hall, Jr. Federal Building and United States Court House. May25, 1995

CONGRESSWEEK APRIL 1-7, 2017

This blog was excerpted from the Congress Week website introduction written by Dr. Jay Wyatt, president of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC) and Director of Programs and Research, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History & Education, Shepherd University.

Congress Week is the creation of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, an organization of more than 40 institutions which has a goal of promoting a better public understanding of Congress as the branch of government closest to the people. We want to encourage a focus of Congress each year during the month of April, the month in 1789 when Congress first got down to the business of governing the United States under its new Constitution.

While Congress is a co-equal branch of government, the action today seems to be embodied in the president, not Congress. We have President’s Day every year, we conduct grand inaugural events when presidents are sworn in, and the news tends to focus on the president as the one individual who should govern the nation. Yet when each new Congress convenes every two years, the public pays hardly a nod to the event. So Congress Week is a devise, a non-partisan reminder, that Congress bears co-equal responsibility for governing the nation. Its rich and colorful history needs more of the nation’s attention.

In coming years we hope Congress Week will spark a closer examination of the First Branch of government, encourage schools to develop programs to highlight the work of Congress, and stimulate more scholarly research into Congress by a wide range of disciplines.

Congressman Chet Edwards with a group of Johnson County 4-H students

Congress has governed the nation for 226 years, and we hope it will survive and thrive for centuries to come. It can only do so if the nation continues to understand and appreciate the Constitution of the United States and the meaning of representative democracy. James Madison and other founders believed strongly that an informed citizenry was the best hope for good government. We hope Congress Week will contribute to an informed citizenry.

To read more about Congress Week and see the way others around the country are celebrating it, go to www.congressweek.org.

Poage Library and the Lesson of Scope

This blog was written by Travis Snyder, PhD candidate and a Poage Library Teaching Fellow from Summer 2016. To apply for the 2017 program, go HERE.

The first day, I didn’t know anything. After being named a Poage Library Teaching Fellow, I showed up to the library at the end of June, ready to start my work—whatever it was to be. It didn’t help that I am no scholar of politics; I was an English major and am an English graduate student, here as a Teaching Fellow because I teach composition. The first day there I was oriented, given a desk and then left to my devices. A brief overview of all the material available to me did not help me narrow my ideas. My desk itself was situated so I could see the materials stretching all the way to other side of the room. Where to even start?

Some context: I have been teaching English 1302 and 1304 at Baylor for three years. ENG 1302 is a neatly packaged class; I can look at every individual day and tell you how it corresponds with course goals. ENG 1304 is a bit more shaggy, with room to improvise and make connections at will. ENG 1304 deals with research writing, and my students set their own topics. Given this, there are many more variables in how I plan the curriculum throughout the semester.

One of the difficulties of ENG 1304 is helping first-time researchers pick topics. They tend to be intimidated by the idea of a ten-page paper and try to pick topics that they think will help them write that much. This sends them to familiar topics: they want to write about gun control or abortion or paying student athletes—all worthy intellectual pursuits, but they are in fact much too large to attempt in ten pages. That’s what they don’t know, and that’s what the archive can demonstrate to them.

Trying to confront a large topic is like staring down a hall of boxes, like I was on my first day in Poage. If you want to write a paper about a topic like gun control, you have to imagine the largest room imaginable and then imagine it filled with boxes full of fascinating material on the subject. Confronted with this fact, you realize you have to narrow down and pick a more specific starting place. Good research is focused.

The challenge for students is that they don’t get this physical experience of being overwhelmed. There is no actual big room of boxes for them. Their experience is opposite. They plug their topic into a search engine and are met with relief when “gun control” turns up millions of hits—surely they will be able to get ten pages out of this. What I realized, overwhelmed on that first day, was that the archive can help me turn it around for them. That is when I got to work.

What I did was this: I split my students into pairs and gave them one small research question to answer. Each research question had a few boxes of material from the Poage Library that went along with it. They had only an hour to sort through gobs of material to gather information that would help them answer the question. It is quite literally an impossible task. The students realized quickly that they wouldn’t be able to cover everything, so they zeroed on a few specific materials and sought to understand them more fully. They turned in reports about what they were able to find in their time in the archive.

As I see it, my students were taught the following lessons: a lot can be said about a very specific thing; research can be overwhelming, and that this is a good thing; topics that sound uninteresting can still turn up interesting material; physical material has some advantages over digital materials; and—finally—they got to see first hand what it is to be researchers.

A HOUSING CRISIS, BROWN BAG MAIL, AND TWO TEXAS CONGRESSMEN

This blog post was written by Jake Hiserman, graduate assistant working on Congressman Alan Steelman’s papers.

Mark Twain, the illustrious American journalist and satirist, once quipped: “It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.”[1] A constant theme in American political life is the push-and-pull of different interests. After all, tension between state interests or the federal concerns continually define the governing process. This remains particularly evident in the 2008 housing crisis, which parallels a 1974 crisis.  Congressional papers provide dual insight——from the governed and the government—into the complex housing crises of 1974 and 2008.

One part of the housing crises for Congressman Alan Steelman in 1974 and for Congressman Chet Edwards in 2008 was the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA). What was RESPA? It was a law that enforced “more effective advance disclosure to home buyers and sellers of settlement costs” and “elimination of kickbacks or referral fees that tend to increase unnecessarily the costs of certain settlement services,” among other reforms.[2]  Basically, this rule made hidden fees transparent and cut back excessive signing fees for home buyers.

The larger volume of constituent and government correspondence on RESPA in Steelman’s collection suggests its great salience in his district in 1974. There were 24 pieces of mail from constituents (including three from realtors) to Steelman.  One realtor wrote him on a brown paper bag—and mailed it! The realtor lamented the financial and economic burden inherent in compliance with RESPA.  The large volume of mail for Steelman seems to indicate RESPA’s wide bearing upon Steelman’s district.  Nevertheless, this narrative does not hold up.

Steelman wrote in his reply to constituents: “I realize that settlement costs and attorney fees are minimal in Texas, and therefore, federal guidelines are not needed. Yet, in other parts of the country, state and local mechanisms have either failed to maintain reasonable fees or do not exist.” In this case, Steelman guarded struggling homebuyers in other states even though his constituency was not affected.

Chet Edwards’ communication on RESPA was in the form of one letter from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which implemented and governed RESPA.  He originally wrote the HUD on August 7, 2008, inquiring about “the Department’s efforts to simply and improve disclosures under. . .RESPA.” The response of the Assistant Secretary indicates what the HUD sees as the heart of the issue ——”consumers not fully understanding their loan terms and costs.”  Here, Edwards advocates for greater transparency about fees for all American homebuyers and HUD agrees.

Consequently, Steelman and Edwards both demonstrate concern for their Texas constituents but also attend to their broader constituency, the American people as a whole.  The housing crises illustrate the intricacy of representation and federalism: a tension between the nation and the state or locale. Steelman and Edwards both demonstrate their balanced representation of the national interest, a vital part of the local and national dialectic demanded of a Congressional representative. Their words and actions remain a model for Congressmen today facing similar constituent concerns.

[1] http://marktwainhouse.blogspot.com/2009_02_01_archive.html

[2] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/12/2601

 

In Memoriam: Robert Platt

This blog was written and photographed by Alyssa Chariva, the Poage Library Graduate student in Museum Studies.

Bob Platt passed away February 23. We at the Poage Library express our deepest condolences to his wife Ruth and his family. This blog is dedicated to him with gratitude for his love of political memorabilia and the history it tells.

As an archive, the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM) at the W. R. Poage Legislative Library is a wonderful repository of bills, correspondence, speeches and other objects of political significance from local, state, and congressional politicians.  But the Collection also holds some rather unique political materials, like Dr. Robert “Bob” Platt’s collection of campaign memorabilia. Bob Platt’s collection consists of some remarkable and rare items from Russian nesting dolls to FDR campaign buttons to a beetle-shaped pin supporting William McKinley for president. Platt’s collection is truly amazing and tells a really unique story about an avid collector.

William McKinley Beetle Pin

Platt’s story and collection starts in 1936 when he was a young boy. His grandfather gave him an “Alf Landon for President” button, who ran against Franklin Delano Roosevelt that year. The button sparked the collector’s spirit in Platt and soon he began collecting campaign buttons and other political memorabilia. His collection would eventually grow to include items like canes, plates, ribbons, and mugs from every general election since 1928, as well as campaign buttons from every major party presidential candidate since 1896; enough memorabilia to fill his 3 bedroom guest house. In 1990, Platt opened his book and campaign button store Books, Etc. at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Platt started donating some of his materials to the Library in 2004, and additional materials in 2010 after he closed his bookstore. Poage Library purchased his prized Presidential Memorabilia Collection with a generous gift from the John and JD Dowdy Family Foundation.

Alf Landon Campaign Materials

Although Platt’s collection contains a plethora of materials from different candidates and presidents, Platt always had a special focus on collecting FDR related materials.  Platt said he chose to focus on Roosevelt for a variety of reasons:

“He [Roosevelt] was president when I started to school in the first grade and he was president my senior year in high school. He was a very charismatic person. I used to listen to him when he gave his fireside chats over the radio.”

Platt’s fondness of FDR led to some really interesting pieces, like these FDR clocks. The first clock shows FDR behind a ship’s wheel, which in Platt’s own words, “suggests a firm and experienced hand at the helm guiding the ship of state.” The second clock has a bust of FDR in the center with Miss Frances Perkins, the secretary of Labor, on the lower right and General Hugh Samuel Johnson, head of the National Recovery Administration, on the lower left.

Helping FDR guide the ship of state are Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, on the left and right respectively.

 

FDR with Miss Frances Perkins and General Hugh Samuel Johnson

In addition to collecting FDR materials, Platt also collected the political materials of his opponents. Platt has campaign buttons and stamps from every campaign that ran against FDR, including Alf Landon in 1936, Wendell Willkie in 1940, and John Dewey in 1944.

Willkie’s buttons in particular show how some people did not find FDR or his fireside chats so charismatic.

For more information about this truly unique collection, please stop by our Reading Room or peruse these treasured resources from the comfort of your own home at http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/po-bobplatt .

Rest in Peace, Mr. Platt.

 

Bob Bullock and Black History

The United States government officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, but did you know the celebration actually has its roots much earlier? In 1926 historian Carter G. Woodson, co-founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), declared the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” Woodson explained his reasoning behind the creation of the week of reflection in Volume 11, No. 2 of The Journal of Negro History:

The fact is, however, that one race has not accomplished any more good than any other race, for God could not be just and at the same time make one race the inferior of the other. But if you leave it to the one to set forth his own virtues while disparaging those of others, it will not require many generations before all credit for human achievement will be ascribed to one particular stock. Such is the history taught [to] the youth today.

The week was a great success, sparking waves of interest in African American history and contributions to the American Dream. In 1969, the Black United Students organization at Kent State University proposed extending the celebration from one week to one month, adopting this in 1970.[1] At the 1976 United States Bicentennial, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the expansion of Black History Month to the entire month of February and claimed, “In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers.”[2]

In our neck of the woods, we turn to the Bullock Collection for ways legislators have championed the rights of African Americans. Bob Bullock, former Comptroller of Public Accounts and Lt. Governor, was an ally for the inclusivity and hiring of African Americans. Throughout his tenure as a public servant he supported redistricting to assist minorities, voluntarily implemented fair hiring practices, promoted equality in public school funding, and supported free public education for the children of undocumented workers. Bullock became well known for his support of minorities, and the Bullock Texas State History Museum continues his legacy by educating visitors on the role of African Americans in American history through their permanent and temporary exhibits. Their most recent travelling exhibit, “Purchased Lives,” discusses the impact of the American slave trade from 1808 to 1865 through oral histories and original artifacts.[3]

Advertisement from Bob Bullock’s 1990 campaign to be Lt. Governor of TX.

As a legislative library, we are interested in the ways citizens interact with government.  For a more in-depth examination on African Americans in the legislative process we recommend, the United States House of Representatives Office of History, Art, and Archives, “Black Americans in Congress,”  online exhibition.  http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Black-Americans-in-Congress/

Award given to Bob Bullock from the NAACP for his role in supporting Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) practices.
Black History Month award given to Bob Bullock from African American employees of Texas.

[1] Scott, Daryl M. “Origins of Black History Month.” Founders of Black History Month. Association for the Study of African American Life and History, 09 Aug. 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2017. <https://asalh100.org/origins-of-black-history-month/>.

[1] Ford, Gerald R. “President Gerald R. Ford’s Message on the Observance of Black History Month.” Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, 1 Feb. 2002. Web. 20 Feb. 2017. <https://fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/speeches/760074.htm>.

[1] “Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865.” The Bullock Texas State History Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017. <http://www.thestoryoftexas.com/press/media-kits/purchased-lives>.

Staff Spotlight: Hannah Engstrom

The following is an interview of Hannah Engstrom conducted by Zach Kastens. She is in her second semester of the Baylor Museum Studies masters’ program.

Q: Where did you come here from?
A: I was born in Minnesota and I got an undergraduate degree in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in art history and women’s studies.

Q: Any particular part of women’s studies you were looking at?
A: No, not at the time, but currently I am interested in women’s history in the American West.

Q: So tell me a little more about your focus on American women in the West. What does that means for those of us who might not be familiar with it?
A: How their lives transformed as they moved from the East to the West, because in the East their lives were so restricted. They were expected to stay within their domestic sphere, and they weren’t typically allowed to work. There was the expectation that they take care of the home and their primary responsibility was to raise their children, to be good citizens, and to be the moral compass for their family. As women moved out West, their lives really started to change…and, based on need, they started doing more things outside of the home. Then they began taking on roles like becoming cowgirls, like Annie Oakley, or doctors and teachers and their worlds just really expanded. It is fascinating to compare women’s lives between the two coasts.

Q: So how does art history play into this then?
A: It was more just because I love art, I draw, and I really love history, so it just seemed like a natural thing to do. I really didn’t know at the time what I wanted to do with it; honestly I didn’t even know that museum studies existed. I honestly didn’t know, which is a conundrum many undergraduate students face. But then eventually I found museum studies, which ended up being a perfect fit.

Q: You said you are an artist. What kind of art do you do?
A: I draw people, primarily. It is more of a therapeutic thing for me.

Q: You said you “found” museum studies. What does that mean? Walk us through it.
A: I was actually looking for history programs…because I was planning to get my masters in art history, but as I was looking at a particular masters’ program I saw that they had a museum studies program. I didn’t even know that existed! I started reading about the program and doing  some research at other schools. It only took me maybe an hour to decide what I wanted to do. I looked at every school in the country that offered masters’ degrees in museum studies, which were not a lot. I decided on Baylor because I liked the program, the structure of the program…with this program you have the opportunity to tailor it to your interests. Because of Dr. Hafertepe’s interest in material culture and American decorative arts they have more American history classes incorporated into the program, which was pretty unique.

Q: How do you focus your research or your studies in this program?
A: Ideally, I would like to work for a state history museum…being a historian in a museum is what I really want, because I love research.

Q: Have you found any of your classes especially interesting?
A: Surprisingly, I liked the administrative class…because normally I don’t like that kind of stuff, but learning about writing grants was really fascinating. We did a project where we wrote our own grant and that was a fun process. It is a useful skill applicable to all non-profits, not just museums.

Q: What are you working on at the Poage?
A: I am going through Bob Poage’s papers looking for anything he did with World War I veterans, because of a future exhibit in the Reading Room. There is mostly correspondence from his veteran constituents in support of general pension bills that were going through committee during the time he was in the House.
Q: Any final thoughts about working at Poage? Is it helping you sharpen your research skills?
A: As far as archives go, this is what I really like. Actually going through the collections looking for something specific or trying to learn about a particular person. This is my zen.

The Presidential Inauguration

This week, we here at the W.R. Poage Legislative Library have been reflecting on the long, sometimes tumultuous history of the Presidential Inauguration. You might not imagine that choosing a date to swear in the President would inspire much debate among legislators, but the forward march of progress has always necessitated discussion. In 1937 the official date was changed to the 20th of January following a Presidential election. Fittingly enough, it was the Twentieth Amendment which cemented the date. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first President to be inaugurated on this date for his second term. Previous presidents had been sworn in on March 4th, the date Congress returned to session.

These documents, from left to right, are an invitation to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inauguration, a ticket lanyard worn by an attendee at the ceremony, and the program for that ceremony. These materials come from our Poage collection.

Before the Twentieth Amendment, Presidents were elected in November and were unable to serve for nearly four months. For Congressmen, the time between election and taking the oath could extend to nearly a full year. This restricted the ability of legislators and the executive to respond to national crises, such as the American Civil War and the Great Depression. By changing the date of inauguration, Congress was attempting to create a more nimble, efficient, and responsive federal government.

Congressman Chet Edwards wrote after President George W. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005,

Though the tradition of a presidential inauguration may seem routine at times today, we must remember that it represents the best of our democratic values, the same values that have helped to shape the direction of the world for more than a century. Americans of all backgrounds and political persuasions should cherish that, at the end of an often contentious election cycle, we can unite peaceably to move the country forward, just as our founding fathers envisioned. Today, it’s important to respect the fact that we, as Americans, continue to have the privilege to honor our democracy by electing our President with ballots, not bullets and coups still all too common throughout much of the world.

This letter from the 1953 Inaugural Committee informed Congressman W.R. Poage that President Eisenhower was holding the Inaugural Ball in two simultaneous locations to accommodate more attendees.

After the contentious elections of 2000 and 2004, Edwards’s words reminded his constituents that the differences in their personal beliefs shouldn’t keep them from appreciating the phenomenon of American democracy. For Edwards, the ascendance of a political opponent to the highest office in the country (and perhaps the world) only affirmed a long tradition of American greatness.

Poage for the Holidays: Frances Poage, The Great Lady

The holiday season is upon us here at the W.R. Poage Legislative Library, and we’d like to wish you all hearty season’s greetings. As the semester winds down, many of our staff are looking forward to spending some quality time with their families over the winter break. In that spirit, we’ve decided to look at the woman who was nearest and dearest to our namesake: Mrs. Frances Poage.

Portrait of Frances Poage
Portrait of Frances Poage

Frances Cotton first met W.R. Poage when he was a member of the Texas state senate. She worked in the state comptroller’s office and was a boarder at the same house as Mr. Poage, which is how their relationship began. The two began taking trips to various sites in Texas, though Bob would eventually realize that Frances didn’t care for the long drives such journeys entailed. She did, however, enjoy the company. The two married in on Valentine’s Day 1938, and Frances became Mr. Poage’s “chief inspiration and companion” thereafter.

From left to right: Congressman W.R. "Bob" Poage, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, President Jimmy Carter, and Mrs. Frances Poage
From left to right: Congressman W.R. “Bob” Poage, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, President Jimmy Carter, and Mrs. Frances Poage

Mrs. Poage was afflicted with numerous ailments over her life. As a child, a country doctor removed her appendix on her family’s kitchen table, leaving her with painful side effects. In her later years, she suffered from severe arthritis. Furthermore, she had stomach problems, arterial issues, and complications from a broken leg. Despite these maladies, Frances was an invaluable, beloved partner to the Congressman. She remembered names and faces that he could not and tried to help people everywhere she went and had, by the Congressman’s estimation, impeccable taste. Furthermore, she took a keen interest in politics and was very much involved in Congressman Poage’s campaigns and always ready to lend a hand in the office. Frances enjoyed playing hostess to the couple’s friends and family. Despite never having children of their own, Frances and the Congressman maintained their affection for one another, having “a minimum of quarrels and a full measure of love” throughout their lives.

Mr. and Mrs. Poage (at rear of table) at a Congressional dinner.
Mr. and Mrs. Poage (at rear of table) at an event banquet.

After her passing, Poage expressed regret that he had not been as attentive to her as she to him:

I loved my wife and I know she loved me. Only now do I see so many things which I should have done for her, but did not. I would call on all my younger friends to do all you can for your husband or your wife while you can. You will be well rewarded for it.

The esteemed couple’s romance is one of the more touching love stories in Texas politics; many who knew the pair remarked on their chemistry and genuine affection for one another. This holiday season, as you spend time with your friends and families, we hope you remember Mr. and Mrs. Poage and the love they shared. This year, set aside petty squabbles and come together with those you care about to celebrate your own reasons for the season.