Steelman in the Spotlight: A New Poage Exhibit

This blog was written by Jacob Hiserman, graduate student in History and assistant at the Poage Library.

A walking campaign. A bright young politician. A concern for minority businesspeople.

These are a few highlights of the Congressional career of Alan Steelman (1942-), representative for Texas’s Fifth District from 1973-1976. A new exhibit in the Poage Library reading room highlights other fascinating points of Steelman’s career. Created by Hannah Engstrom, a Museum Studies graduate student working at the Poage, this exhibit focuses on two distinct parts of Steelman’s public life. These are his race for a Congressional seat and the Trinity Canal defeat. The latter arguably remains one of the greatest accomplishments of his entire Congressional tenure. It demonstrates environmental concerns were one of the most important issues to Steelman.

I completed processing Steelman’s papers this past July. As a sort of resident “expert” on Steelman here at the Poage, I can say this excellent exhibit gives a succinct but in-depth look at what animated Steelman’s Congressional career. His extraordinary abilities and youthful rise to a Congressional post (he was only 29 when he won the Fifth District seat) receive a thorough treatment in one exhibit case. This case also includes some of the few 3-D objects in the Steelman collection—a 1973 campaign button and bumper sticker. Moreover, this section also treats his unsuccessful 1976 Senate run against a tough Democratic incumbent, Lloyd Bentsen. A mixture of political cartoons about Steelman’s Congressional and Senate races bring a touch of humor to these serious affairs.

On the Trinity Canal battle, a second display highlights a great victory for Steelman and the people of the city of Dallas. The political contest centered on whether the Trinity River should be deepened to allow for a canal to run from Dallas to the Gulf of Mexico. Steelman and the people of Dallas opposed the construction of the canal due to its intended destruction of the environment and integrity of the Trinity River. Major business interests supported its construction so Dallas could become a significant port city. Constituent letters to Steelman, anti-canal flyers, cartoons, and attractive information panels, populate this second half of the exhibit.

This summary with photos does not do the exhibit justice, so drop in to the Poage Library reading room and see it in person!

2 thoughts on “Steelman in the Spotlight: A New Poage Exhibit

  1. Does your history mention anywhere that Alan Steelman was assisted in his 1972 race for the U.S. House of Representatives by the fact that his incumbent opponent, Rep. Earl Cabell (D), was named as one of the “Dirty Dozen” congressmen that year? The “Dirty Dozen” was a national campaign instigated in 1970 by the organization Environmental Action, the group that grew out of the Earth Day celebration. In 1970, seven of the Dirty Dozen congressmen were defeated. In 1972, four went down to defeat, including Mr. Cabell. Following his victory, Congressman Steelman provided a breath of fresh air for environmental issues in Texas and the U.S.

    1. Thanks for adding to our knowledge of Alan’s campaign victory. I have a feeling that the information is in the files, but may not have been brought out for this exhibit. However, we did know that Alan was a pro-environment Congressman.

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