This blog post was written by graduate assistant Ricky Shull, a master’s student in the Journalism Department.
Of all the libraries on Baylor’s campus, each one has a unique place and purpose in academia. The W.R. Poage Legislative Library is home to multiple collections all provide unique glimpses into the workings of local, state, and federal government. These collections are more than just correspondence, speeches, bills, and records, however. Three-dimensional materials and memorabilia supplement correspondence, images, and legislation to provide a richer look at a point of interest. Whether a researcher is interested in the personal life of an individual or the context surrounding a piece of legislation, these materials can offer deeper insight that might otherwise be missed. This blog post will highlight two items from W.R. Poage’s Personal papers and show how they connect the dots within Congressman Poage’s career.
In Poage’s Personal papers, one can find an assortment of items including a fountain pen encased in a frame and an antique telephone. While interesting in their own right, both artifacts mark major milestones in Poage’s congressional career.
In 1949, the Hill-Poage Bill was approved by both the House and Senate, and on October 28, 1949, President Harry Truman signed the bill into law. The bill was designed to modify the Rural Electrification Act (REA) to provide financing for the installation of rural telephone networks across the country. That pen, encased in a frame, is accompanied by a letter from President Truman’s secretary, noting that the pen was used by Truman himself to sign the bill into law.
Over the years, the Hill-Poage Bill allowed many communities with underserved telephone networks to install phones. By 1959, the number of rural homes with telephones had increased 13% to 2.4 million farms.
The law celebrated its twentieth anniversary on October 28, 1969, when Poage was presented with the gift of a vintage telephone once used in Swenson, Texas. The phone was presented to Poage by the REA Telephone Association and the National Telephone Cooperative Association and is commemorated with a plaque at the bottom of the wall mount. In the accompanying photo, Poage is seen receiving the phone alongside President Richard Nixon, who eventually ended funding under Hill-Poage in 1971. After court battles and a slew of new bill proposals, the REA adopted a new funding program in 1973 that continued to allow borrowers to increase and improve rural phone lines.
Whether studying impactful legislation, the processes within government, or the personal lives of public servants and figures, paper trails tell us a great deal and can come alive with the right 3-D materials, photographs, and memorabilia.
Additional information and further reading: Hadwiger, D. F., & Cochran, C. (1984). Rural Telephones in the United States. Agricultural History Society, 58(3), 221–238.
W.R. Poage Personal papers:
[Pen used by President Harry Truman found in Box 175 OVZ, Folder 1]
[Photo of Poage and Lister Hill witnessing signing of the first REA loan found in Box 45, Folder 9]
[Photo of Poage and Richard Nixon found in Box 58, Folder 10]
[Telephone presented by National Telephone Cooperative Association and National REA Telephone Association found in Box 197 OVZ, Folder 1]