Skip to main content

J. Howard Edmondson Collection

Identifier: CAC-CC-015
The Edmondson Collection is disappointingly small. Occupying only 12 linear feet, the papers span the period of 1958-1964 and are largely related to his brief service as a senator. The majority of the materials consist of correspondence, but there are also speeches, press releases, travel records, clippings, campaign materials, and audio-visual items. The strength of the collection lies in its focus on Oklahoma state government, including Arkansas River projects and the repeal of prohibition in 1959.


  • 1958-1964

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Use:

The University of Oklahoma asserts no claim of copyright over photographs in this collection taken by private citizens. Any publication of such photographs requires the consent of the copyright holder.


36.17 Linear Feet (30 containers)

Biographical Information:

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.

Arrangement of Materials:

The Edmondson Collection is arranged into 7 series: Gubernatorial, Senatorial, Prospective Campaign for Governor, Oversized Materials, Photographs, Maps, and Audio-Visual. The majority of the collection is organized alphabetically by subject or material type with the exception of the Photographs series, which is organized topically.


Accruals and additions: November 6, 1975.
Guide to the J. Howard Edmondson Collection
Language of description
The collection description/finding aid is written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Carl Albert Center Congressional and Political Collections Repository

630 Parrington Oval
Room 202B
Norman Oklahoma 73109 United States