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John William "Elmer" Thomas Collection

Identifier: CAC-CC-053
Most of the material in the Thomas Collection was created during his senatorial years. Because Thomas served over half of his years in the Senate during the Great Depression and World War II, the collection is an excellent source on the history of the nation and Oklahoma during the 1930s and 1940s. The files reflect the national debate over these two major crises and include opinions of colleagues, figures in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, and other prominent personalities. Because of his role on the Indian Affairs Committee as well as the sizable Indian constituency in Oklahoma, there is a large number of documents on Indians in the collection. The papers also contain much information on almost every federal construction and social project that occurred in Oklahoma. Researchers can find information on agriculture, drought relief, monetary policy, the Veteran Bonus Bill, social security, Roosevelt's court-packing attempt, defense, demobilization after World War II, and the Marshall Plan. Special correspondence files reveal letters from Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Harry Truman. These same files contain a large amount of correspondence with Scott Ferris (former congressman and Democratic national committeeman from Oklahoma) about politics in the state and nation. Because Thomas was so interested in the welfare of his constituents, it comes as no surprise that the collection is a treasure trove on how Oklahomans were meeting the challenges of the times. Finally, the collection includes a typescript of "Forty Years a Legislator," Thomas's memoirs.


  • 1896-1954
  • Majority of material found in 1927-1950

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Certain series of this collection are stored off-site and require prior notice to access. If you wish to view these materials, please contact the Congressional Archives staff to arrange an appointment.

The following series are stored off-site: Constituent Services, Miscellaneous, and Office Series.

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.


335.2 Linear Feet (283 containers)

Biographical Information:

John William "Elmer" Thomas was born in Putnam County, Indiana on September 8, 1867. He attended Central Norman College, where he earned his undergraduate degree. He then went on to study law at DePauw University.

Thomas moved to Oklahoma on November 1, 1900. Initially practicing law and teaching English, he eventually moved his practice to the city of Lawton.

Thomas won his first national political office when he was elected as the representative of the Sixth District in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1922. Although he was reelected in 1924, he opted for the U.S. Senate in 1926.

In 1927, he began the first of four terms in the Senate, where at various times, he served as the chair of the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, the War Department Appropriations Subcommittee, the Indian Affairs Committee, and the Special Silver Committee. Thomas was especially interested in monetary policy, Depression relief, Native Americans, irrigation, flood control, and the petroleum industry. He also focused his attention on the silver standard monetary policy for inflating low farm prices. Notably, during World War II, Thomas played a key role in securing funding for the Manhattan Project through his work on the War Department Appropriations Subcommittee.

In 1950, A. S. "Mike" Monroney defeated Thomas for the Democratic nomination. After practicing law in Washington, D.C., Thomas retired to Lawton in 1957. He died there on September 19, 1965.

Arrangement of Materials:

The Thomas Collection is arranged into 14 series: Campaign, Constituent Services, Legislative, Maps, Miscellaneous, Office, Oversize, Projects, Resource, Special Correspondence, Speech, Subject, Photographs, and Paintings. The majority of the materials in each series are organized alphabetically. However, the Campaign, Legislative, and Speeches and Press Releases are organized chronologically. The Photographs series is grouped by event and content. It is unclear how the Oversize series is organized. The single item in the Paintings series is on display at the Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives.

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Accruals and additions: June 5, 1981; March 4, 1982.

2017 Reprocessing of Photographs Series

Lead Processing Archivist: Rachel Henson

Archives Graduate Assistants: Lindsay Marshall, Heather Bateman

During the winter of 2017, archives staff renumbered and rehoused the photographs series from the Thomas collection. The previous numbering system included letter suffixes that had been added to items in the series by a past archivist to group photos by inferred origin. The new numbering of the items is continuous. This schema allows for more efficient ingest into ArchivesSpace and creation of digital surrogates.
2014 Finding Aid Encoding In preparation for migration of the collection metadata to the Archon collection management system, student archivists Heather M. Bateman, Kelly Goodson, Andrew Gourd encoded data from previous electronic and papers versions of the collection's finding aid.
Guide to the John William "Elmer" Thomas Collection
Description rules
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • Winter 2017: The Winter 2017 revision of the finding aid applied continuous numbering to the photographs series.
  • Summer 2018: The Summer 2018 revision of the finding aid applied new metadata collected by Graduate Assistant Vivian Feng to the Maps series.
  • TypeCollection

Repository Details

Part of the Carl Albert Center Congressional and Political Collections Repository

630 Parrington Oval
Room 202B
Norman Oklahoma 73109 United States