Skip to main content

Wilburn Cartwright Collection

Identifier: CAC-CC-010
The Cartwright Collection consists of 65 cubic feet of documents, 11 scrapbooks, over 1,300 photographs, and multiple oversize materials including maps, campaign posters, and newspapers. The materials range in date from 1898 to 1951, but the majority of the materials are from Cartwright’s life in public service as a teacher, congressman, and state official from 1909 until the 1950s. The materials include legislation, publications, newspapers and newspaper clippings, speeches, and other items typically found in a congressional collection. The collection covers a variety of topics including World War I and World War II, the University of Oklahoma, Native American tribes, the Great Depression, campaigns during the 1930s, various public works projects, and the development of roads and highways during the middle of the 20th century. Cartwright’s willingness to engage in correspondence and his tendency to keep handwritten notes about a variety of topics and issues makes the General and Personal Files and Campaign Files of particular note. Cartwright and his family also multiple trips across the country and around the globe and the Travel Files series is filled with travel journals, postcards, and souvenirs from their travels. Among congressional collections, the Cartwright Collection Photograph series is unique because of its personal nature. While it contains some typical posed photographs, it also includes many images of the Cartwright family in various settings and captures life in Oklahoma during the first half of the 20th century in a candid and evocative way.


  • 1898-1951

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 Clippings series is stored off-site.

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.


107.13 Linear Feet (93 containers)

Biographical Information:

Wilburn Cartwright was born on January 12, 1891. After 1903, he moved to the hilly portion of Indian Territory that later became southeastern Oklahoma. There he attended the state teachers college in Durant and taught for several years in various rural and small-town schools (he was superintendent of the Krebs school district, 1922-1926). Simultaneously he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1917 prior to receiving a law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1920. During World War I, Cartwright served as a private in the Student Army Training Corps. He was a longstanding member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), and in 1934-1935 he held the office of Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma. In 1920 Cartwright married Carrie Staggs, a piano instructor at the University of Oklahoma, and the couple had two daughters: Doralyn, born in 1927, and Wilburta, born in 1928.

Cartwright's political career commenced in 1914 when he was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. In 1918 he moved over to the state senate, where he served to 1922. After unsuccessful attempts to gain nomination as the Democratic candidate for Oklahoma's Third District seat in the U.S. Congress in 1922 and 1924, he beat incumbent Charles Carter in the 1926 primary and then won the general election. He spent the next sixteen years in Washington, and sat on the House Indian Affairs and Roads committees (he chaired the latter 1935-1943). In 1942 he lost the Democratic primary to Paul Stewart.

Early on, the congressman climbed aboard the automobile bandwagon. For his first congressional campaign in 1922, he bought an old Ford and hit the road to pump arms with the constituents, some of whom he met as their horses pulled his mired car out of the muddy roads. In 1927 when he went to Washington, D.C., as a congressman, he drove his family there in seven days (it was quicker, he said, east of St. Louis because the roads were more consistently paved). Perhaps because of these early experiences, in the 1930s and 1940s Cartwright championed paved roads and a national superhighway system. During the Great Depression the congressman co-wrote many bills, with such colleagues as Carl Hayden, giving states huge sums of federal monies for road and bridge projects--means of reducing unemployment and improving the nation's highways.

Roads were not the only federal programs supported by the congressman. Cartwright helped gain for his state numerous New Deal construction projects, such as flood control dams, CCC camps, and WPA buildings. He and Texas congressman Sam Rayburn (their districts bordered the Red River) worked tirelessly for the Denison Dam, one of the region's largest, and its reservoir Lake Texoma. The substantial number of Native Americans in the Third District also received the support of the congressman, who played a role in issues surrounding Indian lands, hospitals, and schools. Such projects led to the Oklahoma representative's repeated reelection. One campaign slogan said it all: "Cartwright Gets Things Done."

After the 1942 defeat Cartwright temporarily left politics and joined the U.S. Army; he was a major during World War II and saw action in northern Africa and Europe. Returning to Oklahoma in 1945 meant a return to the political world, albeit at the state level: he was elected secretary of state in 1946, state auditor in 1950, and state corporation commissioner in 1954, 1960, and 1966. He died on March 14, 1979, in Oklahoma City.

Arrangement of Materials:

The Cartwright Collection is arranged into 14 series: Writings, Oklahoma State Legislature Files, U.S. House of Representative Files, General and Personal Files, Campaign Files, Fraternal Files, Speeches, Travel Files, Post Office/Projects, Publications, Clippings, Oversize, Maps, and Photographs. The materials in each series are largely organized chronologically and alphabetically, though some are topical. Many of the series contain multiple subseries and those specific arrangement details are unknown.

Preservica Internal URL

Preservica Public URL Preservica Access

Acquisition Information:

The Cartwright collection was given to the University of Oklahoma in 1950-1951 by the congressman. He made two additions, the first in 1951 and the second in 1952; therefore, these materials contain nothing from his later political career.


Acquired: 1950-1951 Accruals and additions: August 3, 1951; June 9, 1952.

2017 Reprocessing of Travel Files

Lead Processing Archivist: Nathan Gerth

Archvies Graduate Assistant: Heather Walser

Archives/SLIS Intern: Nicole Sutton

During the 2017 reprocessing of the travel files, Nicole and Heather rehoused materials to ease their use by patrons, addressed preservation issues with the materials, and refined the metadata. These changes have been incorporated into the current version of the finding aid.
Guide to the Wilburn Cartwright Collection
encoded by Magen E. Bednar
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • Spring 2017: During Spring 2017, archivists made significant alterations to the Travel Files, adding metadata and rehousing materials. These changes have been incorporated into the current version of the finding aid. Archivists also revised the finding aid's administrative notes as part the data's migration to ArchivesSpace.
  • TypeCollection

Repository Details

Part of the Carl Albert Center Congressional and Political Collections Repository

630 Parrington Oval
Room 202B
Norman Oklahoma 73109 United States