Sam Rayburn Museum celebrates 60th anniversary
BONHAM, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History proudly presents the exhibit Realization of a Dream, on display at the Sam Rayburn Museum from October 10, 2017, until February 10, 2018. The exhibit celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Sam Rayburn Museum and features images and documents from the dedication ceremony.
“Rayburn’s dream was to create a place for the people of Fannin County where they could learn about an important era in our nation’s history and better understand the role of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Don Carleton, executive director of UT Austin’s Briscoe Center for American History. The museum is a unit of the Briscoe Center. “Rayburn’s dream was realized in 1957, and it lives on today through the continued work of the museum’s staff, the Friends of Sam Rayburn, and the University of Texas at Austin.”
The Sam Rayburn Museum, located in Bonham, Texas, was established by its namesake in 1957. Rayburn, who died in 1961, was the nation’s longest serving Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He became Speaker of the House in 1941, serving for all but two years until his death. A vital ally to presidents Roosevelt and Truman during World War II, Rayburn mustered the votes necessary to extend the military draft in 1941 (by one vote) and to approve the Marshall Plan in 1948.
Born in Tennessee in 1882, Rayburn was brought to North Texas when he was five years old, the eighth of 11 children. He put himself through college by doing odd jobs and became a teacher in Bonham afterward. Rayburn was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1906. He made good use of his time in Austin, studying law at the University of Texas.
In 1912, Rayburn was elected to Congress, the beginning of a remarkable 48-year tenure in Washington. By 1932, Rayburn was an esteemed committee chair and a close ally of Vice President John Nance Garner. Together, they helped push through much of Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, which (naturally) included massive infrastructure projects for Texas.
In 1948, Collier’s magazine recognized Rayburn for his congressional service with a $10,000 award. Rayburn took the money and began an endowment fund intended to finance the Bonham museum. By 1955, over $500,000 had been raised and work began. (Rayburn estimated as many as 10,000 Americans had made donations.) The classical-style library building was designed by Roscoe DeWitt of Dallas. The main lobby features black marble walls. Museum highlights include a white marble rostrum (which stood in the House of Representatives from 1857 until 1950) and a replica of the House Speaker’s office as it looked in the mid-20th century.
Rayburn shoveling dirt at the museum’s groundbreaking celebration, 1955.
The Sam Rayburn Museum Today
The finished museum was dedicated on October 9, 1957, with a grand public celebration. “I want a permanent evidence of my appreciation and . . . my unfailing devotion and love for them,” stated Rayburn at the time about the people of Fannin County. From then until 1990 the museum was operated by the Sam Rayburn Foundation.
On January 1, 1991, ownership of the museum was transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. In 2012, the museum’s permanent exhibit was comprehensively renovated. Rayburn’s papers (a massive 120-foot collection) is now housed at the center’s newly renovated research and collections division on the main UT campus. The papers have been reorganized, restored, and made more widely available for scholarship through digitization.
The Rayburn Museum continues to house its namesake’s vast personal library of books. “Whether it’s historic, whether it’s poetic, whether it is otherwise, they can find it here,” said Rayburn at the museum’s opening. “I’m proud to have been able, through my friends and myself, to have made this institution available to the public.”