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UT Austin Center for American History receives house and museum honoring powerful Texas political figure, John Nance Garner of Uvalde

The city of Uvalde will transfer ownership of the John Nance Garner House and Museum to The University of Texas at Austin in ceremonies in Uvalde on Saturday (Nov. 20). The facilities document the life of one of Texas’ most colorful politicians and its first U.S. vice president, “Cactus Jack” Garner.

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AUSTIN, Texas—The city of Uvalde will transfer ownership of the John Nance Garner House and Museum to The University of Texas at Austin in ceremonies in Uvalde on Saturday (Nov. 20). The facilities document the life of one of Texas’ most colorful politicians and its first U.S. vice president, “Cactus Jack” Garner.

Vice president during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first two terms (from 1933 to 1941), Garner is considered by many historians to have been the second most powerful political figure in the United States. A former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic whip and 30-year veteran of Congress, Garner played a crucial role in the passage of most of the federal legislation aimed at pulling the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression.

“Despite Garner’s famous evaluation of the vice presidency as ïan office not worth a bucket of warm spit,’ few politicians in Washington before or since have had the power Garner wielded during his tenure as vice president,” said Dr. Don Carleton, director of UT Austin’s Center for American History.

The Garner House and Museum will become a division of UT Austin’s Center for American History, which is among the leading research agencies in the nation for the study of historical topics relating to Garner’s career.

A public ceremony transferring the property to UT Austin will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 20) on the front lawn of the Garner House at 333 North Park Street in Uvalde, which is about 85 miles west of San Antonio on U.S. 90. The program will feature remarks from former Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe Jr., who led the effort to preserve the facilities. Other speakers include Dr. William H. Cunningham, chancellor of the University of Texas System; Uvalde Mayor Gus Neutze; and Carleton. UT Austin President Dr. Larry Faulkner will accept the property on behalf of the University. Texas House of Representatives Speaker Pete Laney is scheduled to attend.

“Throughout his two terms as vice president, Garner remained a powerful influence over the House of Representatives, especially with the Texas delegation, most of whom he had mentored,” Carleton explained. “With nine Texans holding key committee chairmanships in the House, the Texas delegation was the most powerful of all the state delegations during the Roosevelt years. Little New Deal legislation could pass Congress without going through one of these Texas-chaired committees.”

During the critical first 100 days of the Roosevelt administration, Garner worked closely with his former colleagues to move much of FDR’s emergency legislation through Congress. He played an especially significant role in the passage of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Farm Credit Administration, the Federal Relief Administration, and the Public Utility Holding Company bills.

Garner was born in Tennessee in 1868. After studying law at Vanderbilt University, he moved to Clarksville, Texas, and then to Uvalde. He represented Uvalde in the Texas Legislature from 1898 until 1902. As a member of the Texas House, he attempted to get the cactus declared the state flower of Texas, earning his nickname “Cactus Jack.” He was elected to Congress in 1902. As Democratic Party whip and floor leader, Garner was an acknowledged master of the legislative process. He became speaker of the House in 1931.

Garner was a candidate for president in 1932, but he wound up supporting Roosevelt and was chosen as the vice presidential candidate. Opposed to Roosevelt’s decision to run for an unprecedented third term, Garner left public life to return to Texas after his second term as vice president.

Garner and his wife, Ettie, who served as his personal secretary during their years in the nation’s capital, lived in the two-story brick home on Park Street until Mrs. Garner’s death in 1948. Four years later, Garner donated the house to the city of Uvalde as a memorial to his late wife. However, he continued to live on the property in a small, one-story cottage until his death at the age of 98 on Nov. 7, 1967.

Officials at the Center for American History plan to rehabilitate and repair the Garner House and Museum, designing and installing a new exhibit on Garner’s life and times. “We also want to sponsor lectures and conferences on topics relevant to Garner’s career,” Carleton said. The museum also will serve as an information center about admission policies, scholarships and financial aid for area students interested in attending UT Austin.

The Center is a special collections library, archive and museum that supports and facilitates research, teaching and public education in U.S. history. Its holds the largest Texas history collection in existence and the only significant body of Garner papers extant today. The Center also houses the personal papers of individuals who played important roles in the vice president’s career, including Houston financier and newspaper publisher Jesse H. Jones, and south Texas political boss Jim Wells.

The Center for American History’s other divisions include the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham; the Winedale Historical Center near Round Top; and the Research and Collections Division, located on the UT Austin campus.

For more information, contact Dr. Don Carleton, UT Austin Center for American History (512) 495-4515.