Did you watch last week’s State of the Union and wonder about what you saw in the House Chamber? Do you have a trip to Washington, D.C., planned? Or is Washington too far away and you want to tour the home of our legislative branch from your classroom?
Here’s a glimpse at the House side of the U.S. Capitol—both the public spaces and a few, special behind-the-scenes looks at rooms not typically open to tourists.
Statuary Hall: The Transformation of the Old Hall of the House
The Old House Chamber, now called Statuary Hall, is one of the most historic parts of the U.S. Capitol. The House of Representatives met in this space from 1807 until 1857, when the present House Chamber was completed. The idea of a National Statuary Hall, a sculpture collection that commemorates the distinguished citizens of each state, was introduced shortly after Congress moved to the new wing.
Behind-the-Scenes: The space adjacent to Statuary Hall, now the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women's Reading Room, changed alongside its neighbor, hosting Speakers, Clerks, Committees, and women Members.
What's In the House Chamber?
Legislative activities in the House of Representatives begin and end in the House Chamber and the press and the public can witness the process from the galleries or watch the proceedings on television. The grand space in which all this work is carried out was designed in the 19th century—and redesigned over the years—with these needs in mind.
Behind-the-Scenes: In 1879, the House attempted to remedy longstanding ventilation problems. Virtually all the walls in the rooms behind the chamber were removed and this new airy space became the lounge known as the Member’s Retiring Room adjacent to the Speaker’s Lobby.
Illustrators, photographers, and artists have captured the House Chambers in their work since the Capitol’s construction in the early 1800s. The House Collection includes images of these spaces, floor plans, furniture, gavels, gallery passes, and art displayed past and present—capturing the rooms’ history and majesty, the legislative process, and those who’ve observed it over time.
This is a preview of our upcoming Virtual Capitol Tour website exhibit, so check our Education page for more. And for more information on planning a Capitol visit, please see the Capitol Visitor Center’s “Plan A Visit” webpage.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators, highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. The series appears monthly. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory