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“The House of Representatives, in some respects, I think, is the most peculiar assemblage in the world,” Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois once observed. Behind the legislation and procedure, House Members and staff have produced their own institutional history and heritage. Our blog, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House, tells their stories.

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Displaying 1–10 of 10 results

The First Congresswoman’s First Day: April 2, 1917

It was only natural that Jeannette Rankin of Montana repeatedly made history on April 2, 1917, the day she was sworn in as the first woman to serve in Congress.
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Advice to New Members

Luther Patrick Makes a Face
On March 6, 1941, Alabama Representative Luther Patrick gave advice to new Members from the House Floor. His 32-point list detailed the dos and don’ts of congressional behavior. If only he took his own advice.
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Inside the Chamber on Opening Day

Every two years, as mandated in Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution, the U.S. House of Representatives starts a new legislative session, known as a Congress. Using longstanding precedent and a few highly visible artifacts, the House embarks on the pomp and ritual of its biennial Opening Day.

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“It Isn’t a School, and I’m Not a Schoolmaster”

Do you remember having jitters on the first day at a new school? It could be a strange environment with unfamiliar classrooms, new teachers, and fidgety students who wanted to be somewhere else. New Members of Congress have had similar feelings.
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Knit One, Purl Two in the House Gallery?

Eleanor Roosevelt
Opening day of a new Congress is usually a day full of excitement and activity. A new session begins, the Members are sworn in, and the House of Representatives organizes itself for the first time in a new term. Adding to the excitement of the opening day of March 9, 1933, a special visitor was in attendance, the new First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The flurry of activity in the House Chamber can sometimes be chaotic, but the rules of the House maintain the decorum and help the “People’s House” function smoothly. But, as the First Lady’s visit soon proved, those same rules are sometimes subject to change for special visitors.
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Take a Seat

For more than a century, a desk in the House Chamber was a Member’s office. He stowed his hat beneath his chair, wrote and stored papers in the writing desk, and occasionally propped his feet up to listen to debate. Why did picking one's desk matter?
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Carnation Nation

It was the opening day of Congress, and all the popular men had flowers on their desks. “Floral tributes,” enormous congratulatory bouquets, made their way into the House Chamber on the first day of each session of Congress from the 1870s until 1905. Pages and messengers staggered in with vase after vase.
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Mr. Sam’s House

On January 3, 1949, only a few years after America’s triumph in World War II, Representatives gathered in the House Chamber for the opening day of the 81st Congress (1949–1951). On a day full of tradition and fanfare, the families of many Members packed the galleries and the House Floor to watch the proceedings.
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“This Greater than Roman Forum”—The Wartime 38th Congress

It had been three weeks since President Abraham Lincoln visited the rolling hills of the Gettysburg battlefield and delivered his now famous address, intoning "that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth." At the time, no one could have predicted that the war would rage for another year and a half. But that December, few Americans not named Lincoln likely felt the weight of their responsibilities more than the men who had assembled in the U.S. House of Representatives for the opening of the 38th Congress (1863–1865). And few Members of the House seemed to feel the day's pressure more than Schuyler Colfax of Indiana who had just been elected Speaker.
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How Loud Is a Gavel?

The commanding rap of a gavel punctuates each meeting of the House of Representatives. House gavels have always been practical wooden mallets, perfect for grabbing the attention of a loud, large group of legislators. But how loud is a gavel in the House?
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