This month’s Edition for Educators features epicurean culture in the House of Representatives, both the mouth-watering and the gut-wrenching.
The Members' Dining Room
As far back as 1834, Congress made arrangements for food and drink for Members and Capitol visitors. Eventually, food service became more official moving to H117-120—including two dining rooms, a bar and dumbwaiters to ferry food from the basement level kitchen. The Members’ Dining Room continues to operate out of the very same space, and has since 1858, when Speaker of the House James Orr directed that the space be used to provide “wholesome refreshments.”
What’s on the Menu? Bean Soup!
A common item in the U.S. House of Representatives even before the turn of the 20th century, bean soup became a permanent fixture in the institution when Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois discovered that his favorite meal had not been prepared by the kitchen staff on a hot, summer day in 1904. This exhibit includes the recipe for House Bean Soup.
Longtime Congressional Employee Ben Jones
August 05, 1879
On this date, Benjamin (Ben) Jones—the longtime manager of the House Republican Cloakroom—was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. The cloakroom lunch and snack bar became a mainstay and a convenient place for Members to relax and socialize. His daughter, Helen, later took up his operations.
The House Club Sandwich Debate
May 06, 1930
On this date, the House debated the merits of its own club sandwich, a triple-decker delight of chicken, bacon, tomato, and lettuce. Discussion spilled over into the broader virtues and failures of the House Restaurant before the debate was excised from the Congressional Record in its entirety.
Tradition in the House Press Gallery
“Members took great pride in the product within their district, whether it was peaches, Vidalia onion, Sockeye salmon, or something.” Listen to an audio clip of former Superintendent Benjamin C. West remembering receiving the largesse of food gifts from Members in the Press Gallery.
Alice Mary Robertson of Oklahoma
The second woman to serve in the House of Representatives, Alice Robertson (prior to her first election to Congress) operated a 50–acre dairy farm with an on–site café, which she named "Sawokla," based on an Indian word meaning "gathering place." Both the farm and the café became a social magnet, drawing politicians, former students, journalists, and local folk. When she ran for the House in 1920, Robertson campaigned actively only in the confines of the Sawokla Café, where she sidled up to tables of voters and talked politics over a bowl of soup.
Washington, D.C.—Incidents of Life at the National Capital During a Session of Congress
Among the scenes this 1881 Frank Leslie’s Illustrated print displays are the Senate’s refreshment room and a family of visitors eating a picnic lunch at the U.S. Capitol.
Martin Barnaby Madden
Congressman Martin Madden often stole away from the frenzy of legislating to enjoy a sandwich, a bottle of milk, and the midday edition of the newspaper on the Capitol steps. Madden was elected in 1904 and served until his death, while at work inside the Capitol, in 1928.
The Congressional Club Cookbook Postcard
This 1964 graphic postcard was sent to promote The Congressional Club Cookbook, a project of the bipartisan group for the wives of Members.
House Restaurant Menu
This 1973 Members’ Dining Room menu with a personal message from Texas Representative Kika de la Garza to his visiting constituents, exemplifies the effect of the personal interaction on the more universal experience of visiting the Capitol. For decades, the dining room used paper menus, which were often signed and served as souvenirs of a visit to the Capitol.
See more House Collection objects relating to dining in the Capitol.
The Saga of “Sausage” Sawyer
On Wednesday, March 4, 1846, Representative William Sawyer of Ohio made the mistake of rising to protest a “personally abusive” article in the New York Tribune. The writer had described Sawyer’s daily routine of flouting House Rules while feeding his appetites.
“Gastro psychologist, doctor of roasts” was the honorary title bestowed on House Restaurant proprietor Tom Murrey by the Washington Post in an 1894 article. The reason for this accolade was Murrey’s theory on the relationship between what a Member would eat at lunch and what legislative work he accomplished—or rather, didn’t accomplish—afterward.
When Ice Cream Got Hot in Congress
In October 1921, a cow mysteriously appeared in the grassy House Office Building courtyard. Bossie arrived amid milkshake profiteering, sundae protests, and illegal ice cream on the Capitol grounds. Cold and creamy on a summer evening, ice cream seems like the most innocent of sweets. But it once got pretty sticky around the House.
When this possum snuck into the Old House Office Building in 1946, it had little idea that it would end up as a Capitol dinner.
Most debates in the House are settled on the House Floor. But one unusual battle was fought—with potatoes—at the House Restaurant.
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. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory