Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Best of the Blog in 2017

This year was a big year for the Offices of History and Art and Archives. We celebrated 100 years of Women in Congress with several exhibits, including new oral histories, a physical exhibit in the Capitol, and an accompanying digital exhibit. All House Chaplains received biographical entries this year, and a section on Deans of the House was added to our section on House Service and Seniority. We added 175 objects to the Collection Search, 31 new Records to the Records Search, and 308 clips to our Oral History section. Additionally, 256 Members and officers received new images on the People Search.

To top it off, the office has published 54 blogs this year! Here’s a look back at some of our favorites from the past year.

Representative Herbert Drane with a Sponge

Absorbing Constituent Needs

A Member of Congress represents and assists constituents. So when a Representative served a district known for one of the largest natural sponge markets in the world . . . well, that Member advocated for the absorbent product. After working in Florida real estate, railway construction, and citrus-growing, Herbert Jackson Drane turned to politics, first at the local level, and eventually in the U.S. Congress. Drane served in the U.S. House from 1917 to 1932. His district included Tarpon Springs, home of the famous sea sponge ground.

Soak up some knowledge with this blog in our monthly photography series!

The House Gets a Used Ford

On any given June day, summertime tourists visit their Representatives in the three House Office Buildings near the Capitol. But off the beaten path, at the foot of Capitol Hill, another House Office Building stands in relative obscurity. This is the story of the Ford House Office Building, an old structure that got a new lease on life, becoming the House’s own used Ford.

Go off the beaten path with this Curatorial blog post about the fourth House Office Building.

Group Ride up Capitol Hill

Congressional Bicycles

“The latest fad among our national statesmen is the Congressmen’s Bicycle Club,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle in 1892. Ever since, Representatives have gone from teetering atop high-wheeled penny-farthings to racing on road bikes. Members of Congress have spun gleefully around the capital, mixing both politics and fun into the ride.

The second photo blog on this list explores Congress’s turn-of-the-century love affair with bicycles.

Henry Clay’s On-Again, Off-Again Relationship with the House

Henry Clay of Kentucky had one of the most superlative political careers in American history. A lawyer by training, Clay served in almost every level of government possible in the 19th century: the Kentucky state house of representatives, the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, and the executive branch as Secretary of State. On top of that, he helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812, and ran for President three times over three decades on three different party tickets (Democratic Republican Party, 1824; National Republican Party, 1832; and the Whig Party, 1844).

A search for one resignation date lost to time led to a much closer look at Henry Clay’s odd career in and out (and in and out again) of the House.

Representing the President

In the spring of 1921, Republican Walter Folger Brown of Ohio, the chairman of Congress’s Joint Committee on the Reorganization of the Administrative Branch of the Government, began overhauling the size and shape of the federal bureaucracy. A graduate of Harvard Law School and a successful businessman in Toledo, Brown was an intensely private person with a knack for backroom politics. As the former chairman of the Republican Party’s Ohio state central committee, Brown had deep roots in the GOP. But he also had a progressive streak having supported Theodore Roosevelt’s unsuccessful run for President on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912. By 1920, Brown, like many of TR’s supporters, was back with the Republican mainstream but never lost interest in reform. On paper, he seemed like a natural choice to lead Congress’s efforts to overhaul the government: a discreet business leader with progressive credentials from the key state of Ohio.

A natural choice, that is, except for one detail: Brown was not a Member of Congress.

Jeannette Rankin’s Fight to Make Mines Safe for Democracy

On August 18, 1917, 15,000 people packed into a baseball park in the mining town of Butte, Montana, to listen as Representative Jeannette Rankin assailed the Anaconda Copper Mining Company for its role in an ongoing labor dispute. Two months earlier, on June 8, an inferno had engulfed the nearby Speculator Mine, one of Anaconda Copper’s largest operations in the region. In all, 168 miners died. In the aftermath, the surviving miners went on strike, and Rankin traveled to her home state to offer her full-throated support for the walk out. “There is no question here about the stand of America’s first Congresswoman on Butte’s labor problems,” the Washington Times reported. “Miss Jeannette Rankin is a friend of the striking miners.”

Much attention is paid to Jeannette Rankin’s pacifism, but this piece makes clear that her first priority was labor activism.

“Congress Took No Further Action”: Women and the Right to Petition

In 1838, women in Brookline, Massachusetts, reacted with “astonishment and alarm” at the recently adopted gag rule, which tabled all antislavery petitions. They signed their names to a brief but searing petition to the U.S. House of Representatives: “Your memorialists ‘consider this resolution a violation of the Constitution of the United States—of the right of the people of the United States to petition—and the right of their Representatives to freedom of speech.’” For women, who, before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, could not vote, petitions enabled them to engage with the political process and find their voices as citizens.

This blog provides several examples of petitions and lobbying efforts by women before they gained the right to vote.

Members Only

On the afternoon of February 6, 1967, Representatives Catherine May, Patsy Mink, and Charlotte Reid derailed Herb Botts’ day. Botts managed the men’s gym in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building, but he never expected the three Congresswomen to show up for his 4:45 p.m. calisthenics class. After all, women Members of Congress had their own gym just steps away. Nestled in a comfortable white sweatsuit, Botts struggled to maintain the modesty of the half-naked Congressmen scattering behind the gym’s saloon-style doors as Mink pointed to her stuffed handbag and politely announced, “We’ve come to join the class.” Flustered by the presence of the three women he evidently didn’t recognize, Botts exclaimed, “It’s just for Members of Congress.”

Read on to see how three Congresswomen’s “gag with a purpose” became indicative of so much more.

Stay tuned in 2018 for a look at old D.C. through archival photography, more tales of the campaign for suffrage, a two-part series on Speaker Nicholas Longworth, a preview of our State of the Union coverage, and more.

And if you liked these, check out some of our “greatest hits” from 2016 and 2015!

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