Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Edition for Educators—Committees

Appropriations Committee/tiles/non-collection/4/4-25-appropriations-2006_087_001.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This print from Harper's Weekly illustrates the Appropriations Committee in session with Chairman Samuel Randall at the head of the table, on the left.
Since the 1st Congress (1789–1791) the House has organized into committees in order to more thoroughly consider pending legislation and to allow Members to specialize in certain legislative areas. Bills are debated and marked up in committees (as well as in smaller, more focused subcommittees) before going to the House Floor. Committees are assigned chairs by a steering committee led by the majority party’s leadership and typically follow an order of seniority. There are permanent standing committees, select committees organized for specific tasks, joint committees where membership is split between both Representatives and Senators, and conference committees where the House and Senate hammer out their differences.

Over the course of Congress's first 150 years, committees sprouted up as needed and when new jurisdictions arose. By the early 20th century, the House had as many as 59 standing committees at any one time. These committees were consolidated and their jurisdictions streamlined in the Legislative Reorganization Acts of 1946 and 1970. Today, the House of Representatives has 20 standing committees, in addition to several joint committees and one permanent select committee.

Featured Historical Highlights

The Committee on Ways and Means
On July 24, 1789, during the 1st Congress (1789–1791) the House of Representatives created the Select Committee on Ways and Means. Becoming a standing committee in the 4th Congress (1795–1797), the Committee on Ways and Means is the oldest standing committee in the House.

House Un-American Activities Committee, 1938/tiles/non-collection/4/4-25-HUAC_1938-PA2018_03_0007.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
First established in 1938 to investigate “all subversive and espionage movements seeking to undermine this Government,” the House Un-American Activities Committee initially consisted of only seven Members.

The House Select Committee on Organized Crime
On May 24, 1972, the House Select Committee on Crime held hearings to investigate the involvement of organized crime in American sports. Congressman Claude Pepper of Florida—chairman of the 11-Member House select committee—oversaw the investigation which spanned several months during the 92nd Congress (1971–1973).

The Committee on Homeland Security
On June 19, 2002, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 449 creating the Select Committee on Homeland Security in the 107th Congress (2001–2003). Originally composed of 13 Members, the committee was established in response to President George W. Bush’s request to create a Cabinet-level position and agency on Homeland Security.

Search for more Historical Highlights featuring the committees of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Featured Exhibit

Delivering on a Dream: The House and the Civil Rights Act of 1964
This essay recounts the lengthy process that led to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, in which many of the critical deliberations took place in the House Judiciary and Rules Committees.

James Garfield/tiles/non-collection/4/4-25-Garfield_Chair-2002_006_006.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This portrait of future President James Garfield purchased by the House in 1891 to mark his chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee is the earliest chairman portrait in the House Collection.

Featured Records

Historic Committee Names
Committee names have changed over time, and the jurisdiction of some committees has been absorbed into others. This list is useful for researching records from a committee that no longer exists, has changed names, or has had its jurisdiction folded into another committee.

House Committees Bibliography
This bibliography is a compilation of both official House histories and scholarly analyses of House committees. While not an exhaustive list, it is meant to help researchers and students gain a more sophisticated understanding of the institutional developments and personalities that have shaped the House committee system.

Featured Objects in the House Collection

House Rules Committee
The Rules Committee is one of the most powerful committees in the House, determining how bills are considered on the floor. This image features the members of the committee in 1917 along with its chief counsel, Sherman Whipple.

Secretary of State Meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee
On October 13, 1941, Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee met with Secretary of State Cordell Hull who urged Congress to repeal the Neutrality Act. The House revoked a portion of the Neutrality Act and allowed United States merchant ships to arm against attack on October 17, 1941.

Featured Oral Histories

Chairmen and Seniority
Representative Ron Dellums of California shares memories of his ascension to the post of chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The Honorable Ronald V. Dellums, U.S. Representative of California Interview recorded April 19, 2012 Transcript (PDF)

Conference Committees
Michael R. Lemov, a committee staffer during the 1970s, provides background on conference committees.

Michael R. Lemov, Chief Counsel, Investigations Subcommittee, House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee Interview recorded February 22, 2012 Transcript (PDF)
Committee Witness Timer/tiles/non-collection/4/4-25-witness_timer-2013_025_000a-c-6.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Timers have been used for decades to limit the speaking time of legislators and witnesses before House committee hearings. This bulky 1970s example had lights that indicated when a witness should begin speaking (green), sum up (amber), and cease (red).

Featured Blog Post

A Committee Chair Huddle
Maybe it was a chance meeting . . . or maybe it wasn’t? On July 23, 1937, House Members Caroline O’Day of New York and Mary Norton of New Jersey met Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. What made this spur-of-the-moment meeting unique was that three women chaired three committees simultaneously for the first time in congressional history.

The Search for Common Ground
In the span of five months during the winter and spring of 1962 two major entrenched powers faced off in an obstinate battle of wills. This wasn’t a traditional war, but more of a smoldering, protracted conflict between long-time rivals with competing interests. Territory was contested. Stakes escalated. Worldviews were challenged. Catastrophe beckoned. And all the while, the ability of the federal government to function hung in the balance.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House
This is the first of a three-blog series on the Joint Committee on the Reorganization of the Administrative Branch of the Government, featuring an unorthodox beginning and an even more unusual chairman. Parts two and three follow the work of the committee after its creation.

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.