Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Best of the Blog in 2019

This was a very busy year for the blog. The office again published 43 blog posts covering all manner of subjects, from handbags to time travel. As we reflect on the past year, we’ve selected eight of our favorite and most discussed posts for readers to revisit as we head into 2020.

John Quincy Adams Box Sofa

The Last Hours of John Quincy Adams

The morning of February 21, 1848, was bright and clear. Representative John Quincy Adams left his house for the Capitol, for the last time. Age had made him gnome-like: bald, frail, and a little hunched over in the sparkling winter air, but still with a piercing gaze. Adams knew he was nearing the end of his career. But, he likely did not suspect that his last hours in the Capitol would become a national media event, driven by brand-new technologies and nostalgia for the past that Adams represented.

This entry tells the story of the death of the only President ever to serve in the House following his presidency.

“East and West Shaking Hands at the Laying of the Last Rail” Photograph

Railroaded to Congress

His friends had to beg him to run for office and he spent little time, if any, campaigning. Yet in 1866, the people of western Iowa voted overwhelmingly to send Grenville Mellen Dodge to the House of Representatives. Although he had demonstrated time and again that he was a natural leader, General Dodge loathed being on Capitol Hill. He much preferred exploring the western wilderness, scoping out the path of the transcontinental railroad. No oath of office could keep him from it.

Read about the intertwining paths of Representative Dodge and the transcontinental railroad.

Detail of Ruth Bryan Owen's Bag

In the Bag

“Representative Ruth Bryan Owen has designed a handbag for business women,” the Chicago Daily Tribune reported. In 1931, the Congresswoman’s pocketbook made the news. Her choice of accessory became a subtle statement about gender expectations in Congress. Owen prided herself on her attention to detail in her appearance, carefully matching the form of her accessories to their function. The Florida Representative told a newspaper that “she has often searched for weeks for just the right bag for an evening costume, just the right necklace for a certain gown.”

It was, perhaps, no surprise that she ended up designing her own bag for her role as a Congresswoman. Readers couldn't get enough of the fashion-forward Ruth Bryan Owen.

"Why Not Have It Constitutionally": Race, Gender, and the Nineteenth Amendment

On May 21, 1919, Representative James Mann of Illinois, the bespectacled, gray-bearded, 62-year-old former Republican Leader, made an announcement from the House Floor, cementing a change in American history that had been building for decades. “I call up House joint resolution No. 1, proposing an amendment to the Constitution extending the right of suffrage to women,” he said, “and ask that the resolution be reported.”

The House’s passage of H.J. Res. 1 began a constitutional process that led to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment a year later in August 1920. 

The Waste Basket Committee

Representative Robert Alexis Green tended to stand out in a crowd. Blessed with thick dark hair, “black romantic eyes” and a “soaring barytone [sic] voice,” the newly-minted Florida Democrat flaunted a vibrant personal style, punctuated by a series of billowy, loudly-colored ties. His bold attire betrayed an equally impertinent legislative style. House Democratic leaders responded to his impudence by assigning him to the most “prosaic” of committees: the Committee on Disposition of Useless Executive Papers.

This curiously named committee provided guidance for federal records before there was a physical repository for the National Archives and Records Administration.

Time Travel: Daylight Saving Time and the House

When first-term Representative Leon Sacks of Pennsylvania introduced H.R. 6546 on April 21, 1937, the Earth did not stop spinning. Time did not stand still.

But it almost did.

If you’ve ever wondered about the legislation that led to our biannual national practice of time travel, here is the origin story for your lost hour of sleep. This one definitely struck a chord on social media for everyone who has a bone to pick with the minds behind Daylight Saving.

The Apportionment Act of 1842: "In All Cases, By District"

In April 1842, the United States House of Representatives began what could arguably be called the first reorganization process—the first spring cleaning, as it were—in Congress’ history. The size of the House had increased steadily since 1789, and as required by the Constitution it had adjusted its Membership every 10 years following the Census in a process called reapportionment. As the country’s population grew, so too had the number of seats in the House. In a decision that shaped the makeup of the House for decades, Congress broke with 50 years of precedent to make two dramatic and substantial changes: it shrunk the size of the House for the first time in U.S. history, and standardized what we would recognize as the modern congressional district.

Read the story behind this massive change that reshaped how America elected its Representatives.

Mildred Reeves and the Quiet Revolution

Sometime around 1916 or 1917, the exact date isn’t clear, a woman in her early 20s from Washington, DC, named Mildred Reeves took a job in the office of Congressman Nicholas Longworth, an up-and-coming Republican legislator from Ohio. Within just two years or so, Reeves had gone from a minor role handling the mail to becoming one of Longworth’s chief aides, responsible for running his office—a position equivalent to today’s chief of staff. As a widely read Washington newspaper put it, Reeves was “yet another Washington girl who has made good.”

Some chance research unearthed this story of the first woman to ever run the Speaker’s office in our favorite story this year on our blog.

Stay tuned in 2020 for flooring the House Floor, a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Joseph Rainey’s election to Congress, and what came next for the House following the spotty implementation of single district voting.

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