Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Best of the Blog in 2022

In 2022, the Office of the Historian and the Office of Art and Archives published 35 blog posts exploring the stories of the House of Representatives. New paintings received special attention this year, as the House unveiled portraits of Patsy Mink, the first woman of color elected to Congress, and Nancy Pelosi, the first woman elected Speaker of the House. The blog also kept readers up to date with other new additions to the House Collection and the Records Search throughout the year. Maintaining the offices’ commitment to students and teachers, the blog provided a launchpad for students readying their National History Day projects and walked teachers through a new primary source set on the History, Art & Archives website.

As we launch into a new Congress and a new year, we’re featuring six of our favorite blog posts for readers to revisit or to enjoy for the first time.

Samuel Jackson Randall

Adele Fassett, Washington's Trendsetting Woman Portraitist

With the commission of Representative Joe Cannon’s portrait in 1904, the House Committee on Appropriations began the tradition of honoring committee chairs’ service with artwork. The committee’s members pooled funds and hired artist Freeman Thorpe to paint their former chair, who had recently become Speaker of the House. However, a glance at the committee’s collection of portraits shows that while Cannon may have been the first portrait commissioned for the committee, he was not the first Appropriations Committee chair with a portrait. Portraits of Representatives Samuel Randall and James A. Garfield predate Cannon’s. The story of how the Appropriations Committee ended up with these two earlier portraits of previous chairs is entwined with the career of the woman who created them, Adele Fassett.

Seal Detail of A Celebration of the Life of The Honorable Robert T. Matsui Program

Signed and Sealed

In 1794, the House amended its rules to include the stipulation that an official seal be used for “all writs, warrants, or subpoenas, issued by the order of House.” More than two centuries later, the Clerk of the House continues to impress the House Seal—the use of which is protected by law—on the House’s official documents. The earliest-known design for the House Seal came into being in 1830, carved by amateur architect Robert Lamphier at the House’s direction. Acquaint yourself with nearly two centuries of history behind the now-ubiquitous symbol of the House of Representatives.

Looking Southwest from the Capitol Stereoview

Southwest from the Capitol

The latest in a series of blogs exploring the landscape surrounding the Capitol throughout history, this post sheds light on a frequently overlooked quadrant. This view of southwestern Washington from atop the Capitol dome is rare. In 1877, when this photograph was taken, local vendors did a brisk business selling souvenir stereoviews for tourists. Southwest Washington, however, contained little that was grand or impressive. Most sightseers never visited this part of the city. But behind the scenes, Washington’s smallest quadrant kept the metropolis humming, and its residents fought for recognition. This blog offers a closer look at the sights many tourists overlooked.

Detail of Map of Florida Everglades Drainage District

Maps in the Archives: A Pop of Color

It’s easy to be engrossed by a detailed map, especially when it bursts with color! It’s not unusual to find these colorful documents tucked away in an archival box of the House’s official records. Some were sent to the House by citizens; others were produced by the government. But each one tells a story of America’s growth and development. This blog features some of the brightest and most vibrant documents in House records going back nearly 200 years.

The Legacy of a Lie: Floor Fight and a Gunshot

On April 23, 1844, as the House sat in the Committee of the Whole to debate a tariff measure, the presiding officer recognized John White, a Whig from Kentucky, who had served as Speaker of the House in the prior Congress. White had asked permission to address the revenue bill, but he quickly veered off script. In the minutes that followed, an old rumor about the 1824 presidential election reignited a long-running political controversy. What had started as a pedestrian debate about imports, quickly spun out of control. Lawmakers engaged in a physical altercation on the House Floor. Proceedings ground to a halt. And, as chamber officials rushed to restore order, a gun shot rang out at the rear of the chamber and a Capitol Police officer was left fighting for his life.

Out to Offer the Services of the Library

Speaking before a national assembly of state librarians in November 1958, Alaska’s state librarian Dorothy J. Phelps shared a tale about books delivered by plane to remote regions of the massive new state. She and 37 other librarians had traveled to Washington, DC, to discuss the expanded library services in rural parts of their states made possible by the landmark Library Services Act of 1956. The legislation created a five-year program that provided federal grants to the states and territories to improve library services in areas with fewer than 10,000 residents. The act set aside tens of millions of dollars to enable library systems to expand their collections, hire professional staff, and create informational newsletters and radio programs. Many jurisdictions used their funding to purchase and operate bookmobiles, helping reach rural communities that had limited or no library access. The Library Service Act was Congress’s first major library funding bill, and it fundamentally transformed the relationship between the federal government and one of America’s oldest institutions: the public library.

Be sure to follow the blog in 2023 for more House history, art, and records!

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