Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

What's in the Speaker's Office?

Detail of the Speaker's Room Stereoview/tiles/non-collection/1/11_10_croppedstereoview.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This detail of a 19th century stereoview provides a glimpse into the lavishly decorated Speaker's room.
A space dedicated to receiving honored guests, a staging spot for invitees addressing joint meetings and a genteel setting for photo ops wasn’t part of the Speaker’s suite of offices until the mid-1930s, after the Longworth House Office Building opened. Increased space, more frequent visits by foreign dignitaries, and the demand for news photos spurred development of what is today known as the Speaker’s Ceremonial Office.

The current room serving as the Speaker’s Ceremonial Office, just across the hall from the Speaker’s Lobby, was part of the 1857 Capitol extension. Its previous residents included the Committee on Appropriations (1889–2010), the Sergeant at Arms (1880–1889), and the Clerk (1867–1879). With a painted vaulted ceiling and colorful, patterned original floor tiles, the room reflects the Victorian taste en vogue when it was first built. The space is furnished to suit this style with pieces from the House Collection.

Secretaire/tiles/non-collection/1/11-12-speakersoffice-secretaire-2011_033_000-2.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Decorated with patriotic carvings, the walnut secretaire has been associated with the Speaker’s offices since 1870.
The enormous walnut secretaire, which has been associated with the Speaker’s offices since the cabinet arrived in the Capitol in 1870, is one of the pieces that reflects the vintage of the office. The combination bookshelf/pull-down secretary desk is more than 11 feet tall, covered in symbolic carvings, including a flying eagle at its crown and a female personification of “America” holding a Liberty cap on its lower cabinet doors.

A Walter desk—made for a Member’s use in the House Chamber when it first opened in 1857—is also part of the décor and likewise reflects the room’s original aesthetic. Like the secretaire, it is covered in carvings. Patriotic motifs dominate: stars, oak branches and acorns, and a globe with a banner inscribed “America” appear on the back alone. Although the Chamber was once full of these desks, only a few remain in the Capitol as part of the House Collection.

Rarer still is Constantino Brumidi’s first sketch for the Capitol, a proposal for the fresco design in the House Committee on Agriculture, on the first floor of the Capitol. Depicting George Washington’s favorite Roman historical tale, the sketch shows General Cincinnatus being recalled from retirement to civic duty. The Agriculture room’s Cincinnatus fresco was the first work in Brumidi’s decades-long decoration of the Capitol.

Walter Desk/tiles/non-collection/1/11_06_Walter_desk.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
262 Walter Desks were created when the House’s new Chamber opened in 1857.
Brumidi's "Cincinnatus"/tiles/non-collection/1/11_06_Cincinnatus.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Constantino Brumidi’s first sketch for the Capitol is also displayed in the Speaker’s Ceremonial office and dates back to 1855.
Bull's-Eye Mirror/tiles/non-collection/1/11-12-speakersoffice-girandole-2007_003_000-2.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives The bull's eye mirror reflects Federal-period furnishing from the early 19th century with an eagle perched on top of the frame.
George Washington Bust/tiles/non-collection/1/11_06_GW_Bust.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This bust of George Washington is the best preserved of hundreds that were created in 1932 to honor the first president’s 200th birthday.
Tall Clock/tiles/non-collection/1/11-12-speakersoffice-clock-2006_167_000-11.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This tall clock is most closely associated with Speaker Tip O’Neill, who kept it in his office throughout his Speakership in the 1970s and 1980s.
Though it predates the construction date of the room, the Federal-style bull’s-eye mirror refers back to the Clerk of the House, the room’s first resident. This particular piece hung in the Clerk’s office in the early 19th century. The convex shape was popular at that time because it refracted light, helping to brighten candle-lit spaces by multiplying the effect of the small flames. In contrast to the heavily ornamented Victorian pieces from later in the century, the mirror keeps things relatively simple. An eagle—common on Federal-period furnishings—is perched at the top of the gilded frame.

The bust of George Washington hails from the 20th century. Much like the Walter desks, these busts were once everywhere you turned in the House. In honor of George Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932, Representative Sol Bloom had plaster copies made of the portrait sculpture by late-18th century British artist Joseph Nollekins. All Members received them to display in their offices. This is one of only a few remaining examples in excellent condition.

The furniture and decorative objects chosen for the Speaker’s Ceremonial Office give its visitors a sense of the material history of the House, the Speakership, and the spaces they have lived in for the past two centuries.

Sources: William C. Allen, History of the United States Capitol (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2001); Barbara Wolanin, Constantino Brumidi: Artist of the Capitol (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1998)