Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

This month’s Edition for Educators celebrates Women’s History Month by turning the focus to the many women who have chaired committees in the U.S. House of Representatives. Today, a record seven women chair House committees in the 116th Congress (2019–2021), and many more chair subcommittees responsible for significant sections of legislation and oversight.

Jet and Ebony and Yvonne Burke

Jet and Ebony and Yvonne Burke

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was a rising star in national politics when she arrived in the House in 1973. Mainstream media, however, rarely covered any African-American or female legislator in depth. One exception was the Black media empire founded by Jack Johnson, with the influential Ebony and Jet magazines at its center.
Sarah Seelye lived a seemingly ordinary life in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1882. But as her health started to falter at age 43, she realized past adventures were catching up to her. Getting help meant revealing a decades-old secret to Congress: she illegally served in the Union army disguised as a man.
To commemorate the centennial of the election of the first woman to Congress, Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the Office of the Historian conducted interviews with former women Members and staff. The interviews covered a range of topics, including a growing phenomenon—the election of women with young children. By 1998, more than 20 percent of women Members came to Congress with children under the age of 18.
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Drawings of Robert Smalls from Golden Legacy
A dramatic backstory helped to launch Robert Smalls’s congressional career in the 1870s. A century later, the daring ship captain and Civil War hero’s story reappeared in the public eye as the subject of a volume of Golden Legacy, a comic book format Black history series for children.

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Fast and Furious: Danville Drift

In 1909 Congress appropriated money specifically to purchase automobiles for the President; only months later, it considered providing the Speaker and the Vice President with similar funding. But not every Member believed the government should spend public money on what would essentially be a private car, and not every Member wanted to give Joe Cannon such a generous perk.

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Starring Hazel Scott as Herself

Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. on the Cover of Jet
Civil rights, Congress, and the performances of jazz pianist Hazel Scott coincided in the late 1940s and early 1950s. “I’ve been brash all my life, and it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble,” Scott said. “But at the same time, speaking out has sustained me and given meaning to my life.”

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