Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

With schools closed amid the pandemic, the Offices of History, Art & Archives have put together lesson plans and resources to help everyone continue to learn about history of the House of Representatives and what role it plays in America’s unique system of government.
Categories: Edition for Educators
Robert Smalls fought for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives despite violence from the opposition, and focused his congressional career on promoting African-American civil rights. Twenty-two African-Americans served in Congress from 1870 to 1901. Learn more about the life and accomplishments of Robert Smalls and other 19th-century African-American Members of Congress for Black History Month.
Constitutionally mandated to be the “People’s House,” the House of Representatives has always been elected directly by the voters bienially.
Massachusetts Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” With elections held every two years, the House of Representatives is designed to be immediately answerable to its constituents. Members typically seek to gain committee assignments that align with their districts’ interests and frequently return home to connect with voters. This Edition for Educators focuses on congressional districts and how their unique needs influence the Members who represent them.
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The Not So “Prompt and Ample Relief” of Polly Lemon

Plat Map Showing Polly Lemon's Homestead
Not much is known about Polly Lemon—where she was born, who her parents were, how she lived. But research into an 1833 petition filed in the official records of the House of Representatives opens a small window onto the life of an early female settler on the Louisiana frontier. Although women could petition Congress and single women were permitted to own land during the early 19th century, few exercised these freedoms as Polly did.

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“Catalyst for Change”: The 1972 Presidential Campaign of Representative Shirley Chisholm

Since its first publication in 1951, Jet magazine had been on the forefront covering news and issues important to its African-American readership. Widely popular for its commentary on politics, culture, and the lives of everyday people, Jet posed a question in June 1971 that would soon prove prophetic: “Should a Black Politician Run for President?”

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Where the Seats Have No Name

New Seats in 1913
The year 1913 dawned with a conundrum. There were 401 desks and chairs in the crowded House Chamber and 440 people who needed a seat when Congress convened in the spring. How could each Member of Congress claim a chair?

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Capitol Art & Artifacts: Girandole

Girandole
In a quiet corner of today’s Speaker’s Ceremonial Office hangs a girandole mirror. When candles are lit, light bounces off the mirror. The House’s girandole dates from the first half of the 19th century and boasts a Capitol provenance from its association with an early Clerk of the House of Representatives.

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“Which Side Are You On?”

On July 14, 1955, John F. Pickett, a deputy U.S. Marshall for the Southern District of New York, traveled to Beacon, New York. The town had been founded in the early eighteenth century and later grew into a bustling commercial port. During the American Revolution, lookouts lit bonfires atop the surrounding hills to signal the approach of British troops—beacons, for which the town was later named. In the summer of 1955, Pickett made his way north in the shadow of those same hills to deliver a far different message to a resident of Beacon.

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Categories: Committees