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“The House of Representatives, in some respects, I think, is the most peculiar assemblage in the world,” Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois once observed. Behind the legislation and procedure, House Members and staff have produced their own institutional history and heritage. Our blog, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House, tells their stories.

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Displaying 1–12 of 30 results

A Committee Chair Huddle

A Meeting Between Representatives Mary Norton and Caroline O'Day and Senator Hattie Caraway
Maybe it was a chance meeting . . . or maybe it wasn’t? On July 23, 1937, House Members Caroline O’Day of New York and Mary Norton of New Jersey met Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. What made this spur-of-the-moment meeting unique was that three women chaired three committees simultaneously for the first time in congressional history.
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A Committee of One

For his entire adult life, Walter F. Brown dutifully climbed the career ladder in Toledo, Ohio, building a law firm, running businesses, and branching out into Republican politics at the state and local level. In 1920, he even ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate, only to lose in the GOP primary. It was a comfortable, fully successful life, but unremarkable in the sense that an untold number of men like Walter F. Brown lived in an untold number of American towns like Toledo.
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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House

Representative Charles F. Reavis of Nebraska
In our age of voluminous email traffic and cluttered inboxes, it’s easy to overlook certain correspondence and even misplace particular documents. Things get lost in the shuffle, we say. It happens. But as the White House demonstrated in 1920, it’s been happening for longer than we might imagine, and well before the advent of email.
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A Great Disaster

Homecoming–Kaw Valley Lithograph
In October 1951, every Member of the House of Representatives and the Senate received an unusual petition in the mail from an artist named Thomas Hart Benton.
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A Message Too Far: The House Reprimands President Roosevelt

Laughter flooded the House Chamber, rising from both sides of the floor and cascading down from the crowded galleries. Atop the marble rostrum Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, looking to regain order, banged his gavel so hard that he cracked the top of his desk. The cause of this ruckus stood frozen at the chamber’s entrance looking bewildered and embarrassed—a House Doorkeeper and a White House clerk who had just interrupted debate with an announcement from President Theodore Roosevelt.
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Americans Can’t Can

Can All You Can Poster
Housewives and gardeners hurried from store to store during the summer of 1975 only to find the shelves devoid of one item on their shopping lists: canning lids. Desperate to preserve their fruits and vegetables before they rotted on the vine, the people turned to Congress for help.
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Breaking the Code: Duncan Lee, HUAC, and the Venona Files

Duncan Lee
Here’s the thing about being a spy: You can’t tell anybody. Especially if you’re a descendant of the Lee family of Virginia, educated at an elite prep school and university, a Rhodes Scholar, a lawyer at a prominent Manhattan law firm, and working in counterintelligence for the United States. Duncan Chaplin Lee was and did all of those things. He was a spy, and he got away with it.
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“Congress Took No Further Action”: Women and the Right to Petition

In 1838, women in Brookline, Massachusetts, reacted with “astonishment and alarm” at the recently adopted gag rule, which tabled all antislavery petitions. They signed their names to a brief but searing petition to the U.S. House of Representatives. Read about this and other petitions sent by women to Congress requesting assistance with issues of both national and personal importance.
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Do Me a Favor

Detail of a letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Joe Cannon
In 1994, an Appropriations Committee staffer discovered an old wooden trunk tucked away in the attic of the Cannon House Office Building. The trunk, it turned out, contained letters older than the building itself and belonged to none other than the powerful Speaker of the House, Joe Cannon.
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Edition for Educators—Black History Month: African-American Congressmen in Committee

The institution of Jim Crow laws in the late 1800s sharply limited the number of African Americans elected to Congress until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. As voting reforms led to greater black political participation and more African-Americans being elected to Congress, Black Members began to establish seniority sufficient to attain chairmanships and better committee assignments.
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Edition for Educators—Committees

Since the 1st Congress (1789–1791) the House has organized into committees in order to more thoroughly consider pending legislation and to allow Members to specialize in certain legislative areas.
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Edition for Educators—The Final Frontier

On July 20, 1969, Americans from all walks of life gathered around television sets to witness a truly remarkable event. Broadcast live to half a billion people, Commander Neil Armstrong stepped down from the lunar lander onto the surface of the moon at 10:56 p.m. EDT and uttered his iconic phrase, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Outer space has long captured the popular imagination, fascinating people of all ages and backgrounds, including Members of Congress.
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