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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 36 results

Wash, Rinse, and Equal Treatment

In December 1967 Representative Martha Griffiths stepped in to save a teetering but beloved decades-old institution known as the House Beauty Shop. What began as a makeover became a movement for equality on Capitol Hill.
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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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“Every Right and Every Privilege”: Oscar De Priest and Segregation in the House Restaurant

Oscar De Priest Discharge Petition
Oscar De Priest entered the 71st Congress as the only African American in the House of Representatives. Throughout his political career, De Priest confronted racial discrimination, including in the Capitol itself as a Member of Congress.
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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 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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Representing the President

In the spring of 1921, Republican Walter Folger Brown of Ohio, the chairman of Congress’s Joint Committee on the Reorganization of the Administrative Branch of the Government, began overhauling the size and shape of the federal bureaucracy. On paper, he seemed like a natural choice to lead Congress’s efforts to overhaul the government: a discreet business leader with progressive credentials from the key state of Ohio. A natural choice, that is, except for one detail: Brown was not a Member of Congress.
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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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A Congressional Made Man

Print of the House Chamber in 1836
In the winter of 1842, inventor Samuel F. B. Morse nervously wrote to his brother Sidney Morse from Washington, DC. Morse hoped that the House of Representatives would appropriate $30,000 “to test the practicability of establishing a system of electro magnetic telegraphs.”
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Categories: Superlatives, Committees, Art

Centennial of the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau

Detail of a Petition to Establish a Bureau of Labor for Women
The Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor, created by Congress 100 years ago on June 5, 1920, still exists today. Established at a time when women were moving into the workforce but were still months away from having the right to vote, the Women’s Bureau studied and advocated for working women.
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Can I Have this Dance?

Support the American Square Dance Logo
In 1973, American square dancers tried to call the tune with the House of Representatives, urging it to act quickly on legislation near and dear to their hearts. “What’s the hold up? Get busy now. Let’s not wait any longer,” one demanded. “We’re still waiting for some results,” another pressed, concerned that a years-long petition drive to enshrine the uniquely American folk dance was proceeding more like a slow waltz than an up-tempo jig.
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Edition for Educators—The Agriculture Committee Bicentennial

On April 29, 1820, North Carolina Representative Lewis Williams rose to address what he saw as an injustice in the House of Representatives. Williams pointed out that the House already had a Committee on Manufactures which received petitions from commercial interests, but that it lacked an equivalent committee to consider the interests of America’s farmers. “When agriculture is oppressed, and makes complaint, what tribunal is in this House to hear and determine on the grievance?” he asked.
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Edition for Educators—Madam Chairman

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.
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