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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 26 results

Weekend at Woodrow’s

Early in the afternoon on Saturday, July 20, 1912, more than 100 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all of them Democrats, got off the train in Sea Girt, New Jersey, and walked down the dusty road toward Woodrow Wilson’s summer cottage. Wilson had recently accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, and he’d been entertaining political visits at his seaside home ever since.
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Categories: Presidents, Elections

Putting One Over on Teddy

When Woodrow Wilson became President a century ago, he smashed an old tradition. Wilson had long suspected that the President could act as a prime minister for Congress, formulating party program and directing party strategy. The secret to this kind of leadership was the use of oratorical power to convince others of what was in the public interest. Wilson intended to replace written presidential messages with a direct address to a joint session, expecting this would seize the imagination of the country, give him the momentum to enact his policies, and set a new tone for the administration.
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Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend

When Jessie Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, became engaged to Francis Bowes Sayre in 1913, Washington was aflutter with excitement. Washington society had not had such an occasion to anticipate since the marriage of Alice Roosevelt to Nicholas Longworth set extravagant expectations for what a Washington wedding could be. In the early 20th century, it was common practice for the president’s cabinet, world leaders, diplomats, and Members of Congress to present often lavish gifts to the daughter of the president on the occasion of her marriage.
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White Tie and Tails?—The 1936 Annual Message

Tuxedo? Business suit? Dress up or dress sensibly? It’s not the Oscars . . . it’s the first evening Annual Message. American citizens are accustomed to seeing the President of the United States deliver prime-time addresses to a worldwide audience. However, when presidential night-time addresses were unique events, a previous generation of Members and their spouses were puzzled by what constituted proper fashion protocol at a speech that slowly emerged as a major policy—and social—statement.
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George Washington’s Bling

The oldest object in the House Collection is also one of the smallest. It’s less than an inch across, but the man who owned it was a giant figure in American history.
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Categories: Presidents, Artifacts

“The Only Thing You Could Hear Was People Crying”

President Kennedy's body in the Capitol Rotunda
“Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?” became a defining question for a generation of Americans stunned by the violent act which took the life of the 35th U.S. President. As the nation sought to come to terms with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Capitol prepared for a rare lying-in-state ceremony reserved for the country’s most distinguished citizens. Countless staff worked behind the scenes to quickly assemble a memorial service to honor a fallen President and to help a distraught nation mourn the untimely passing of a popular American leader.
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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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Knit One, Purl Two in the House Gallery?

Eleanor Roosevelt
Opening day of a new Congress is usually a day full of excitement and activity. A new session begins, the Members are sworn in, and the House of Representatives organizes itself for the first time in a new term. Adding to the excitement of the opening day of March 9, 1933, a special visitor was in attendance, the new First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The flurry of activity in the House Chamber can sometimes be chaotic, but the rules of the House maintain the decorum and help the “People’s House” function smoothly. But, as the First Lady’s visit soon proved, those same rules are sometimes subject to change for special visitors.
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The Unlucky Seventh

Abraham Lincoln
If you studied Latin in school you may recall the phrase, “Omne trium perfectum” (every set of three is complete). From history to pop culture, trios make for interesting stories. Ancient Rome had Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Mark Antony. The antebellum Senate boasted its Great Triumvirate—Webster, Calhoun, and Clay. The Bee Gees laid down the beat for 1970s disco goers. Harry Potter and his friends, Ron and Hermione, spellbound a later generation. The Illinois Seventh Congressional District of the 1840s spawned its own memorable political trio: John J. Hardin, Edward D. Baker, and Abraham Lincoln.
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A “Troublesome and Greatly Derided Custom” — Answering the Annual Message

During the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, the process of the State of the Union and its responses was more genteel and singular, but no less contentious than it is today. In the 1790s, both houses of Congress drafted, debated, and marched en masse to the President’s mansion to deliver a formal, unified response, addressing the important issues raised by the executive. That is, until one volatile Member of the House dared to wonder aloud what the fuss was all about.
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Washington, Schlepped Here

This familiar portrait of George Washington hangs in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol. Its location seems to make perfect sense: the capital city bears Washington’s name, he laid the building’s cornerstone, and his likeness is repeated hundreds of times around the city. Nonetheless, the Capitol was never intended to be this painting’s home.
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Categories: Presidents, Art

Don’t Miss the Boat

Representatives Travel by Boat to the Jefferson Islands Club
Attempting to unite his splintering party and create legislative harmony, President Roosevelt invited Representatives, Senators, and Cabinet members to a weekend picnic in June 1937. FDR hoped to use a party to unify his party.
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