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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 93 results

“The Bulwark of Freedom”: African-American Members of Congress and the Constitution During Reconstruction

On December 9, 1873, the National Civil Rights Convention drew several hundred African-American activists to Washington, DC. Attendees recognized that gains had been made in the Black struggle for equality during Reconstruction, but called on Congress to pass sweeping civil rights legislation, noting that recent “declarations recognizing our entitlement to all of our rights, with essential ones withheld, render the grievances even more intolerable.”
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“By Any Fair Means”: Joseph H. Rainey’s Contested Elections

Joseph Rainey Certificate of Election
When Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina served in the House of Representatives from 1870 to 1879 as its first Black Representative, the political inroads made during Reconstruction by Blacks in the South started to disintegrate rapidly. The contested election was weaponized as a method of excluding African Americans from representation in Congress.
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How Gallery Tickets Were Born

Gallery Visitors
On February 21, 1868, a one-sentence resolution in the House of Representatives brought thousands running to the Capitol: “That Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors.” Alongside the national consequences of impeachment, massive public interest caused a smaller development: the introduction of gallery passes.
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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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“I’m Not Going to Waste It”

From February 1959 to June 1961, James Johnson attended the Capitol Page School, a one-of-a-kind learning environment for high schoolers working for the House, Senate, and Supreme Court. Johnson was one of the first African-American students admitted to the school, but because of a mix-up—the details of which remain unclear even today—he never received an official appointment as a Page like the rest of his classmates. But Johnson credits his experience at the Page School and working for the House for setting him on the path to a distinguished medical career with the U.S. Navy.
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What Does “Civilization” Look Like?

Detail of Harper's Weekly Cover
Reconstruction Era illustrations from Harper’s Weekly both showed and told their audience about new civil rights laws and gave them a graphic sense of changes in America.
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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—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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The “So Very Peculiar” Case of Sarah Seelye

Sarah Seelye's Application for Back Pay
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.
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“How Does She Do This?”: Mothers in Congress

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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“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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