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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 301–312 of 390 results

Plastic Fantastic

Bakelite Desks
Stylish! Modern! Sturdy! And cheap! In the 1930s, Bakelite, an early plastic, was touted as “The Material of a Thousand Uses.” What uses, exactly? In one instance, desks for Congress.
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Leave No Forwarding Address: When Congress Almost Abandoned D.C.

Admiral George Cockburn
It was a low moment. When the 13th Congress (1813–1815) trickled into Washington, D.C., in September 1814 for a third session, they found a terrorized community, most public buildings destroyed, and a humiliated army on retreat. Once the grandest building in North America, the unfinished Capitol resembled a charcoal briquette. And though the invading British forces had departed more than three weeks previously, the damage they inflicted—both physical and emotional—very nearly convinced the shocked legislators to abandon Washington for good.
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Take a Seat

For more than a century, a desk in the House Chamber was a Member’s office. He stowed his hat beneath his chair, wrote and stored papers in the writing desk, and occasionally propped his feet up to listen to debate. Why did picking one's desk matter?
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“Harry Needs a Rest”

Harry Parker
In an institution still largely segregated and even unwelcoming to its African-American Members in the 1930s, Harry Parker’s six decades of loyal service to the House engendered respect and affection. The New York Times described the House Chamber’s 1937 celebration of Parker's retirement as the “most extraordinary tribute ever paid” to an African-American in the House up to that point.
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Edition for Educators—Hispanic Heritage Month

Romualdo Pacheco
Learn about the efforts and accomplishments of Hispanic Americans in Congress for Hispanic Heritage Month.
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Hoist the Colors!

Captain Samuel C. Reid
Tasked with updating the American flag following the War of 1812, New York Representative Peter H. Wendover sought the advice of Captain Samuel C. Reid, one of America’s most famous privateers. After privateering under the star-spangled banner, what fresh ideas could Reid bring to the much-needed new design?
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Categories: Legislation, War

Wish You Were Here

As long as people have traveled, they have wanted to share experiences with the folks at home, and nearly 200 years of tourism show that visitors to the Capitol are no exception. The invention of picture postcards in the late 19th century added a level of efficiency to the impulse to share, and quickly escalated into a mailing frenzy. And as a prime destination, the Capitol was a mainstay of the genre with every photogenic part finding its way through the mail.
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Categories: Capitol Campus, Artifacts

The Most Important Congressional Source You’ve Never Heard Of

Chairman Don Fuqua of Florida
Open to the Foreword of the most recent Congressional Directory, and you’ll learn that it’s “one of the oldest working handbooks within the United States Government,” compiled unofficially from 1789 to 1847, and officially by Congress ever since. What it won’t tell you is that the Directory is a rich and multi-layered resource about the House, the Senate, and life on Capitol Hill. They’re yeoman-like and unassuming, but for historians and political scientists they provide a valuable means of studying the first branch of government.
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Categories: Records & Research

Mr. Silversmith Goes to Washington

Once upon a time, a young man came to Washington. He wasn’t sophisticated, but he had loads of ambition. He was destined to leave his mark on Congress. No, it wasn’t Jimmy Stewart's fictional character arriving in 1939 to clean up the corrupt Senate in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
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Edition for Educators—Burning of the Capitol

U.S. Capitol after burning by the British
This month's Edition for Educators focuses on the War of 1812 in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the burning of the U.S. Capitol on August 24, 2014.
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Categories: Edition for Educators, War

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 Law-Making Mill:" The Hopper, The House, and Agrarian America

The Hopper
A basket, a hopper, a bin. All new legislation has its start here, a container located on the rostrum in the House Chamber. At the end of every legislative day the Clerk of the House collects the bills and assigns each one a number. From there, the bills are referred to committee by the Speaker with the aid of the Parliamentarian. The story of how the hopper got its name speaks to the nation’s agrarian roots and the legislative process.
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Categories: Practice & Customs