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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 373–384 of 386 results

What Killed the Political Ribbon?

Ribbons that declared "The Winner." Ribbons for the "Peter J. Dooling Association." Ribbons mourning a dead Speaker of the House. Once, they were all the rage. Then, in the 1890s, a single innovation changed everything. Political ribbons went from reigning supreme as the most portable, wearable, and popular campaign decoration to being a deposed monarch of politicking, exiled to conventions and party dinners. What happened?
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Categories: Elections, Artifacts

Were There Any Witnesses? Segregation in the House Visitors’ Gallery

Were African Americans in attendance to witness the legislative debates that shaped their freedom? Well, yes and no. The nation barred them from citizenship and service as Members of Congress until the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868, but barring African Americans, slave or free, from the Capitol has a murkier history.
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30,000 Letters or Bust: Ansel Wold’s 1928 mission

Over the course of three years in the mid-1920s, the clerk of the Joint Committee on Printing, Ansel Wold, had a mission: find Representative Victor Berger's middle name and the name of the town in which Mr. Berger settled upon his arrival to the U.S. in the 1870s. And Wold needed to find this information fast, in time to publish the 1928 edition of the Biographical Directory of the American Congress.
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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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From Averting Death to Common House Practice: The Committee of the Whole

Parliamentary procedure itself rarely generates heated discussion, but that's mainly because the drama that created the precedent has long passed. What today is dry and routine often was, at one point, highly contentious.
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“Headquarters of Tobacco-Tinctured Saliva”

For generations, chewing tobacco was immensely popular in the House of Representatives. Members of Congress chewed with gusto, and spat tobacco juice with equal enthusiasm. Receptacles for tobacco spittle—spittoons—were a common sight in the Capitol from at least the 1830s.
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Discovering a Page’s Place in the “Second American Revolution”

During the Reconstruction Era, African Americans gained elective office and the U.S. House of Representatives was forever changed. Americans know the narrative that describes Reconstruction as the “Second American Revolution”—one in which basic political and citizenship rights were conferred upon freed slaves (at least the men). Congressional Reconstruction imposed in the South also changed the face of the membership of the House. Until recently, however, we knew very little about the changes that Reconstruction wrought at the staff level in the House.
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“As Large as Life”: Lafayette's Portrait

What becomes a military legend most? For the Marquis de Lafayette, dashing hero of the American Revolution, the portrait now in the House Chamber was just the thing. Arriving from France in 1824, it was a huge hit across the nation. Becoming the most famous image of Lafayette during his wide-ranging tour of the United States that same year, the portrait appeared on posters, memorabilia, and even on currency.
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Categories: House Chamber, Art

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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Mr. Sam’s House

On January 3, 1949, only a few years after America’s triumph in World War II, Representatives gathered in the House Chamber for the opening day of the 81st Congress (1949–1951). On a day full of tradition and fanfare, the families of many Members packed the galleries and the House Floor to watch the proceedings.
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“This Greater than Roman Forum”—The Wartime 38th Congress

It had been three weeks since President Abraham Lincoln visited the rolling hills of the Gettysburg battlefield and delivered his now famous address, intoning "that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth." At the time, no one could have predicted that the war would rage for another year and a half. But that December, few Americans not named Lincoln likely felt the weight of their responsibilities more than the men who had assembled in the U.S. House of Representatives for the opening of the 38th Congress (1863–1865). And few Members of the House seemed to feel the day's pressure more than Schuyler Colfax of Indiana who had just been elected Speaker.
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How Loud Is a Gavel?

The commanding rap of a gavel punctuates each meeting of the House of Representatives. House gavels have always been practical wooden mallets, perfect for grabbing the attention of a loud, large group of legislators. But how loud is a gavel in the House?
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