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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 49–60 of 412 results

"Best Speller in the United States"

Representative Frank Willis of Ohio/tiles/non-collection/5/5-26-sum-willis-3c12181u.xml
Do you know how to spell “hydrocephalus”? If so, you might have had the orthographical muscle necessary to compete against some of the top spellers of the early 20th century. Long before the era of computers and spell check, many Americans participated in a growing national phenomenon: spelling bees. As the popularity of spelling contests blossomed in the United States, the House of Representatives joined in on the fun.
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Categories: Practice & Customs

Breaking the Code: Duncan Lee, HUAC, and the Venona Files

Duncan Lee
Here’s the thing about being a spy: You can’t tell anybody. Especially if you’re a descendant of the Lee family of Virginia, educated at an elite prep school and university, a Rhodes Scholar, a lawyer at a prominent Manhattan law firm, and working in counterintelligence for the United States. Duncan Chaplin Lee was and did all of those things. He was a spy, and he got away with it.
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Bridging the Divide

During the second half of the 20th century, the world watched as the United States and the Soviet Union clashed in a Cold War struggle that had many fronts: military, economic, cultural, and ideological. But by the mid-1980s, that chilly relationship began to thaw as leaders in both countries engaged in renewed dialogue. Recognizing an opportune moment, Congresswoman Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island and a few of her House colleagues hoped to bridge the divide between the two nations by using new technology to open communication between Moscow and Washington.
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Bringing Electronic Votes to Congress

Detail of a Letter from Otis G. Pike to Samuel N. Friedel
On January 23, 1973, Members counted down to the conclusion of the historic first electronic vote, which would shift House voting procedures into the 20th century. However, this moment almost failed to launch.
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Bums, Beatniks, and Birds: The House Responds to Anti-Vietnam War Protests

Setting draft cards on fire may have sparked outrage on Capitol Hill in 1965, but within a matter of years a new generation of lawmakers offered a far more sympathetic audience.
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Categories: Legislation, Committees, War

“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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Campaign Ink Blotters

Before the age of the ballpoint pen, Americans wrote their documents with fountain pens dipped in ink. Blotters soaked up the excess ink, and were a popular campaign object for decades, from their invention in the late 19th century until ballpoint pens hit the market after World War II, shoving fountain pens off the desktop by 1960.
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“Can I Actually Close Down Congress?”

Most people are well aware of what they were doing when they first learned about the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. But how many people know how Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who at the time was the second in line in presidential succession, spent his day? In an interview with the Office of the Historian, Speaker Hastert shared his recollections and personal memories of 9/11.
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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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Capitol Art & Artifacts: Girandole

Girandole
In a quiet corner of today’s Speaker’s Ceremonial Office hangs a girandole mirror. When candles are lit, light bounces off the mirror. The House’s girandole dates from the first half of the 19th century and boasts a Capitol provenance from its association with an early Clerk of the House of Representatives.
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Carnation Nation

It was the opening day of Congress, and all the popular men had flowers on their desks. “Floral tributes,” enormous congratulatory bouquets, made their way into the House Chamber on the first day of each session of Congress from the 1870s until 1905. Pages and messengers staggered in with vase after vase.
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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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