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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 325–336 of 394 results

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

The Most Kissed Man in America

On June 3, 1898, in the middle of the Spanish-American War, Lieutenant Richmond Pearson Hobson sailed the U.S. collier Merrimac into Santiago Harbor with a hand-picked skeleton crew. Hobson schemed to sink his vessel at the entrance to the Cuban bay, trapping the Spanish fleet.  Though he failed to blockade the harbor, Hobson would soon become a national celebrity for another kind of mission—one ideally suited for the handsome young man.
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Categories: Members of Congress

The Not-So-Lonesome West

For a House committee, commissioning paintings during the post-Civil War era involved more than matching colors with the furniture. When the House Committee on Indian Affairs hired artist and Army officer Seth Eastman in 1867 to produce nine paintings for their hearing room, his task was not only to decorate their space, but to project an ideology through images.
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Categories: Committees, Art

The Not So “Prompt and Ample Relief” of Polly Lemon

Plat Map Showing Polly Lemon's Homestead
Not much is known about Polly Lemon—where she was born, who her parents were, how she lived. But research into an 1833 petition filed in the official records of the House of Representatives opens a small window onto the life of an early female settler on the Louisiana frontier. Although women could petition Congress and single women were permitted to own land during the early 19th century, few exercised these freedoms as Polly did.
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“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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The Original Snowmageddon

You thought the wild wintry weather of 2010’s popularly dubbed Snowmageddon in the nation’s capital was bad? More than one hundred years ago, a record-setting blizzard blanketed Washington, D.C., grinding the city’s operations to a halt. But as even Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine huddled in his hotel away from the chill, the House of Representatives soldiered on.
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The Original “Year of the Woman”

The woman suffrage campaign appeared to begin 1916 in rough shape. Beyond internal drama among suffragists, however, widely scattered action was taking place at the grassroots. Over the course of 1916 numerous women candidates were seeking election to Congress, and several had entered major-party primaries that now dominated candidate selection throughout the country. Jeannette Rankin was far from alone.
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The Origins of Prince Cupid

He belonged to the Royal Family, fought against usurpers of the throne, languished in prison, and went into exile from his native land before settling in Washington. There he lavishly entertained the capital elite. His was the stuff of romantic adventure novels like The Prisoner of Zenda, The Count of Monte Cristo, or The Riddle of the Sands. And yet, Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole served as the Delegate from Hawaii from 1903 until his death in 1922. Known as “Prince Cupid” for much of his life, the name captured his flamboyant lifestyle.
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The Saga of “Sausage” Sawyer

In politics as in life, everyone discovers that they have to choose their battles, deciding when to fight and when to walk away. The lucky ones get to learn this lesson early and in private. Then there are others, like Ohio Representative William Sawyer.
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The Search for Common Ground

In the span of five months during the winter and spring of 1962 two major entrenched powers faced off in an obstinate battle of wills. This wasn’t a traditional war, but more of a smoldering, protracted conflict between long-time rivals with competing interests. Territory was contested. Stakes escalated. Worldviews were challenged. Catastrophe beckoned. And all the while, the ability of the federal government to function hung in the balance.
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The Second Battle of New Orleans

General Jackson
Two hundred years ago this week, the Battle of New Orleans—the final military campaign of the War of 1812—culminated on January 8, 1815, when forces under the command of General Andrew Jackson routed British troops at Chalmette Plantation, along the Mississippi River just downstream from the great port city.
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Categories: War

The Show Must Go On

Pemberton Dancers Pose Outside the Capitol
From impassioned speeches to interminable filibusters, congressional oratory is a performing art. But performance doesn’t end inside the House Chamber. The Capitol steps and grounds have set the stage for a number of unlikely recitals, from dancing “modern wood nymphs” to operatic House Pages.
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