Gallery Level

Lessons learned from the old House Chamber led to a more deliberate approach to public space. A reorganized, more spacious gallery level completed the new Chamber, accommodating both practical concerns and social restrictions.

Ladies' Gallery in the House of Representatives/tiles/non-collection/2/2011_013_004-2_cropped.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object 
Harper’s Weekly gave a humorous treatment to the composition of the Ladies’ Gallery in 1858. The primary focus lays on a young woman and an older woman chaperone.

A Seating Structure for the Public

Scenes at the National Capital During a Session of Congress/tiles/non-collection/2/2008_265_000-1.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object 
A rare depiction of the segregated Visitor’s Gallery is included in this 1889 sketch montage.
In the Old Hall of the House, women frequently visited to watch Congress at work. 19th century customs sometimes forced them to crowd onto sofas on the House floor, though, in order to maintain a socially acceptable distance from the unknown men in the galleries. To remedy this problem, the new Chamber included a designated Ladies’ Gallery, where visiting women and their escorts could attend sessions. Space for press and the diplomatic corps was also set aside in the new space.

During the Civil War and Reconstruction, previously barred African Americans could freely attend sessions. By 1865, the year the 13th Amendment passed, desegregated galleries had been a matter of fact in the House for over a year. After Reconstruction ended, however, unofficial segregation  on the basis of both gender and race was practiced in the gallery from the 1870s into the 20th century.

Events of national interest led to further regulation of admittance to the galleries, and the advent of gallery passes. The contested 1876 presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden resulted in enormous crowds converging on the Chamber to witness the electoral counts the following year. To ease the chaos, gallery passes were introduced to control entry. The experiment was such a success that by the following year, every day was a pass day.

Decorating the Gallery

Photograph of the House Chamber, 1939/tiles/non-collection/p/pa2012_05_0022_cropped.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Busts of Speakers Champ Clark and Nicholas Longworth, as well as Republican Leader James Mann appear behind the Press Gallery and above the crowded Chamber in 1939.

Much like the art on the floor level of the Chamber, plans for decorating the gallery happened in fits and starts. The space included niches for busts and sculptures from the beginning, but they remained unoccupied for 78 years. By 1935, the House acquired several portrait busts, donated in honor of an assortment of prominent Members. That year, six of these were moved into the gallery niches. Speaker Champ Clark, Democratic Leader Oscar Underwood, Speaker Nicholas Longworth, and Republican Leader James Mann adorned the Press Gallery, above the Speaker’s rostrum.  Democratic Leader Claude Kitchin and Republican Appropriations Chairman Martin Madden were installed in the opposite side of the Chamber, in the Visitor’s Gallery. In 1943, these six were joined by a bust of Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed. The busts had just a brief time in the Chamber, though—the niches were removed in the upcoming renovation.

 Next Section: 1951-Present