What Committees Do for You

Victoria Woodhull Testifies before the Judiciary Committee/tiles/non-collection/C/Committees_whatcommitteesdo_woodhull_2007_331_005-2.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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Laws that change lives take shape in committees. The process can be relatively short, or it can move glacially. Women’s suffrage, for example, took the slow road. The House Judiciary Committee first heard testimony for giving women the right to vote in 1871, from suffragist Victoria Woodhull. The novelty of a woman testifying before a committee made the national news. The struggle for women’s voting rights finally met success decades later, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Woodhull’s congressional testimony bolstered the seriousness and legitimacy of the cause, and helped in the gradual process of establishing women’s presence in public life.

Workplace protections like a 40-hour work week and a minimum wage were other tough issues that took decades to develop into legislation through committees. The bleak economic conditions of the Great Depression finally spurred congressional action in the 1930s.

In the 1970s, the relatively new idea of consumer safety protections gained legislative momentum, also with the help of high-profile hearings. Former chief counsel of the Investigations Subcommittee of Interstate and Foreign Commerce Michael Lemov discusses the athletic turf hearings that introduced the subcommittee’s agenda.

Michael R. Lemov, Chief Counsel, Investigations Subcommittee, House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee Interview recorded February 22, 2012 Transcript (PDF)

Committee hearings have revealed many dimensions of complex issues. They paved the way for legislation that created lasting changes. Rights now taken for granted—like women’s right to vote and restrictions on child labor—all came to fruition after going through the committee process, including extensive hearings.

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