Historical Highlights

The Start of the 66th Congress

May 19, 1919
The Start of the 66th Congress Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Serving 16 terms in the House, Representative Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts presided as Speaker of the House from the 66th through 68th Congresses (1919–1925). In 1924, he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served one term.
On this date, the Members-elect of the 66th Congress (1919–1921) gathered in the House Chamber for Opening Day of the new session. Speaker of the House Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts presided over the proceedings, controlled by the new Republican majority. Notably absent from the House was Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who had made history in the 65th Congress (1917–1919) by becoming the first woman to serve in Congress. Representative Rankin did not seek re-election to the House in 1918, but instead lost her bid for the U.S. Senate. The Congressional Directory that year listed a variety of professional backgrounds for the all-male membership of the 66th Congress: iron molder, stock raiser, tree surgeon, cheese manufacturer, and glass blower. Freshman Representative James Whitson Dunbar of Indiana described himself as a “political accident.” At the opening session, the House refused to seat Representative-elect Victor Berger of Wisconsin. Speaker Gillett ordered Berger not to take the oath of office due to charges of espionage. His seat remained vacant throughout the Congress. During the first session of the 66th Congress, the House passed (for the second time) the women’s suffrage amendment on May 21, 1919, and the Volstead Act enforcing Prohibition on October 28, 1919. In his remarks to the House on Opening Day, Speaker Gillett declared, “I hope that the good feeling and mutual respect which exists today, although it may at times be clouded and dimmed, will, at the end of this Congress, be no less general and genuine.”

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