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Historical Highlights

A Commotion on the House Floor

June 01, 1920
A Commotion on the House Floor Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Amelia Rosser, second from left, and Eileen Quinlisk sell bonds to support Irish freedom to Members of the House outside of the Capitol in February 1920.
On this date, a group of women protestors disrupted debate on an appropriations bill in the House of Representatives to demand congressional action in support of Ireland’s struggle for independence. In 1920, the Irish Republic was fighting a war for independence against British government forces in Ireland. The House demonstrators acted in unison with a group of women in the Senate Gallery who, moments earlier, had admonished the Senate for not denouncing the British military’s ruthless efforts to crush the Irish rebellion. While the Senate Doorkeeper staff swiftly removed the protestors, the demonstration in the House Gallery turned into a raucous affair. When a woman called out for “the freedom of Ireland, down with British militarism,” Speaker Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts called for the “lady to keep quiet” and threatened to “clear the galleries.” In response, the entire group of women loudly chastised House Members for their failure to support Ireland. Some Members shouted for order while “applause and catcalls broke out on the floor.” The Associated Press described the ensuing “wild race” through the gallery, as the House Doorkeeper’s staff, unprepared for the commotion, chased the protestors through the rows of benches. An elderly attendant was so exhausted trying to corral one woman that he repeatedly paused to catch his breath. According to a Baltimore Sun reporter, the protestor responded to each break in the action by goading “the entire House membership to come up and put her out. And no one accepted the defiant challenge.” As the protestors evaded capture, Amelia Rosser, a Washington resident and active promoter of Irish independence, gained access to the House Floor through a cloakroom door. Wearing “a broad, dove colored hat,” she ran up the main aisle and shouted “Cowards!” at the assembled Members. This set off another round of verbal volleys by her compatriots in the gallery above. After being removed from the chamber, Rosser escaped custody and returned to the floor before she was apprehended a second time. It took the Sergeant at Arms, three policemen, and about a dozen House staff to end this extraordinary chaos. The protestors were restrained and held in a guard room. “For a few moments,” one reporter noted, “the hecklers seemed to control the activities of the House.” Upon release from the Capitol that afternoon, they travelled across town to picket the White House, urging President Woodrow Wilson to back Ireland’s bid for independence.

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