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A Visitor Asks the Speaker for a Moment to Lecture the House

January 13, 1955
A Visitor Asks the Speaker for a Moment to Lecture the House Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Texas Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn appeared on the September 27, 1945, cover of Time magazine.
On this date, Grace Jackson Clark, an out-of-work stenographer from New Kensington, Pennsylvania, walked uninvited onto the House Floor to ask Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas for time to address the chamber. After dodging a Page who questioned her access to the floor, Clark approached the rostrum with a simple request: she wanted to lecture the American people on proper behavior and hoped that the House could help broadcast her speech. “The country is in a sorry state,” said Clark. “Everyone lives in his own little world wrapped up in his own problems and can’t add up everything that makes up the whole picture. I wanted to stir them up,” she later told the press. The country, she also noted, was “getting a little bit wild.” Many in attendance mistook her dress—a red coat and black beret—for that of one of the four new women Members. After a brief discussion with Rayburn, in which he refused her request, the Sergeant at Arms escorted Clark out of the chamber. “Darndest thing I ever heard of,” said Rayburn matter-of-factly after Clark left. Undeterred, Clark asked John W. Holton (Rayburn’s administrative assistant who did not know that she had just spoken to the Speaker) for help contacting the Members. Holton recommended that she follow tradition and petition Congress in writing. Clark admitted that while her request was rather unorthodox, the recently-published autobiography of former Representative Tom Connally of Texas had inspired her to risk her unusual petition; according to Clark, Connally “did a lot of unusual things” during his life and eventually he became a Senator. Unfortunately for Clark, the Senate was not in session, nor could she locate its chamber doors. When asked how she entered the House Floor, she said, “I just stood outside until my knees stopped trembling, then I went in.” The ease with which she accessed the floor shocked many Members still reeling from the attack by the Puerto Rican nationalists less than a year earlier. Clark’s stunt amplified Member demands for a professional Capitol Police Force.

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