Conducting investigations and hosting hearings, House committees tackled a variety of issues during the 45th Congress. Stenographers were always in attendance to capture every spoken word for the official record. Finding themselves overextended and in need of more help as they attempted to cover the House’s extensive committee work, two official stenographers appealed to the Appropriations Committee for funds to pay the wages of additional stenographers in this May 6, 1878, letter.
Since 1873, the House directly employed stenographers to serve as official reporters documenting debate in the Chamber at the direction of the Speaker, in addition to committee hearings and meetings. To aid their work, they wrote in shorthand, a style of notetaking that used abbreviations and symbols rather than complete words. Although the stenographers kept pace with the speed of conversation, they struggled with the sheer volume of committee activity in 1878, particularly numerous investigations related to the postal service, the Texas border, and the Pacific Railroad. “Up to the middle of January we were able to attend ourselves to all the work, but since then, in consequence of several of the committees sitting at the same time, and at places outside of the Capitol, we have had to employ other stenographers to attend to them,” House stenographers Henry G. Hayes and Andrew Devine explained to Appropriations Committee Chairman John D. C. Atkins.
According to the 1878 and 1879 Annual Reports of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the additional stenographers received piecework payment for their hard work. Hayes and Devine received an annual salary, while the supplemental stenographers were compensated based on the volume of notes they recorded, typically $2 or $3 per page.