The People’s House: A Guide to Its History, Spaces, and Traditions
A century ago, William Tyler Page, an innovative Clerk with decades of experience in the House, held the first new-Member orientation, what one observer called a “training school” for first-term legislators. Page had lived through the chaos that followed the 1914 elections, when nearly 120 new Members-elect―many of whom had never served in public office―descended upon the House and overwhelmed the modest number of congressional staff with inquiries about routine business. With that struggle in mind, Page hosted the House’s first formal orientation in the spring of 1921.
Roughly 120 Representatives-elect of the 67th Congress (1921–1923) gathered in what is now the Cannon Caucus Room. One newspaper described it as a “school for rookie congressmen.” In this forum, and in subsequent orientations, the Clerk discussed the House’s daily rhythms and spent several hours fielding questions: How do I get recognized on the floor? Do Members have priority to obtain and distribute gallery tickets? What are the uses of official stationery and the franking privilege? Can you please explain the travel-reimbursement process? May I bring a wardrobe trunk into my office? Can a Member eat lunch in the Speaker’s Lobby? Why are there mice in the House Office Building? Does the House hire an exterminator?
Over time, the orientation experience has evolved considerably. Today, the Committee on House Administration, House Officers, and House leadership conduct new-Member orientation shortly after each general election. Over the course of a busy week, Members-elect learn the basics about everything from voting on the floor to setting up a congressional office.
Since 1921 the aim of orientation has been the same: to provide Members-elect with an introduction to the unique legislative processes and traditions of the House as well as the resources available to them and their congressional offices.
This booklet (PDF), which was debuted during orientation for the 116th Congress, provides some fundamentals about the House’s history, its people, geography, artwork, and proceedings.