Rep. Emanuel Celler


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On May 5 and 6, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society will host its annual symposium on congressional history. After a dozen years on a chronological journey through the sectional conflicts that dominated much of the nineteenth century, this year we shift gears to trace one topic that appears repeatedly in American history. Discussions about immigration, related legislation, and consequences of reforms or changes to current laws are sprinkled across the pages of current events news and campaign coverage; these topics pepper conversations around the country. Congress and a Nation of Immigrants, 1790-1990: From the First Naturalization Act to the Simpson-Mazzoli Act will examine the historical underpinnings of these current debates through various lenses, including race, quotas, politics, and popular culture. As speakers consider immigration law and related issues, they will detail and challenge popular perceptions of racial, ethnic, and political differences in American society.

Speaker Lance Sussman (Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel; Gratz College) is focusing his talk on Rep. Emanuel Celler, one of the namesakes of the landmark 1965 immigration legislation that shifted U.S. immigration policy away from primary reliance on quotas based on national origins and toward skill- and family-based preferences. The title of the talk, “Reopening the Golden Door:  Congressman Emanuel Celler’s 40 Year Struggle for Immigration Reform, 1924-1965”, initially suggested to me that Celler retired, covered in glory, shortly after winning an extended battle over immigration policy, but Celler had a fifty-year career that spanned the mid-twentieth century and its dominant issues, including the New Deal, WWII, the Red Scare, the civil rights movement, and feminism.

Rep. Emanuel Celler in 1951.

Rep. Emanuel Celler in 1951. Courtesy New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

Celler entered the House just in time to (unsuccessfully) fight against the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which barred Asian immigration and limited immigration from many countries in an attempt to maintain the racial and national origin status quo in the United States. Celler, representing a Brooklyn district full of immigrants of varied backgrounds (including many from eastern or southern Europe) and their descendants, objected to legislation that would limit future immigration from many of their homelands. The 1965 Hart-Celler Act was certainly a centerpiece in Celler’s work on immigration reform, but when looking at his career as a whole, writers tend to classify it as an example of his ongoing work on civil rights legislation. Celler chaired the House Committee on the Judiciary almost continuously throughout the 1950s and 60s and authored, co-authored, or otherwise championed the groundbreaking civil rights acts of the period. Celler supported New Deal programs, urged FDR to accept more Jewish refugees during WWII, and opposed the House Unamerican Activities Committee.

Elizabeth Holtzman

Elizabeth Holtzman (Library of Congress)

Ironically, another facet of the civil rights era shaped the end of his congressional career. Celler lost the 1972 Democratic primary to Elizabeth Holtzman, who highlighted his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and his support for the Vietnam War while running the same kind of underdog, grass-roots, on-the-street campaign that Cellar had run when he first won his seat in 1922.

The upcoming symposium is free and open to the public, so if you’re in DC, join us May 5 and 6 on Capitol Hill to learn more about immigration legislation throughout American history. Pre-register here! The schedule is posted on our website, and Sussman will speak about Celler’s work on immigration reform at 10 am on May 6.

Works Consulted
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Emanuel Celler and Elizabeth Holtman.

Carroll, Maurice. “Emanuel Celler, Former Brooklyn Congressman, Dies at 92.” The New York Times (New York): January 16, 1981.

Kammer, Jerry. “The Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965.” Center for Immigration Studies website: October 2015.

U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian website. Key Milestones, “The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act).”

Wasniewski, Matthew, editor in chief. “Elizabeth Holtzman,” Women in Congress, 1917-2006, p. 482-487. Washington, DC: 2006.

Francis Doughty: Visionary or Trouble Maker?


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Mau van DurenToday we welcome Mau van Duren to the USCHS blog! He will be discussing his new book, Many Heads and Many Hands: James Madison’s Search for a More Perfect Union, in Washington, DC on Wednesday, April 13 at noon. The event is free and open to the public, though pre-registration is requested, and will be held in Ketchum Hall in the VFW Building at 200 Maryland Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.


Francis Doughty, Visionary or Trouble Maker?:
Concepts Developed in Europe, Tested in Colonial America, and Implemented in the United States’s Constitution

–by Mau van Duren

James Madison added concepts to our Constitution that found their origins in Continental Europe. The Dutch Republic proved a major conduit and originator of innovations in governance and civil liberties. Taxation with Representation was enshrined in the Dutch Constitution of 1477. Freedom of Religion and Freedom of the Press (free speech) were introduced in 1568. Secular Marriage and an Independent Judiciary existed in the Republic well before others introduced them.

In the late 16th century and first half of the 17th century, the Republic was a refuge for Europeans who had escaped religious persecution in countries as diverse as England, Germany, France, Spanish Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden. All were Protestants of one flavor or another, and they brought with them the languages and cultures of their people. Many settled in Amsterdam and many in Leyden. That small city was then the center of the cloth trade and manufacture but, perhaps more importantly, it was the center of enlightenment, education, and science. Descartes, Grotius, and other greats taught there. Isaac Newton published all his books there.

Many of the foreign settlers were country folk and could not get used to city life and made use of the opportunity life in the New World might afford them. Affected by the sophistication around them, they carried the patently Dutch concepts and values with them and implemented what they could in their new environment. Strongest among them were the Separatists whom we now know as the Pilgrim Fathers. Other denominations settled in New Netherlands, Jamestown, and Rhode Island. Religious refugees who had no connection with the Dutch Republic were the settlers of Massachusetts Bay, the Puritans. And they brought with them patently English concepts and values.

One man and his young family came to America in the early 1630s. He set foot among the Pilgrims in Plimoth Plantation, preached among the Puritans in Plimoth’s Cohannet, briefly settled among the Free in Rhode Island Plantation, became a civil liberties advocate in New Amsterdam, preached on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, founded a school further south in Virginia, farmed along the Rappahannock, and eventually disappeared in the fog of time.

In every colony Doughty set foot, he experienced the birth, infancy, and growing pains of virtual republics. He saw the development of the rule of law and democracy. He suffered the small-mindedness of religious intolerance in Massachusetts, lived among the free in Rhode Island, learned about the powers, and limitations, of the people of New Netherlands, and witnessed the evolution of participatory government in both Virginia and Maryland. Mostly he followed in the footsteps of others, but in New Netherlands he was, briefly, a pioneer. He mixed with the movers and shakers, and quite literally, lived the beginnings of what would become the American Nation.

Vote Pairing


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While researching a recent Twitter/Facebook Fact-of-the-Day post, I came across a notation in the Congressional Globe (similar to today’s Congressional Record) that I hadn’t encountered before. In 1867, the administration negotiated and the Senate approved a treaty to purchase Alaska from Russia. The House didn’t approve an appropriation for the purchase until 1868, however; as I looked at the records from July 14, 1868, I noticed a series of comments from Members stating that they were “paired” with another Member and giving the votes of each person in the pair.

Pairs? At first it sounds more like a setup for card playing or dancing, but it turns out to be a relative of the vote-swapping that American voters have sometimes negotiated during recent presidential elections. In this case, it’s a way for Members of Congress, especially absent Members, to place into the official record how they would have voted had they been on site.  Until 1999, three types of pairs were recognized (one person present, one absent; both absent; or only names, not preferred votes, listed in the record). These are informal agreements between specific Members who generally are on opposite sides of the issue, and they are understood to be acceptable only when they do not affect the outcome of the vote.

Currently, the only form that remains in use in the House is what was known as a “live pair.” At specified moments, a Member may vote “present” on the floor and note that he or she is paired with an absent Member. Then the Member can note how each person would have voted. Such an occurrence is rare now, with Members instead choosing to make similar arrangements among themselves without taking the formal step of announcing the pairing for the record. Most Members prefer to use non-pair options for placing their preferred vote in the official record even when they are absent.

USCHS President Ron Sarasin says that when he was in office in the 1970s, staffers would set up the pairings between Members. USCHS volunteer Jay Pierson was one of those staffers when the practice was more common: “It [pairing] was done by Floor staff who would either talk to a Member or Members about it or call the Members’ offices. Of course if there were an odd number of Members wishing to be paired, someone would be left out!”

Notice in the Congressional Globe about pairings on the appropriations vote.

Notice in the Congressional Globe about pairings on the appropriations vote.

In case you’re curious, in 1868, the pairings in the House on the Alaska appropriations vote were:

Robert Van Horn (Republican from MO) was paired with Cadwallader Washburn (Republican from WI)–Halbert Paine of WI announced the pairing and noted that Washburn would have voted no. (More of a “specific pair” than any other kind, since both were absent.)

Dennis McCarthy (Republican from NY) announced that he would have voted “no” and that he was paired with John Pruyn (Democrat from NY), who would have voted “ay.”

Benjamin Boyer (Democrat from PA) announced that he was paired with George Washington Woodward (Democrat from PA) and that Woodward would have voted “ay” while he himself would have voted “no.”

Anyone recall a more recent example of pairing occurring in either the House or the Senate? Former staffer Pierson can only recall one live pair being done during his 35 years working on the House floor.

Works Consulted
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

Congressional Globe, 40th Cong., 2nd Sess. 4055 (1868). (View the page cited)

Davis, Christopher M. Pairing in Congressional Voting: The House. Congressional Research Service, 2015.

Hass, Karen L. Rules of the House of Representatives, 114th Congress. Page 33 (Rule 20).

Primary Documents in American History (Treaty with Russia for the Purchase of Alaska), Library of Congress, accessed April 5, 2016.

William Henry Harrison’s Gold Medal


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While researching today’s #onthisday Tweet (also on Facebook!), I turned up an interesting little fact. Read on to learn more about War of 1812 hero–oh, and president–William Henry Harrison.

portrait of William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison, c. 1840, print attributed to John Sartain. (Library of Congress)

Born in Virginia, William Henry Harrison first made his name in the army fighting campaigns against Indians. He found his way to posts in the territorial governments of the midwest and served as governor of the Indiana Territory for twelve years. When Tecumseh and other Indian leaders resisted white incursions more and more stridently, Harrison managed to get himself in command of the troops once again. The 1811 battle near Tippecanoe started badly for Harrison and his men, but in end, the U.S. Army won the fight; white Americans generally celebrated the widely-known victory.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. and Britain returned to a state of outright war. In Harrison’s area, many Indians, such as those in Tecumseh’s alliance, were fighting alongside the British to drive the Americans back east. On October 5, 1813, Harrison led his forces to a significant–and rare–American victory against the British and their allies in Ontario at the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed and his alliance fatally damaged. Soon, Harrison was traveling the east and enjoying the admiration of Americans starved for good news from the war’s fronts.

1818 CGM for Harrison

From the Statutes at Large (see below for citation/link.)

In 1818, Congress chose to honor Harrison, along with Isaac Shelby of Kentucky, with a Congressional Gold Medal for their part in the 1813 victory. They were the among the last of the those honored for their roles in the War of 1812. Harrison served two terms in the U.S. House and most of a term in the Senate, and he held various territorial, state, and federal posts before being elected president in 1840. He gave his lengthy inaugural address on March 4, 1841 and died of pneumonia on April 4. When elected, he was the oldest man to have been elected president, and he still holds the title for the shortest time in the office.

The Miller Center biography of Harrison points out that he was quick to strive for plaudits and praise as well as lucrative appointments, so it’s interesting to note that Harrison’s short time in the House and the awarding of his Congressional Gold Medal coincide. Harrison represented Ohio from 1815-1819 in the House and thus had the opportunity to vote on the resolution honoring himself. The Annals of Congress (page 1648) note only that the resolution was passed in the House–no mention of debates or congratulations. However, several days later, the House was debating the merits of a similar resolution honoring other War of 1812 officers; the Annals record that now Harrison rose to “bear testimony to the gallant services of the gentlemen of the Northwestern army, and took the opportunity of expressing briefly his sense of the distinguished honor to which he had recently himself received at the hands of Congress–a reward more dear to him than any other that could be conferred on him, but which he must look on as due to the gallant army which he had the honor to command rather than to his merits, etc.” (page 1671)

A Congressional Gold Medal is no small honor. Intriguing that it came Harrison’s way while he was serving in the body that grants it!

To learn more about William Henry Harrison, see:
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
Miller Center biography, including the essay on “Life Before the Presidency” for information about Harrison’s military and congressional careers.
White House, History and Grounds, William Henry Harrison.

Additional sources:
Glassman, Matthew Eric. Congressional Gold Medals, 1776-2010. Congressional Research Service. Page 21.
Statutes at Large, 15th Congress, First Session, page 476.

Government Girls


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UPDATE: Gueli’s talk has been rescheduled, for Wednesday, May 18. See our website for more information about her book.

On Wednesday, March 16, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society will host Cindy Gueli for a noon brown bag. She’ll be speaking about her book, Lipstick Brigade: The Untold True Story of Washington’s World War II Government Girls. Join us for this free event (but pre-register here if possible), or simply read on to learn more about one episode pitting the women against some Members of Congress.

–by Cindy Gueli

They were young. Most were single. They were colloquially known as Government Girls. And during World War II, this clerical corps almost 200,000 strong kept Washington’s federal agencies functioning. The massive bureaucratic demands of running a war sent recruiters all over the country seeking adventurous young women willing to relocate to the nation’s capital. Joining the war effort as a civilian or with the military offered women a chance to patriotically serve their country and explore personal and professional prospects for the future. Over the course of the war, Government Girls would turn the usually sedate capital into a rollicking boomtown.

Government girls near the Capitol

Government girls and their dates play tourist on the Capitol lawn in 1943.

However, not everyone was happy with the thousands of young women let loose in Washington. Conflicts over expectations of how these women—most in their early twenties—should dress, act, and socialize erupted between barrier-breaking Government Girls and more conservative local and federal officials. One such public battle originated in Congress.

Representative Earl Wilson (R-IN), a former high school principal, viewed
Government Girls’ unrestrained social lives as both improper for respectable young women and detrimental to the war effort. In 1942 he proposed a 10 pm nightly curfew for all (and only) female federal workers. This, he claimed, would keep the women “healthier, frisky and fine.” He suggested that boarding house owners and federal dorm managers could enforce the women’s bedtime.

Outraged Government Girls responded immediately by calling Wilson an “ogre” in the press and labeling the curfew as “childish, ridiculous, and impossible.” Instead of blaming women’s wild social lives for lagging productivity and worker exhaustion, they suggested Wilson investigate terrible housing and transportation conditions, inadequate training, and long hours with reduced lunch breaks. Wilson dismissed the women’s complaints and condemned their resistance as “thinking only of their own pleasure.”

Congressional debates over the issue crossed party and gender lines. Rep. Clare Hoffman (R-MI) supported the curfew because she once saw Government Girls smoking and fixing their nails outside of an office building. Congressmen Karl Stefan (R-NE) and Robert Ramspeck (D-GA) agreed that Government Girls lacked a sense of wartime urgency and supported a thorough investigation.

On the other side of the argument, Hattie Caraway (D-AR)—the only woman in the Senate—was the most ardent defender of Government Girls. She argued: “If the girls are old enough to be away from home to work here, they ought to be able to take care of themselves.” Caraway was backed by Congressmen Jennings Randolph (D-WV) and Victor Wickersham (D-OK) who spoke out against strict regulations because Government Girls were the backbone of the federal agencies.

As no hard evidence existed to support Wilson’s allegations, his attempt to rein in Government Girls like misbehaving schoolgirls failed. The women’s social lives would continue to cause local and official consternation throughout the war. However, Congress would make no more attempts to control them. Over half of all wartime workers who came to D.C. stayed in the city after the war. Former Government Girls found postwar clerical work within every department of the federal government, including the legislative offices on Capitol Hill.

Related: more information on one building where Government Girls lived in DC.

Gueli is an author and media professional who worked as a consultant on Showtime’s The Untold History of The United States, a reporter and producer for Associated Press Television News, VH1, and A&E, and host of the web series “Scandalous Washington.” She has written and lectured widely on American social, cultural, and pop culture history. She received a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in communications and master’s and doctorate degrees in history from American University. For more about Gueli and Washington’s Lipstick Brigade, visit her website or find her on Twitter @historybyte.

Capitol Apples


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–Shana Klein, Ph.D., Art History, University of New Mexico; USCHS Capitol Fellow

An apple features in this cluster of fruit from the Brumidi Corridors. (Christiana Cunningham-Adams)

An apple features in this cluster of fruit from the Brumidi Corridors. (Christiana Cunningham-Adams)

March 11 has been declared National Johnny Appleseed Day. What better way to celebrate the occasion than by looking to the history of the Brumidi Corridors in the United States Capitol, where depictions of apples and other fruits decorate the hallways. Italian artist Constantino Brumidi painted the majority of the Capitol’s north wing corridors between 1857 and 1859.  Unlike other spaces in the Capitol devoted to heavy-handed allegorical scenes and history paintings, Brumidi devoted these hallways walked by nineteenth-century congressmen and presidents to ornamental depictions of fruit and flowers. And not just any fruit: Brumidi depicted the apple 32 times according to scholar and former U.S. Capitol Historical Society Fellow Jamie Whitacre in 2007 (Endnote 1). After surveying all of the fruits and flowers depicted in the corridors, Whitacre found that apples were one of the most frequently depicted fruits, third only to grapes and plums (rendered 53 and 36 times, respectively). Since then, conservators have discovered other fruits represented in the Capitol Building, including a banana. (If painted in the mid-nineteenth century, this is a surprising discovery given that the tropical banana would have been unfamiliar to most Americans at the time.)

Brumidi and his team of painters likely rendered the apple 32 times in the corridors because the apple was considered a uniquely American fruit. Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed, writing, “the apple is our national fruit…Man would be less solitary, less friended, less supported..withheld [of] this ornamental and social fruit” (Endnote 2). Preacher Henry Ward Beecher felt similarly, saying, “the apple is, beyond all question, the American fruit…the true democratic fruit…” (Endnote 3). Not surprisingly, the apple was used for the nation’s most patriotic dishes, including a historic recipe for George Washington pie.

Apples, however, are not indigenous to North America. The fruit was brought over by English colonists in the 1700s, who likely imported the fruit to bring a sense of home to the New World. It would then take decades for the apple to be eaten raw since raw fruit was generally thought to be unsavory and poisonous before the Civil War. Apples, instead, were largely used for cider—an alcoholic beverage that displeased many supporters of the temperance movement who felt that all forms of alcohol were sinful.

Johnny Appleseed, née John Chapman, helped revamp the reputation of the apple as a patriotic, virtuous food. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit, Appleseed roamed the western frontier (in today’s states of Ohio and Pennsylvania), donating apple seedlings for Americans to grow their own orchards. While Appleseed’s donation of seeds has been historically viewed as an act of charity to help American farmers, it was also a clever strategy to advance national expansion through the cultivation of western land under the prevailing doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Appleseed, nevertheless, proclaimed that his mission was charitable and religious, encouraging people to cultivate “God’s fruit” on “God’s land” (Endnote 4).

Brumidi, late in life (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs, Brady-Handy Collection)

Brumidi, late in life (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs, Brady-Handy Collection)

More than 30 years later, Brumidi would paint the patriotic apple across the golden hallways of the Capitol’s south corridor. He painted the fruit in a neo-classical, trompe l’oeil style by manipulating elements of scale and shadow to make the fruit look three-dimensional. His application of red and yellow paint was so convincing that viewers no doubt felt tempted to pluck the fruit right off of the wall. (The dimensionality and tromp l’oeil effect of the apples has since been flattened because of varnishing done in the later twentieth century—a misdirection the today’s conservators are trying to correct.) Brumidi may have modeled the painting after real fruits and flowers, which would have been easily accessible to him with the U.S. Botanical Garden on the neighboring western property of the Capitol grounds (Endnote 5).

The patriotic associations of the apple, however, did not prevent Brumidi from garnering criticism for his murals, which critics claimed were too ornate and without national history and character. A number of congressmen similarly felt that the muralled halls were snobbish and unlike the plainness and simplicity of the American spirit (Endnote 6). Brumidi faced the unique challenge of decorating the Capitol in a worldly style without compromising its distinctly American character. Unlike the representations of pineapples or recently-discovered banana in the Capitol, Brumidi’s depiction of apples would have represented American identity to its viewers and the rich legacy of the fruit left by the mythical Johnny Appleseed.

Capitol Fellow Shana Klein

Capitol Fellow Shana Klein

1. Jamie Whitacre, “The Fruits and Flowers of the Brumidi Corridors,” The Capitol Dome 44.2 (Spring 2007), 8-14.
2. These quotes were gathered by Bruce Webber in his text, The Apple of America: The Apple in Nineteenth-Century American Art (New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 1993).
3. Ibid.
4. For a more thorough cultural history of Johnny Appleseed, see: William Kerrigan, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard: A Cultural History (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2012); Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World (New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2001); and Robert Price, Johnny Appleseed: Man and Myth (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1954).
5. The U.S. Botanical Garden was formally established in 1822 from a collection of plant specimens and seeds amassed by naval officer Charles Wilkes during his journey in the Pacific. More information can be found in the archival files in the office of the Curator of the Capitol.
6. This information was collected by former Curator of the Capitol Dr. Barbara Wolanin on page 94 of her seminal and encyclopedic text on the artist, Constantino Brumidi: Artist of the Capitol (Washington, DC: United States Congress, 1998).

Mary McGrory, Congressional Columnist

Editor’s note: On Thursday, March 10, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society will host author John Norris in conversation with Don Ritchie, historian emeritus of the Senate. They’ll discuss Norris’s recent book, Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism. Below, Norris writes about McGrory’s interactions with Members of Congress and her skills as a journalist and writer. If you’re in DC, please join us on Thursday for the event! It’s free and open to the public, but pre-registration is recommended.


–by John Norris

Mary McGrory, the pioneering columnist from first the Washington Star and later the Washington Post, was most famous for covering presidents and presidential politics. The first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary, she featured prominently on Nixon’s infamous Enemies List, and her column was syndicated in close to 200 papers around the country.

Mary McGrory at the Watergate Hearings (Library of Congress)

Mary McGrory at the Watergate Hearings (Library of Congress [M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico])

But McGrory always had a special place in her heart for Congress. For a woman who wrote four columns a week, and whose big breakthrough came because of her coverage of the Army-McCarthy hearings, McGrory knew that she could always find a story worth telling on the Hill.

But as one of the few women on the beat in the 1950s and 60s, her reception was not always a warm one. Journalist Russell Baker recalled that when he started out as a reporter, in the mid-fifties, a number of congressional graybeards pointed Mary out to Baker “as the very model of what I as a congressional correspondent should never be if I wanted to succeed covering the Hill.” Mary’s mortal sin: she had printed, verbatim, the harshly anti-immigrant views of a Pennsylvania congressman. “No reporter had ever before done him that discourtesy,” Baker recalled, explaining that most reporters in those days thought it unfair to accurately quote congressmen.

The great key to Mary’s success on the Hill was her dedication to spending long hours roaming the halls, talking to members and their staffs, and sitting through lengthy press conferences and hearings. “She was absolutely loyal to that proposition that if you didn’t see it yourself and ask questions about it yourself, you had no right to sit down and write about it,” observed anchorman Roger Mudd.

Mary would sit patiently on the leather benches below the oil portraits in the Speaker’s Lobby off the floor of the House of Representatives, lying in wait. That patience was usually rewarded. “Men naturally like to explain things to women,” Mary observed, “and I have given them exceptional opportunities in that regard.”

And equally important, Mary was able to find a certain poetry in politics and enliven even mundane proceedings on the Hill. She once described a debate on the senate floor between Everett Dirksen and Paul Douglas as looking like “two elderly polar bears negotiating the pas de deux from ‘Swan Lake.’” Efforts by a politician to restrain a freelancing underling during a hearing were akin to “a small man trying to take a large dog for a walk.”

Mary complained half-heartedly that she often played the role of a therapist to politicians eager to unburden themselves about wayward children and unhappy wives. But Mary’s were crocodile tears; she enjoyed the socializing as much as the politics. Understanding politicians as people allowed her to effectively build columns around personal observation. Many Republicans in Congress, accustomed to reading Mary’s sharp words, were pleasantly surprised to find Mary gracious in person. “The fact that I don’t raise my voice,” Mary remarked dryly, “seems to impress them favorably.”

John Norris is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism which was recently announced as a finalist for the LA Times Book Award.

Representative Caroline O’Day


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Caroline Goodwin was born on a Georgia plantation in 1875 but spent years working for progressive causes, including woman suffrage and world peace. She had gone to Europe to study art, and there she met Daniel O’Day, with whom she moved to New York after they married. In fact, it was Daniel who first asked Caroline why she was watching a suffrage parade with him rather than marching in it. After joining the League of Women Voters, O’Day met Eleanor Roosevelt and later began working with New York City settlement houses and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

O’Day held several state and Democratic Party appointments in New York before joining the 1934 race for two at-large U.S. House seats. Eleanor Roosevelt, by then First Lady, campaigned for her friend and even chaired her campaign committee. It was the first time a First Lady actively campaigned for any congressional candidate; Roosevelt said she was “justified” because the campaign was in her own state. O’Day won the largest share of the votes in the election and went on to serve four terms in the House. For the last three terms, she chaired the Committee on Election of President, Vice President, and Representatives in Congress.

o'day and honeyman (LOC)

Rep. Caroline O’Day (right) with new Rep. Nan Honeyman (OR) in the House Restaurant in 1937. (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

O’Day worked passionately for world peace; she also advocated New Deal programs that supported labor and children as well as the various arts programs under the Works Progress Administration. She also invested in civil rights causes, including supporting 1935 and 1937 antilynching bills and opposing detention camps for aliens in the years leading into WWII. During those years, O’Day opposed Roosevelt administration actions that presaged US involvement in the war, but Nazi treatment of Jews and minorities and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor led her to shift her position. While ill health kept her from Congress when it voted to declare war on Japan, she told colleagues she would have voted for the war resolution.

That poor health prevented O’Day from running for reelection in 1942, and her final term in Congress ended on January 3, 1943. She died the next day in New York.

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
Wasniewski, Matthew, editor in  chief, Women in Congress, 1917-2006 (2006), pp. 155-157.


Sen. Hiram Revels (Mississippi, 1870-71)


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–by William C. diGiacomantonio

SenatorHiramRhoadesRevels (LOC)

Sen. Hiram Revels (Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

On 25 February 1870, Hiram Revels (1827-1901) presented his credentials from the state of Mississippi, which had been readmitted to the Union just two days earlier, and took his seat in the U.S. Senate as the first African American to serve in Congress. Born of freed black parents in the North Carolina piedmont, the 42-year-old Revels had migrated through Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee, Missouri, and Louisiana as an educator and Methodist minister before settling in Natchez, Mississippi in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

Reconstruction-era policies gave newly-freed African Americans unprecedented access to both the voting booth and state legislatures. Revels was elected to the state senate in 1869. One of the most pressing tasks that fell to the southern states’ legislatures after the war was to resume their election of senators to Congress. (U.S. senators would not be elected directly by the people until ratification of the 17th amendment in 1913.) Mississippi’s new U.S. senators, once seated, would face reelection in 1871 and 1875, respectively; the latter seat had belonged to Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy. State Republicans saw the election of an African American to one of these seats as a symbolic victory; state Democrats (who had largely supported secession in 1861) saw electing an African American as a chance for Republicans to shoot themselves in the foot, by showing the ridiculous extremes to which their “Radical Reconstruction” policies would lead. With votes from both parties in the state legislature, Hiram Revels was elected to the term due to expire the very next year.

Revels was not the first African American elected to Congress. John W. Menard, Representative-elect for Louisiana, holds that distinction. But Democrats in Congress succeeded in challenging those election returns. The same strategy might have been resorted to for preventing Revels’s being seated—except that it is harder to dispute the election count of a small legislature than of an entire congressional district in the midst of radical transformation and electoral irregularities. So Senate Democrats chose a different tack: they insisted that Revels had not met the nine-years’ citizenship threshold required by the Constitution. By passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in 1868), Congress itself—they maintained—had recognized that African Americans were not truly citizens up to that time, just as the Supreme Court had ruled in the Dred Scott case of 1857. Senate Republicans insisted, on the contrary, that the Act and the Amendment conferred instant citizenship. After a lengthy debate marked by lofty claims of equality and cheap pandering to racist principles, and by a vote of 48 to 8, Revels was seated at 4:40 p.m. on 25 February 1871.

For more information on Revels, see his entry in Blacks Americans in Congress.

Capitol Myths: Brumidi Falls to his Death?


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Guards at the Taj promo imageThis Sunday, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society is partnering with the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company to present “The Price of Beauty: History and Legend at the Heart of the Capital.” The free program (get your ticket here, though you will need separate tickets for the play) is part of the House Lights Up series for the new production of Guards at the Taj. Rajiv Joseph’s play touches on many themes, including definitions of beauty, myths that surround great buildings, and the unsung laborers who build those buildings. “The Price of Beauty” will connect those themes to one of Washington’s own great buildings, the Capitol.

In thinking about the event, I was reminded of Jane Armstrong Hudiburg’s examination of a Capitol myth in a 2014 edition of The Capitol Dome. “‘From the Giddy Height Above’: Investigating Constantino Brumidi’s Final Days in the Capitol Rotunda” looks to first-hand accounts to understand what actually happened the day Constantino Brumidi, then in his 70s, fell from the scaffolding in the Rotunda, where he was working on the Frieze of American History that runs around the base of the Dome. Did he fall to his death? Hang from weak arms for fifteen minutes? Just trip a little? And did this fall affect his ability to complete his work on the frieze?

From Hudiburg’s article:

“There are many popular delusions concerning the Capitol,” lamented the building’s chief guide, H. J. Kennedy, to an Evening Star reporter in 1902. “Among the erroneous impressions that seem to be entertained by almost every visitor is one that relates to the frieze in the rotunda. Nine in every ten people who live in this city, and who bring their friends to see the building, believe that Brumidi fell from the scaffold while at work on the frieze and was killed.” (The Evening Star [Washington], Jan. 4, 1902, p. 18)

frieze and scaffold (AOC)

The scaffold used to paint the frieze remained in the Rotunda for many years. This photograph was published in George Hazelton, The National Capital, 1897. (Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

Current guides with the Capitol Visitor Center Services, however, are well aware that Constantino Brumidi (fig. 1), the nineteenth-century Italian artist, survived that fall, or actually, that near fall, in 1879 from the scaffolding fifty-eight feet above the Rotunda floor. Indeed, it is one of the favorite stories relayed to the tourists and school groups visiting the Capitol each day. Guides point to each of the frieze’s scenes, which encircle the base of the Dome, beginning with Columbus walking into the New World, and pause at the one depicting “William Penn and the Indians” (fig. 2).

Brumidi (LOC)

The scaffold used to paint the frieze remained in the Rotunda for many years. This photograph was published in George Hazelton, The National Capital, 1897. (Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

“Do you see where the background behind Penn changes from a darker taupe to a lighter color?” a guide is likely to ask. Heads craned upwards nod. “That is where Brumidi fell. He managed to grab the scaffolding”—and here the guide may mimic swinging on monkey bars—“and held on for several minutes before being rescued. He didn’t get hurt, but he was shaken up, and he never finished the scene.” Seeking a strong reaction, the guide is never disappointed. While older visitors may gasp, middle-school students, in particular, perk up, their faces brighten. Finally, an interesting story to catch their attention: an old man, in his seventies, dangling from a platform high above the Rotunda floor. Still, one is left to wonder, could a frail, elderly man really save himself in such a dramatic fashion? And, if so, how did the accident affect the outcome of the Frieze of American History, one of the most iconic artworks in the Capitol?


You can find the full article–including the author’s best guess as to what really happened on the scaffolding that day–in the online edition of The Capitol Dome starting on page 28. And in the comments below, let us know what myths you’ve heard about the Capitol; we’ll consider investigating some of them!


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