The Washington Post recently ran an obituary for a man who had a front seat to history: Irving Swanson, who was a reading clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives during WWII. Before automated voting, the reading clerk would read each resolution and then call the roll to record each vote. Swanson was there when FDR spoke and asked Congress to declare war against Germany; Swanson then called the roll for the vote. Several days later, he read FDR’s message to Congress asking for a declaration of war against Germany and Italy and called the roll for that vote as well. Later, at the end of the war, Swanson came full circle and read the message of Japanese surrender into the Congressional Record.
Read the full obituary on the Post‘s website, and then check out the oral history interviews the House Office of History and Preservation did with Swanson in 2004 and 2005. The interviews include Swanson’s memories of the WWII votes, including Jeannette Rankin’s famous no vote, as well as other anecdotes. Swanson’s story is a reminder that it takes a great deal more than the presence of members of Congress to keep the institution running.