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–by Sarah Lewis

March is officially Women’s History Month, and what better way to welcome its start than by talking about a room which recognizes the strength of the women who have served in Congress.

The Congressional Women’s Reading Room (Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives)

To understand the historical importance of this room, it is crucial to know its origins. Since there are no records that suggest that the room was rebuilt after the fire of 1814, it is probable that the Lindy Boggs room is one of the few that survived without much damage. In 1857, the Clerk of the House resided here, and was joined by the Committee of Banking and Currency in 1874, and later the Enrolling Clerk. It is perhaps most noteworthy to mention the significance of this room to John Quincy Adams. On February 21, 1848, John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke and was carried away to what was then the Speaker’s Office (now the Lindy Boggs Congressional Reading Room). He was then laid down to rest on a couch, which is still an original artifact in the room, before passing away two days later. In 1991, Lindy Boggs reflected upon the significance of Adams’ death in this room when she recalled that Adams’ mother Abigail had asked Adams to, “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” In response to the legends that Adams’ ghost still haunts the Congressional Reading Room, Boggs said, “…I think Abigail’s wishes are now being carried out. Her son will forever be surrounded by strong ladies.”

In the 1950s, when the number of women in Congress doubled, it became apparent that there were not enough restrooms for women even remotely near the House Chamber. It took several years before the petition for control of what was then the Congressional Ladies Retiring Room was granted. In 1991, this room was renamed the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room, to honor her fifty-year association with Congress. This was a historical event indeed, as it marked the first and only time a room in the Capitol was named for a woman.

Boggs spent nearly thirty years as a confidante to her husband in the world of politics until she won her seat in 1973. She was known for her political prowess, her ability to build connections with fellow Members, her impressive negotiation skills, and perhaps most notably, her contributions to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974. It’s no wonder that her great influence is the reason behind why this room now bears her name.

Portrait of Boggs (U.S. House of Representatives)

In terms of art in the Lindy Boggs Room, a portrait of Lindy Boggs currently hangs in the foyer. The portrait includes a replica of the Car of History clock; it was included in the portrait to convey her love of history. This love led Boggs to chair the Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives Bicentenary. The Reading Room also houses a bust of John Quincy Adams and the Botanical Mirror which hangs over the mantel. Photographs of all of the women who have served in the House can be found lining the walls. Today this room is a place for resting and a gathering place for Congresswomen. It is difficult not to ponder all of the discussions that must have taken place in this room, which eventually served to level the playing field for women in politics.

For more information, see the House History website.