Completed in 1859, the Senate Chamber has retained an intimacy characteristic of a 19th-century legislative hall, as it simultaneously evolved to meet the needs of modern legislators. In 1861, just two years after the Senate first occupied its new chamber, carefully crafted compromises designed to preserve the Union collapsed. During the early months of the Civil War the new chamber served as temporary soldiers' quarters. In this chamber occurred many notable Senate "firsts." Hiram Revels of Mississippi was the first African American to take the Senate oath of office here in 1870, and Rebecca Felton of Georgia became the first female member in 1922. Here the Senate conducted two presidential impeachment trials, for Andrew Johnson in 1868, and William Clinton in 1999. On June 2, 1986, CSPAN began televised broadcasts of Senate floor proceedings. Today, mahogany desks, snuff boxes, and spittoons from the earlier era coexist with microphones, computers, and television cameras, linking today's senators to their historic predecessors. Senators of the 19th century would no doubt be surprised at the diversity of the modern membership and intrigued by the technological advances, but there remains much that they would recognize.
Historical information provided by the Senate Historical Office.