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Spring Comes to the Senate

May 12, 1920

Charles Thomas

For many years, the Senate noted the arrival of spring with a poetic speech of welcome by Senator Robert C. Byrd. While Senator Byrd faithfully followed the calendar, senators in the early twentieth century heralded that season by following the habits of a junior senator from Colorado named Charles Thomas.

A native of Georgia, Thomas had moved in 1871 to Colorado where he built a successful practice as an attorney for lead mining interests. Although he became chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, Thomas’ acerbic manner and unconventional views frustrated his highest political ambition: a seat in the United States Senate. Refusing to be discouraged, he ran in three contests over a period of 24 years, losing each one. Finally, in 1913, at the age of 63, he achieved his goal.

When Thomas reached Washington in January, his new colleagues took note of his rich, full head of hair. Then, several months later, as the month of April brought the year’s first spring-like weather, Thomas did something that shocked many senators. He appeared in the Senate quite bald.

As a young man, Thomas had become prematurely bald. Sensitive to cold drafts, he donned a lush toupee during winter months, retiring the headpiece when the weather turned warm. On what he considered the right day in April 1913, Thomas packed his toupee in moth balls and headed off to work. When he reached the Senate Chamber, a doorkeeper blocked his way, explaining that only senators were allowed inside. Thomas responded, “But my friend, I have a right here. I am Senator Thomas of Colorado.” No sir, you couldn’t be,” said the doorkeeper. "Senator Thomas has a wonderful head of hair.” At that moment, Thomas spied his state’s other senator, who readily vouched for him.

As Thomas entered the chamber, Illinois Senator J. Hamilton Lewis rose to call attention to an event on a par with the sighting of the first robin of spring. Others joined in, establishing a tradition that lasted for the remainder of Thomas’ years in the Senate.

Each spring, newspapers ran accounts similar to one that appeared in the May 12, 1920, New York Times. “At two minutes past twelve o’clock noon today, Spring arrived in the Senate Chamber. At that hour, Senator Thomas of Colorado came in without his wig.” After that, senators could safely go out and purchase their Palm Beach suits and straw hats.