Skip Content
U.S. Flag
  
  

Senate Stories


Subscribe

Welcome to Senate Stories, our new Senate history blog. This blog features stories that reveal the depth and breadth of Senate history from the well-known and notorious to the unusual and whimsical. Presented to enlighten, amuse, and inform, Senate Stories explores the forces, events, and personalities that have shaped the modern Senate.

For more notable moments in Senate history, please visit our Historical Highlights collection.

Sort
Director Otto Preminger and Crew in the Senate Caucus Room, Russell Senate Office Building 202110 5Hollywood on the Hill: The Filming of "Advise and Consent"
October 5, 2021
In the fall of 1961, two worlds collided when a Hollywood film crew arrived at the U.S. Capitol to film Advise and Consent, a movie based on Washington correspondent Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a bitter Senate confirmation battle. Director Otto Preminger brought to the Hill an all-star cast, a crew of more than 150 people, and a lot of commotion.

In the fall of 1961, two worlds collided when a Hollywood film crew arrived at the U.S. Capitol to film Advise and Consent, a movie based on Washington correspondent Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a bitter Senate confirmation battle. Director Otto Preminger brought to the Hill an all-star cast, a crew of more than 150 people, and a lot of commotion. "There's more excitement on Capitol Hill about the soon-to-be filming of 'Advise and Consent' . . . than about the long anticipated adjournment [of Congress]," the Washington Post reported. "Nearly everyone . . . on Capitol Hill is getting into the picture one way or another.”1 The star-studded cast included Franchot Tone as the president, Lew Ayres as the vice president, Henry Fonda as the controversial secretary of state nominee (whose character lied about a youthful flirtation with communism), Walter Pidgeon as the Senate majority leader, and Charles Laughton as the president pro tempore, with other roles portrayed by Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Gene Tierney, and George Grizzard. Adding to the public intrigue, and much speculation in Washington, was the fact that some of the characters in Drury's novel were based on real-life politicians. Grizzard’s character, for example, was loosely based upon Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Actress Betty White made her feature film debut playing the film’s only female senator, a character based upon Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith.2 When Preminger and his film crew arrived on Capitol Hill, Washington socialites, Capitol Hill staff, members of the press, and even senators quickly found themselves a part of the action both on and off camera. “Scores of Senators' secretaries have been signed up to play themselves in the film and can hardly wait for the Senate to adjourn so they can begin their movie career,” noted one reporter. Preminger hired hundreds of extras, including socially prominent Washingtonians, to stage a key party scene filmed at the palatial Washington estate Tregaron. Members of the Washington press corps were hired to recreate the annual White House Correspondents Dinner at the Sheraton-Park Hotel. Former senator Guy Gillette of Iowa landed a role as a fictional senator, as did Arizona’s former senator, 87-year-old Henry Ashurst, who was cast as an elderly senator with a habit of dozing off during proceedings. Washington senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson played himself in the party scene.3 To ensure authenticity, the filmmakers brought in Allen Drury as technical advisor and consulted other experts, including Senate staff. Ruth Young Watt, chief clerk of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, recalled in an oral history interview being asked to come in on a Saturday morning to advise the movie crew on setting up the large Caucus Room in the Old Senate Office Building (now called the Russell Senate Office Building) for a hearing. When she arrived, she was informed that they planned to have her in the scene as a clerk working at the nomination hearing, but she declined. The film’s director instead cast her colleague Gladys Montier in the role.4 Preminger was permitted unprecedented access to many spaces throughout the Capitol complex. Filming took place in the Senate Press Gallery, the Capitol corridors outside the gallery of the Senate Chamber, the old Senate subway, and inside the Old Senate Office Building. Remaining off limits, however, was the Senate’s Chamber. A long-standing Senate rule prohibited filming in that historic space. Fortunately, Preminger had a remarkably accurate replica at his disposal. Back in the 1930s, when director Frank Capra was similarly denied permission to film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the Senate Chamber, he constructed an impressive reproduction on a Hollywood sound stage. Preminger brought Capra's old set out of storage, updated it to reflect the modern Chamber, and used the Hollywood set to shoot all Chamber scenes.5 While many on Capitol Hill were star-struck and enthusiastic about the making of the film, there were others who complained about the chaotic atmosphere. As cameras and equipment blocked streets and crowded the corridors of the Old Senate Office Building, senators, staff, and reporters found it difficult to go about their daily business. "In comes a company, lock, stock, and booms,” one person complained, “invading the Capitol and acting for all as though this exalted ground is merely another prop on sound stage seven.”6 As filming continued, events around town brought together Hollywood and Washington celebrities. At a cocktail party in the Senate Caucus Room, actor Charles Laughton chatted enthusiastically with Mississippi senator John Stennis, whose voice he had been studying for his role as a southern senator. "It's getting hard to tell a senator from an actor—and vice versa,” lamented Josephine Ripley of the Christian Science Monitor. “Not only that, even more confusing is the problem of deciding whether a Washington party is a party after all, or just a movie set.”7 To capture the action of Hollywood on the Hill, Washington’s Evening Star newspaper sent artist Lily Spandorf to create on-the-spot drawings. By the time Spandorf completed her assignment for the paper, she had become so enthralled by the movie-making process that she continued sketching throughout the duration of the Washington shoot. She produced more than 80 illustrations, depicting both the filming and the relaxed hours of waiting between takes. Her distinctive pen and ink drawings show Preminger and the actors at work in Washington and around the Capitol. Spandorf’s work caught the director's attention, and at his request her images were displayed at the Washington premiere of the film. “It was exciting and I loved every bit of it," Spandorf recalled. The U.S. Senate Commission on Art later acquired Spandorf’s sketches as a permanent addition to the U.S. Senate Collection.8 On March 20, 1962, senators attended a preview screening of Preminger's Advise and Consent at Washington's Trans-Lux Theater. The film became a box office success, but senators offered predictably mixed reviews. "Many thought it was 'good theater,' but . . . they seemed to agree they were not quite looking into a mirror," the New York Times reported. "We're much more complicated than that," Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy complained. His fellow Minnesotan, Hubert Humphrey, added, "It was good theatre and good drama. If anyone wants a totally accurate reflection of the Senate, he can ask for a newsreel."9 Although it was a thrilling experience, the filming of Advise and Consent proved to be the last time a motion picture production crew was allowed largely uninhibited access to Senate spaces. The disruption of Senate work and other ongoing distractions prompted the Senate to refuse subsequent requests and eventually adopt rules that restrict filming and prohibit commercial use of Senate spaces unless authorized by resolution. Nevertheless, the movie captured a unique moment in time. Today, it serves as a mid-20th century time capsule of Senate history, illustrating through Preminger’s carefully constructed and edited video footage what life was like on Capitol Hill in the 1960s.10
Notes
1. Marie Smith, “Senators Won't Be in the Show, But Their Aides Will Be,” Washington Post, August 27, 1961, F5. 2. Robert C. Byrd, “The Senate in Literature and Film,” in The Senate, 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, vol. 2, ed. Wendy Wolff, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991), 487. 3. Smith, “Senators Won't Be in the Show, But Their Aides Will Be.”; Betty Beale, "Capitalites Play Themselves in Film," Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), September 22, 1961, C-4; Eugene Archer Washington, "Cinema Congress: Capitol Sites, Sounds Serve 'Advise' Film," Washington Post, October 1, 1961, X7. 4. Washington, "Cinema Congress"; “Ruth Young Watt, Chief Clerk, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, 1948–1979," Oral History Interviews, July 19 to November 9, 1979, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C. 5. Byrd, The Senate, 1789–1989, 487. 6. "Capitol Stardust," Roll Call, September 20, 1961, 4. 7. Isabelle Shelton, “Celebrities Meet Celebrities: Women's National Press Club Is Host to Actors,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), September 13, 1961, C-1; Josephine Ripley, "The Senate Meets Itself: An Intimate Message From Washington," Christian Science Monitor, September 16, 1961, 14. 8. Amy Keller, "'Advise and Consent' Exhibit Features First and Only Hollywood Movie Allowed to Be Filmed in the Capitol," Roll Call, September 30, 1999, 35–36. 9. "60 Senators Caucus at 'Advise' Preview," New York Times, March 22, 1962, 42; "'Advise and Consent,'" New York Times, May 13, 1962, SM36. 10. Keller, "'Advise and Consent' Exhibit"; Mike Canning, “Through a Dome Darkly: The Capitol as Symbol, Touchstone, and Admonition in American Film,” The Capitol Dome 55, no. 2 (2018): 5–6.
Signing of the Constitution, by Howard Chandler Christy 202109 17Constitution Day 2021: Mixed Government, Bicameralism, and the Creation of the U.S. Senate
September 17, 2021
Drawing on ideas from ancient philosophers and Enlightenment thinkers, as well as recent experiences in crafting new state governments, the framers of the Constitution believed a bicameral legislature was crucial to creating and maintaining a stable republic. In particular, many of the framers argued that the key to a government that served the public good and protected the liberty of free citizens lay in the creation of a senate, which James Madison characterized as “the great anchor of the government.”
Categories: Constitution

When the framers of the Constitution gathered in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they debated for months about how the new national legislature would be organized and function. How would its members be chosen and what qualifications would they have to fulfill? How large would the legislature be, and what would be the basis of its representation? What powers would it exercise? While these questions remained unsettled for weeks, the delegates in Philadelphia did enjoy a broad consensus on one aspect of the new Congress: it would be composed of two distinct bodies, a house and a senate. Drawing on ideas from ancient philosophers and Enlightenment thinkers, as well as recent experiences in crafting new state governments, the framers of the Constitution believed a bicameral legislature was crucial to creating and maintaining a stable republic. In particular, many of the framers argued that the key to a government that served the public good and protected the liberty of free citizens lay in the creation of a senate, which James Madison characterized as “the great anchor of the government.”1 In creating a senate, the framers were heavily influenced by the idea of mixed government, a concept rooted in ancient Greece and Rome. In the 4th century BCE, the philosopher Plato characterized three rival forms of government: monarchy (rule by the one), aristocracy (rule by the few), and democracy (rule by the many). Each system, in Plato’s view, could result in power wielded unjustly. Monarchy could turn into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into mob rule and anarchy. Although each order had its strengths—the monarchy energy, the aristocracy wisdom, and the people honesty—Plato posited that the best government was a mixed one that would balance the three social orders, with each exercising equal power in the process of making laws.2 American political thinkers of the revolutionary era frequently referenced classical history and philosophy and expressed the belief that a stable republic rested on the principles of mixed government. In 1772 John Adams, the most influential proponent of this idea, wrote, “The best Governments of the World have been mixed. The Republics of Greece, Rome, and Carthage were all mixed governments.” Adams and others did not have to look back to antiquity, however, to find a model of mixed government. For many, Britain provided the ideal system, with a monarch, the aristocratic House of Lords, and the democratic House of Commons. Americans understood their own colonial governments in a similar way, with power shared among a royal governor, a small advisory council, and an assembly elected by the colonists. If the British system had failed, many argued, it was because the balance among these orders had been destroyed—the king had corrupted Parliament and the colonial governments. As Americans created new state governments in the 1770s, their mission became “to correct the errors and defects” that plagued the British system.3 Proponents of mixed government argued that the stability of a republic required two separate legislative bodies. “I think a people cannot be long free, nor ever happy,” John Adams wrote, “whose government is in one Assembly.” The upper house had traditionally represented the aristocracy, but the United States lacked a titled nobility based on heredity and wealth. Many of the framers of state constitutions believed this role could be filled by a “natural aristocracy,” individuals who, in their view, possessed superior talents that brought them property and prominence. William Hooper of North Carolina, debating the constitution of his state in 1776, argued that in a single assembly, “A Warmth of Zeal may lead [representatives] into errors which a more cool, dispassionate enquiry may discover and rectify.” That dispassionate enquiry would come from those “selected for their Wisdom, remarkable Integrity, or that weight which arises from property and gives Independence and Impartiality to the human mind.” Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania conceded in 1777 that the United States had “no artificial distinctions of men into noblemen and commoners,” but surely the states had individuals of “superior degrees of industry and capacity” that have “introduced natural distinctions of rank.”4 Ten of the original 13 states established bicameral legislatures with an upper house, identified either as a council or a senate. To establish these upper houses as distinct from the general assemblies, most states adopted higher property qualifications for those elected to the senate. Some states limited voting for senators to those with greater property. Maryland provided for indirect election of senators by a group of electors rather than by the people.5 In the decade leading up to the federal constitutional convention, states that had not sufficiently balanced their democratic assemblies became a target of criticism. In his 1784 Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson complained that the Virginia senate was not designed to attract a different class of people from the assembly. “The senate is, by its constitution, too homogenous with the house of delegates. Being chosen by the same electors, at the same time, and out of the same subjects, the choice falls of course to men of the same description.” Jefferson argued that the two houses ought to “introduce the influence of different interests or different principles,” just as the British relied on the Commons for “honesty” and the Lords for “wisdom.” James Madison, in his Vices of the Political System of the United States, written in 1787 in anticipation of the constitutional convention, criticized the caliber of the individuals serving in state legislatures and accused them of passing “vicious legislation” that “prove[d] a want of wisdom” and threatened property rights. Pennsylvania’s powerful unicameral legislature received the most criticism. Rush called the Pennsylvania government “absurd” and an invitation to “mob government.”6 When the delegates to the federal convention arrived in Philadelphia, therefore, many of them were already convinced that the national government required a bicameral legislature to bring balance to what Virginia’s Edmund Randolph called the “turbulence and follies of democracy.” At the convention, some of the delegates went further, hoping to create a Senate that empowered America’s elite. John Dickinson of Delaware wanted the Senate “to consist of the most distinguished characters, distinguished for their rank in life and their weight of property, and bearing as strong a likeness to the House of Lords as possible.” Alexander Hamilton argued that society was naturally divided into the few and the many, and that each should have control over a portion of the government to prevent one from tyrannizing the other. He called for a Senate with members appointed to lifelong terms to allow the few to check the democratic passions of the many. Others argued that senators should earn no salary so as to attract only the wealthiest Americans.7 Although the completed Constitution submitted to the states for ratification stopped well short of creating an American House of Lords, it did set the Senate apart from the House in important ways. State legislatures would elect senators, thus producing the filter that framers believed necessary to select individuals with wisdom and independence. Longer terms of service for senators than for members of the House of Representatives as well as staggered elections would contribute to greater stability in the Senate, balancing the more democratic and ever-changing House. While the Constitution did not include property requirements for serving as a senator, jettisoning one of the ways in which states had identified the natural aristocracy, it did require senators to be older and have been naturalized citizens for longer than the members of the House. Despite these stricter qualifications for senators, those who opposed the Constitution during ratification debates charged that the new government lacked the balance required of a proper mixed government. They argued that the proposed bicameral Congress placed power too distant from the people and laid the foundation for oligarchy. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, writing as the Federal Farmer, believed that members of both the House and Senate would represent “an ever artful aristocracy.” The individuals in both houses would be too similar and too far removed from the “middling classes.” “The partitions between the two branches,” Lee held, “will be merely those of the building in which they sit.”8 Supporters of the Constitution applauded the separation of powers as defined in the new Constitution and embodied in the Senate. James Madison contended that the nation was not made up of rival social orders, nor did parts of the government represent distinct social orders. Each department of the government—legislative, executive, and judicial—derived its power from the people. That power was separated to prevent “those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all powers of government in the same hands.” The legislative power was divided between “different bodies of men, who might watch and check each other” and thus “doubles the security of the people.” Madison acknowledged that the new Congress, especially the Senate, would be removed from the people, but he argued that this was the genius of the system. “In all civilized Countries,” he wrote,” the people fall into [many] different classes having a real or supposed difference of interests.” Congress’s purpose, Madison suggested, was to provide a forum wherein deliberation would allow representatives of the people to transcend narrow interests and arrive at laws that would serve the public good. The Senate, made up of “enlightened citizens,” was “necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions” and would produce “the cool and deliberate sense of the community.” A sound government, he argued, required an “anchor against popular fluctuations.”9 The U.S. Senate is the product of political concepts both ancient and modern, reflecting established ideas about mixed government while pointing to new ways of thinking about the relationship between the people and their government. The Senate as established by the Constitution was created in an era of social and political transformation, and the beliefs about its role in the American system of government would continue to evolve. Over the next 233 years, the Senate moved farther away from its mixed government roots as the nation expanded, democratic sentiment grew among the people, and more groups demanded full participation in their government. The U.S. Senate continued, however, as a forum for deliberation and has remained a source of stability in an ever-changing nation.
Notes
1. "James Madison to Thomas Jefferson," October 24, 1787, in Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, eds., The Founders’ Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), Volume 1, Chapter 17, Document 22, accessed September 9, 2021, https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch17s22.html. 2. Carl J. Richard, “The Classical Roots of the U.S. Congress,” in Kenneth R. Bowling and Donald R. Kennon, Inventing Congress: Origins and Establishment of the First Federal Congress (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994), 3–7; David J. Bederman, The Classical Foundations of the American Constitution: Prevailing Wisdom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 15–16. 3. John Adams, “Notes for an Oration at Braintree, Spring 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed September 9, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-02-02-0002-0002-0001; Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 197–214; Daniel Wirls and Stephen Wirls, The Invention of the United States Senate (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 11–38; Elaine K. Swift, The Making of an American Senate: Reconstitutive Change in Congress, 1787–1841 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 23–26. 4. "John Adams, Thoughts on Government," April 1776, in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 4, Document 5, accessed September 9, 2021, https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch4s5.html, quoted in Richard, “Classical Roots,” 12; "Benjamin Rush, Observations upon the Present Government of Pennsylvania," 1777, in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 12, Document 8, accessed September 9, 2021, https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch12s8.html, quoted in Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 246. 5. Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 213–14. 6. "Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia," 1784, in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 12, Document 11, accessed September 9, 2021, https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch12s11.html; James Madison, “Vices of the Political System of the United States, April 1787,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-09-02-0187; Benjamin Rush to Anthony Wayne, May 19, 1777, in L. H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), 1:114–15, quoted in Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 233. 7. "Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention, Thursday, June 7, 1787," Avalon Project, Yale Law School Goldman Law Library, accessed on September 9, 2021, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/debates_607.asp; Alexander Hamilton, “Constitutional Convention, Speech on a Plan of Government, James Madison’s Version, [18 June 1787],” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-04-02-0098-0003; Richard, “Classical Roots,” 20–21. 8. "Federal Farmer, no. 11, January 10, 1788," in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 11, Document 12, accessed September 9, 2021, https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch11s12.html; "Federal Farmer, no. 4," October 12, 1787, in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 4, Article 5, Document 5, accessed September 9, 2021, https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a5s5.html; Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 483–99. 9. Jack Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York: Knopf, 1996), 228–39; “Term of the Senate, [26 June] 1787,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0044; James Madison, “The Federalist Number 48, [1 February] 1788,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0269; Madison, “The Federalist Number 10, [22 November] 1787,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0178; Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 430–67; James Madison, “The Federalist No. 62, [27 February 1788],” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-04-02-0212; Madison, “The Federalist Number 63, [1 March] 1788,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0312.
Photo of Vice President Charles Curtis 202108 2Cooling Off the Senate
August 2, 2021
Washington, D.C., has evolved over the last two centuries from a collection of wetlands, farms, and sparsely developed tracts of land into a world-class city with a diverse population, vibrant neighborhoods, numerous religious centers, and terrific restaurants, museums, theaters, and music venues—a fitting host for our nation’s government. There is one complaint lodged against Washington, D.C., however, that has not changed since it was designated as the U.S. capital more than 200 years ago: the summer heat. How to handle Washington’s often stifling heat and humidity has been a perennial challenge for the U.S. Senate.

Washington, D.C., has evolved over the last two centuries from a collection of wetlands, farms, and sparsely developed tracts of land into a world-class city with a diverse population, vibrant neighborhoods, numerous religious centers, and terrific restaurants, museums, theaters, and music venues—a fitting host for our nation’s government. There is one complaint lodged against Washington, D.C., however, that has not changed since it was designated as the U.S. capital more than 200 years ago: the summer heat. How to handle Washington’s often stifling heat and humidity has been a perennial challenge for the U.S. Senate. Lawmakers of the 19th century were usually away from the capital during the hottest months of the year. Until adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, Congress convened in December, typically stayed in session for six or seven months, and then adjourned sine die in June or early July. Short second sessions convened in December and adjourned in March.1 Complaints from lawmakers in the 1840s about the ineffective heating and cooling of the Capitol led supervising engineer Captain Montgomery Meigs to focus on improved ventilation during construction of the new wings of the Capitol in the 1850s. The Senate wing, featuring a new windowless Chamber, opened in 1859, equipped with large steam-engine powered fans to draw in outside air and push it up through registers in the floor. This system proved to be insufficient. In their first summer session there, during June 1860, senators complained of the hot, stale air in the Chamber. If not for the pressing business of the Civil War, the Senate might have adopted proposals to knock down walls and extend the Chamber to the building’s outside perimeter to allow access to open windows. An 1865 report identified the glass ceiling of the Chamber as a major source of excessive heat. The stained glass allowed the sun’s rays to penetrate and heat the room, and in the evening the gas lights that illuminated the room pushed the temperature even higher. Making matters worse, the air sucked into the building tended to be dirty and dusty, as it was drawn from ground-level inlets on the Capitol terrace.2 In 1872 the Senate once again considered plans to rebuild the Chamber. Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York was adamant about the need for a change. “Who ever heard of putting men or animals in a box inside a building,” he asked, “shut out on every hand from the outer air.” Nevertheless, the Senate only approved minor changes to the ventilation system. In 1889 a stone tower was built on the Capitol grounds to increase the volume of air brought into the Senate wing, relatively free of the dirt and dust brought in by ground-level intakes.3 These changes helped to purify the air but did little to keep the Chamber cool, which was especially problematic during years when sessions continued into August. In the late 19th century, for example, the mid-summer heat wreaked havoc on the Senate’s sartorial decorum. Newspaper reporters complained about the many lawmakers who went without a vest or jacket in the halls and cloakrooms. “Dignity has gone to the wind,” wrote one correspondent. A jacket was required on the Chamber floor, and some turned to linen suits to stay cool. Reporters observed that members of both the House and the Senate took great advantage of the marble bathtubs in the Capitol basement to refresh themselves.4 In 1890 the Capitol gained electricity, and with it came a new tool for fighting the summer heat. Electric fans were placed strategically in Capitol hallways, often blowing over blocks of ice to cool the air. Some suggested using giant blocks of ice to cool the Chamber itself, but an 1895 report on Chamber ventilation by engineer S. H. Woodbridge, commissioned by the Senate Rules Committee, pointed out that cooling 600,000 cubic feet of air from 95 to 80 degrees would require melting 1,150 pounds of ice. Woodbridge also reported that “the air so cooled would be more uncomfortable and dangerous than the hotter air of 95 degrees because of its excessive humidity.” To remedy that problem would require cooling a ton of ice per hour.5 The Senate again turned to new technology for a solution. In 1895 senators approved a major renovation of the Chamber’s ventilation system, installing new fans beneath the Chamber and a refrigerant machine that promised to deliver cooled air to both senators on the floor and visitors seated in the galleries. This system also proved to be inefficient, however, cooling the air by no more than five degrees. In 1910 the Bureau of Standards of the Department of Commerce and Labor developed a method for removing humidity from the air using a calcium chloride solution pumped through radiator pipes. In 1912 Congress appropriated funds to put this refrigerator system in place, but the plan was scrapped after the superintendent of the Capitol reported that installation required dramatic changes to the existing ventilation system with a cost dramatically higher than Congress anticipated.6 By the early 20th century, the Senate Chamber had gained the reputation of a death trap. Between 1916 and 1924, 22 incumbent senators died. When Senator Royal Copeland of New York, a practicing physician and former commissioner of the New York City Board of Health, took office in 1923, he blamed the poor quality of the Chamber’s air for the deaths. Copeland introduced a resolution directing Capitol officials to consult with leading architects to develop a plan to improve conditions in the Chamber. The Senate approved Copeland’s resolution in June 1924 as the increasingly warm late-spring days again called attention to this perennial problem. Another 12 senators died in office over the next four years.7 The firm of Carrere & Hastings, designers of the Senate Office Building that opened in 1909, revived the idea of removing several walls to extend the Chamber to the Capitol's northern exterior wall. In removing these interior walls, the Senate would have to sacrifice the Marble Room (a popular senators-only gathering spot), the President's Room, and the vice president's formal office, but it would provide windows to the outside world that senators had pined for since the Chamber opened in 1859. In April 1928 Copeland, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, succeeded in adding $500,000 to an appropriations bill for reconstructing the Senate Chamber. Copeland’s plan was not the only one under consideration. The House, in its version of the bill, proposed funding to allow the Architect of the Capitol to accept bids for “an improved and modern system . . . for conditioning the air” of the Hall of the House and the Senate Chamber. The final bill included both appropriations, but only one plan came to fruition. In 1928 the Carrier Corporation won the contract to install in the Chambers of the House and Senate a new technological innovation, which it called "manufactured weather." The system was installed in the Hall of the House in December 1928 and work began on the Senate Chamber early the following year. By August 1929, in the midst of an unusually long session, the Senate had its first air-conditioning system. With the new system in place, the Architect of the Capitol dropped the plan to redesign the Chamber.8 Between 1935 and 1939, air-conditioning was expanded to the rest of the Capitol and to the Senate Office Building. “Summer work,” a reporter commented, “is no longer the broiling death-dealing business for elder Congressmen that it used to be.” Air-conditioning in the Capitol and the office buildings meant, according to another reporter, that lawmakers were “privileged to wave their arms or pound their typewriters or evolve masterpieces of statecraft in relative comfort.”9 Yet even this air-conditioning system proved inadequate for the hottest days, due in part to the Chamber’s glass ceiling (which was finally removed in a 1949 renovation). Plus, no matter how well cooled the Capitol was, senators still had to contend with the city’s summertime climate outside the building. Few members of Congress lived in air-conditioned homes at this time, which made the air-cooled Senate Chamber a double-edged sword. As one writer opined, walking outside or into a non-air-conditioned building became “twice as oppressive.” Some members fled the city, such as a group of five senators who rented a bachelor pad in Bethesda, Maryland, during the summer of 1929 to escape the heat of the city while their wives were out of town.10 Still, the air-conditioning led to a much more comfortable environment in the Capitol, and it had arrived just in time. Adoption of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution in 1933, which moved the start date of each congressional session to January, meant that long Senate sessions lasting well into summer were about to become much more common.
Notes
1. For session dates, see https://www.senate.gov/legislative/DatesofSessionsofCongress.htm. 2. William C. Allen, History of the U.S. Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Structures, and Politics (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001), 361; Congressional Globe, 36th Cong. 1st sess., May 19, 1860, 2191. 3. Congressional Globe, 42nd Cong., 2nd sess., June 7, 1872, 4353, quoted in Allen, History of the U.S. Capitol, 364; Joint Select Committee on the Senate Chamber and the Hall of the House of Representatives, Improvement of the Halls of Congress, S. Rep. 38-128, 38th Cong. 2nd sess., February 20, 1865, 6; Glenn Brown, Glenn Brown's History of the United States Capitol (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Capitol Preservation Commission, 1994; originally published 1900), 419. 4. “Reed’s Giddy Suit,” Boston Globe, July 20, 1890, 24. 5. Senate Committee on Rules, Report on the Heating and Ventilation of the Senate Wing of the United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., S. Rep. 54-713, 54th Cong., 1st sess., December 14, 1895, 15; Brown, Glenn Brown's History of the United States Capitol, 423; “Thermometer Reached 100 Degrees in the Shade,” Baltimore Sun, June 24, 1894, 2. 6. “Senate Chamber Transformed,” Hartford Courant, November 30, 1896, 6; “Try New Device to Cool Capitol,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 22, 1910, 14; “Refrigerated Air for Congressmen,” Boston Daily Globe, August 18, 1912, SM-5; Ventilation of the Senate Chamber, S. Doc. 62-1061, 62nd Cong, 3rd sess., February 3, 1913; Refrigerating Apparatus, United States Capitol, H. Doc. 62-1419, 62nd Cong., 3rd sess., February 24, 1913. 7. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Establishment Appropriation Bill, 1929: Hearing on H.R. 12875, 70th Cong., 1st sess., March 13, 1928, 1. 8. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Appropriation Bill, 1929, S. Rep. 70-857, 70th Cong., 1st sess., April 21, 1928; An Act Making appropriations for the Legislative Branch of the Government for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1929, Public Law 70-386, 70th Cong, 1st sess., May 14, 1928, 45 Stat. 526; Joseph M. Siry, Air-Conditioning in Modern American Architecture, 1890–1970 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2021), 84–91; Allen, History of the U.S. Capitol, 401–3. 9. Siry, Air-Conditioning in Modern American Architecture, 91–92; “Congressmen Go To Work in Capitol to Keep Cool,” Boston Globe, July 9, 1939, C3. 10. “Five Senators Take House for Summer Place,” Washington Post, June 3, 1929, 7.
Charles Mathias (R-MD) and Frank Church (D-ID), co-chairs of the Senate Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency, pictured with committee staff, 1973 202107 1Reasserting Checks and Balances: The National Emergencies Act of 1976
July 1, 2021
In 1973 the Senate assigned a herculean task to a small temporary committee. The Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency (renamed the Special Committee on National Emergencies and Delegated Emergency Powers in 1974), co-chaired by Democrat Frank Church of Idaho and Republican Charles Mathias of Maryland, would investigate outdated emergency powers granted to presidents by Congress in the previous half century. The inquiry’s surprising findings convinced Congress to pass the National Emergencies Act of 1976.

In 1973 the Senate assigned a herculean task to a small temporary committee. The Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency (renamed the Special Committee on National Emergencies and Delegated Emergency Powers in 1974), co-chaired by Democrat Frank Church of Idaho and Republican Charles Mathias of Maryland, would investigate outdated emergency powers granted to presidents by Congress in the previous half century. The inquiry’s surprising findings convinced Congress to pass the National Emergencies Act of 1976. The story of this obscure Senate committee begins with the Vietnam War. In 1968 Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon pledged to end the war if elected. In the spring of 1970, however, President Nixon secretly expanded the war into Cambodia—without congressional approval. Weeks later, Nixon announced the expansion of the war into Cambodia on national television. The administration’s actions infuriated many senators, especially Frank Church, a long-time Vietnam War critic. Church drafted a proposal—later known as the Cooper-Church amendment—to prevent congressionally appropriated funds from being used in Cambodia. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird quickly rendered this effort moot. If Congress halted funding for the Cambodia effort, Laird warned, the Pentagon would fund the operation under the emergency provisions of a Civil War-era law called the Feed and Forage Act. With that law, Congress had granted the U.S. Cavalry the authority to purchase feed for its horses if previously appropriated money had run out while Congress was not in session. Laird explained that the provision had been used in 1958 in Lebanon and in 1961 in Berlin to fund U.S. military actions.1 The administration’s ability to circumvent Congress under the authority of a century-old law troubled Church. He had developed a reputation among his colleagues as a checks and balances proselytizer, routinely sermonizing that growing executive power threatened the health of constitutional government. When Nixon’s predecessor, Democrat Lyndon Johnson, occupied the White House, Democratic majorities in Congress felt little urgency to limit the powers of a president of their own party, and Church’s homilies fell on deaf ears, but the Nixon administration’s invasion of Cambodia converted some of Church’s colleagues to his cause. One of them, Republican Charles “Mac” Mathias of Maryland, insisted that Congress had a role to play in holding every president accountable—regardless of party. On January 6, 1973, the Senate created the Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency. Church and Mathias would lead the inquiry, joined by six colleagues and a small committee staff. Identifying the powers that Congress had conferred on presidents during times of emergency proved to be a complex task. In the pre-personal computer era, searching hundreds of printed government publications for delegated emergency powers was extraordinarily time-consuming. After months of digging, committee staff learned that the U.S. Air Force maintained a searchable list of statutes on a computer in Colorado. Using that database and other published paper sources, investigators painstakingly compiled a list of 470 powers that Congress had granted to presidents in the previous 50 years during times of crisis, such as depression or war. “Taken together, these hundreds of statutes clothe the president with virtually unlimited power with which he can affect the lives of American citizens in a host of all-encompassing ways,” Church wrote, including seizing property and commodities, instituting martial law, and controlling transportation and communication. Though these crises had ended, Congress had not officially cancelled or revoked the powers it had granted to administrations to address them. As the Nixon administration had demonstrated, presidents could exercise these powers without congressional approval. Four national emergencies remained in effect—including one on the books since 1933! “It may be news to most Americans,” explained one Washington Post reporter, that “we have been living for at least 40 years under a state of emergency rule.”2 The committee’s investigation found that the legislative branch had rarely limited presidents’ emergency powers. The judicial branch, by contrast, had occasionally constrained those powers. For example, the Supreme Court firmly rebuffed President Harry Truman during the Korean War. The president had issued an executive order to seize control of some steel mills in 1952. Truman insisted that, as commander in chief, he had the authority to take action to avoid steel production slowdowns likely to be caused by an anticipated labor strike. The Court’s landmark decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer found that no law provided for the president to seize control of private property. Associate Justice Robert Jackson wrote that presidents enjoyed maximum power when they worked under the express or implied authority of Congress, but presidents who took steps explicitly at odds with the wishes of Congress worked “at [the] lowest ebb” of their constitutional power.3 The committee’s exhaustive research as well as several high-profile congressional investigations, including the Senate Watergate inquiry of 1973–74, convinced many in Congress that the time had come to reassert congressional checks and balances. The House introduced the National Emergencies Act in 1975 and the Senate passed a slightly amended version of that bill by voice vote in August 1976. The House agreed to the Senate’s amended bill, and President Gerald Ford signed the National Emergencies Act into law on September 14, 1976. The new law ended four existing states of emergency and instituted accountability and reporting requirements for future emergencies.4
Notes
1. Frank Church, “Ending Emergency Government,” American Bar Association Journal 63 (February 1977): 197–99. 2. “Bill Miller, Staff Director, Church Committee," Oral History Interview, May 5, 2014, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C.; Church, “Ending Emergency Government,” 197–99; Ronald Goldfarb, “The Permanent State of Emergency,” Washington Post, January 6, 1974, B1; Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency, Emergency Powers Statutes: Provisions of Federal Law Now in Effect Delegating to the Executive Extraordinary Authority in Time of National Emergency, S. Rep. 93-549, 93rd Cong., 1st sess., November 19, 1973. 3. "Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer," Oyez, accessed June 16, 2021, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1955/343us579. 4. “Major Congressional Action: National Emergencies,” Congressional Quarterly Almanac 32 (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, 1976): 521–22.
Senate Barbershop, ca.1937 202106 1Shaving and Saving: The Story of Bishop Sims
June 1, 2021
As a child, having been born into slavery in 1843, John Sims was forced to train the bloodhounds his master used to track runaway slaves. When the Civil War began in 1861, the teenaged Sims escaped bondage and fled north. When he died 73 years later, Sims was a beloved and well-known figure on Capitol Hill, a friend and confidant of some of the most powerful men in Washington. He is largely forgotten today, because John Sims wasn’t a powerful senator or a high-profile member of Capitol Hill staff—he was the Senate’s barber.

As a child, having been born into slavery in 1843, John Sims was forced to train the bloodhounds his master used to track runaway slaves. When the Civil War began in 1861, the teenaged Sims escaped bondage in his native South Carolina and fled north. When he died 73 years later, Sims was a beloved and well-known figure on Capitol Hill, a friend and confidant of some of the most powerful men in Washington. Despite his impressive rise from the bonds of slavery to the corridors of power, he is largely forgotten today. That’s because John Sims wasn’t a powerful senator or a high-profile member of Capitol Hill staff—he was the Senate’s barber.1 Sims’s dangerous flight to freedom landed him in the town of Oskaloosa in southeast Iowa. He arrived with no funds and no marketable skills, but he managed to find work in a barbershop. An apprenticeship followed and soon he was earning a living as a skilled barber. Then, in the mid-1880s, came the first of two fateful senatorial encounters—when Iowa senator William Boyd Allison got a haircut. Throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century, many Senate jobs were filled through patronage. Senator Allison, who chaired the Appropriations Committee, had plenty of patronage to give. He brought Sims to the Senate, where the barber’s tonsorial talents gained recognition. Sims “knows the whims [and] the vanities” of the Senate, reported the New York Times. His skill with shears and razor kept him employed long after his patron was gone, but it was Sims’s weekend job and a second notable encounter that brought him to public attention.2 John Sims moonlighted as a preacher at the Universal Church of Holiness in Washington, D.C. One day in 1916, Ohio senator (and future president) Warren G. Harding sat in the barber’s chair. “Sims,” he said, “I’m coming down next Sunday to hear you preach.” A few days later, to the surprise of the entirely African American congregation, Senator Harding attended the service. “He walked in by himself,” Sims recalled, “and took a seat near the middle of the church and waited until I was through.” When the service ended, Harding thanked Sims and returned to the Capitol to spread the news of the preaching talents of the Senate barber. A week later, Harding returned to the Universal Church of Holiness and brought several of his colleagues with him. As the years passed, more and more senators appeared. Vice Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Charles Dawes also attended. “From the North, from the South, from the East and the West they have come to hear me,” Sims explained. “And to think that I have come up from a lowly place of humility . . . to where I have the honor of preaching to those who are high in the nation’s affairs!” Sims insisted that he owed it all to Harding. “He started it all—and the Senators have been coming to hear me ever since.” The preaching barber became known as the “Bishop of the Senate.” His prayers, noteworthy for both length and fervor, also enlivened his official Senate duties. “[If] he thought the occasion required [it],” commented a reporter, Sims would “drop to his knees . . . in the midst of . . . a shave and pray with all his heart” for the senator sitting in his chair. In 1921, as the Senate prepared to vote for its next official chaplain, Senator Bert Fernald of Maine asked, “Can we vote for anybody who has not been placed in nomination?” With an affirmative answer to his question, he cast his vote for John Sims, although the post went to the Reverend Joseph J. Muir.3 Bishop Sims was strictly nonpartisan and loyally supported all of his patrons at election time. When two of his favorite Senate clients—Democrat Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas and Kansas Republican Charles Curtis—competed for the vice presidency in 1928, Sims fervently prayed for each to win their party’s nomination. His prayers were answered. The two men faced each other in the general election. “Who are you for [now],” Robinson asked the barber, “myself or Senator Curtis?” “I prayed for your nominations,” Sims replied diplomatically, but now “you gotta hustle for yourself.” John Sims achieved success, as barber and as preacher, but one cherished goal remained elusive—to pray in an open session of the Senate. “Sims cannot die happy unless he has had at least one chance to shrive the Senate,” reported the Baltimore Sun in 1928. “For many years he has been longing to be allowed to open one of the Senate sessions with a prayer.” That year, it looked as if the 85-year-old preacher’s wish would finally come true. With the second session of the 70th Congress set to convene in December, a senator pledged to invite him to give the daily prayer, but no record of such an occasion has been found. It seems that wish remained unfulfilled.4 Rising from slavery to become friend and confidant of senators, vice presidents, and presidents, John Sims remained on duty in the Senate barbershop until his death at age 91. Even after he retired from active barbering and served only as supervisor, he reported to work every day, preaching to the Senate community. Eventually, age and illness took their toll and kept Sims away from the Capitol, prompting senators to visit him at his home where they could still count on his advice and encouragement. “Don’t you worry,” Sims reassured Minnesota senator Henrik Shipstead during one of his visits to the sickbed, “I will be back in the barbershop in a couple of days.” When Sims passed away on March 29, 1934, Shipstead echoed many of his colleagues when he described the preaching barber as “the most beloved and popular man on Capitol Hill.”5 A reporter once asked Sims to explain the secret of his popularity among senators. I’m just “shaving and saving,” Sims responded. Give a good shave, and always preach salvation.6
Notes
1. “Senate Barber Preaches: Sermons of John Sims, Once a Slave, Are Heard by Many of His Tonsorial Patrons,” New York Times, September 5, 1926, 10. 2. “Rev. John Sims Has Shaved Four Decades of Senators,” New York Times, April 21, 1929, 150. 3. “Senate Barber Preaches: Sermons of John Sims, Once a Slave, Are Heard by Many of His Tonsorial Patrons,” 10; “Fernald Votes for Negro for Chaplain of Senate,” Boston Daily Globe, January 22, 1921, 12; “Odd Items from Everywhere,” Boston Daily Globe, December 14, 1923, 32. 4. “A Strange Ambition,” Baltimore Sun, July 2, 1928, 8; “Senate May Hear Negro Barber Pray at Session,” Washington Post, July 1, 1928, A10; “Aged Barber to Officiate over Senate,” Chicago Defender, July 21, 1928, A1; “Rev. John Sims Has Shaved Four Decades of Senators.” 5. “Bishop Sims,” South Carolina Genealogy Trails, accessed April 26, 2021, http://genealogytrails.com/scar/bio_bishop_sims.htm. 6. “Negro Barber’s Wish to Pray in U.S. Senate to Be Fulfilled,” Baltimore Sun, July 1, 1928, 13.
Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol, ca.1894 202105 3Senate Progressives vs. the Federal Courts
May 3, 2021
In the early 20th century, a group of progressive senators from midwestern and western states arrived in Washington committed to expanding the role of the federal government to address the economic and social challenges of industrialization. To accomplish these goals, they had to tackle another challenge—the power of the federal judiciary.

In the early 20th century, a group of progressive senators from midwestern and western states arrived in Washington committed to expanding the role of the federal government to address the economic and social challenges of industrialization. To accomplish these goals, they had to tackle another challenge—the power of the federal judiciary. Senate progressives like Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, William Borah of Idaho, George Norris of Nebraska, and Robert Owen of Oklahoma viewed the federal courts as a growing obstacle to their reformist agenda and worked to limit their power.1 Their top target was the United States Supreme Court. Under a broad interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and its guarantee of “due process of law,” the Supreme Court, beginning in the 1890s, used judicial review to an unprecedented extent in order to declare state laws unconstitutional. The Court weakened the power of state governments to regulate the rates of railroads and other public utilities. It struck down state laws regulating the wages and hours of workers, most famously in the 1905 case Lochner v. New York, in which the Court ruled that a law limiting the number of hours a baker could work was an infringement on a worker’s “liberty of contract.”2 The Supreme Court struck down federal laws as well. When Congress passed a law in 1916 banning child labor—a bill co-sponsored in the Senate by Robert Owen—the Court declared it unconstitutional two years later in the case of Hammer v. Dagenhart. In 1923 the Court also invalidated a federal law establishing a minimum wage for women in the District of Columbia.3 The progressives also had concerns about the actions of lower courts. When corporations challenged state regulations, federal district judges issued injunctions barring state officials from enforcing the laws. Federal judges handed down injunctions to stop labor unions from engaging in boycotts and certain strike tactics. District judges ordered the arrest of those who violated their injunctions for contempt of court. Labor leaders and progressive politicians denounced “government by injunction” and what they saw as an abuse of judicial power.4 Progressives, including those in the Senate, responded with proposals to make federal judges more accountable to the people. In 1911 Robert Owen proposed that a majority of both houses of Congress have the power to recall a judge and remove him from office. “The Federal judiciary has become the bulwark of privilege,” he stated in a 1911 speech, “and ought to be made immediately subject to legislative recall by the representatives of the people.” In 1918, after the Court struck down the federal ban on child labor in a 5-4 decision, Owen rejected the notion that a single judge could be the determining factor in nullifying “the matured public opinion of the country as expressed by Congress.” He introduced a new bill to reinstate the ban and included a provision to ban the Court from striking it down.5 Owen was not alone in his attacks on the Court. Similarly, William Borah saw closely divided decisions as “a matter of deep regret.” He introduced legislation in 1923 that would have required the support of at least seven of the nine justices on the Court to invalidate a statute. When the Court once again struck down a federal anti–child labor law in 1922, Robert La Follette condemned these “judicial usurpations” and called for a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to override the Supreme Court by simply re-passing any laws declared unconstitutional.6 Progressives made up a small coalition within the Senate in the 1920s, and while they did not have enough congressional support to pass their court proposals, they asserted what power they could. Progressive Republicans like Senators La Follette, Borah, and Hiram Johnson of California represented a small portion of the Senate’s Republican caucus and were often at odds with the caucus’s more powerful Old Guard members. This division became apparent by 1921 in the relationship between Senate progressives and Chief Justice William Howard Taft. La Follette had already battled with Taft while he was president and had helped to defeat Taft’s campaign for a second term in 1912. Subsequently, La Follette, Borah, and Johnson were three of the four senators to vote against Taft’s appointment to the Court in 1921. Along with Progressive Democrats like Owen and Thomas Walsh of Montana, they continued to frustrate Taft during his tenure as chief justice. Taft, who had served as a federal circuit judge in the 1890s and later defended the power of the courts as president of the American Bar Association in 1914, had his own goals for the federal judiciary. In his view, the problem with the courts was not judicial review or injunctions—he praised both as indispensable tools to protect property rights from political majorities. Rather, he believed that the federal courts needed to become more efficient in handling their rising caseloads, and this meant giving the chief justice “executive authority” over the lower courts. In 1922 Taft drafted a bill with Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty, introduced in the Senate by Taft ally Albert Cummins of Iowa, to create a conference of federal circuit judges headed by the chief justice that would gather caseload information from the lower courts. The legislation also proposed appointing a new group of at-large judges and giving the conference the power to send them to districts across the country with backlogs of cases.7 Progressive Republicans, along with many Democrats, were in no rush to strengthen the power of the chief justice over the judiciary, especially not that of the conservative Taft. George Norris even opposed the idea of judges gathering in Washington to be influenced by the chief justice. Norris used his time during the Senate debate over Taft’s bill to call for abolishing the lower federal courts altogether and returning jurisdiction to the state courts.8 The progressive Republicans joined forces with southern Democrats to oppose Taft’s plan. Senators jealously protected the influence they had in presidential nominations of district and circuit judges who would preside in their states. Southern senators argued that the chief justice would have power to send northern “carpet-bagging” judges to southern courts, possibly to enforce a proposed federal anti-lynching law under consideration in 1922. Tennessee Democrat John Shields—who resented Taft’s role in drafting the legislation in the first place—argued that the creation of at-large judges and the power to assign them to any district represented an infringement on the independence of district courts. Thaddeus Caraway of Arkansas objected to “giving to the Chief Justice the power to send out a horde of judges all over this country to designated places, concentrating in his power the whole judiciary system.” In the end, Taft got his Conference of Senior Circuit Judges but not the power to reassign what he called a “flying squadron” of judges.9 Taft chafed at Senate opposition, especially from those opponents who were members of his own party. He bemoaned that “being attacked by progressives” was “the penalty one has to pay for trying to reform matters.” Taft went so far as to lobby Republican Leader Henry Cabot Lodge to get senators more sympathetic to his proposals onto the Senate Judiciary Committee to counter Borah and Norris. He wrote to a fellow judge that the “yahoos of the West . . . were Republicans in getting on committees but not Republicans after they have succeeded.” Lodge, while sympathetic to the challenges posed by insurgents within the Republican ranks, politely rebuffed Taft.10 Senate progressives continued their efforts to curb the courts into the 1920s and even after Taft left the Court in 1930, winning victories with anti-injunction laws and defeating or delaying other elements of Taft’s plans. Norris was able to exert particular influence when he became chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1926. Progressives also succeeded in defeating the nomination of Judge John J. Parker to the Supreme Court in 1930 after raising objections to his anti-labor rulings and to his opposition to African American voting rights. Such victories were short-lived, however, as the flurry of legislation passed during the Great Depression ensured that the battle between Congress and the courts would continue for years to come.
Notes
1. William G. Ross, A Muted Fury: Populists, Progressives, and Labor Unions Confront the Courts, 1890–1937 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994). 2. Paul Kens, The Lochner Era: Economic Regulation on Trial (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998). 3. Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923). 4. William Forbath, Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991). 5. Judicial Recall, Address by Senator Robert L. Owen, S. Doc. 62-249, 62nd Cong., 2nd sess., January 11, 1912; Congressional Record, 65th Cong., 2nd sess., June 6, 1918, 7432–33. 6. William E. Borah, “Five to Four Decisions as Menace to Respect for Supreme Court,” New York Times, February 18, 1923, 21; Report of the Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor (Washington, D.C.: Law Reporter, 1922), 234–43; Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co., 259 U.S. 20 (1922). 7. William Howard Taft, “The Selection and Tenure of Judges,” Report of the 36th Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association (1913), 420–26; Daniel S. Holt, ed., Debates on the Federal Judiciary: A Documentary History, Volume 2, 1875–1939 (Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center, 2013), 180–96. 8. Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 2nd sess., April 6, 1922, 5107–14. 9. Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 2nd sess., March 31, 1922, 4848–49, 4855–65,; William Howard Taft, “Possible and Needed Reforms in Administration of Justice in Federal Courts,” American Bar Association Journal 8, no. 10 (October 1922): 601. 10. Taft to Hiscock, April 12, 1922, Taft to Lodge, January 17, 1922, Taft to Judge Baker, January 22, 1922, Taft to Robert Taft, April 5, 1924, Lodge to Taft, January 18, 1922, William Howard Taft Papers, Series 3: General Correspondence, 1877–1941, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
Senate Records Storage in the U.S. Capitol, April 1, 1937 202104 1Saving Senate Records
April 1, 2021
Today, records of Senate committees and administrative offices are routinely preserved at the Center for Legislative Archives, a division of the National Archives. This wasn’t always the case. For more than a century, precious documents were stashed in basement rooms and attic spaces. In 1927 a file clerk named Harold Hufford discovered a forgotten cache of records in the basement. Cautiously opening a door, he disturbed mice and roaches to find a document signed by Vice President John C. Calhoun. “I knew that the nation’s documents shouldn’t be treated like that,” Hufford remarked, and the modern era of Senate archiving was born.

Staff and visitors to the Senate may occasionally see carts containing gray manuscript boxes in the hallways of Senate office buildings. Very likely they are viewing Senate committee records on their way to or from the Center for Legislative Archives (CLA) at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Within NARA, the CLA is the custodian of thousands of linear feet of Senate textual records and terabytes of electronic data. Noncurrent Senate committee records are boxed up and sent to NARA when the committee no longer needs immediate access to the materials. And, once archived, these records are also loaned back to the Senate when needed for reference, and made available to scholars and researchers after a closure period of at least 20 years. While these and other Senate records have long been cared for and kept secure, in the long history of the Senate, it wasn’t always this way. In the Senate’s earliest days, the person responsible for safeguarding the ever-expanding collection of records—including bills, reports, handwritten journals, the Senate markup of the Bill of Rights, and George Washington's inaugural address—was Secretary of the Senate Samuel A. Otis. Sam Otis died in April 1814, just months before a contingent of British troops invaded the capital city and set fire to the White House, the Capitol, and other federal buildings. Fortunately, when word reached Washington on August 24, 1814, that British troops would soon occupy the city, Lewis Machen, a quick-thinking Senate clerk, and Tobias Simpson, a Senate messenger, hastily loaded boxes of priceless records onto a wagon and raced to the safety of the Maryland countryside. Nearly five years later, when the Senate returned to the reconstructed Capitol from temporary quarters, a new secretary of the Senate moved the records back into the building. With space at a premium in the Capitol, however, these founding-era documents, as well as those created in the remaining decades of the 19th century, ended up being stored in damp basements, humid attics, closets, and even behind Capitol walls. And those were the records that had been saved; countless documents had been lost or damaged over time, some falling victim to autograph hunters who snipped the signatures of presidents from their messages to Congress.1 The Senate’s records remained in this state until Secretary of the Senate Edwin P. Thayer, whose term began in 1925, found an original copy of the Monroe Doctrine in the Senate financial clerk's safe. This discovery sparked his interest in preserving additional Senate records that were scattered throughout the basement storerooms of the Capitol. In 1927 Thayer hired Harold E. Hufford, a young George Washington University law student, as a file clerk to find these dispersed and neglected materials and put them in order. Hufford famously recounted going down into the brick-lined rooms of the Capitol basement in search of documents. After cautiously opening a door, disturbing mice and roaches in the process, and walking across the room to turn on a light, he looked down and found a document underfoot; on it was the imprint of his shoe and the signature of Vice President John C. Calhoun. “I knew who Calhoun was,” Hufford said, “and I knew that the nation’s documents shouldn’t be treated like that.” Hufford spent the next six years at the Senate working tirelessly to locate, organize, and index these valuable records, including the first Senate Journal from 1789 and the Senate markup of the Bill of Rights—some of the very same records that Machen and Simpson had saved more than a century earlier.2 Meanwhile, as Hufford labored over the Senate’s neglected documents, construction began on a building to house federal records. Legislation authorizing and funding a national archives had been years in the making, finally culminating in the 1926 Public Buildings Act. The groundbreaking for the National Archives building took place on September 5, 1931, on Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets Northwest. As one of his last acts as president, Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone on February 20, 1933.3 Building the National Archives was one thing, but filling it up and running it was quite another. In March 1934 a bill to establish the National Archives as the agency that would manage, preserve, and make available the nation’s federal records was referred to the Senate Committee on the Library, chaired by Tennessee senator Kenneth McKellar. Reporting the bill back to the Senate in May, McKellar called it “one of the most important matters that has been before the Senate for some time.” By June the House and Senate conferees had agreed unanimously on the final report. The bill passed both houses of Congress and on June 19, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Archives Act into law. The legislation created the Office of the Archivist of the United States, with an archivist appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, to oversee all records of the government—legislative, executive, and judicial.4 On October 10, 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Robert D. W. Connor as the first archivist of the United States. In his first annual report to Congress, in June of 1935, Connor recalled the many efforts that led to the creation of his office. He noted that while the idea of a “Hall of Records,” which would simply provide a warehouse function, had been circulating through Congress since the early 1800s, it took much longer for scholars and historians to convey to Congress the importance of a national archives in researching and understanding American history. In 1910 the American Historical Association adopted a resolution stating its concern “for the preservation of the records of the National Government as monuments of our national advancement and as material which historians must use in order to ascertain the truth.” The Association petitioned Congress to build a “national archive depository” to properly care for and preserve the records. Connor believed that “the idea of service to Government officials and to scholars as a primary function of a national archives establishment” gave emphasis to “the movement and stimulated a livelier interest in the proposal,” ultimately leading to its success.5 This concept of the National Archives as a place for research and education utilizing our nation’s primary documents has continued, and the Senate participates in those efforts by sending its noncurrent committee and administrative records to the archives—work that began on March 25, 1937, when the Senate authorized the secretary of the Senate to transfer certain records to the custody of the archivist. “From the standpoint of historical as well as intrinsic interest,” remarked the examiner who surveyed the Senate’s collection, “this is perhaps the most valuable collection of records in the entire Government. It touches all phases of governmental activity, and contains a vast amount of research material that has never been used.” Three years earlier, Senate Librarian James D. Preston commented that the imperfect storage of the historic records of the Senate would require their ultimate caretaker to be prepared for a long, hard job and be an expert at document evaluation. Luckily for the Senate, not only did those rescued Senate records move from attics and basements to the newly constructed building, so did Harold Hufford, who left the Senate to join the National Archives staff, becoming director of the legislative section. Hufford didn’t just preserve and catalog Senate records that came to the archives, he also provided excellent service to Senate committees and their staff by loaning back records efficiently and ensuring their safe return to the archives.6 Nearly 50 years later, in an address on Senate history, Senator Robert C. Byrd stated that “many on Capitol Hill said that they could receive faster service on their noncurrent records from the National Archives than they could by keeping and servicing the records themselves.” Senator Byrd’s statement remains accurate today, as staff at the Center for Legislative Archives facilitate the transfer of records to and from the Senate. The Senate archivist in the Senate Historical Office advises senators, committees, and administrative staff on disposition of their noncurrent office files and maintains information detailing locations of former members' papers. Both the Senate Historical Office and the Center for Legislative Archives staff assist students, researchers, scholars, and the general public with reference requests and access to these invaluable historical resources. All of these records, whether housed in gray archive boxes or held electronically on computers, are critical to our ability to research and understand the history of the Senate and our nation.7
Notes
1. Lewis Henry Machen to William C. Rives, September 12, 1836, William Cabel Rives Papers, Box 54, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; Ben Cole, “Document Sleuth,” Indianapolis Star Magazine, March 11, 1956, 137. 2. “Edwin P. Thayer, Secretary of U.S. Senate 10 Years, Succumbs Here,” Indianapolis Star, February 4, 1943. 3. See, “A History of the National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.,” National Archives and Records Administration, accessed March 17, 2021, https://www.archives.gov/about/history/building.html. 4. Congressional Record, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess., May 28, 1934, 9707; National Archives Establishment Act, Public Law 73-432, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess., June 19, 1934, 48 Stat. 1122. 5. “First Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1935,” Annual report on the National Archives and Records Service from the annual report of the Administrator of General Services, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1936. 6. S. Res. 99, Congressional Record, 75th Cong. 1st sess., March 25, 1937, 2735; Frank McAllister to Thomas M. Owen, Jr., February 12, 1937, Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; “Senate Librarian Would Make Archives Post Lifetime Job,” Washington Post, September 23, 1934, B7. 7. Robert C. Byrd, “Archives and Records” in The Senate, 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, vol. 2, ed. Wendy Wolff, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991), 361–73.
Mary Jean Simpson 202103 1Breaching a Masculine Precinct: Women Pioneers on Senate Staff
March 1, 2021
By the time the Senate welcomed the first female senator in 1922, women were already playing a groundbreaking role on Senate staff. Women began working on Senate staff, typically in custodial positions, as early as the 1850s, but by the dawn of the 20th century they were assuming increasingly important roles in senators’ offices and committees. These pioneering women challenged gender stereotypes, overcame societal and institutional obstacles, and opened doors for others to follow. Each and every one of them had a hand in shaping the history of the Senate and the nation.
Categories: Women | Officers and Staff

By the time the Senate welcomed the first female senator in 1922, women were already playing a groundbreaking role on Senate staff. Women began working on Senate staff, typically in custodial positions, as early as the 1850s, but by the dawn of the 20th century they were assuming increasingly important roles in senators’ offices and committees. These pioneering women challenged gender stereotypes, overcame societal and institutional obstacles, and opened doors for others to follow. Each and every one of them had a hand in shaping the history of the Senate and the nation. Among the earliest pioneers was Leona Wells, who joined Senate staff in 1901 and remained on the payroll for the next 25 years. Born in Illinois around 1878, Wells moved to Wyoming when she turned 21 (because this young suffragist could cast a vote in Wyoming). There she met Senator Francis E. Warren, whose patronage brought her to Washington, D.C. She served as messenger and assistant clerk to several committees. When Senator Warren became chairman of the Committee on Appropriations in 1911, he assigned to Wells the management of all committee business, although she never gained the official title of clerk—forerunner to today’s chief clerk position. Wells wasn’t the first woman to hold a clerical position for a Senate committee, nor the first to be lead clerk, but she was the first to assume that responsibility for such a powerful committee as Appropriations.1 At the time, Leona Wells was unusual—a well-paid professional woman on Capitol Hill. In fact, she was so unusual that she attracted media attention. Leona Wells “is probably the most envied woman in government service,” reported the Boston Globe in 1911. Not only did she earn a good salary, the Globe noted, but she is “placed in charge of the affairs of a big committee.” Wells scouted new territory for female staff, but one area remained off-limits—the Senate Chamber. When Chairman Warren was on the floor handling committee business, Wells had to wait outside. Male committee clerks freely entered the Chamber, but the Senate was not yet ready to admit a female staffer to its inner sanctum. Instead, as the Globe reported, Wells waited “just outside the swing doors of the senate chamber . . . and kept the door an inch or two ajar that she might hear everything that went on inside.”2 Soon, other women set their own milestones. By 1917 five women served as top clerk on Senate committees, including Jessie L. Simpson, clerk for the Committee on Foreign Relations. Raised in St. Louis, Simpson actively participated in the presidential campaign for Woodrow Wilson in 1912, where she caught the attention of Missouri senator William Stone. Simpson joined the Senate staff that year through Stone’s patronage, serving as messenger and clerk to several committees before joining the staff of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1914. Having served as assistant clerk, Simpson gained the top committee job in 1917 with an annual salary of $3,000. (At that time, senators received a salary of $7,500.) News reporters took note of the accomplishment, but they often commented not on Simpson’s abilities but on her fitness for such a sensitive job. “It’s an old story that a woman can not keep a secret,” commented one, “but here is one who must keep many,” who must “go through what is described as an ordeal for her sex” to keep diplomatic secrets. Despite the attention, Simpson took it in stride. “I can’t see why all this fuss about my being appointed to the clerkship,” she stated. “I’ve been acting clerk for months. It’s merely a question of my appointment being made permanent.” As the committee’s top clerk, the New York Times reported, Simpson took on tremendous responsibilities. “In her hands will be treaties with foreign Governments . . . and much other information of a delicate nature.” Like Leona Wells, Jessie Simpson proved that women in government service could tackle difficult jobs with great skill, but she didn’t stay in the position long. In November of 1917, Simpson relinquished her well-paying Senate job to “do her bit” for the war effort. She became a clerk for the U.S. Department of War in France.3 By this time, a growing number of women were taking jobs in the Senate. As early as 1904, news accounts had noted that some “of the best paid employees of our government are women.” Many came to Washington, D.C., during the First World War to fill jobs held by men who had joined the war effort, while others came seeking employment that would be long-lasting. “Is Washington in danger of being overrun by women?” asked a reporter for the Washington Post in 1917. By the 1920s, women filled a number of top positions in senators’ offices and in committees. In 1922 six Senate committees employed women as principal clerks, and many other women served as assistant clerks. In fact, that year, at least 82 of the Senate’s 154 committee clerks listed in the Congressional Directory—53 percent—were women. Four Senate committees were staffed entirely by women.4 Among those six chief clerks was Mabelle J. Talbert. Hired by Nebraska senator George Norris in 1915, Talbert moved with Norris through several committees. When he became chairman of the Committee on Agriculture in 1921, Talbert signed on as assistant clerk. A year later, she became clerk in charge of all committee operations, including management of investigative hearings into such issues as the meat-packing industry and shipment of “filled” or adulterated milk (declared illegal in 1923). Like a number of other top female staff at the time, Talbert served in dual roles in the Senate, as lead clerk to a committee and as secretary to the committee chairman. Norris once described his secretary as a “trusted lieutenant” who “knew the ground and understood the nature of the opposition forces and weapons.”5 Cora Rubin, in 1922 the clerk for the Education and Labor Committee and also secretary to Idaho senator William Borah, became a well-known figure on Capitol Hill. An Idaho native, Rubin first worked for Borah when he was a lawyer in their home state. When the state legislature elected Borah to the Senate in 1906, Rubin followed him to Washington to serve as his stenographer, then as secretary, and by 1920 also was in charge of a major committee. In her dual capacity, Rubin assumed so much responsibility that the press dubbed her “deputy senator.” One Borah biographer described her as the “Cerberus who guarded the office door.” Regardless of her position and decades of service on Capitol Hill, Rubin still faced persistent institutional barriers, such as Chamber access. As committee clerk she held floor privileges but was wary of exercising them, as she explained, “because of the notoriety that would follow.” Although this has been difficult to document, Rubin most likely overcame that hesitation. “I have promised myself that before I leave here for good,” she told a reporter in 1922, “I am going to walk right in on the floor of the senate when it is in session and watch the grave and reverend senators fall over at such desecration!” It would take many years for the “masculine precinct” of the Senate Chamber, as the New York Times described it in 1929, to be fully breached by women staff.6 Another milestone came in 1926 when Mary Jean Simpson became the Senate’s first female bill clerk. Sponsored by Vermont senator Porter Dale, Simpson was no newcomer to politics and public service. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1913 and became active in politics in her home state of Vermont. She participated in various wartime efforts and served in local and state elective offices. Serving as Senate bill clerk until 1933, Simpson later led Vermont’s emergency relief efforts during the Great Depression, directed the women’s division of the Vermont Works Progress Administration, and then became dean of women at the University of Vermont. Today, that university awards an annual prize in honor of this one-time Senate pioneer, the Mary Jean Simpson Award, to a female student “who best exemplifies the qualities of character, leadership, and scholarship.”7 As the role of women on Senate staff grew, Lola Williams took those trailblazing efforts a step further and made history in 1929. “For the first time,” reported the New York Times, “a woman is serving as secretary to the Vice President.” This long-time secretary to Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas achieved that milestone when Curtis took the oath of office as vice president on March 4, 1929, thereby becoming the constitutional president of the Senate. Curtis enthusiastically extolled Williams’s intelligence and experience, but press coverage of her groundbreaking move focused more on appearance than ability. “Miss Williams has one salient characteristic, essentially feminine,” remarked an Associated Press reporter, “for all her efficiency, she wears clothes well and is good to look upon.” As the vice president’s chief aide, Williams oversaw correspondence between Curtis and President Herbert Hoover and managed all official business while the vice president presided over the Senate. A woman had “never appeared in such an official capacity,” noted the Times.8 Earlene White was also a pioneer, although much of her story remains a puzzle. Born in Mississippi, White began her career as a newspaperwoman in Jackson and then went into public relations. It is unclear what brought White to the nation’s capital, but that move may have coincided with her becoming president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs in 1937. By that year, she also served as a mail carrier in the Senate, and by the end of that decade news accounts consistently identified her as Senate postmaster. Senate employment records do not assign that title to her; rather, they list her as mail carrier throughout her Senate career. Whether she enjoyed the title of postmaster or not, White was a powerhouse. In addition to her Senate duties, she continued to lead national women’s rights organizations. Advancement of the Equal Rights Amendment and equal opportunities in the workplace became her principal goals. “I ask each of you within sound of my voice,” White proclaimed to a large audience in 1938, “to take a pledge that we will not rest until the women of all the nations enjoy political opportunities. . . . We must think how best to advance women for high political and appointive office.” When White died in 1961, the Washington Post described her as “a fighter for the rights of women” and as the “former postmistress of the Senate.” Was Earlene White the de facto postmaster without a title, just as Leona Wells had been de facto lead clerk of a committee without that title? That remains a mystery, but there is no question that she was one of the Senate’s female pioneers.9 It took much longer for women of color to find their place on the Senate’s professional staff. Although African American women had been Senate employees for a century, not until the 1950s did they likely gain professional positions on committees or in senators’ offices. One of the earliest was Christine McCreary, who joined the staff of Missouri senator William Stuart Symington in 1953. When McCreary came to Capitol Hill, she not only faced lingering resistance to women in top staff positions, but also a racially segregated workplace. In an oral history interview with the Senate Historical Office, McCreary recalled the frightening experience of being among the first to challenge segregation in Senate spaces. “I didn’t know what to expect,” McCreary remembered, “because you see Washington was segregated and you had to deal with that.” Facing segregation in the Senate cafeteria, for example, McCreary courageously demanded to be served, and refused to give up. “I went back the next day, and the next day, until finally they got used to seeing me coming in there.” McCreary remained on Senate staff until 1998.10 For many years, scholars studying Congress paid scant attention to Capitol Hill staff, and those who did assumed that women played little or no role on Senate staff before the Second World War. As research continues, Senate historians are discovering that women held positions of influence, on committee staff and in senators’ offices, early in the 20th century. This important role of the “Women of the Senate” is not a recent phenomenon but a story encompassing more than a century of Senate history.
Notes
1. The title of chief clerk was adopted in 1947, following implementation of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. 2. Annual Report of Charles G. Bennett, Secretary of the Senate, S. Doc. 57-1, 57th Cong., 2nd sess., December 2, 1902; Annual Report of the Secretary of the Senate, S. Doc. 62-954, 62nd Cong., 3rd sess. December 4, 1912; “Is Suffragette Uncle Sam’s Highest Salaried Woman,” Boston Daily Globe, August 6, 1911, SM11; “Is Best-Paid Woman,” Washington Post, May 28, 1911, M1; “Women Who Count,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 24, 1911, J11. 3. Report of the Secretary of the Senate, S. Doc. 65-309, 65th Cong., 3rd sess., December 2, 1918; “Important Post for Woman: Miss Jessie L. Simpson Appointed Clerk to Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” New York Times, January 3, 1917, 10; “First Woman Secretary of Senate Committee,” Boston Daily Globe, January 3, 1917, 11; “Going to the Front,” Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1917, I1; “Drops Honor for War,” New York Times, November 13, 1917, 5; “Pretty Girl Custodian of Important Secrets,” Knoxville Sentinel, February 8, 1917, 9. 4. Congressional Directory, 67th Cong., 2nd sess., December 1921, 232–33; 67th Cong., 4th sess., December 1922, 234–35; “Women Crowding to Washington to Fill Government Jobs of Men Gone to Fight Nation’s Battles,” Washington Post, June 17, 1917, SM4; “Women. Government Employs a Large Number,” Boston Daily Globe, May 22, 1904, 55. 5. Richard Lowitt, George W. Norris: The Persistence of a Progressive, 1913–1933 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 273; “A Number of United States Senators Have Women Secretaries,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 10, 1926, C8. 6. Marian C. McKenna, Borah (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), 86, 372; Frances L. Garside, “Being Secretary to Busy Senator Big Job,” Hartford Courant, June 4, 1922, B6; “That Women Secretaries Sometimes Are Even More Efficient Than Men,” Washington Post, June 24, 1928, S2. 7. The Mary Jean Simpson archival collection is housed in Special Collections of the University of Vermont Libraries in Burlington, VT; “Grafton ‘Old Home’ Day,” Christian Science Monitor, August 21, 1925, 3; “Miss Mary Jean Simpson to Aid on Women’s Project,” Washington Post, October 4, 1936, M14; “WPA Consultant Accepts Deanship,” August 6, 1937, 3. 8. “Girl to Be Secretary to Vice-President Curtis,” Hartford Courant, February 24, 1929, D11; “Curtis Creates Precedent, Having a Woman Secretary,” New York Times, March 24, 1929, 156. 9. Report of the Secretary of the Senate, S. Doc. 76-136, 76th Cong., 3rd sess., January 11, 1940; “City Club Dinner Party Will Honor Miss White,” Washington Post, August 11, 1935, S7; “Senate Postmistress is Nominated for President of Professional Women’s National Federation,” Washington Post, July 23, 1937, 17; “Earlene White in 2d Address,” Washington Post, August 5, 1938, 15; “Guest Speaker,” Washington Post, September 13, 1938, 20; “Hill B. & P. W. Forms Branch,” Washington Post, August 2, 1939, 13; “Earlene White, Woman Leader,” Washington Post, February 23, 1961, B3; “Colonials Hear Earlene White,” Washington Post, April 18, 1941, 17. 10. "Christine S. McCreary, Staff of Senator Stuart Symington, 1953–1977 and Senator John Glenn, 1977–1998," Oral History Interviews, May 19, 1998, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C.
1880 Census Document Identifying Andrew F. Slade as a "Page in the Senate" 202102 8Andrew Slade: First African American Senate Page
February 8, 2021
In April 1965, Senator Jacob Javits of New York appointed Lawrence Bradford, Jr., to be a Senate page. In celebrating the appointment, Javits and journalists identified Bradford as the first African American to serve in the Senate’s historic page program. Bradford’s appointment was a milestone, but there’s one problem with this celebration—while Bradford was certainly a trailblazer in his time, he was not, in fact, the first African American page. That distinction belongs to Andrew Foote Slade, a young man who served as a page between 1869 and 1881.

In April 1965, Senator Jacob Javits of New York appointed Lawrence Bradford, Jr., to be a Senate page. In celebrating the appointment, Javits and journalists identified Bradford as the first African American to serve in the Senate’s historic page program. Bradford’s appointment was a milestone, but there’s one problem with this celebration—while Bradford was certainly a trailblazer in his time, he was not, in fact, the first African American page. That distinction belongs to Andrew Foote Slade, a young man who served as a page between 1869 and 1881. Slade’s story, forgotten in the Senate by the 1960s, offers a window not just into the Senate of the late 19th century, but into the history of Washington, D.C.’s, free Black community.1 Andrew Slade was born in 1857, the son of Josephine Parke and William Slade, a prominent free Black couple from the District of Columbia. Josephine, born as a free woman in 1818, was the daughter of a woman who had been enslaved by George Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, on his Arlington, Virginia, estate. William was born free in 1814; his mother was formerly enslaved by the Foote family of Virginia. Henry Foote later represented Mississippi in the Senate. William believed, in fact, that his mother was Senator Foote’s half-sister.2 During the 1850s Andrew's father William was a porter at Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel, a posh establishment popular with Washington’s political elite. There he made connections that eventually took him to the White House. With a recommendation from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, William first took a job at the Treasury Department as a messenger in 1861. In 1862 he was appointed to Abraham Lincoln’s White House, where free people of color were integral to its daily operations.3 William’s title was “usher,” one of the highest posts in the Executive Mansion staff. Andrew's mother, Josephine, also periodically worked at the White House as a seamstress, alongside African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly. The couple’s children, including Andrew, often played with young Tad Lincoln, even hosting him at their home, the boardinghouse they owned and operated on Massachusetts Avenue.4 In the White House, William Slade was not just a servant but a confidante of the president, someone Lincoln turned to as he considered the weighty questions of emancipation and the fate of freed African Americans. The Slades were leading figures in the District’s free Black community. William was an elder of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. As freed African Americans flooded into the capital during the war, the Slades, along with friend and colleague Elizabeth Keckly, created the Contraband Relief Association to provide assistance and organized a school at the First Colored Baptist Church. William served as president of the Social, Civil, and Statistical Association, an organization dedicated to achieving Black citizenship following the war. Josephine was a leading organizer in the movement for universal suffrage.5 After the death of President Lincoln, William Slade continued to work at the White House under President Andrew Johnson, who appointed him steward in 1865. William died three years later at age 53. President Johnson paid his respects at the Slade home, and the funeral was officiated by Howard University president and former Senate chaplain Byron Sunderland, an abolitionist preacher. With William gone, Josephine Slade became the head of a household that included a son and daughter in their 20s and three younger children, including 11-year-old Andrew.6 Andrew Slade was appointed as a Senate page in December 1869. He had been educated in a school in the District of Columbia for Black children established by African American civil rights activist John F. Cook, Jr. Andrew owed his appointment to Sergeant at Arms John R. French, an opponent of slavery and supporter of Black rights who had been friends with his father William. The Baltimore Sun noted the appointment and described Andrew as “a bright mulatto boy, son of . . . the late colored steward of the White House.” The writer speculated that the boy would be assigned as a special page to Senator Charles Sumner, another defender of Black civil rights who had been acquainted with his father. Although Andrew had not yet worked in the Chamber, the article stated that he was “on duty in the corridors.” Another reporter commented on Andrew’s light complexion and suggested that “such is the prejudice against a color, even milk-and-molasses color, that it has been thought best to introduce him by degrees into the Senate Chamber, lest the Caucasian pages leave en masse.” As was the case with other pages, Andrew’s salary, $3 per day, was paid to his mother.7 Historians have long known that many page appointments were given to local orphans or children of widowed mothers. While this appeared to be a way for the Senate to provide benefits to families in need, Josephine was anything but destitute. William left her a sizeable estate of $100,000, including $14,000 in real estate. But Josephine was a widow, nevertheless.8 Andrew’s first stint as a page was a short one. In 1870 his sister Marie Louise, a copyist at the U.S. Pension Office, married a prominent Black Arkansas politician named James W. Mason. Andrew, his mother, and his siblings all moved with Marie and her new husband to Arkansas later that year. In 1872, Josephine Slade passed away, leaving Andrew an orphan. The next year, he enrolled at Oberlin College’s preparatory school in Ohio and attended for one year.9 Andrew returned to Washington in January 1874, now 16 years old, and was again appointed as a page. Senate records list him as the ward of longtime assistant doorkeeper James I. Christie. Later that year, his sister returned to Washington following the death of her husband and Andrew spent the rest of the decade living with her while working as a page. He served as a riding page delivering messages throughout the District and eventually became a mail carrier for the Senate Post Office. He also likely worked on the Chamber floor and was reportedly a favorite of Vice President Henry Wilson. Andrew, in fact, helped attend to Wilson as he lay dying in his office across the corridor from the Chamber in 1875. 10 The Senate had no maximum age for pages in the late 19th century, so Andrew continued as a page into November 1881, when he was 24 years old. In December he applied for a position at the Pension Commission, supported by a recommendation from Democratic senator George Pendleton of Ohio, famous for his 1883 Civil Service Reform Act. In 1882, while visiting or living in Warwick, New York, Andrew submitted an application for a position at the Department of the Interior, with recommendations from Garland, Senator Henry Teller of Colorado—who had recently left the Senate to serve as secretary of the department—and T. W. Ferry of the Senate Post Office.11 It is unknown whether Andrew gained another government position, but by 1886 he was living in Philadelphia and working at the Tribune newspaper, the city’s recently founded African American paper. A reporter from the Washington Bee, another African American paper, noted meeting Andrew on a visit to the Tribune’s offices and described him as a man with “a good heart and a mild disposition” who was “well known in Washington.” The historical record offers little information about how Andrew fared in Philadelphia. In 1899 he is listed in the city directory as a driver. He died that year, at the age of 42, leaving behind a wife, Laura.12 Andrew Slade’s story, incomplete though it may be, offers a glimpse into an era of dramatic social changes in and around the Capitol and the role played by this prominent Black family. Andrew's mother and father both walked the corridors of official Washington and used what power they had to fight for the rights of African Americans in an era when those rights were under constant siege. Their stature likely opened the doors of the Senate to their son at a time when others like him would have been denied the opportunity. We are left wondering, however, what Andrew thought about his position in the Senate and how he was received by senators of the 1870s. What role did Andrew’s race play in his experiences in and around the Senate Chamber? How did senators view Andrew, especially those former Confederates who returned to Congress in the years after Reconstruction, dedicated to maintaining the racial caste system in their home states? Perhaps Andrew Slade’s very presence served as a reminder to senators of the insecure future of Black Americans outside the Capitol. All of these questions and more will fuel future research by Senate historians.
Notes
1. “Pioneer Senate Page: Lawrence Wallace Bradford, Jr.,” New York Times, April 14, 1965, 26; Marcie Sims, Capitol Hill Pages: Young Witnesses to 200 Years of History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, Incorporated, 2018), 64–68. 2. Blake Wintory, “Biography of Josephine Lewis (Parke) Slade, 1818–1872,” Alexander Street, Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists, accessed July 20, 2021, https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbibliographic_details%7C5075826?account_id=45340&usage_group_id=45068. The District of Columbia was a popular destination for formerly enslaved African Americans manumitted from the upper South, leading to a free population of over 11,000 by 1860, about 20 percent of the city’s population. Dorothy Provine, “The Economic Position of the Free Blacks in the District of Columbia, 1800–1860,” Journal of Negro History 58, no. 1 (January 1973): 61. 3. John E. Washington, They Knew Lincoln (Oxford University Press, 2018; originally published 1942); James B. Conroy, “Slavery’s Mark on Lincoln’s White House,” White House Historical Association, accessed July 20, 2021, https://www.whitehousehistory.org/slaverys-mark-on-lincolns-white-house. 4. Wintory, “Biography of Marie Louise (Slade) Mason, 1844–1919,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists, Alexander Street, accessed July 20, 2021, https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbibliographic_details%7C4744667?account_id=45340&usage_group_id=45068; Conroy, “Slavery’s Mark on Lincoln’s White House.” 5. Natalie Sweet, “A Representative ‘of Our People’: The Agency of William Slade, Leader in the African American Community and Usher to Abraham Lincoln,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 34, no. 2 (Summer 2013): 21–41, accessed July 20, 2021, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.2629860.0034.204; Diaries of Julia Wilbur, 1860–66, April 20, 1865, Haverford College, Quaker and Special Collections, Transcriptions by volunteers at Alexandria Archaeology, accessed July 20, 2021, https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/civilwar/JuliaWilburDiary1860to1866.pdf. For more on Black organizations in the District of Columbia during the Civil War, see Kate Masur, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C., (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). 6. Ancestry.com, 1870 Census, Washington Ward 4, Washington, District of Columbia, Roll: M593_124, 780A; Family History Library Film: 545623; Sweet, “A Representative ‘of Our People.’” 7. Receipts and Expenditures of Senate, 1870, S. Mis. Doc. 41-8, 41st Cong., 3rd sess., December 5, 1870, 2; Progressive American (NY), undated, in Isaac Bassett Papers, Box 34, Folder E, p. 130, Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. [online version available through Archives Research Catalog (ARC Identifier 5423162, p. 2) at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5423162]; “Colored Page in the Senate,” Baltimore Sun, December 16, 1869, 1; “The Alta on Our Colored Brother,” San Jose Mercury News, December 28, 1869, 3; Assistant Doorkeeper Isaac Bassett noted in his unpublished memoir Andrew’s appointment as the “first colored page,” Isaac Bassett Papers, Box 3, Folder A, p. 31 [(ARC Identifier 5423058, p. 36) https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5423058]. 8. Wintory, “Josephine Lewis (Parke) Slade,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. 9. “Colored Female Clerks,” Washington Evening Star, March 27, 1869, 1; Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Oberlin College for the College Year 1873–74, (Cleveland, OH: Press of Fairbanks, Benedict, & Co., 1873), 29; Wintory, “Marie Louise (Slade) Mason,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. 10. Receipts and Expenditures of Senate, 1874, S. Mis. Doc. 43-74, 43rd Cong., 2nd sess., December 7, 1874, 10. Senator George Pendleton’s recommendation letter for Slade in 1881 indicated that he worked in the Senate Chamber. See Slade, Andrew F., File 2942, Appointments Division, Applications and Appointments 1881, Box no. 65, Department of the Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD; Progressive American (NY), undated, in Isaac Bassett Papers. 11. Slade, Andrew F., File 2942, Appointments Division, Applications and Appointments 1881, Box no. 65, Department of the Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD; Slade, Andrew F., Appointments Division, File 874, Applications and Appointments 1882, Box no. 72, Entry 27, Department of the Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD. Special thanks to Blake Wintory for sharing his research. 12. “Our Visit to Philadelphia,” Washington Bee, November 13, 1886; "Andrew Slade," Washington Bee, August 26, 1899. We know much more about Slade’s sister Marie Louise, who moved to Montana in 1889 and became a leader in the movement for women’s suffrage. She later moved to Paris and then London with her daughter, who studied to be an artist. See Wintory, “Marie Louise (Slade) Mason,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. Slade’s sister Katherine Slade went on to become a teacher and was a key source for John Washington’s They Knew Lincoln.
On January 4, 1939, in the U.S. Senate Chamber, Vice President John Nance Garner issues the oath of office to Senator Elmer Thomas of Oklahoma. 202012 30When a New Congress Begins
December 30, 2020
On January 3, 2021, the U.S. Senate will convene to open the 117th Congress. The Senate typically operates according to long-standing rules, traditions, and precedents, and the first day of a new Congress is no exception. On this day, the Senate follows a well-established routine—parts of which date back to the first Congress in 1789. The Constitution mandates that Congress convene once each year at noon on January 3, unless the preceding Congress designates a different day. In odd-numbered years, following congressional elections, a “new” Congress begins.

On January 3, 2021, the U.S. Senate will convene to open the 117th Congress. The Senate typically operates according to long-standing rules, traditions, and precedents, and the first day of a new Congress is no exception. The Constitution mandates that Congress convene once each year at noon on January 3, unless the preceding Congress designates a different day.1 In odd-numbered years, following congressional elections, a “new” Congress begins. From 1789 until 1934, a new Congress began on March 4. The Twentieth Amendment, adopted in 1933, changed the opening date to January. Regardless of the change in date, the first day of a new Congress for the Senate follows a well-established routine—parts of which date back to the first Congress in 1789. The day begins with the opening prayer and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the swearing-in of senators-elect (and sometimes appointed senators), the establishment of a quorum, notifications to the House of Representatives and the president, and often the election of a president pro tempore and other officers. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate, as a continuing body, does not have to adopt or readopt its rules with each new Congress. Article 1, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution provides for staggered six-year terms for senators. The Senate is divided into three classes for election purposes, and every two years only one-third of the senators are elected or reelected, allowing two-thirds to continue serving without interruption. Before senators-elect can begin exercising their legislative responsibilities, each must present his or her certificate of election and then take the prescribed oath of office in an open session of the Senate. The certificate of election, issued by the governor from the incoming member’s state, confirms that the person was duly elected. Affixed with the state’s official seal, it is delivered to the secretary of the Senate for official recording. After the opening prayer and recitation of the pledge, the vice president of the United States, who serves as the president of the Senate, announces the receipt of certificates. Following established tradition, senators-elect are then escorted down the center aisle of the Senate Chamber to the presiding officer’s desk. Typically, the other senator from the member-elect’s state serves as an escort. Occasionally, the senator-elect chooses an alternative or additional escort, such as a former senator or a family member who also served in the Senate. The vice president, or, in the vice president’s absence the president pro tempore, administers the oath of office. Senators-elect take the oath to defend the Constitution by raising their right hand and agreeing to the words spoken by the presiding officer:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Some hold in their left hand a personal Bible or other text of personal significance. The final act in the oath-taking ceremony occurs as the secretary of the Senate invites each newly sworn senator to sign his or her name on a dedicated page in the Senate Oath Book. Following the official oath-taking ceremony in the Senate Chamber, newly sworn senators join the vice president in the Old Senate Chamber, where they reenact the swearing-in ceremony. Prior to 1987, when the opening day of the Senate was first broadcast on live television, the official swearing-in ceremony was normally off-limits to cameras of any sort. The long-standing ban on photography in the Chamber led newly sworn members to devise an alternative way of capturing this moment for their families, constituents, and posterity. In earlier years, the vice president invited newly sworn senators and their families into his Capitol office for a reenactment for home-state photographers. In 1983 the reenactment ceremony moved to the restored Old Senate Chamber and has been held in that historic setting ever since. Once the senators-elect have been sworn in, the vice president directs the Senate clerk to call the roll to establish a quorum, which the Constitution requires in order for the Senate to conduct business. The majority leader then moves to adopt resolutions to notify the House and the president that the Senate has a quorum and is ready to proceed. The language of those resolutions has changed very little over the last 230 years. In 1791 the Second Congress convened in Philadelphia. After senators-elect presented their credentials and the vice president administered the oath of office, the Senate passed the following motion:
Ordered, That Messrs. Butler, Morris, and Dickinson, be a committee to wait on the President of the United States, and inform him that a quorum of the Senate is assembled agreeably to the Constitution, and ready to receive any communications he may be pleased to make to the Senate.2
On January 3, 2019, the Senate adopted this resolution:
Resolved, That a committee consisting of two Senators be appointed to join such committee as may be appointed by the House of Representatives to wait upon the President of the United States and inform him that a quorum of each House is assembled and that the Congress is ready to receive any communication he may be pleased to make.3
While the committee members appointed to “wait upon the President of the United States” did so in person in the 18th and 19th centuries, today the committee informs the president by telephone.4 The Senate next proceeds to other administrative business, which often includes the election of the president pro tempore, the secretary of the Senate, the sergeant at arms, and the chaplain. The Senate typically adopts a resolution early in the new Congress to set procedures for operating the Senate during the next two years. The resolution may include committee ratios, committee membership, and other agreements made between the majority and minority parties on the operation of the Senate. This is usually a routine matter approved by unanimous consent agreement, but there have been occasions when the Senate faced unique challenges, making organization difficult. With much of the “housekeeping” out of the way, the Senate is ready to take up legislative and executive business. With each new Congress, all pending legislation and nominations of the previous Congress expire, requiring many bills and resolutions to be reintroduced. Guests seated in the Senate galleries and those watching from home will note that members often stand behind their Senate desks to deliver their remarks. At the start of each Congress, the desks are reapportioned between the two sides of the Chamber based on the number of senators from the two political parties. For many years, the desks were assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. When a seat became available, the first senator to speak for it won the right to it. Today, at the beginning of each Congress, senators are given the option to change their seats, based on seniority. Three desks that are not assigned in this manner are the Daniel Webster Desk, the Jefferson Davis Desk, and the Henry Clay Desk. Senate resolutions govern the assignment of these desks. To learn more about the opening day of a new Congress or other Senate traditions, visit Frequently Asked Questions about a New Congress, Guide to Senate Traditions, or Learn about the Senate.
Notes
1. U.S. Const., amend. XX, § 2. 2. Senate Journal, 2nd Cong., 1st sess., October 24, 1791, 323. 3. “Informing the President of the United States That a Quorum of Each House Is Assembled,” Congressional Record, 116th Cong., 1st sess., January 3, 2019, S5 (daily edition). 4. Valerie Heitshusen, "The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the Senate Floor." Congressional Research Service, RS20722, updated December 22, 2020, 4.
Thaddeus Caraway (D-AR) as Santa Claus with Senate Pages, 1923 202012 14Christmas Gift Giving in the Senate
December 14, 2020
The Senate is an institution steeped in tradition. While some traditions prove to be long lasting, others come and go. Such is the case with one tradition of gift giving in the Senate around the Christmas holiday.
Categories: Traditions | Vice Presidents

The Senate is an institution steeped in tradition. While some traditions prove to be long lasting, others come and go. Such is the case with one tradition of gift giving in the Senate around the Christmas holiday. Christmas was not always an eventful holiday in the Senate. Prior to the 1850s, senators took very little time off while the Senate was in session. The legislative session started in the first week of December and, in the era before widely available railroad service, it was too onerous to travel home for a short holiday break. The Senate was typically in session on December 24, adjourned for Christmas Day, then returned to business on December 26. Not until 1857 did senators resolve to take a recess for the Christmas and New Year holidays. In 1870 Congress passed legislation that made Christmas a holiday for federal employees in the District of Columbia. By the 1890s newspapers reported that attendance in both houses of Congress was “steadily diminishing” as the holiday approached, noting the Capitol was “practically deserted.”1 The absence of senators during a holiday recess meant there was time for those who stayed in town, especially staff, to celebrate the season. Soon, gift giving became part of the Senate’s holiday tradition. On Christmas Day 1862, for example, the Chamber’s messengers presented their supervisor Isaac Bassett—the assistant doorkeeper who began his 64-year Senate career as a page in 1831—with an engraved gold-topped cane to thank him for his service, in particular for “always showing the utmost courtesy to the messengers under his direction.”2 Another notable gift came in 1902, when Senate Sergeant at Arms Daniel M. Ransdell received a package from an unknown sender. Ransdell carefully removed the gold-foil wrapping from the package to find 14 ounces of anthracite coal. Before assuming that he was on the “naughty list,” know that the lump of coal was actually a welcome gift. Ransdell had been short on fuel for heating the Capitol that season.3 In the late 19th century, holiday celebrations—which had long been public displays of revelry—became more focused on children. In the Senate, gift-giving traditions centered on the youngsters employed as Senate pages. In 1887 California senator Leland Stanford, a multimillionaire, gave each page a five-dollar gold coin at Christmas. Isaac Bassett was charged with dispensing the gift and, though not a rotund man, his white hair and long beard and his “merry eye and cheerful voice” led the pages to dub him Santa Claus.4 Vice President Thomas R. Marshall began a tradition in 1913 of an annual Christmas dinner with the pages in the Senate dining room. Pages were treated to a sumptuous holiday spread and toasted for their hard work. Marshall then offered sage advice to the sated boys on how to succeed after they left the Senate’s employ. Calvin Coolidge continued the tradition when he became vice president in 1921.5 Some senators took advantage of the annual dinner to give the pages tokens of their appreciation. In 1915 Senator George Oliver of Pennsylvania and Senator James Martine of New Jersey gave each page a crisp new dollar bill. The following year Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware joined Oliver in giving cash gifts to the 16 pages. For a number of years Senator John Kendrick of Wyoming gave each page a new necktie. In an oral history interview conducted decades later, page Donald Detwiler recalled a Christmas dinner in 1917 at which Senator James D. Phelan of New York presented each page with a book.6 When the vice presidency was vacant in 1923—Coolidge had ascended to the presidency after the death of Warren G. Harding—a newspaper reporter quipped that “tiny Tim,” the smallest of the Senate pages, had lost his Santa Claus because no substitute had emerged to carry on the holiday tradition.7 The pages needn’t have worried. A few days after Christmas, Maud Younger, congressional chairwoman of the National Woman’s Party, learned that the pages might miss their celebration and invited them to her home for a feast. Arkansas senator Thaddeus Caraway donned a Santa Claus suit and arrived at Younger’s home with a bag of gifts. In 1925 Senator Robert Stanfield of Oregon took over the role of Santa and distributed gifts to the pages on the steps of the Capitol.8 When Vice President Charles Dawes revived the Christmas page dinner in 1925, the appreciative pages decided to turn the tables and offer their own gifts to the vice president. They delivered gifts to Dawes in a giant paper-mache pipe, a nod to his affinity for smoking a Lyon pipe (he became so identified with it that it became known after as the Dawes pipe). The gifts included a copy of the Senate rules “shot full of holes,” a clever reference to Dawes’s much-publicized harangue against Senate procedures that he had delivered from the presiding officer’s chair earlier that year. At the 1927 dinner, the pages presented Dawes with a new set of rules they had written to give the vice president complete control over Senate debate. Another gift was a model of a yellow taxicab, to mark the day that Dawes slept peacefully at the Willard Hotel when he was needed to cast a critical tie-breaking vote. Dawes had been awakened and hopped into a cab to rush back to the Chamber only to find he was too late to cast a vote. A few years later, the pages presented Vice President Charles Curtis with a tool to maintain order in the Chamber: a giant paper-mache gavel. The pages informed Curtis that should a senator become disorderly, the gavel was “guaranteed to mash ’em flat.” In return, Curtis gave each page a silver dollar.9 The vice president’s annual Senate page Christmas dinner and the associated gift giving continued a few more years, but the nascent tradition came to an end in the 1930s. Part of the reason for its demise was the adoption in 1933 of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which moved the start of congressional sessions from December to January. With the Senate recessing by fall in the years that followed, neither the vice president nor the pages were on duty at the Capitol for the holiday season. By the 1960s, when Senate sessions were growing longer and often extending into December, both the page program and the vice presidency had undergone changes. Rather than employing local youngsters for multiple years, the page program began accepting high school students from around the country to serve one semester at a time. By this time, the vice president also spent less time at the Capitol. Assuming more executive duties, the vice president began presiding only on ceremonial occasions or when needed to break a tie vote. Once a cherished Senate tradition, the annual gift exchanges disappeared and became lost to the past.
Notes
1. Congressional Globe, 35th Cong., 1st sess., December 23, 1857, 156; Jacob R. Straus, "Federal Holidays: Evolution and Current Practices," Congressional Research Service, R41990, updated July 1, 2021; “Holiday Pressure Is Growing,” Washington Post, December 19, 1892, 6; “Around the Capitol,” Baltimore Sun, December 25, 1894, 2. 2. Isaac Bassett Papers, Box 20, Folder G, p. 180, Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. [online version available through Archives Research Catalog (ARC Identifier 5423124, p. 22) at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5423124]. 3. “Coal His Christmas Gift,” New York Times, December 25, 1902, 3. 4. “Christmas Celebration at the Federal Capital,” Atlanta Constitution, December 23, 1900, 18; “Senate Pages Christmas Gifts,” Washington Post, December 23, 1887, 2. 5. “Marshall Is Pages’ Host,” Washington Post, December 24, 1915, 4; “Coolidge Invites Pages,” New York Times, December 23, 1921, 12. 6. “Senators Remember Pages and Officials,” Washington Times, December 25, 1915, 6, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, accessed December 1, 2020, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1915-12-25/ed-1/seq-6/; “Senate Pages Receive Gifts,” Washington Evening Star, December 23, 1916, 10, Chronicling America, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1916-12-23/ed-1/seq-10/; Washington Evening Star, January 4, 1925, Chronicling America, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1925-01-04/ed-1/seq-85/; “Senate Chief Pages Get Christmas Gifts,” Washington Herald, December 25, 1915, 9, Chronicling America: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045433/1915-12-25/ed-1/seq-9/; "Donald J. Detwiler: Senate Page (1917–1918),” Oral History Interview, August 8, 1985, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C., available at https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/oral_history/Detwiler_Donald.htm. 7. “Pages in Senate Have Lost Santa Clause thru Promotion,” Atlanta Constitution, December 23, 1923, 16. 8. “Senate Pages Get Feast After All,” Boston Daily Globe, December 29, 1923, 7. 9. “Curtis Gets a Huge Gavel,” New York Times, December 25, 1930; “'Study Senators' Is Advice to Pages,” Washington Evening Star, December 25, 1929, 4, Chronicling America, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1929-12-25/ed-1/seq-4/ ; “Dawes Gives Christmas Party,” Washington Post, December 24, 1926, 4; “New Set of Rules Is Dawes’s Gift from Pages in Senate,” Hartford Courant, December 23, 1927, 10; “Senate Pages Turn the Tables on Dawes,” New York Times, December 24, 1926, 2.
Plaque Affixed to Statue of David Rice Atchison (D-MO), Plattsburg, Missouri 202011 13David Rice Atchison: (Not) President for a Day
November 13, 2020
A plaque affixed to a statue in Plattsburg, Missouri, reads, "David Rice Atchison, 1807–1886, President of United States One Day." The day of Atchison’s presumed presidency was March 4, 1849. Who was David Rice Atchison and on what basis could he claim to have been the president of the United States, even if for only one day?

A plaque affixed to a statue in Plattsburg, Missouri, reads, "David Rice Atchison, 1807–1886, President of United States One Day." The day of Atchison’s presumed presidency was March 4, 1849. Who was David Rice Atchison and on what basis could he claim to have been the president of the United States, even if for only one day? David Rice Atchison was a Missouri Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate from 1843 to 1855. Raised and educated in Kentucky, he settled in Missouri and opened a law practice in Clay County in 1829. Atchison rose to prominence in Missouri when he served as legal counsel to members of Joseph Smith’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons, who were being forcibly removed from Jackson County in 1833. Mormons living in his district helped to give Atchison his start in politics when they supported his successful candidacy for the state legislature in 1834. Atchison later served as brigadier general in the state militia and sought to maintain order as anti-Mormon violence ultimately drove them from the state. He went on to serve as a state court judge for two years before the governor appointed him to fill a vacant seat in the Senate in 1843.1 Unfortunately, Atchison’s support for Mormon rights did not extend to civil and human rights for others. In the Senate he was a staunch defender of slavery. He was a member of the so-called F Street Mess, a group of southern senators who successfully pushed for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed for the expansion of the institution into new western states and sparked outrage among opponents of slavery. Atchison joined other pro-slavery advocates and organized incursions into Kansas in 1854 to ensure that Kansas would become a slave state. He warned Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi that they would “be compelled to shoot, burn, and hang” to drive the “Abolitionists” out of Kansas. A group of pro-slavery settlers named their town Atchison in his honor, and the violence that engulfed Kansas marked another milestone on the road to civil war.2 Atchison’s actions in Kansas had lasting consequences, but today he is best remembered for the role he played—or didn’t play—in the presidential transition in 1849. Atchison was popular with his Senate colleagues, and they elected him president pro tempore on 13 separate occasions. In those days, the vice president regularly presided over Senate sessions, and the Senate chose a president pro tempore to preside in his place only during brief vice-presidential absences. On March 2, 1849, Vice President George M. Dallas took leave of the Senate for the remainder of the session and the Senate elected Atchison as president pro tempore. Atchison’s position as president pro tempore combined with a fluke of the political calendar in 1849 to set the stage for his alleged one-day presidency. Until the adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, presidential and congressional terms began and ended at noon on March 4. In 1849 March 4 fell on a Sunday. On the morning of March 4, President James Polk signed the last of the session’s legislation at the White House and at 6:30 a.m. recorded in his diary, “Thus closed my official term as President.” The Senate, having been in session all night, adjourned sine die at 7:00 a.m. President-elect Zachary Taylor, in observance of the Christian Sabbath, preferred not to conduct his inauguration on Sunday, March 4, and the ceremony was delayed until the next day. On Monday, March 5, Taylor took the oath of office on the Capitol’s east front portico and the transition of power was complete.3 But if President Polk’s term ended on March 4 at noon, and Zachary Taylor was not sworn in until noon on March 5, who was president on March 4? Under the Presidential Succession Act of 1792 the Senate president pro tempore immediately followed the vice president in the line of presidential succession. Had Atchison been president from noon on March 4 to noon on March 5? Neither the Congressional Globe nor the Senate Journal included any suggestion that there was a vacancy in the presidency prior to Taylor’s inauguration on the 5th, yet the notion that Atchison had briefly ascended to the office of president of the United States began to circulate. The earliest public statement came in the March 12 edition of the Alexandria Gazette, which reported that Atchison “was on Sunday, by virtue of his office, President of the United States—for one day!” The “fact” was eventually included in profiles of Atchison, including his entry in an early version of the Biographical Directory of the American Congress. In 1907 a Philadelphia newspaper published a story about Atchison’s one-day presidency, which sparked further discussion in newspapers around the country. As often happens with a story like this, it became more elaborate with each retelling. “It was held by Congress,” the account stated, “that the functions of the President must devolve upon him from Sunday noon till Monday noon.” Atchison allegedly took the role so seriously, the story went, that he “signed one or two official papers as President.” Supposedly Atchison’s Democratic colleagues had playfully suggested that he could summon the army and prevent Taylor, a member of the rival Whig Party, from assuming the presidency altogether.4 Is there any truth to the idea that Atchison was the chief executive for a day? No. Atchison himself did not take the idea seriously. He wrote in 1880 that “I never for a moment acted as President of the U.S.” Congress did not make any determinations about who was president on March 4, and Atchison certainly did not sign official paperwork, but he did have some fun with it. He later joked that because of the long nights in session the previous days, he might have slept through his “term” except that his friends woke him to congratulate him and seek patronage jobs for their friends. “I recollect,” he said in 1889, “that Senator Mangum of North Carolina suggested that I make him secretary of state.” He liked to say that his presidency had been “the honestest administration this country ever had.”5 In 1925 historian George Haynes—an authority on the Senate—dismissed the claims of Atchison’s presidency. The clearest indication that Atchison was not president, he noted, was the fact that Atchison’s existing term as senator and, more importantly, as president pro tempore, had ended at noon on March 4. The position of president pro tempore was, in fact, vacant. Atchison was not elected to the position again until the Senate’s special session convened at noon on March 5. Minutes later the president and vice president took their oaths.6 If Atchison was not the president on March 4, who was? Atchison himself believed that the office was essentially vacant for that day. He could point to precedent on this point. Inauguration day similarly had fallen on a Sunday in 1821, the day on which President James Monroe was to take the oath for a second term. Monroe also chose to delay his oath until March 5, leading John Quincy Adams to write in his diary that the delay created “a sort of interregnum during which there was no qualified person to act as President.” Constitutional scholar Charles Warren concluded in 1925, however, that the Constitution only requires that the president take the oath “before he enter upon the execution of his office.” Zachary Taylor, Warren argued, was for all intents and purposes president the moment Polk’s term ended, since he could have taken the oath and executed his responsibilities at any time thereafter.7 Despite debunking by scholars, the myth of Atchison’s one-day presidency carried on, as evidenced by the plaque below his bronze statue unveiled in Plattsburg, Missouri, in 1928. Months later the Atchison “presidency” was highlighted in the widely syndicated “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” newspaper feature, and it has resurfaced periodically ever since.8 Regardless of whether the presidency fell to the Senate’s president pro tempore or the country actually lacked a president for a day in 1849, the next time inauguration day fell on a Sunday, the president-elect took steps to avoid the same confusion. On Saturday, March 3, 1877, two days before his public inaugural ceremony, Rutherford B. Hayes took the oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House to become the 19th president of the United States. Hayes’s oath raises another question, however, that has not attracted much attention. If outgoing president Ulysses S. Grant’s term did not end until March 4, did the United States have two presidents at the same time for one day?9
Notes
1. William E. Parrish, David Rice Atchison of Missouri: Border Politician (University of Missouri Press, 1961); Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Atchison’s Letters and the Causes of Mormon Expulsion from Missouri,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 3 (July 1986): 1–47. 2. Alice Elizabeth Malavasic, The F Street Mess: How Southern Senators Re-Wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017); Parrish, David Rice Atchison, 164. 3. George Haynes, “President of the United States for a Single Day,” American Historical Review 30, no. 2 (January 1925): 309. 4. “News of the Day,” Alexandria Gazette, March 12, 1849; “Atchison Never President,” Washington Post, February 1, 1908, 14; John Wilson Townsend, “History of David Rice Atchison of Kentucky,” Register of Kentucky State Historical Society 8, no. 23 (May 1910): 39–44. 5. Atchison to Joseph Howarth, [c. 1880], Shapell Manuscript Foundation, accessed October 9, 2020, https://www.shapell.org/manuscript/david-rice-atchison-polk-fillmore-taylor-president-for-five-minutes/#transcripts; Walter B. Stevens, “A Day and Night with Old Davy: David R. Atchison,” Missouri Historical Review 31, no. 2 (January 1937): 129, 130–31. 6. Haynes, “President of the United States for a Single Day,” 308–10. 7. "John Quincy Adams diary 31, 1 January 1819–20 March 1821, 10 November 1824–6 December 1824, page 545" [electronic edition],The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection, Massachusetts Historical Society, 2004, accessed October 7, 2020, http://www.masshist.org/jqadiaries/php/doc?id=jqad31_545; Haynes, “President of the United States for a Single Day,” 310. 8. “Memorial to Atchison: President for a Day,” New York Times, October 28, 1928, 52; “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” Washington Post, November 21, 1928, 17. 9. “The Oath—Where and How It Was Taken,” Atlanta Constitution, March 8, 1877, 4.
Book Jacket of Journal of William Maclay 202010 16Senate Diaries
October 16, 2020
The stories that historians craft are only as good as the sources available. Historians of the Senate draw on a variety of records created by Congress, such as the Senate Journal, debates in the Congressional Record, and transcripts of committee hearings. The National Archives is filled with memos and reports. Senators establish archives of their personal papers in home-state repositories. There are also vast collections of newspaper articles, what many have called the “first draft of history.” Perhaps the greatest insight into the past comes from more personal musings—diaries kept by individuals.
Categories: Archives and Research

The stories that historians craft are only as good as the sources available. Historians of the Senate can draw on a wide variety of published records created by Congress, such as the Senate Journal, speeches and debates in the Congressional Record, and committee hearings and reports. The National Archives is filled with memos, reports, and correspondence. Senators establish large archives of their personal papers in home-state libraries and universities. There are also vast collections of newspaper articles penned by Senate contemporaries, what many have called the “first draft of history.” Perhaps the greatest insight into the past comes from more personal musings— diaries kept by individuals. Consider the First Congress that met in New York City in 1789. That Congress created the first three executive departments, approved the Judiciary Act of 1789, and passed the Bill of Rights. It also established the permanent location of the federal capital, funded the Revolutionary War debts, and created the first national bank. The Senate’s doors were closed to the public during this precedent-setting period, but we have a key source that sheds light on what went on in the Chamber: the diary of Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania. Maclay’s diary is the lone insider account of Senate proceedings during his two-year tenure, 1789 to 1791. Maclay, who wrote every evening with the day’s events fresh in his mind, conveyed George Washington’s frustration during his visit to the Chamber to confer with senators about a treaty. He recorded colorful descriptions of individuals and remarked on what it was like to mingle with members from other parts of the country. He noted, for example, that New Englanders “dwell on trivial distinctions . . . and ceremony.” Vice President John Adams was the subject of Maclay’s ridicule for what the Pennsylvania senator perceived as Adams’s haughty attitude. “He . . . has a very silly kind of laugh,” wrote Maclay. He also noted that from the very first session some senators were already willing to use prolonged debate to delay action on a bill, a tactic later dubbed the filibuster. “The design of the Virginians and of the South Carolina gentlemen was to talk away the time, so that we could not get the bill passed,” Maclay wrote in 1789. Maclay’s descendants kept the diary private for decades. Published by his family in abridged form in the 1880s, the full diary was commercially published in 1890. It has been an indispensable reference for historians ever since.1 John Quincy Adams kept a diary throughout his life, including while he served a single term in the Senate from 1803 to 1809. Adams’s writings provide behind-the-scenes details of the Senate. For example, although the Senate Journal in 1803 attributed a three-day recess to necessary repairs for the Chamber's leaky roof, Adams records that "another motive, not mentioned, might be that the annual horse races of the city are held this week." Adams was critical of Vice President George Clinton for what he saw as poor judgment and ignorance of basic Senate procedure. The Massachusetts senator derided Clinton for asking senators to warn him when they planned to make a long speech so that he could turn over the duties of presiding to someone else and "take the opportunity to warm himself by the fire."2 As did Maclay and Adams, other senators have left records of their observations, interactions, and experiences. New Hampshire senator William Plumer first put quill to paper to start his diary on October 17, 1803. Decades before the Senate made any regular effort to report its proceedings verbatim, Plumer kept a complete record of Senate sessions until his term expired in 1807. His diary—he called it his “memorandum”—provides unique information on the Louisiana treaty debate, for example, including his outburst at President Thomas Jefferson for taking the Senate’s approval for granted. The president, by publicly supporting the treaty before the Senate had a chance to take it up, was, in Plumer's words, destroying the Senate's "freedom of opinion."3 Lawyer and publisher Horace Chilton of Texas is another senator who served for a brief time but left voluminous commentaries on the Senate. While sitting in the Chamber in the 1890s, Chilton would listen to speeches and jot down detailed descriptions of his colleagues. From Chilton we get a description of how senators of that era delivered speeches from their small desks: “His desk is arranged according to [a] custom very general in the Senate by putting six or eight large books on his desk building up a sort of pulpit twelve or fifteen inches high, and laying his notes on that pulpit or pile of books.” Chilton had intended to use his notes as the basis for a memoir and wanted to present his unvarnished assessments of colleagues. “I have concluded to note from time to time reflections concerning public men of my acquaintance,” he wrote. “The purpose will be to deal in candor. To avoid any mere gossip of evil, but to avoid equally the tone of adulation . . . which characterize[s] nearly all biography.” While listening to a speech by Senator William Chandler of New Hampshire on February 16, 1897, concerning the monetary question, Chilton wrote that Chandler “is a very prominent man in this country, [but] in the Senate not an influential man. Not a man on whose judgment people will rely. But active, always throwing himself into debate.”4 As anyone who has tried keeping a diary knows, it takes discipline. Ten years later, Chilton looked back on his notes and lamented, “What a small amount of matter of the kind intended to be recorded was actually put down.” He never published his memoir. Two senators from Vermont brought the habit of keeping a political diary into the 20th century. Frank Greene served in the Senate from 1923 to 1930. He kept a diary of one of the most fascinating periods in U.S. history—the years between the two world wars. In the 1970s, Senator George Aiken compiled and published his modern-era diary. He first joined the Senate in 1941 but did not begin keeping a diary until 1972. He dictated his thoughts every Saturday for 150 weeks until his retirement in 1975. One notable entry describes the senator’s meeting with President Richard Nixon on the evening of August 8, 1974, just before the president announced his plan to resign the following day. “I had constantly opposed resignation on the President’s part, preferring the impeachment process,” Aiken wrote. He hoped, above all, that his diary would show “how events can change their appearance from week to week and how the attitude of a Senator can change with them.”5 Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, the first woman elected to the Senate, kept a diary in the early 1930s. Appointed in 1931 to fill a vacancy caused by the death of her husband, Senator Thaddeus Caraway, she subsequently won a special election in January of 1932 for the remainder of the term. Soon after joining the Senate, friends encouraged her to keep a diary about life in Washington—from a female perspective. As a widowed mother of three sons, Caraway hoped the eventual publication of her diary might provide needed financial support to her family. As her senatorial duties took up more of her time, however, she put her diary aside. A slim volume titled Silent Hattie Speaks was published, but not until 1979.6 For many years, historians dismissed Caraway’s diary as the scribblings of a widow lost in the wilderness of politics, but a more careful examination paints a different picture. In the midst of commentary about fashion and hairstyles—presumed to be the observations that would most interest her potential readers—Caraway included some useful, pithy nuggets about her history-making service in the Senate. For example, when she surprised nearly everyone by announcing that she would seek election to a full term in 1932, she wrote in her diary, “I pitched a coin and heads came [up] three times,” adding, “I really want to try out my own theory of a woman running for office.” After the announcement was made, she wrote, the “die is cast” and “all I can do is sit tight and take whatever . . . comes from such a blow to tradition.” She won that election, and was reelected in 1938. During her early years in the Senate, Caraway felt ignored by her male colleagues, a complaint echoed by other women senators who followed. Fellow Arkansas senator and Democratic leader Joe T. Robinson, for example, “came around only for a moment at the instigation” of his chief of staff. Later, when Caraway initiated a conversation with Robinson, she wrote: “I very foolishly tried to talk to Joe today. Never again. He was cooler than a fresh cucumber and sourer than a pickled one.” As years passed, however, Caraway gained a good deal of respect from her colleagues and her constituents and broke down some significant barriers to women in the Senate. Historians now wish she had kept up that diary throughout her 14 years as a senator. These are but a sample of notable Senate diaries. Simon Cameron, who served as secretary of war in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet and represented Pennsylvania in the Senate during the antebellum and Reconstruction eras, left a chronicle of his experiences during the nation’s crisis of disunion. Harold Burton has the distinction of being the last sitting senator to be appointed to a seat on the Supreme Court. He represented the state of Ohio during World War II and left a private diary as part of his personal papers in the Library of Congress.7 One time-honored way to shape the historical record of the Senate, and ensure your place in that record, is to keep a diary. Fortunately for the historians of the Senate, many senators did just that.
Notes
1. Edgar S. Maclay, ed., Journal of William Maclay (New York: Appleton and Co., 1890). Available online at A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, Library of Congress, accessed October 6, 2020, https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwmj.html. 2. "The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection," Massachusetts Historical Society, accessed October 6, 2020, http://www.masshist.org/jqadiaries/php/. 3. William Plumer Papers, Diaries 1805–1836, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. 4. Horace Chilton Papers, Diaries 1888–1894, 1897, Briscoe Center for American History, University at Texas-Austin. 5. George Aiken, Aiken: Senate Diary, January 1972–January 1975 (Brattleboro, VT: Stephen Greene Press, 1976). 6. Diane D. Kincaid, ed., Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979). 7. Simon Cameron Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
Constitution Cake 202009 17Celebrating Constitution Day
September 17, 2020
In 2004 Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia introduced legislation designating September 17 of each year as Constitution Day and requiring public schools and government offices to provide educational programs to promote a better understanding of the Constitution. The Senate’s annual Constitution Day event, sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of the Senate and presented by the Senate Historical Office, has become a favorite Capitol Hill tradition.

More than two centuries after its ratification, the United States Constitution remains a fundamental document. Strengthened by amendments, it continues to guide our public officials and the people they serve. It has endured through civil war, economic depressions, assassinations, and even terrorist attacks, and remains a source of wisdom and inspiration. To encourage Americans to learn more about the Constitution, Congress established Constitution Week in 1956, to begin each year on September 17—the date in 1787 when delegates to the federal convention signed the Constitution. In 2004 Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia took it a step further, sponsoring legislation designating September 17 of each year as Constitution Day and requiring public schools and government offices to provide educational programs to promote a better understanding of the Constitution. Appropriately, Senator Byrd kicked off the Senate's first Constitution Day celebration in 2005 with a speech in the historic Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building. He shared his personal devotion to the Constitution (a copy of which he always kept in his pocket) and stressed the importance of educating Americans about their founding document. "Just as the birth of our nation depended on the quality, knowledge, and experience of the men who gave it life, its continued vitality depends on the efforts of our generation, and of future generations, to keep the vision of its Framers alive," Byrd stated. "It depends on the personal commitment of each and every one of us to learn, to understand, and to preserve the governing principles that are set forth so clearly and powerfully in the text of our remarkable Constitution." For the Senate Historical Office, Constitution Day has been an opportunity to explore the ways in which the Constitution has shaped the Senate, the role of the Senate in amending the Constitution, and how the Senate has exercised its constitutional prerogatives and fulfilled its constitutional duties. The annual event has examined the debates of the federal convention in 1787 that led to the creation of the Constitution, the heated arguments of the state ratification process, as well as the nature of federal elections under the Constitution and how Congress has changed the electoral process over time. These events also have examined how the Constitution has been amended, from the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791 to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment providing for the direct election of U.S. senators in 1913 and the Nineteenth Amendment providing for female suffrage in 1920. Other topics have included the Senate's constitutional role in the treaty-making process and the various constitutional crises confronted by the Civil War Senate, including defining a quorum in the wake of secession, the Civil War amendments to the Constitution, and the readmission of states to representation after the war. In recent years, Constitution Day programs have expanded to include guided exhibits featuring facsimiles of historic documents, maps, and images. In 2016, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the creation of the Senate’s first permanent standing committees in 1816, Senate historians and archivists created four archival exhibits that demonstrated how committees aid the Senate in exercising its powers under the Constitution. Highlighting the work of four committees established in 1816 (Foreign Relations, Finance, Judiciary, and Commerce), these exhibits illustrated how Senate committees provide a forum for constitutional government in action. Using case studies from different eras, the documents revealed how Senate committee work has changed since 1816 and highlighted the growing role of committee staff. In the 20th century, as the nation grew to superpower status, the Senate reformed and modernized its committee structure, allowing for increased professional staff who brought their expertise to the legislative and oversight process. For the many staff members attending the event, this served as a reminder of the vital role they play in Senate history and the continuing importance of archiving committee records. In 2017 the Senate’s Constitution Day event focused on the contentious debate during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 over representation that culminated in the Great Compromise of 1787, the agreement that established state equality rather than population-based representation as a defining characteristic of the Senate. Following a brief historical presentation, those attending the event explored archival exhibits illustrating the debate that produced this compromise, how the compromise was received during the ratification process, and its enduring legacy. Constitution Day 2018 examined how the constitutional provision for equal state representation in the Senate led to fierce battles over the admission of new states. Article IV of the Constitution specifies that "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union." The Constitution also gave Congress the power "to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory . . . belonging to the United States." The Constitution, the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, and later treaties under which the U.S. acquired new territories—such as the Louisiana Purchase Treaty of 1803—governed Congress's practices for organizing territories and setting conditions for statehood. Only after territories had served a period of tutelage and built up the requisite population and economic resources could they apply to Congress for equal status as a state. As Assistant Historian Daniel Holt explained in his Constitution Day 2018 presentation, the Senate frequently “took center stage in the often-contentious battles over admission of new states. Each additional state has held the potential to upset the existing balance of power in the Senate." To accompany this event, the Historical Office created an online feature entitled "On Equal Footing: The Constitution, the Senate, and the Expanding United States," which included historical information and the archival exhibits from this presentation. The Constitution of 1787 established the framework for the United States government, but it has fallen to succeeding generations to interpret and implement its principles. Every year, Constitution Day provides the opportunity for citizens to revisit the nation’s founding document and examine how it shapes this nation more than two centuries after its ratification. The Senate Historical Office welcomes this annual opportunity to continue its explorations into the origins of the Constitution and its role in the history of the United States Senate.
Reenactment of Oath-taking in the Vice President's Office, January 3, 1949 202008 18Women of the Senate
August 18, 2020
On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee state legislature approved the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution by a nail-biting margin of one vote, making Tennessee the necessary 36th state and securing the amendment’s ratification. Two years later, on November 21, 1922, Rebecca Felton of Georgia became the first woman to take the Senate oath of office. To commemorate the Woman Suffrage Centennial, and to acknowledge the service of the first woman senator, we present our new online exhibit Women of the Senate.
Categories: Women | Oral History Project

On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee state legislature approved the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution by a nail-biting margin of one vote. The Volunteer State was the 36th state to approve the amendment, and having met the constitutional requirement of approval by three-quarters of the states, the amendment was ratified. Suffragists across the nation celebrated this long and hard-fought victory. Two years later, 87-year-old Rebecca Felton of Georgia, a Democrat, became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Appointed to fill a vacancy, Felton took the oath on November 21, 1922. She gave only one speech in the Senate Chamber, but her brief tenure tore down a long-standing barrier to women. Felton predicted a new day for women in politics. “When the women of the country come in and sit with you . . . , you will get ability, you will get integrity . . . and you will get unstinted usefulness.” Even before Felton took office, women had already left their mark on Senate history. In fact, women have always been a part of the Senate’s story, influencing its members and guiding its actions as petitioners, activists, correspondents, spouses, witnesses, lobbyists, speakers, and most importantly, as staff and then as senators. To commemorate the centennial of the Woman Suffrage Amendment, ratified in 1920, and to acknowledge the service of the first woman senator in 1922, the Senate Historical Office celebrates the evolving role of the Women of the Senate. Since the Senate opened its doors to the public in 1795, women have been a near-constant presence in and around the Chamber. Margaret Bayard Smith was an avid writer of letters who began writing for the National Intelligencer, Washington, D.C.’s first newspaper, in the 1820s. An articulate observer of the Senate's early years, Smith's accounts of the dramatic exchanges between Senators Daniel Webster and Robert Hayne provided a richly detailed portrait of this historic debate. In addition to chronicling Senate debates, women have played pivotal roles in shaping them, such as petitioning to abolish slavery and demanding women’s right to vote, among other issues. Spouses have been active political participants, engaging with elected members and the nation in a variety of ways. During World War I, for example, Senate wives formed a local Red Cross branch to support U.S. troops, rolling bandages and assisting local hospitals. After the war, the Ladies of the Senate expanded their mission to include other charitable work. Today, Senate spouses—including the husbands of women senators—maintain a connection with the Red Cross and pursue a variety of activities, including hosting an annual luncheon for the First Lady. Senate spouses continue to play an important role in the Senate of the modern era, not only as partners in Senate families, but also as active, dynamic, and influential actors in the American political system. By the time Felton took office in 1922, a growing number of pioneering women had assumed top staff positions on committees and in senators’ offices. One of those pioneers, Leona Wells, joined the Senate's clerical staff on January 14, 1901, and remained on the payroll for the next 25 years. Today, women hold many important and influential positions in the Senate. They work for committees and in members’ offices, as elected officers, policymakers, legal counsel, and staff directors. They also support the institution’s daily operations, serving on the Capitol Police force, for example, in Senate dining facilities, in building maintenance, as Senate curators and historians, and in a variety of other positions. Felton’s historic Senate appointment paved the way for other women senators. Hattie Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman to win election to the Senate in 1932. In 1949 Margaret Chase Smith of Maine took the oath of office, becoming the first woman to serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. In the 21st century, women’s growing influence in politics is seen daily in the Senate Chamber, where a record number of women currently serve as U.S. senators. Fifty-seven women have served in the United States Senate since the first woman took the oath of office in 1922. To capture some of their varied experiences, document the challenges they faced, and record their unique perspectives on social and political issues of the day, Senate historians have conducted oral history interviews with former women senators and staff. Their stories are central to understanding Senate history. They provide a fuller, richer understanding of the evolving role of women in the Senate and their impact on the institution and the country. The Senate Historical Office continues its Women’s Suffrage Centennial series with its new online commemorative exhibit Women of the Senate.
Campaign Button, "Carol Moseley Braun, Illinois, for U.S. Senate" 202007 29The Senate Oral History Project
July 29, 2020
Learn about the U.S. Senate through the stories of those who helped to shape it. Since the 1970s, Senate historians have conducted oral history interviews with senators, officers, and staff. These interviews preserve the individual experiences of a diverse group of personalities who witnessed events firsthand and offer unique perspectives on national events, politics, and policy, as well as the evolution of the Senate. Each interview provides a unique perspective on Senate history, offering a deeper and more nuanced understanding of congressional action and life on Capitol Hill.
Categories: Oral History Project

Learn about the U.S. Senate through the stories of those who helped to shape it. Since the 1970s, Senate historians have conducted oral history interviews with senators, officers, and staff. These interviews preserve the individual experiences of a diverse group of personalities who witnessed events firsthand and offer unique perspectives on national events, politics, and policy, as well as the evolution of the Senate. The interviews below represent a small sample of the larger collection. On January 3, 1993, Carol Moseley Braun became the first woman from Illinois and the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. As one of only seven women senators and the only African American in the Senate at the time, Moseley Braun experienced a level of constituent demands rarely seen before. “I had a job to do. I had to represent the people of Illinois. That means attending to their business. That means being a legislator. That means constituent service work … That's how I saw what I was supposed to do.”
Elizabeth Letchworth began her Senate career as a page in the 1970s and moved on to serve in the Republican cloakroom and as a floor assistant. In these positions, she often worked at the heart of the action in the Senate Chamber. In 1995 senators elected her Republican Party secretary, the first woman to serve in that position. “Because of the nature of the job, because it’s not a job where you can learn from reading books or going to classes, it is the epitome of on-the-job training.”
Carl Marcy served for 18 years as chief of staff for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the height of the Cold War. Marcy recalls that pivotal era as one in which the trust between Congress and the White House steadily eroded, most notably over the war in Vietnam. “It was during that summer [of 1965] that I think the administration began to worry a little bit about what [Foreign Relations Chairman Bill] Fulbright's attitude was. He was a bit too independent for them.”

These and other stories are found in the many interviews that make up the Senate Oral History Project. The Historical Office recently redesigned the online presentation of its oral histories. A wide-ranging selection of interviews can now be searched by name, position, or era, and by a select number of subjects and events. Each interview provides a unique perspective on Senate history, offering a deeper and more nuanced understanding of congressional action and life on Capitol Hill.

George S. McGovern, U.S. senator from South Dakota, 1963–1981. 202006 5A Generation of World War II Veterans
June 5, 2020
Of the 16 million Americans who served in the military during the Second World War, more than 100 later served as U.S. senators. While the heroic actions of some of them are well known—John F. Kennedy leading the crew of PT-109, for example—what about the others who went on to serve as senators? Here are a few of their stories.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in the military during the Second World War, more than 100 later served as U.S. senators. While the heroic actions of some of them are well known—John F. Kennedy leading the crew of PT-109, for example—what about the others who went on to serve as senators? Here are a few of their stories. On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of beach on the coast of Normandy, France. This extraordinary military operation marked the beginning of a strategic plan to liberate continental Europe from Nazi occupation. Philip Hart waded ashore at Utah Beach that day with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division. As he and his fellow soldiers advanced on fortified German targets, an artillery shell hit his right arm, severing the main artery. He slowed the bleeding with a hastily made tourniquet and insisted that medics attend first to a fallen comrade before consenting to his own evacuation. Hart was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He later served 17 years in the Senate, from 1959 to 1976, representing the state of Michigan. Miles east of Hart’s location, Lee Metcalf, a commissioned officer with the army’s 5th Division, stormed Omaha Beach. Two thousand Americans died in a single day in a battle that came to be known as Bloody Omaha. American journalist Ernie Pyle later confessed what many thought at the time: “It seemed to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all.” After Omaha, Metcalf helped to liberate Paris and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Discharged in 1946, he returned to his home state of Montana, where voters elected him to four terms in the House of Representatives, followed by three terms in the Senate, from 1961 to 1978. While Allied forces took Normandy beaches, James Strom Thurmond crash landed miles inland at an apple orchard near Sainte-Mère-Église, France, as part of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Thurmond sustained minor injuries, spent the next few days in combat, and later helped to organize local provisional governments. He was awarded the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star with Valor device, and the Purple Heart. The native South Carolinian represented his state in the Senate from 1955 to 2003. Other future senators also fought with distinction. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Edward Brooke, a former ROTC cadet and recent graduate of Howard University, was assigned to the U.S. Army’s segregated 366th Combat Infantry Regiment. In addition to the hazards of combat, Brooke encountered daily reminders of the second-class status given to African American soldiers who fought bravely in the European theater while facing intimidation and even violence from military officials. The U.S. military barred black soldiers from the PX and officers’ clubs and granted them access to the base movie theaters only at designated times. Later promoted to captain, Brooke earned the Bronze Star and a Distinguished Service Medal. Brooke represented the state of Massachusetts in the Senate from 1967 to 1979. Throughout the war, American air power offered crucial support to Allied ground forces. Army Air Corps Lieutenant George McGovern flew a B-24 bomber on 35 missions over wartime Europe and never lost a man on his crew. The army awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his “high degree of courage and piloting skill … intrepid spirit … and rare devotion to duty.” He later served three Senate terms for the state of South Dakota, from 1963 to 1981, and was the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee. In the spring of 1945, the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division began an offensive to gain control of northern Italy. Robert Dole, a combat infantry officer in the division, was critically wounded while leading his platoon on a mission to neutralize a pocket of German resisters holed up in a farmhouse. Dole spent nine agonizing hours on the battlefield awaiting his medical evacuation. The army awarded the future senator two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star with Valor device for his leadership and courage under fire. Dole represented Kansas in the Senate for 27 years, from 1969 to 1996, and won the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. That same month, another future senator fought in the Italian countryside. When the U.S. military dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans in 1943, Daniel Inouye joined the U.S. Army’s segregated all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. On a Tuscan battlefield in April 1945, Inouye was shot in the stomach while leading a flanking maneuver. He refused medical treatment and then organized a second attack. That’s when a German rifle grenade nearly severed his arm. Doctors later amputated it. For Inouye’s effort and perseverance, the Army awarded him the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross. Later, while recuperating in a Michigan hospital, he befriended Philip Hart and Robert Dole, both of whom were recovering from their own injuries in the same hospital. Inouye represented the state of Hawaii in the Senate for 49 years, from 1963 to 2012. These men, and more than 100 other veterans of the Second World War, shaped the Senate for decades to come. In 2013 the Senate’s last World War II veteran, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, died in office. Each year, as we commemorate D-Day on June 6, the war memorials that dot the coastline of Normandy serve as reminders of the sacrifices made by Allied forces during World War II, including the future senators who served in so many theaters of war. “We are duty bound to keep [their memory],” the Omaha Beach Museum states simply, “that future generations may never forget at what cost our freedom came.”
Charles Sumner 202005 4Charles Sumner: After the Caning
May 4, 2020
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts is best remembered for his role in a dramatic incident in Senate history. On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked the senator at his desk in the Senate Chamber. The “Caning of Sumner” is a famous event, but of course the story did not end there. To understand the importance of Sumner’s enduring legacy as statesman and legislator, particularly in the realm of civil rights, we must explore what happened after the caning.

Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts is best remembered for his role in a dramatic and infamous event in Senate history—what has become known as the “Caning of Sumner.” Just days earlier, Sumner had delivered a fiery speech entitled “The Crime Against Kansas,” in which he railed against the institution of slavery and unleashed a stream of vitriol against the senators who defended it. In retaliation, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Sumner at his desk in the Senate Chamber, beating him with a heavy walking stick until the senator was left bleeding and unconscious on the Chamber floor. Sumner convalesced, returning only intermittently over the next three years. He resumed full-time duties in 1859 and over the next 15 years became a trailblazing legislator who left an indelible mark on the Senate and the country. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1861 to 1871, Sumner wielded great influence over the nation’s diplomacy, but his tireless efforts in the realm of abolition and civil rights were what truly defined his career. Sumner was among the first members of Congress to argue that the Civil War had to be fought to end slavery as much as to save the Union. In fact, he said the two goals were inextricably linked. He called slavery “the main-spring of Rebellion” and insisted, “Let the National Government . . . simply throw the thing upon the flames madly kindled by itself, and the Rebellion will die at once.”1 He worked tirelessly behind the scenes to prevent moderate Republicans in Congress and in Abraham Lincoln’s administration from compromising on the question of abolishing slavery. When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which freed slaves in the rebelling states, Sumner praised Lincoln’s action but quickly added that the presidential proclamation did not go far enough. Only national abolition, immune from action by the Supreme Court, could guarantee an end to the heinous institution—and that meant a constitutional amendment. To gain Senate approval of what would become the Thirteenth Amendment, Sumner collaborated with a number of antislavery activists and forged a unique alliance with members of the Women’s National Loyal League. Created by stalwart reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the Women’s National Loyal League held its first convention in May of 1863 and began a campaign to collect one million signatures on a petition demanding a constitutional amendment for the total abolition of slavery. To receive this and other petitions, Sumner asked the Senate to create a special committee “to take into consideration all propositions . . . concerning slavery.” The Senate complied and named Sumner as chairman.2 By early 1864, the National Loyal League had collected 100,000 signatures. Never one to miss a moment of high drama, on February 9, 1864, Sumner entered the Senate Chamber accompanied by two tall African American men who carried a pair of massive steamer trunks filled with petitions. Sumner presented the petitions to the Senate, calling the signers “a mighty army, one hundred thousand strong. . . . They ask for nothing less than universal emancipation.”3 Sumner’s speech became known as “The Prayer of One Hundred Thousand.” Sumner hoped to use his position as chairman of the new committee to promote total abolition. In February of 1864, just before delivering his “Prayer” speech, he introduced a constitutional amendment to end slavery, asking that it be referred to his Select Committee on Slavery and Freedmen, although Senate practice dictated otherwise. Judiciary Committee chairman Lyman Trumbull objected, insisting that his committee was the proper one to consider such proposals. The Senate sided with Trumbull. When the Judiciary Committee reported its version of an abolition amendment to the full Senate, Sumner thought it was not strong enough. He had insisted that any amendment must include a provision that all persons were “equal before the law,” but few senators were ready to take such a bold step. Making all persons “equal before the law,” argued one senator, might lead to dangerous consequences, such as providing voting rights to women. Instead, the committee approved more modest language that echoed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Although the statement was less than Sumner had hoped for, he joined his colleagues in voting for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in April of 1864. In the years following the Civil War, Sumner recognized that abolition was only the beginning of the battle for civil rights. He used what power he could muster to protect the gains that African Americans had made in the South and urged his colleagues to approve mobilization of federal resources to do so. He emerged as a leading opponent of President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction policies, which Sumner and other Radical Republicans believed were designed to reinstate white supremacy in the former Confederate states. He supported impeachment and removal of the president in 1868, though the Senate came up one vote short of conviction. Sumner’s steadfast defense of his principles often led him to oppose compromise measures. He believed that the government owed former slaves a guarantee of their suffrage rights, along with support for education and land ownership. Sumner initially opposed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that African Americans were citizens entitled to equal protection of the laws, because it did not contain a clear guarantee of voting rights. Ultimately, he cast his vote in favor of the amendment. Never shy about chastising his fellow Republicans for not going far enough, Sumner took every opportunity to place the question of equal rights before the Senate. Such radical views stirred action, but they also made enemies. “If I could cut the throats of about half a dozen senators,” confessed William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, “Sumner would be the first victim.”4 In 1870 Sumner introduced what he considered to be his most important piece of legislation, a civil rights bill to guarantee to all citizens, regardless of color, “equal and impartial enjoyment of any accommodation, advantage, facility, or privilege.” Sumner had characterized segregation and other anti-black laws in the South as “nothing but the tail of slavery,” and he predicted his civil rights bill would be the greatest achievement of Reconstruction. “Very few measures of equal importance have ever been presented,” he proclaimed.5 Unfortunately, Sumner’s idealistic and uncompromising stance had alienated him from many of his Senate colleagues, and the bill failed. In 1871 he even lost his influential position atop the Foreign Relations Committee when he entered into a fierce public battle with President Ulysses S. Grant over plans to annex Santo Domingo. The party caucus sided with Grant and removed Sumner as chairman. Despite becoming increasingly isolated within his party, Sumner persisted and continued to introduce the civil rights bill. After suffering a heart attack in 1874, Sumner’s final thoughts remained with his bill. The dying Sumner pleaded with Frederick Douglass and others at his bedside: “Don’t let the bill fail. You must take care of [my] civil rights bill.”6 Sumner did not live to see the fate of his bill. When Sumner died on March 11, 1874, his supporters mourned him as a national leader. Thousands passed by his casket in the Capitol Rotunda, where it was placed on the same catafalque that had held President Lincoln’s casket a decade before. Thousands more lined the train route by which the senator’s body was transported north and were present upon its arrival in Massachusetts. As he lay in state in the Massachusetts State House, soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, composed of African American soldiers who had fought in the Civil War, stood guard. The Springfield Republican lamented: “The noblest head in America has fallen, and the most accomplished and illustrious of our statesmen is no more.”7 As a final tribute to their often-difficult colleague, senators passed an amended version of Sumner’s bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, but again Sumner proved to be ahead of his time. The Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in 1883. It would take another 80 years for Sumner’s ideas to gain full legislative endorsement—with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you seek the source of Sumner’s fame, look to the caning. To truly understand the importance of Sumner’s enduring legacy as statesman and legislator, however, you need to explore the career that came after the caning.
Notes
1. Quoted in David Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (New York: Knopf, 1970), 29. 2. Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, 148. 3. Congressional Globe (38th Cong., 1st Sess.), February 9, 1864, p. 536. 4. William Pitt Fessenden to Elizabeth Fessenden Warriner, June 1, 1862, quoted in Eric L. McKitrick, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 272. 5. Congressional Globe (38th Congress, 1st Session), May 13, 1864, p. 2246; Sumner to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, February 25, 1872, in Edward Lillie Pierce, Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner, 1860-1874 (Boston, 1894), 502. 6. Pierce, Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner, 1860-1874, 598. 7. Quoted in Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, 8.
TimePetition to the Senate for a Suffrage Amendment, 1918 202004 2Discovering the Role of the Senate in Women’s Fight for the Vote
April 2, 2020
Congress Week—celebrated each April to commemorate the week in 1789 when the House of Representatives and the Senate first achieved a quorum—was established to promote the study of Congress and to encourage a wider appreciation of the vital role of the legislative branch in our representative democracy. This year, in recognition of the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, we celebrate Congress Week by exploring how Senate historians used congressional collections to develop the online feature, “The Senate and Women’s Fight for the Vote.”

Congress Week—celebrated each April to commemorate the week in 1789 when the House of Representatives and the Senate first achieved a quorum—was established to promote the study of Congress and to encourage a wider appreciation of the vital role of the legislative branch in our representative democracy. This year, in recognition of the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, we celebrate Congress Week by exploring how Senate historians used congressional collections to develop the online feature, “The Senate and Women’s Fight for the Vote.” Formally proposed in the Senate for the first time in 1878, the Nineteenth Amendment was finally approved by the Senate 41 years later, on June 4, 1919. Ratified the following year, the amendment extended to women the right to vote. To tell the story of the suffragists’ protracted campaign to win that right, Senate historians delved into a variety of primary sources, including petitions, congressional hearings and reports, and the personal papers of U.S. senators. Records of Congress The Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives (where congressional records are stored) houses a vast collection of woman suffrage records. The bulk of these records consists of petitions created by tens of thousands of suffragists who exercised their First Amendment right. Their petitions come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are as brief as a telegram, while others include hundreds of signatures pasted or stitched together and rolled up in large bundles. Senate historians combed through scores of petitions to understand not only the suffragists and their demands but also those who opposed woman suffrage. Senate historians also consulted speeches printed in the Congressional Record and committee hearing transcripts and reports to understand senators’ evolving attitudes toward woman suffrage. When California senator Aaron Sargent introduced the woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution in 1878, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections agreed to allow women to testify in support of the amendment. After hearing from witnesses, including suffrage pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Reverend Olympia Brown, the committee’s majority remained unconvinced and recommended that Sargent’s proposal be “indefinitely postponed.” A few senators voiced their dissent. “The American people must extend the right of Suffrage to Woman or abandon the idea that Suffrage is a birthright,” concluded Senators George Hoar (R-MA), John H. Mitchell (R-OR), and Angus Cameron (R-WI). In 1913, following a historic suffrage parade in the nation’s capital, a Senate subcommittee investigated the chaotic and hostile conditions endured by suffragists along the parade route. The voluminous testimony and photographs published in these hearing volumes provide compelling evidence of lewd comments, physical assaults, and intimidation, as well as the volatility of the massive crowds of people that converged along the parade route. In the wake of these dramatic hearings, the committee concluded that the police had acted with “apparent indifference and in this way encouraged the crowd to press in upon the parade.” Senators’ Papers To delve deeper into this rich and engaging story, the historians also ventured outside the Senate’s official holdings at the National Archives to explore the personal papers of individual senators and suffragists, as well as the records of suffrage organizations housed in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Correspondence between senators and their constituents often revealed the motivation behind a senator’s decision to support or oppose the amendment. Idaho senator William Borah, for example, who opposed the national suffrage amendment, insisting it was an issue best left to the states, justified his opposition to the amendment in letters to concerned constituents. “I am aware . . . [my position] will lead to much criticism among friends at home,” he wrote. “I would rather give up the office,” he continued, “[than] cast a vote . . . I do not believe in.” Wisconsin senator Robert La Follette succinctly explained his support for the proposal in a letter to Anne Fitzhugh Miller: “A government of equal rights cannot justly deny women the right of suffrage. It will surely come.” Like the petitions in the National Archives, such letters offer a palpable sense of the engagement of citizens with their senators. Organizational Archives and Other Primary Sources Senate historians reviewed archival materials housed at the National Woman’s Party (NWP) at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, including materials related to the organization’s complex lobbying operation and a political cartoon collection by artist Nina Allender. Many of Allender’s cartoons prominently featured the Senate. A deep dive into the extensive photographic collection at the Library of Congress turned up a host of illuminating images to illustrate suffrage campaign activities at the Capitol and the Senate Office Building, as suffragists assembled to deliver their petitions and to demand the right to vote. An exhaustive review of historical newspapers and periodicals revealed personal testimonials and editorials. Particularly informative was the series of articles written by suffragist Maud Younger and published in McCall’s magazine in 1919, just after congressional passage of the amendment. Entitled “Revelations of a Woman Lobbyist,” Younger’s intimate account provides an insider’s view of the extensive lobbying campaign suffragists waged to win House and Senate approval of the Nineteenth Amendment. Primary sources such as photos, petitions, speeches, published hearings, correspondence, historical newspapers, and periodicals are all essential to the historian’s work. Our special feature, “The Senate and Women’s Fight for the Vote,” which drew upon all of those resources and more, demonstrates the value and importance of congressional archives. Without these records, the important role played by suffragists and their allies in the Senate’s long battle over the suffrage amendment would be lost or forgotten.
Senators Maurine Neuberger and Margaret Chase Smith, January 5, 1961 202003 9Two Women Take the Oath
March 9, 2020
A long-standing feature of the Senate’s traditional biennial oath-taking ceremony is the escorting of newly elected or reelected senators to the well of the Chamber. In January of 2019, at the beginning of the 116th Congress, a record-breaking 14 women senators took the oath of office. Eight of those women were escorted by another female senator. As the number of women in Congress grows, these symbolically important moments are becoming more commonplace, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, in 1961, the sight of two women taking the oath together caused quite a stir!
Categories: Women

In celebration of Women’s History Month, this Senate Story highlights a historic day in 1961 when—for the first time in Senate history—two women took the oath of office on the same day. One of the Senate’s most enduring traditions is the biennial oath-taking ceremony. A long-standing feature of this ritual is the escorting of newly elected or reelected senators to the well of the Chamber. Marching down the center aisle in pairs, or occasionally in groups of three, current and former senators, traditionally from the same state as the newly elected or reelected senator, then stand by to witness this much-anticipated moment in every Senate career. In January of 2019, at the beginning of the 116th Congress, a record-breaking 14 women senators took the oath of office. Eight of those women were escorted by another female senator. As the number of women in Congress grows, these symbolically important moments are becoming more commonplace, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, in 1961, the sight of two women taking the oath together caused quite a stir! The 1960 election had already set a milestone. For the first time, two women candidates faced off against each other for the same Senate seat. One candidate was the Republican senator from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith, whose courageous stand against McCarthyism had won her national acclaim and placed her on the list of America’s most admired women. First elected to the Senate in 1948, Smith was reelected in 1954, and in 1960 she was seeking a third term. Political observers predicted an easy win for Smith, but the Democrats had a plan for victory. Their carefully chosen candidate was state representative Lucia Cormier. The only way to beat Smith, the Democrats insisted, was with another woman. The Smith-Cormier contest quickly gained national attention. Despite the many accomplishments of both women, the press often reported the campaign in sexist terms. It was a contest of “widow vs. spinster,” declared the Los Angeles Times. We expect to see “a real fur-flying political cat fight,” predicted the Washington Post, between “a scrappy ex-school teacher” and “the snowy-maned, frosty-mannered Republican ‘queen bee.’” The campaign heated up even more in February of 1960 when Maine’s junior senator, Edmund Muskie, personally championed Cormier’s campaign. Muskie even went so far as to escort the Democratic candidate to the Senate Chamber. He introduced Cormier as “the next senator from Maine” and urged her to take a seat at one of the historic desks. This was a clear breach of Senate etiquette and something that Senator Smith did not forget. Margaret Chase Smith won the election (and another in 1966). There were no post-election hard feelings between Smith and Cormier, who had been friends and colleagues for years, but as Smith returned to Washington to take the oath for a third time, she was none too pleased with Ed Muskie. Less publicized but equally important, another woman made Senate history that year. On November 8, 1960, Democrat Maurine Neuberger was elected as the first (and to date, only) woman senator from the state of Oregon. A teacher, writer, photographer, and activist for consumer rights, Neuberger had served in the Oregon state legislature in the 1950s but came to Washington, D.C., when her husband, Richard, was elected to the U.S. Senate. They quickly became a high-profile Washington “power couple.” When Richard died in 1960, Maurine Neuberger ran for election to his seat, winning both a special election to fill out the remainder of his term and a general election to the full six-year term beginning in 1961. For the first time in Senate history, two women were elected to a full term in the same election and would take the oath of office on the same day. “The gap between the two parties, the distance between Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon, will be bridged” by two women, promised a reporter. As the opening day of the 87th Congress arrived in January of 1961, the press paid a good deal of attention to the two women senators. Margaret Chase Smith, who for much of her career had been the only female senator, welcomed the company of another woman. Smith was also an astute politician. She understood that the oath-taking ceremony provided a perfect opportunity for a display of female solidarity in the Senate. It also provided an opportunity for some political payback. On January 3, 1961, when Margaret Chase Smith entered the Chamber to take the oath of office, she ignored Senate tradition. In a rebuke of her Maine colleague, she walked into the Chamber arm in arm with Maurine Neuberger. The two women got a standing ovation, women in politics got a hefty boost, and Margaret Chase Smith got even with Edmund Muskie.
Studio photograph of Senator Hiram Revels. 202002 25Hiram Revels: First African American Senator
February 25, 2020
One hundred and fifty years ago, on February 25, 1870, visitors in the packed Senate galleries burst into applause as Senator-elect Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, entered the Chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the United States Congress.

Welcome to Senate Stories, our new Senate history blog. In recognition of Black History Month, our first blog post celebrates the sesquicentennial of the swearing in of Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American senator. One hundred and fifty years ago, on February 25, 1870, visitors in the packed Senate galleries burst into applause as Senator-elect Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, entered the Chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the United States Congress. Just 22 days earlier, on February 3, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting states from disenfranchising voters “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Revels was indeed “the Fifteenth Amendment in flesh and blood,” as his contemporary, the civil rights activist Wendell Phillips, dubbed him. Hiram Revels was born a free man in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 27, 1827, the son of a Baptist preacher. As a youth, he took lessons at a private school run by an African American woman and eventually traveled north to further his education. He attended seminaries in Indiana and Ohio, becoming a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845, and eventually studied theology at Knox College in Illinois. During the turbulent decade of the 1850s, Revels preached to free and enslaved men and women in various states while surreptitiously assisting fugitive slaves. When the Civil War began in 1861, Revels was serving as a pastor in Baltimore. Before long, he was forming regiments of African American soldiers in Maryland, serving as a Union army chaplain in Mississippi, and establishing schools for freed slaves in Missouri. He settled in Natchez, Mississippi, at war’s end, where he served as presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1868 he gained his first elected position, as alderman for the town of Natchez. The next year he won election to the state senate, as one of 35 African Americans elected to the Mississippi state legislature that year. In 1870, as Mississippi sought readmission to representation in the U.S. Congress, the Republican Party firmly controlled both houses of Congress and also dominated the southern state legislatures. That, along with the pending ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, set the stage for the election of Congress’s first African American members. One of the first orders of business for the new Mississippi state legislature when it convened on January 11, 1870, was to fill the vacancies in the United States Senate, which had remained empty since the 1861 withdrawal of Albert Brown and future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Representing around one-quarter of the state legislative body, the black legislators insisted that one of the vacancies be filled by a black member of the Republican Party. “An opportunity of electing a Republican to the United States Senate, to fill an unexpired term occurred,” Revels later recalled, “and the colored members after consulting together on the subject, agreed to give their influence and votes for one of their own race for that position, as it would in their judgement be a weakening blow against color line prejudice.” Since Revels had impressed his colleagues with an impassioned prayer at the opening of the session, legislators agreed that the shorter of the two terms, set to expire in March 1871, would go to him. Mississippi gained readmission on February 23, 1870, and Senator Henry Wilson, one of the Senate’s strongest civil rights advocates, promptly presented Revels’s credentials to the Senate. Immediately, three senators issued a challenge. They charged that Revels had not been a U.S. citizen for the constitutionally required nine years. Citing the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, they argued that Revels did not gain citizenship until at least 1866, with passage of that year’s civil rights act, and perhaps not until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. By this logic, Revels could claim that he had been a U.S. citizen for, at most, four years. Revels and his supporters dismissed the challenge. The Fourteenth Amendment had repealed the Dred Scott decision, they insisted, and they pointed out that long before 1866 Revels had voted in the state of Ohio. Certainly that qualified him as a citizen. “The time has passed for argument. Nothing more need be said …. For a long time it has been clear that colored persons must be senators,” Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner declared, bringing the debate to an end with a stirring speech. “All men are created equal, says the great Declaration, and now a great act attests to this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality.” By an overwhelming margin, the Senate voted 48 to 8 to seat Revels. Escorted to the well by Senator Wilson, Revels took the oath of office on February 25, 1870. Three weeks later, the Senate galleries were again filled to capacity as Revels rose to deliver his maiden speech. Seeing himself as a representative of African American interests throughout the nation, Revels spoke against an amendment to the Georgia readmission bill that could be used to prevent blacks from holding state office. “Perhaps it were wiser for me, so inexperienced in the details of senatorial duties, to have remained a passive listener in the progress of this debate,” he began, acknowledging the Senate tradition of waiting a year or more to deliver a major address, “but when I remember that my term is short, and that the issues with which this bill is fraught are momentous in their present and future influence upon the well-being of my race, I would seem indifferent to the importance of the hour and recreant to the high trust imposed upon me if I hesitated to lend my voice on behalf of the loyal people of the South.” Revels made good use of his time in office, championing education for black Americans, speaking out against racial segregation, and fighting efforts to undermine the civil and political rights of African Americans. When his brief term ended on March 3, 1871, he returned to Mississippi, where he later became president of Alcorn College. During the Reconstruction Era, a total of 17 African Americans served in the United States Congress, 15 in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. In 1874 the Mississippi legislature elected Blanche K. Bruce to a full Senate term. Bruce, who had escaped slavery at the outbreak of the Civil War, became the first African American to preside over the Senate in 1879. Another eight decades passed before Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts followed in Revels and Bruce’s historic footsteps to take office in 1967. The significance of the courageous and pioneering service of Revels, Bruce, and the other African American congressmen of the Reconstruction Era cannot be overstated. Although the struggle to fully achieve equality would continue for years to come, their remarkable accomplishments opened doors for others to follow.