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This Week in Senate History

October 16, 1877

President Rutherford B. Hayes sent to the Senate his nomination of John Marshall Harlan to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court. In those days, the Senate did not yet require the Supreme Court nominees to appear before its Judiciary Committee to answer questions about their fitness to serve, and Harlan was easily confirmed within six weeks. He went on to serve with great distinction until his death, nearly thirty-four years later. Since 1955, all Supreme Court nominees have appeared before the Judiciary Committee, beginning with the nomination to the high court that year of Harlan's identically named grandson.

October 17, 1803

New Hampshire senator William Plumer began his diary—a daily record of Senate activities through the remainder of his term, which ended on March 5, 1807. Published in 1923 as William Plumer's Memorandum of Proceedings in the United States Senate, the diary is a valuable source of information about Senate operations and individual members in the early nineteenth century. It serves as a useful complement to the diary kept by John Quincy Adams during that same period. The valuable tradition of Senate diaries began in 1789 with the Journal of William Maclay.

October 18, 1988
Senator William Proxmire

Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin established the current record for the greatest number of consecutive roll call votes cast—10,252. He had not missed a vote in more than twenty-two years, since April 20, 1966. At the time of his retirement from the Senate in 1988, Proxmire had cast a total of 12,134 votes. His first vote came in dramatic fashion—in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1957—on the day he was sworn in as a senator after winning a special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

October 19, 1943
Photo of Senator Hattie Caraway

Senator Hattie Caraway (D-AR) became the first woman to preside over the Senate. Caraway succeeded her husband in the Senate after his death in 1931. In 1932 she became the first woman elected to the Senate, was twice reelected, and served until 1945. She was also the first woman to chair a Senate committee. Caraway had presided once before. In 1932, she briefly filled in for Vice President Charles Curtis, but there was no official recognition of the event. Caraway noticed, of course. "Made history," she wrote in her diary. "Nothing came up but oh, the autographs I signed."