Picturing Legislators of the Past: A New Guide

Pictures of Congress collection overview. Prints & Photographs Division, 2014. http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/pictures-of-congress.html

With the many new faces on Capitol Hill this month as the 114th Congress gets underway, it’s an apt time to revisit the faces and activities of members of Congress of yesteryear. A new guide, “Pictures of Congress: An Overview,” helps researchers do just that.

Although the Prints & Photographs Division generally does not receive images directly from Congress, the division has acquired through other sources many photographs, prints, and cartoons depicting past members of Congress.

The overview points out collections where members are well represented. For example:

  • One of our most comprehensive pictorial sources for a single Congress is the 1859 publication McClees’ Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates of the Thirty-fifth Congress. The volume offers an opportunity to examine the faces of legislators who wrestled with momentous issues a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War.
Title page for McClees' Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates of the Thirty-fifth Congress, 1859. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26553

Title page for McClees’ Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates of the Thirty-fifth Congress, 1859. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26534

 

J.C. Breckinridge, Senator from Kentucky. Photo in McClees' Gallery, p. 1.  http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26540

J.C. Breckinridge, Senator from Kentucky. Photo in McClees’ Gallery, p. 1. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26540

 

Hannibal Hamlin, Senator from Maine. Photo in McClees' Gallery, p. 2. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26541

Hannibal Hamlin, Senator from Maine. Photo in McClees’ Gallery, p. 2. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26541

 

  • Members of Congress from the first half of the 20th century depicted in the Harris & Ewing collection of glass negatives faced equally serious decisions. The studio’s photographers also managed to capture more playful moments.
Congressional milking contest declared draw... Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1938 June 9. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.24704

Congressional milking contest declared draw, Washington, D.C., June 9. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1938 June 9. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.24704

 

Baseball season opens at Capitol. Sen. Pat Harrison of Miss. and Sen. Geo. W. Pepper of Pa. officially open baseball season for the Senate Pages by 'choosing sides.'  Harris & Ewing, 1924. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.44054

Baseball season opens at Capitol. Sen. Pat Harrison of Miss. and Sen. Geo. W. Pepper of Pa. officially open baseball season for the Senate Pages by ‘choosing sides.’ Harris & Ewing, 1924. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.44054

 

In addition to collection summaries, the “Pictures of Congress” guide also features search tips. One particularly handy tip: Because descriptions of individual pictures often rely heavily on information that is on or with the image, full names and dates are not always present in the description. In addition to searching the full name of an individual, try searching the person’s last name paired with the appropriate title or its abbreviation, in case their first name is not mentioned or is abbreviated:

  • Senator (Sen.) (example: Sen. Cameron)
  • Representative (Rep.) (example: Rep. Butler)
  • Honorable (Hon.) (example: Hon. Pendleton)

If the collection suggestions and search tips don’t yield desired results, the “Pictures of Congress” guide also provides pointers to related resources and repositories that might be tapped for further research.

Lee Slater Overman, Senator from North Carolina... Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1914. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.06500

Lee Slater Overman, Senator from North Carolina… Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1914. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.06500

Pursuing the leads offered by the guide can lead to fascinating explorations of the men and women who have served in the U.S. Congress and suggest how the public may have come to know them through a variety of visual media.

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