Many pictures come into Prints and Photographs Division collections with little or no identification on them. It’s not entirely surprising, since a portion of our collections were generated or collected by individuals who readily knew the who, what, where and when that depictions can evoke and didn’t feel compelled to write it down. But even when some of those elements are spelled out in a picture, mysteries can remain.
This nearly nine-foot-long panoramic photo was clearly taken outside of the U.S. Capitol building. There’s a penciled notation on the back: “Hatton W. Sumners, 5th District, Texas, 63-79 Congress,” suggesting it has to do with the House of Representatives.The photo was transferred to us by another unit of the Library. Although the numbers above and below the individuals suggests there was once a key that identified each person, no key arrived with the photo.
The presence of the lone woman in the photo (#64 above), who is recognizably Jeanette Rankin, helped our catalogers generally identify the group and the date, as she was first in the House of Representatives 1916-1918—the 65th Congress.
But who else is in the photo?
Staff members in the U. S. House of Representatives’ Office of Art & Archives have been pursuing that very question. They have identified quite a few Members of Congress who sat for this picture (see the pdf document with the list of identifications they have made so far—red means a tentative id.). They’d like to confirm the tentative identifications and identify some more of the individuals pictured but represented only by a question mark on their list. Would you like to help?
The United States House of Representatives History, Art & Archives blog post, “Who’s Who in the 65th“ describes the painstaking process by which staff members and interns were able to pin down the date of the photo (March 20, 1918) and to figure out who is included, as less than half of the Members were present for the portrait taking.
Close looking at all of those faces will be necessary. Office of Art & Archives staff have helped viewers step down the line of sitters and standers by including in their blog post a video and a version of the picture that can be easily zoomed in on.
The online Biographical Directory of the United States Congress offers clues as to who might be included, because you can select to search for “Representative” and number of the Congress, yielding this list of Members of the House of Representatives in the 65th Congress.
Often, figuring out whether a name matches a face comes down to finding another picture of the individual in question. Although the Prints and Photographs Division does not have pictures of every member of Congress, searching our online catalog might turn up a picture with which to compare. (In some of our large photo collections, we rely heavily on the original caption for identification, so sometimes using just the last name or the last name with title abbreviations such as “Rep” or “Hon.” can yield the most comprehensive results).
- In addition to their blog post about the identification process with its link to the pdf list of identifications made so far, House of Representatives History, Art & Archives blog features a second post about Jeannette Rankin and her place in the photo and in the House at the time, “No Woman is an Island.”
- Because of the variety of information that comes with our photo collections, no single search will retrieve members of the House of Representatives from 1918, but one strategy is to look at photos indexed with the term Legislators and the decade, 1910-1920. Another is to focus on collections strong for the period and subject matter. For instance, the Harris & Ewing Collection consists of negatives produced by a Washington, D.C., studio that covered people, events, and architecture in the nation’s capital during the period 1905-1945. The sometimes generous captions include quite a few that include “Rep.” and a date of 1918—the trick being that often House Members went on to other posts, so many of the pictures are of former members.
- Have a look at our reference aid, Pictures of Congress: An Overview, for more hints about finding visual coverage of legislators and the legislature.