Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 8

Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia

Committee records discussed in this chapter:

History and Jurisdiction

8.1 Article I, section 8 of the Constitution gives the U.S. Congress power to exercise exclusive legislative control over the seat of Government. Until the 10th Congress (1807-09) specific matters relating to the District of Columbia either were handled in the House of Representatives by select committees or were referred directly to the Committee of the Whole House. On January 27, 1808, however, the House adopted a resolution proposed by Representative Philip Barton Key of Maryland to establish a seven-member standing committee for the District whose duty was "to take into consideration all petitions and memorials relating to the affairs of the District of Columbia, and referred to them by the House; and to report, from time to time, to the House."1 In establishing this standing committee, the House sought "to simplify the District business, to save the forming of many committees, and to promote consistency and uniformity in the laws relating to the District."2

8.2 A week later Key, who had become the committee's first chairman, successfully led opposition in the House to a bill which would have moved the capital to Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter a North Carolina Congressman proposed that the committee be instructed to report to the House on whether housing could be found in the District for Federal institutions located elsewhere. Although the House failed to vote on the resolution, the committee took upon itself the expanded mandate of overseeing and recommending legislation regarding the development of the District of Columbia.

8.3 As early as 1802 Congress had set up a city government for the District, and in the following decades had provided for the election of the city council and mayor by popular vote. From 1871 until 1874 Congress oversaw a territorial government for the District. In 1874 it revoked this measure of partial self-government and placed the District under the rule of an appointed three-member board of commissioners. From 1874 until 1975 when the District achieved self-government, Congress had primary responsibility for municipal laws for the District.

8.4 In 1880 the House adopted a rule which gave the committee jurisdiction over areas other than appropriations relating to the District of Columbia. Over the years the committee reported on various municipal concerns including those involving streets, schools and teachers, railroads, police and fire departments, claims against the District Government, insurance, taxes, health and safety, liquor sales, incorporation of organizations and societies, and other matters that were the normal concerns of city and State governments. Since its creation the committee has shared jurisdiction on District concerns with other committees, and in particular with the Committees on Education and Labor, Interior, Banking and Currency, Judiciary, and Public Works.

8.5 For the 90th Congress the committee's jurisdiction covered:

  • (a) All measures relating to the municipal affairs of the District of Columbia in general, other than appropriations therefore, including— (b) Adulteration of foods and drugs. (c) Incorporation and organization of societies. (d) Insurance, executors, administrators, wills, and divorce. (e) Municipal code and amendments to the criminal and corporation laws. (f) Municipal and juvenile courts. (g) Public health and safety, sanitation, and quarantine regulations. (h) Regulation of sale of intoxicating liquors. (i) Taxes and tax sales.3

8.6 The records of the committee are described below in three chronological periods. The first begins with records from the first Congress of the committee's existence, the 10th (1807- 09), and continues through those for the 45th Congress (1877-1879), the Congress which formalized a Commissioner form of government for the District that lasted nearly a century. The second covers the 46th through the 79th Congresses (1879-1946), with the concluding date chosen to coincide with enactment of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. The third covers the period from the 80th through the 90th Congresses (1947-1968).

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Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia,10th-45th Congresses (1807-1878)

Record Type Volume Dates (Congresses)
Minute Books 17 volumes 1879-81 (46th), 1885-1915 (49th-63rd)
Docket Books 20 volumes 1879-1923 (46th-67th)
Petitions and Memorials 9 feet 1879-85 (46th-48th), 1889-91 (51st), 1893-1903 (53rd-57th), 1907-17 (60th-64th), 1921-23 (67th), 1939-41 (76th-77th)
Committee Papers 25 feet 1879-81 (46th), 1883-87 (48th-49th), 1893-1903 (53rd-57th), 1905-17 (59th-64th), 1919-31 (66th-71st, 1935-36 (74th), 1939-46 (66th-79th)
Bill Files 31 feet 1903-17 (58th-64th), 1919-46 (66th-79th)
Total volume 65 ft. and 37 vol.  

*see also tables for 46th-90th Congresses after paragraphs 8.31 and 8.53.

8.7 The earliest minutes are contained in combination minute/docket books for both the 38th Congress (1863-65) and the 39th Congress (1865-67). Minutes for the 41st through the 44th Congresses (1869-77) appear sequentially in a single volume filed with records of the 41st Congress. Minutes for the 45th Congress appear in a volume of minutes for the Committee on Roads and Canals filed under that committee with records of the 40th Congress.

8.8 Minutes give the date, and often the time, of a committee meeting. They list those present, and indicate which measures were discussed and what was decided. In addition, they sometimes note which Members were assigned by the chair to consider particular petitions or memorials. Sometimes they provide the text of particular resolutions or amendments offered in committee. Although most committee minutes include limited information, entries for a number of meetings are relatively complete. However, even for relatively complete entries one rarely finds anything more detailed than the entry for the January 16, 1874, meeting which stated: "The Committee then took up the subject of street railways in the D.C., & heard arguments in behalf of the several proposed lines."

8.9 The earliest committee docket is a bound volume containing entries from the 19th through the 26th Congresses (1825-41). Through the 21st Congress, entries are arranged alphabetically by subject for the petition, resolution, or bill in question. For the 22nd through the 26th Congresses, entries are recorded chronologically by date of receipt, as they are for subsequent Congresses. Typically a docket entry includes the date of introduction, the name of the Representative introducing the measure, the measure's subject matter, and "remarks," which may indicate the disposition of the document. The thickness of a particular docket volume does not necessarily reflect its content as relatively few pages of a volume may have been used.

8.10 The extent of information in the "remarks" section varies considerably. Of the 48 docket entries for the 32d Congress (1851-53), information on disposition is given under "remarks" for only three entries. For the 42d Congress (1871-73) there are occasional annotations, with dates, such as "reported favorably & bill signed" or "reported adversely"; only rarely is there anything in the remarks column identifying the Member of the subcommittee to whom a particular measure was referred. For the 44th Congress (1875-77), on the other hand, information on referrals is usually entered under "remarks," but information concerning final disposition is not included.

8.11 The National Archives holds nearly 8 feet of petitions and memorials covering the period 1807-79. More than 2 feet is made up of antislavery petitions from citizens outside Washington, DC, calling for the abolition of slavery and/or the slave trade in the District, 1823-58 (18A-F4.2, 19A-G4.2, 20A-G5.1, 21A-G5.1, 22A-G;5.2, 23A-G4.3, 24A-G4.2, 28A-G5.2, 29A-G3.3, 30A-G5.1, 31A-G4.1, 33A-G5.1, 35A-G4.8). Other matters in the District on which citizens from across the nation expressed their concern included the status of education in 1845 (29A-G3.2) and temperance practices, 1864-75 (38A-G4.1, 42A-H4.2, 42A-H4.14, 43A-H5.4).

8.12 A number of petitions came from the mayor and/or members of the Common Council, City Council, Levy Court and other public officials in Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria. Subjects included tax levies (11A-F3.4), police constables (11A-F3.1), lotteries (20A-G5.2), and town debt relief (29A-G3.1). Once the retrocession of the Virginia portion of the District occurred in 1846, few petitions from city officials in Alexandria were received.

8.13 The size of the District of Columbia prompted many petitions. Petitions calling for retrocession to Virginia can be found (18A-F4.2, 29A-G3.1) as can one from 1874, asking for the repeal of the retrocession (43A-H5.4). Petitions from residents of Georgetown expressing interest in retrocession to Maryland also can be found (25A-G4.1, 36A-G4.1). In 1858 Georgetown's city fathers made clear their opposition to being ceded to Washington County (35A-G4.8), but in the 1870's some citizens of Georgetown asked that their city be merged with that of Washington City (43A-H5.4). Citizens of the city of Washington seemed to be much less interested in questions of retrocession and annexation than they were in territorial status (18A-F4.2); civil and political conditions in 1825 (19A-G4.3); judicial changes, 1837-72 (25A-G4.1, 28A-G5.4, 42A-H4.8); election by ward, 1811 (12A-F3) and ward boundaries, 1832 (22A-G5.3); election of corporation officers, especially police magistrates and constables, 1850 (31A-G4.2); poll taxes, 1852 (32A-G5.6); and expansion of suffrage provisions to include non-citizens, 1866 (39A-H6.1).

8.14 In the economic sphere petitions focused on such things as exemptions from embargo and non-intercourse laws, 1809 (10A-F4.1). Some involved the question of whether banks should issue notes with denominations of less than $5 that were not backed by specie (27A-G5.3, 29A-G3.4, 32A-G5.6, 37A-G3.7). In addition some petitions called for the chartering, rechartering and/or assistance to or for banks, 1810-38 (11A-F3.1, 11A-F3.2, 12A-F3.2, 23A-G4.1, 25A-G4.1), insurance companies, 1813-33 (13A-F3.1, 15A-G3.1, 23A-G4.4), turnpike companies, 1809-19 (11A-F3.3, 12A-F3.6, 15A-G3.1), canals and canal companies, 1829-48 (21A-G5.2, 22A-G5.3, 30A-G5.2), railroads and street car lines, 1833-73 (23A- G4.4, 32A-G5.3, 34A-G4.8, 35A-G4.4, 37A-G3.3, 38A-G4.1, 42A-H4.1), and other companies, 1841-74 (27A- G5.3, 30A-G5.2, 31A-G4.2, 32A-G5.5, 33A-G5.9, 34A-G4.3, 43A-H5.4). Episcopal Church leaders in both Alexandria and Washington petitioned for permission to conduct lotteries, 1809-10 (11A-F3.1, 11A- F3.4). Beginning in the mid-1860's, petitions involving railways often expressed concerns of citizens and property-owners about depot and/or track locations (38A-G4.1, 42A-H4.4, 43A-H5.2, 45A- H7.2). Petitions were also received concerning various tax matters (43A-H5.4).

8.15 The committee's public works concerns included improvements in navigation of the Potomac, 1809-64 (11A-F3.1, 12A-F3.4, 20A-G5.2, 31A-G4.2, 38A-G4.1); construction of bridges over the Potomac and the Eastern Branch, and/or eliminating tolls from the bridges, 1818-74 (15A-G3.1, 19A- G4.1, 22A-G5.1, 27A-G5.2, 30A-G5.2, 32A-G5.1, 33A-G5.3, 34A-G4.1, 35A-G4.3, 43A-H5.1); building of turnpikes, 1813-14 (13A-G3.2); street paving and grading, 1833-63 (23A-G4.4, 26A-G4.1, 28A-G5.3, 31A- G4.2, 32A-G5.5, 34A-G4.6, 36A-G4.1, 37A-G3.5); street lighting, 1851-61 (32A-G5.5, 35A-G4.7, 36A- G4.1); and assurance of water supplies, 1851-55 (32A-G5.5, 33A-G5.8).

8.16 Because the committee had jurisdiction over the incorporation of societies and organizations in the District of Columbia, it received petitions and/or constitutions and by-laws from fraternal, self-help, and public-assistance organizations. During the years 1809-45 the committee considered requests from the Washington Navy Yard Mechanical Society (11A-F3.2), the Masonic Lodge of Alexandria (14A-F3.3), the Mechanic's Relief Society of Alexandria (27A-G5.3), and the Female Union Benevolent Society of Washington City (28A-G5.4), among others. Requests for incorporation came from the Medical Society of the District of Columbia (15A-G3.1), the Washington National Monument Society (23A-G4.4), the Metropolis Theatre (23A-G4.4), the Young Men's Christian Association (33A-G5.5), the Washington United Fire Department (34A-G4.2), and the East Washington Library Association of Washington City (36A-G4.1).

8.17 Petitions relating to education included those from the Georgetown Lancaster Society (12A-F3.6, 22A-G5.3), Columbian College (18A-F4.2, 27A-G5.3, 35A-G4.6), Washington College (12A-F3.3, 20A-G5.2), Georgetown College (22A-G5.3, 23A-G4.4), the Orphan Asylum and Female Free School of Alexandria (22A-G5.3), and the Home for the Relief of Friendless Women and Children (38A- G4.1). Other petitions on schools and the educational system in the District, dating from 1811 to 1860, are in 12A-F3.5, 29A-G3.2, 30A-G5.2, 31A-G4.2, 36A-G4.1.

8.18 Petitions relating to health concerns included those calling for the establishment of an asylum for the mentally ill, which later became St. Elizabeths Hospital, 1827-51 (20A-G5.2, 28A- G5.4, 32A-G5.6). Also, there were calls for the establishment of a quarantine system and a marine hospital, (20A-G5.2). Presbyterians requested a cemetery in the District in 1852 (32A-G5.6). Toward the end of the Civil War an army surgeon, noting that the population of the District had doubled since 1861, called for the organization of a board of health for the District (38A-G4.1).

8.19 Petitions also involved imprisonment for debt (30A-G5.2). Others urged the repeal of the law permitting the whipping of women and their imprisonment without being charged with a crime (29A-G3.4). There were also petitions concerning the need for a new jail (27A-G5.1), conditions at the Federal penitentiary (25A-G4.1, 26A-G4.1), and the licensing of taverns and/or outright prohibition, 1842-53 (27A-G5.1, 32A-G5.5).

8.20 Some petitioners objected to a law forbidding slave owners from transferring slaves between counties within the District of Columbia (12A-F3.6). In 1834 the U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia petitioned the committee regarding a bill of $1,500 for housing runaway "negroes" in the public jail (23A-G4.4). A petition from white workmen in 1852 complained against the hiring of "negroes" in the public service as messengers and laborers (32A-G5.6). Another petition was from 175 discontent mechanics and laborers who had been discharged from employment on the Capitol because the authorized appropriations had been expended (32A-G5.6). During the Reconstruction era 4,872 "colored laborers" signed a printed form asking that persons having government contracts be prohibited from discriminating on account of race (40A-H4.1). In 1878 "colored citizens" requested that the Secretary of the Treasury be authorized to make $75,000 available to finance emigration to the West (45A- H7.1).

8.21 Petitions for compensation and/or raises in wages presented comparative data on salary levels for occupations such as guards at the penitentiary (26A-G4.1), doorkeeper of the Executive Mansion (29A-G3.4), servants in the Navy (31A-G4.2), crier of the Circuit Court (35A-G4.2), firemen (42A-H4.20), and lamplighters (43A-H5.4). Other petitions dealt with claims for services rendered: Road resurfacing (30A-G5.2), use of property during the Civil War by Federal troops (37A- G3.7), and payment for a combined fire alarm and police telegraph constructed for joint use of the city and the Federal Government (38A-G4.1). Petitions in the 1860's concerned the extension of the Capitol grounds (37A-G3.1), and the construction of wooden hospital buildings in Judiciary Square (37A-G3.2).

8.22 Some petitions and memorials are filed with committee papers. On occasion petitions and memorials include House resolutions directing the committee to inquire into the expediency of acting on certain subjects, such as upgrading 4 1/2 Street from City Hall to the Arsenal in 1839 (26A-G4.1). Occasionally a committee report can also be found with the petitions as is the case concerning an 1858 requested change in status for the Congressional Cemetery (35A-G4.8). Sometimes maps (28A-G5.3, 31A-G4.2, 33A-G5.3), drawings (35A-G4.4, 42A-H4.3) or other supporting documents were submitted as part of the petition or memorial.

8.23 Committee papers include some petitions and memorials, as well as resolutions, manuscripts of documents later printed as committee reports, supplemental correspondence, and copies of printed bills, documents and reports (sometimes with annotations). Committee reports and documents are available as a part of the Congressional Serial Set. Of the 33 Congresses for which committee papers exist during this period, 29 contain files of an inch or less.

8.24 Most committee papers have as their basis petitions from residents of the District. For the 10th Congress (1807-09) these include requests from an individual hoping to take advantage of the provisions of an insolvency law, from inhabitants of Alexandria and Washington asking for the construction of a turnpike road, from stockholders of an Alexandria marine insurance company asking that the company's powers be extended, and from slave owners asking that they might be permitted to move their slaves within the various jurisdictions of the District (10A-C3.1). For the 11th Congress (1809-11) committee papers consist entirely of a single report on banks (11A-C4.1). In fact, documents on banks form a significant proportion of committee papers for the other early Congresses and continue to do so to a lesser extent from 1815 until 1863 (14A-C3.1, 15A-D3.1, 16A-D5.1, 27A-D5.1, 28A-D5.1, 37A-E4.1). One such record is a testimonial letter from James Monroe to William Marbury citing the valuable service banks of the District had performed in financing one of Andrew Jackson's military operations (14A-C3.1). Another item documents the growth and development of incorporated banks in the District, 1811-1819 (16A-D5.1).

8.25 Committee papers reflect congressional interest in the full range of governmental issues affecting the District of Columbia. These included questions involving municipal charters (15A-D3.1, 42A-F7.9), judicial and court matters (16A-D5.2, 18A-C3.1, 23A-D4.8, 24A-D4.2, 25A-D5.1, 29A-D4.1, 34A-D5.2, 35A-D5.3), civil and criminal code revision (21A-D4.2), retrocession (25A-D5.1, 29A-D4.1), suffrage (28A-D5.4), and territorial government for the District and/or the election of a delegate from the District to Congress (19A-D5.2, 21A-D4.5, 22A-D5.2, 37A-E4.2). Printed volumes of acts and resolutions of the first and second legislative assemblies of the District of Columbia are to be found in committee papers for the 42d Congress (1871-73). Beginning in the mid-1870's communications with Commissioners take on major significance (43A-F8.6, 44A-F7.1, 45A-F8.3). During the 1870's two joint select committees of Congress were established to investigate the affairs of the District of Columbia. Additional information on them can be found in Chapter 23.

8.26 Files reflecting the committee's interest in the maintenance of public order and public safety cover such topics as fire companies (17A-C5.1, 29A-D4.3); the election of sheriffs (20A- D5.1); police matters (27A-D5.1, 43A-F8.4); prison/jail construction and/or conditions, 1823-75 (18A- C3.1, 23A-D4.6, 41A-F7.2, 43A-F8.8); building and operating of the Federal penitentiary in the District (19A-D5.1, 29A-D4.3, 35A-D5.1); building an asylum for the mentally ill (25A-D5.1, 36A-D5.1, 36A-D5.2); health, health facilities, and diseases, 1827-75 (20A-D5.1, 36A-D5.6, 40A-F7.6, 43A-F8.3); cemetery changes (21A-D4.5, 28A-D5.4); donations of wood for the poor during winter (21A-D4.5, 23A- D4.8); imprisonment for debt (24A-D4.2); and reform schools or other housing for juvenile delinquents (39A-F6.2, 43A-F8.9).

8.27 Pre-Civil War racial concerns of the committee can be seen in papers concerning both slaves and free blacks. Some of these papers relate to the imprisonment of free blacks and runaway slaves (19A-D5.3, 20A-D5.1). Others concern slaves in the District (20A-D5.1, 22A-D5.2).

8.28 In the area of education the committee concerned itself with the issue of free schools (23A-D4.4, 29A-D4.3) as well as specific institutions of higher education, 1829-69 (21A-D4.3, 22A-D5.2, 35A-D5.5, 40A-F7.1). A map among these records shows the grounds of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, later known as Gallaudet College, with annotations as to possible land purchases (38A-E5.1). In the post-Civil War period the committee paid special attention to "colored" schools in Washington and Georgetown (40A-F7.6, 42A-F7.9).

8.29 Matters involving finance included the sale of public lots in Washington (15A- D3.1); lotteries (16A-D5.3, 20A-D5.1, 23A-D4.8); real estate concerns (20A-D5.1); relief for the corporate entities of Washington, Alexandria and Georgetown, 1835-61 (24A-D4.1, 34A-D5.1, 35A-D5.1, 36A-D5.1); and corporate notes in circulation (23A-D4.2). Monetary claims handled by the committee included one from a Treasury Department employee injured while saving records during the fire of 1833 (23A-D4.3). Individual documents include an undated enumeration of dwelling houses within Washington (16A-D5.3); a table showing the comparative value of domestic and foreign produce from Alexandria and Georgetown, 1809-1819 (16A-D5.3); an 1834 letter from William Elliot outlining duties and past payments of surveyors of Washington (23A-D4.8); and an explanation noting the sources by which Washington received money in the 1840's and the purposes for which the city disbursed its funds (28A- D5.2). Business matters are covered in records on incorporations for gas companies in 1846 and 1860 (29A-D4.1, 36A-D5.3).

8.30 Among documents which reflect committee interest in public works are those relating to improvements in navigation of the Potomac (17A-C5.1), Washington harbor developments (42A-F7.4), road and street improvements (17A-C5.2, 21A-D4.1, 22A-D5.1, 23A-D4.5, 24A-D4.2, 27A-D5.1, 28A-D5.3, 29A-D4.1, 30A-D5.1, 42A-F7.9, 45A-F8.1), turnpikes (35A-D5.2), canals and canal companies (19A-D5.5, 21A-D4.1, 29A-D4.1, 30A-D5.1, 37A-E4.3, 42A-F7.2, 41A-F7.4, 43A-F8.1), bridges (23A-D4.6, 24A-D4.2, 29A-D4.1, 30A-D5.1, 34A-D5.1, 34A-D5.3, 39A-F6.1, 41A-F7.1, 42A-F7.2), the Washington Aqueduct (34A- D5.4, 35A-D5.1, 40A-F7.7, 41A-F7.3), a George Washington monument (24A-D4.2, 36A-D5.7, 42A-F7.9), railroads and street cars (35A-D5.4, 42A-F7.8, 43A-F8.2, 43A-F8.10, 43A-F8.11, 43A-F8.12), markets (42A-F7.7, 45A-F8.2) and public parks (39A-F6.3), as well as correspondence with members of the Board of Public Works (43A-F8.5). Included in the collection is an 1853 printed booklet written by Robert Mills on water-works for Washington (33A-D3.2).

8.31 The two thickest files of committee records for this period consist of investigative reports concerning problems associated with the Washington Aqueduct, 1869-70 (41A-F7.3) and the Board of Audit, 1876-77 (44A-F7.1).

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Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia, 46th-79th Congresses (1879-1946)

Record Type Volume Dates (Congresses)
Minute Books 17 volumes 1879-81 (46th), 1885-1915 (49th-63rd)
Docket Books 20 volumes 1879-1923 (46th-67th)
Petitions and Memorials 9 feet 1879-85 (46th-48th), 1889-91 (51st), 1893-1903 (53rd-57th), 1907-17 60th-64th), 1921-23 (67th), 1939-41 (76th-77th)
Committee Papers 25 feet 1879-81 (46th), 1883-87 (48th-49th), 1893-1903 (53rd-57th), 1905-17 (59th-64th), 1919-31 (66th-71st), 1935-36 (74th), 1939-46 (76th-79th
Bill Files 31 feet 1903-17 (58th-64th), 1919-46 (66th-79th)
TOTAL 65 feet and 37 vols.  

*see tables for records from 1807-79 after paragraph 8.6 and from 1847-68 after paragraph 8.53.

8.32 Initially minute books for this period were of the same format as those discussed earlier. By the early 20th century, however, with the use of the typewriter, minutes had begun to serve as a complement to stenographic transcripts of hearings.

8.33 Beginning with the 50th Congress (1887-89) the first entries in each volume recorded subcommittee assignments. Those for the 50th Congress were: Judiciary and Claims; Ways and Means; Education, Labor and Charitable Institutions; and Corporations, Streets, Avenues and Improvements. For the 61st Congress (1909-11) the number had increased to six: Judiciary; Ways and Means; Education, Labor and Charities; Street Railways, Streets and Avenues; Steam Railways; and Incorporations.

8.34 The minute book for the 54th Congress (1895-97) and several subsequent volumes include charts showing which Members attended which full committee meetings. Within the minute book for the 55th Congress (1897-99) the committee clerk inserted a newspaper clipping from the July 2, 1898, Evening Star detailing all of the committee's accomplishments for the session. The newspaper noted that 67 bills, a record high for the committee, had been reported to and passed the House.

8.35 Most docket books for this period begin with alphabetical subject indexes. The volume for the 64th Congress (1915-17) contains an additional index by the names of Representatives introducing measures. Through the 61st Congress (1909-11) the docket format continues to be a single chronological listing of entries with information on the date of introduction, the name of the Representative who presented the measure, the subject matter, and remarks. For subsequent Congresses the format changes from strict chronological listings to separate sections for different types of measures (i.e., those for H.R., H.J. Res., H. Con. Res., H. Res., S., and S.J. Res.). Information in the "remarks" section, as with the 55th and 56th Congresses (1897-1901), sometimes includes a legislative history for nearly every measure introduced. Often under "remarks" there will be a note as to which subcommittee received the measure, and the date the measure was submitted to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia for their comment.

8.36 Petitions and memorials for this period play a much less significant role vis-a-vis committee activities than they did for the earlier period. Although the greatest number of petitioners were concerned with prohibition, 1879-1941 (46A-H7.1, 60A-H7.11, 60A-H7.15, 61A-H6.4, 62A- H5.2, 62A-H5.5, 76A-H7.1) and Sunday closings, 1889-1942 (51A-H7.1, 55A-H4.5, 60A-H7.14, 61A-H6.5, 62A-H5.4, 62A-H5.5, 63A-H4.3, 64A-H4.1, 64A-H4.4, 77A-H4.1), these subjects were outside of the committee's main interests. The overwhelming number of petitioners on these two subjects came from outside the District, Maryland and Virginia.

8.37 The emphasis of petitions on the prohibition issue evolved from requests for regulation of the liquor industry to demands for an outright ban on the sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquors within the District. One exhibit submitted to support the case for restricting the number of establishments licensed to sell liquor was a 1913 map of Washington which used black dots and red squares to show the proximity of places selling liquor to public school buildings (62A- H5.2). With the exception of the petitions to the 77th Congress (1941-42) the overwhelming majority of the petitions favored prohibition. By contrast the great majority of petitions to the committee concerning Federally enforced Sunday business closures quote civil libertarian arguments against the proposed measure.

8.38 Residents of the District of Columbia were greatly interested in railroads—the locations of their depots, tracks, and crossings; the services they offered the community; and right- of-ways (51A-H7.2, 51A-H7.3, 53A-H6.1, 54A-H7.3, 54A-H7.6, 55A-H4.6). During the 51st Congress (1889- 91) two petition drives generated thousands of responses. Both related to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad. One petition included among its demands the removal of surface tracks from 6th Street and the Mall (51A-H7.2); the other called for retention of the railroad's depot-on-the-Mall (51A-H7.2). On another matter, the president and senior officials at Howard University forwarded a letter from over 300 students and faculty members requesting congressional intervention to alleviate transportation inconvenience caused by the lack of a uniform transfer system (55A-H4.6).

8.39 Another subject that generated thousands of signatures from District residents was a petition to the 46th Congress (1879-81) calling attention to the "apparent inability" of the police force to deal with an increasing crime rate and asking that the Metropolitan Police force be increased to 300 privates, plus officers, and that the criminal code of the District be amended to make rape a capital offense (46A-H7.1). Other police-related petitions concerned an 8-hour day for policemen (55A-H4.2) and a police and firemen's pension and retirement bill (62A-H5.5).

8.40 While educational concerns such as the establishment of kindergartens (47A- H6.2), night schools (48A-H7.1), and an M Street High School for "colored" students (62A-H5.5) led several individuals to write to Congress, a greater number of petitions related to the establishment of playgrounds (60A-H7.12, 61A-H6.3, 62A-H5.5). One such petition came from Lillian D. Wald of the Henry Street Settlement in New York who wrote in 1912 supporting the passage of a bill appropriating funds for the playgrounds of Washington (62A-H5.5). The Chamber of Commerce made clear its opposition to a playground bill unless the Federal Government was willing to assume half of the expenses for land purchases (62A-H5.5).

refer to caption

Resolution of a Call for an Investigation of Insufficient Police Protection for the Woman Suffrage Parade Put Out by the Men's League for Woman Suffrage of King's County, New York from April 14, 1913 (HR63A-H4.4). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

8.41 Few documents for this period related to segregation in places of commerce, but one referred by Representative Edward de Veaux Morrell from a Philadelphia Republican club praised the Congressman for his introduction of a bill against "Jim Crow Cars" (57A-H4.2). Documents on women's issues covered such subjects as prostitution (47A-H6.2, 62A-H5.3), including a letter from the female officers of the Washington Society for Moral Education (47A-H6.2); hours and labor conditions for working women (53A-H6.1, 62A-H5.5); raising the age of consent for girls from 16 to 18 (54A-H7.1, 55A- H4.4); divorce provisions (55A-H4.1); and ill-treatment of women during a suffrage parade (63A- H4.4).

8.42 Other subjects in the petitions file range from a letter from the Commissioners recommending the reintroduction of certain bills in the 62d Congress, 1911-13 (62A-H5.5) to matters relating to sidewalk vendors (53A-H6.1), vivisection (54A-H7.6), and water filters (53A-H6.1).

8.43 It is difficult to characterize succinctly committee papers since they vary greatly in format from one Congress to another. Indeed, the National Archives holds no committee papers for many Congresses in session during the years 1881-1938. Significant kinds of records comprising the committee papers include files of bills, investigative reports, and executive communications—primarily annual reports for public utilities and transportation entities. Subcommittee journals for the 46th and 55th Congresses (1879-81, 1897-99) combine features for minute and docket volumes; both journals are arranged by subcommittee. The volume for the 46th Congress includes a full set of minutes from the Subcommittee on Codification of the Laws of the District of Columbia.

8.44 Although a formal category for bill files was not established until the 58th Congress (1903-05), among the committee papers for the 54th through 57th Congresses (1895-1907) are bills arranged by type of legislation and thereunder in numerical order (54A-F7.1, 55A-F6.2 through 55A-F6.6, 56A-F6.2, 57A-F5.1). Often a bill's legislative history will be written on the outside of the folder or envelope containing the bill; sometimes support letters and other documents are found along with the printed text of the bill itself.

8.45 Manuscript copies of investigative hearings and/or reports include those relating to the District Commissioners (46A-F8.1), steam and street railroads (49A-F8.3), the feasibility and propriety of filtering the water supply of Washington (56A-F6.3), insurance companies and the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (62A-F4.3), the government of the District (63A-F5.2), the Washington Railway and Electric Company (63A-F5.6), and the local milk industry (76A-F8.3).

8.46 Corporate annual reports, generally filed with executive communications, are found for a number of Congresses, 1897-1946 (55A-F6.1, 56A-F6.1, 63A-F5.1, 66A-F5.2, 67A-F5.1, 68A-F6.1, 76A-F8.1, 77A-F8.1, 78A-F7.3, 79A-F7.1). Companies for which reports exist include Capital Traction; Metropolitan Railroad; City and Suburban Railway of Washington; Columbia Railway; Capital Railway; Washington and Great Falls Electric Railway; Anacostia and Potomac River Railroad; Brightwood Railway; Washington Gas Light; Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone; Potomac Electric Power; Capital Transit; and Georgetown Barge, Dock, Elevator and Railway. Printed copies of these reports often accompany the manuscript originals.

8.47 Various other records are also found among committee papers. Printed legislative calendars exist for the 76th, 77th and 78th Congresses, 1939-44 (76A-F8.4, 77A-F8.3, 78A-F7.8). Printed and nonprinted material on railroad and street car lines concerns such subjects as fares and transfers (53A-F7.1), track and depot locations and grade crossings, 1893-1915 (53A-F7.4, 56A-F6.3, 57A-F5.1, 63A-F5.5); and the incorporation of the Washington Heights Traction Railway Company with its implications for the development of Anacostia (54A-F7.2). Similarly, both printed and nonprinted material exists regarding alleys, slum clearance, and the Alley Dwelling Authority, 1893-1944 (53A- F7.7, 63A-F5.4, 78A-F7.2, 78AF7.5, 78A-F7.8).

8.48 Committee and subcommittee prints of hearings and/or reports exist on the police and the fire departments, 1905-21 (59A-F7.1, 60A-F8.1, 66A-F5.1), schools (59A-F7.1); water supply (61A-F6.2, 60A-F8.1, 66A-F5.1, 66A-F5.2); the District Government (60A-F8.1, 66A-F5.1, 69A-F7.1, 70A- F6.1); firearms (68A-F6.2), intoxicants (68A-F6.2), public health (71A-F6.1), traffic (74A-F7.1); and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (76A-F8.2). Manuscript copies of hearings, some of them carbons and some of them originals, include those on sanitation, 1941-44 (77A-F8.2, 78A-F7.5); rodent extermination (77A-F8.2); the police (77A-F8.2); traffic, 1941-46 (77A-F8.2, 79A-F7.2); crime (78A-F7.4); military training in high schools (78A-F7.4); decentralization of the Federal Government (78A- F7.4); tuberculosis and social diseases (78A-F7.7); child care (79A-F7.2); epilepsy (79A-F7.2); the District jail (79A-F7.2); daylight savings time (79A-F7.2); and the location of television towers (79A-F7.2).

8.49 Other subjects in the committee papers file include such things as a letter reporting on George Washington's ideas about public reservations in the District (56A-F6.3), a letter concerning public demand for "Jim Crow" cars (61A-F6.1), and a committee print on "Methods of Municipal Taxation and Assessment in the District of Columbia, completed to and including the 59th Congress" (60A-F8.4).

refer to caption

Child Labor Pamphlet, 1913. Papers Accompanying Specific Bills and Resolutions of the Committee on the District of Columbia from the 63rd Congress. RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

8.50 Despite the fact that some of the committee papers for the 54th through the 57th Congresses (1895-1907) appear to be virtually indistinguishable from bill files, a separate category for bill files begins only with the 58th Congress (1903-05). Bill files appear for all subsequent Congresses, with the exception of the 65th Congress (1917-1919) for which neither bill files, committee papers nor petitions exist.

8.51 The most common type of arrangement for bill files is by type of legislation—House bills, House Joint Resolutions, House Concurrent Resolutions, House Resolutions, Senate bills and Senate Joint Resolutions—and thereunder in numerical order. The basic file for a particular measure consists either of the bill as introduced and ordered printed, or as it was amended and placed on either the Union or House Calendar. The files may contain reports, transcripts of hearings (in manuscript and sometimes in printed format) correspondence, and accompanying papers. Occasionally the file may contain letters, telegrams or petitions expressing support or disapproval of the measure in question. Bill files vary in quantity from Congress to Congress ranging from negligible to approximately 2 feet for some Congresses.

8.52 For some Congresses, notably the 61st (1909-11) and the 63d (1913-15), the envelope containing a particular file has been annotated to provide a full legislative history of the measure (date introduced and by whom, date referred to the Commissioners and their reply, date referred to the appropriate subcommittee, date of hearings, and subsequent actions). For the 64th Congress (1915-17) most copies of hearings are in manuscript format; for the 66th Congress (1919-20) only printed copies of hearings are included.

8.53 Bill files are of special worth for the 77th through the 79th Congress (1941-46) because few hearings were printed during World War II. Many subjects were covered by unpublished hearings during these years. For example, the boundary between Virginia and the District vis-a-vis National Airport was the subject of two bills, H.R. 1045 (77A-D8) and H.R. 2097 (79A-D9); equal access to public accommodations was covered by H.R. 1995 (78A-D6); the regulation of boxing contests prompted H.R. 53 (78A-D6). Other subjects include rent, housing and/or alley clearance; the regulation of barbers vis-a-vis Sunday closings; insurance rates; hospital facilities, disease control, and health regulations for restaurants; alcoholic beverage licenses and law enforcement; child-care centers and employment standards for women and children; salary adjustments for teachers, policemen, and firemen; the duties of the Board of Public Welfare; and liquidation of the Washington Railway and Electric Company.

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Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia, 80th-90th Congresses (1947-1968)

Record Type Volume Dates (Congresses)
Petitions and Memorials    negligible    1959-60 (86th), 1967-68 (90th)
Committee Papers 15 feet 1947-60 (80th-86th)
Bill Files 67 feet 1947-68 (80th-90th)
TOTAL 82 ft.  

*see also tables for 10th-79th Congresses after paras. 8.6 and 8.31

8.54 The National Archives holds no minute or docket books for this period. Nor, with two exceptions, does it hold any petitions and memorials. One is a 1959 concurrent resolution from the Senate of the Territory of Hawaii expressing support for the aspirations of the citizens of the District for a measure of self-government (86A-H4.1). The other is a transmittal with 286 signatures submitted by People's Republican Committee of the District of Columbia in 1967 in support of a particular homerule position (90 DC.4).

8.55 Since the Committee on the District of Columbia still has a considerable body of materials which have not yet been turned over the National Archives, it is possible that additional records, including committee papers, will eventually be added to the collection in the National Archives. For the most part committee papers for this period are limited to executive communications (mostly reports of agencies, corporations, organizations, and the District Government submitted to Congress in fulfillment of statutory obligations); printed final edition legislative committee calendars; annual reports of the National Capital Housing Authority (typewritten for the earlier years, printed for the later years); and copies of printed committee and subcommittee hearings. The file for Executive Communication No. 1374 from the 88th Congress (88 DC.2) consists of 19 inches of material which comprises at least a third of the total footage of executive communications. This file consists of individual reports from institutions, organizations, corporations, and associations which held real property exempt from taxation in the District of Columbia.

8.56 The remaining committee papers at the National Archives consist primarily of the files for two subcommittees: the Subcommittee on Crime and Law Enforcement in the District of Columbia, 1949-1950 (81A-F4.2, 5 ft.) and the Subcommittee on the Taxicab Industry in the District of Columbia, 1957-58 (85A-F4.4, 5 ft.).

8.57 After 1946 bill files form the core of the committee records and reflect its legislative activities. For the 89th Congress (1965-66) the committee acted upon 299 House bills and joint resolutions and 19 Senate-passed measures. During that Congress the committee and its subcommittees held 109 scheduled meetings, 62 of which were open hearings. Subjects considered included:

  • anticrime legislation and antichurch picketing; authorization for new 14th Street highway bridge; new regulations for certified public accountants; bills establishing a public city college and vocational and technical school; a bail agency; work release program for prisoners; rapid rail transit; minimum wage; revenue; divorce; uniform administrative procedures; motor vehicle insurance; home rule; increased pay for police, firemen, and teachers; overtime pay for police and firemen; and teachers' retirement increase; and transfer of court functions to the District of Columbia Court of General Sessions, with increase in number of judges thereof.4

Except for home rule, bills on all the topics mentioned above were given approval by an overwhelming majority of the committee.

8.58 The composition of bill files changed somewhat during the eleven Congresses in question (1947-68). For the early years the bill files are made up almost exclusively of printed copies of bills, reports, public laws, and occasionally hearings. With but few exceptions the only non-printed materials in these files prior to the 87th Congress (1961-62) are copies, generally either mimeographed or carbons, of hearings transcripts. Bill files for the 87th through the 90th Congresses (1961-68) include a limited amount of background support correspondence, in particular copies of letters from the Commissioners received by the committee as executive communications.

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1. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 10th Cong., 1st sess., Jan. 27, 1808, p. 146. [Back to text]

2. Asher C. Hinds, Hinds' Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907), vol. IV, p. 816. [Back to text]

3. U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States, Ninetieth Congress, H. Doc. 529, 89th Cong., 2d sess., 1967, p. 334. [Back to text]

4.United States House of Representatives Legislative Calendar: Committee on the District of Columbia, 89th Cong. - Final Calendar, Oct. 22, 1966 [No. 10], p. 8. [Back to text]

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.

Return to the Table of Contents for the Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.