Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 8 1879-1946

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Chapter 8. Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia, 1816-1972

Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia, 1816-1972 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia, 1879-1946

8.24 There are three series of records: Committee papers, 1879-1946 (37 ft.); petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies referred to the committee, 1879-1942 (34 ft.); and legislative dockets, 1901-11 (4 vols., 6 in.). There are no committee papers for the 65th Congress (1917-19), no petitions and memorials for the 65th, 66th, 75th, 78th, and 79th Congresses (1917-21, 1937-39, 1943-46), and no legislative docket for the 58th Congress (1903-05). Most legislative case files of bills and resolutions referred to the committee are in the committee papers until the 57th Congress (1901); for such records between 1901 and 1946, see the series of papers supporting specific bills and resolutions. In addition to executive communications, many of which were printed, the committee papers also include numerous unprinted hearing transcripts, 1924-46, and subject files, 1885-87 and 1925-46.

8.25 In this period of tighter control of the local government by the commissioners and the Congress, the subject matter of the records focuses on Government activities such as taxes, law, regulation, and public services; public works and improvements, such as streets, parks, and railroads and other transportation services; and social conditions and services.

8.26 Tax relief, especially from special assessments levied during the building spree of Board of Public Works Commissioner "Boss" Alexander Shepherd (1871-74), was the subject of many petitions and private relief bills during the 1880's (46A-H5, 47A-E6, 48A-E6, 49A-H6.3). Bills proposing tax exemptions for such institutions as Howard University, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Young Men's Christian Association were also referred to the committee (49A-E7).

8.27 In the legal area, the records include bills proposing a municipal code (49A-E7), modification of laws governing property of married women (53A-F7), and suffrage reforms, and the end of the commission form of government (55A-F7). Labor unions supported District self-government and suffrage (52A-J7, 55A-J7.2).

8.28 Government regulation of various activities figures prominently in both the committee papers and in the petitions and memorials. The subjects include liquor licenses (47A-E6, 52A-E7, 54A-E8); medical practice (48A-E6, 53A-F7, 54A-F8); dentistry (51A-J7); veterinary practice (54A-F8); steam engineering (51A-F8, 52A-F7); plumbing (46A-E6, 55A-F7); protection of children (48A-E6); child labor (59A-J18); employment of women (62A-J21); labor conditions in clothing factories (56A-J7); sale of milk (53A-F7); insurance sales (52A-F7, 55A-J7.2); gas prices (50A-J6.2, 60A-J27); water rates (62A-J20); and telephone companies (56A-F7). There are also records relating to public services, including garbage collection (52A-F7); public education (46A-E6, 50A-J6.2, 62A-J21); and treatment of the insane (56A-F7, 58A-J13).

8.29 As the District`s population grew and its developed areas expanded beyond the original boundaries of the city of Washington, the demand for public works projects increased. For virtually every Congress during this period, numerous bills and petitions concerning street railways, street improvements and extensions, and other transportation matters were referred to the committee. Many have supporting maps and blueprints.

8.30 Some of the other subjects documented by the committee papers and petitions are pollution of the Potomac, including correspondence, reports, and other papers from Chief Engineer Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs (46A-E6); investigation of the Washington Aqueduct Tunnel (50A-F5); improvement and extension of Rock Creek Park (50A-F5, 59A-J18); alley improvements (53A-F7); and extension of the city street plan through the entire District (55A-F7).

8.31 Several social causes were advocated by petitioners, including prohibition (46th-72d Congresses), observance of Sunday sabbath through the closing of businesses (54th-72d Congresses), protection of young women by raising the age of consent (49th-55th Congresses), cleaning up the city's "red light district" (62A-J21), antigambling legislation (60A-J26), and protection of animals from vivisection (47A-H7, 54A-J8.4, 56A-J7, 71A-J19, 72A-J18).

Frederick Douglass petitioned for black civil rights.
Frederick Douglass, War and Conflict Number 113, from NARA's National Archives Catalog.  

8.32 Records relating to blacks illustrate their protests against racial discrimination. One file, containing both petitions and affidavits, concerns a series of episodes in which Howard University faculty and students were denied restaurant service. The petitioners include Frederick Douglass and other prominent black leaders (49A-H6.3). Other petitions register opposition to Jim Crow railroad car legislation (63A-J14), to miscegenation bills (63A-J14, 69A-J13), and to mistreatment of Marian Anderson by the District school board (76A-J6).

8.33 Papers of the Committee on the District of Columbia under the chairmanships of Arthur Capper (1925-33), William Henry King (1933-41), and Patrick McCarran (1941-44) are more complete than those of other committees of this period because subject files, unprinted hearing transcripts, and other unpublished documents have been preserved. The subject files include correspondence and reference material on the Alley Dwelling Authority, appropriations, housing, the judiciary, mental health facilities, parks and playgrounds, police and fire protection, public health, schools, taxes, traffic, Sunday observance, utilities, and zoning. There are also records of several investigations undertaken by the committee and its subcommittees, including vice conditions (67A-F6), discontinuance of alley dwellings (68A-F6), dentistry and medical licenses (68A-F6), coal dealers (69A-F7), police department (71A-F6), traffic (71A-F6, 77A-F8), milk prices (72A-F6, 73A-F6), hospital needs in the District and adjacent areas (77A-F8), the police and fire departments (77A-F8), removal of Federal agencies from Washington (77A-F8), unemployment compensation taxes (77A-F8), and conditions at Gallinger Hospital (78A-F8). The records include unprinted hearing transcripts and/or correspondence, reports, and reference material. There are also numerous unprinted transcripts on other subjects, unprinted reports of District public utilities, and substantial subject files about the location of a new farmers market (70A-F6), the street railway unification agreement (70A-F6), the Virginia-District of Columbia Boundary Commission (74A-F6), and the location of the new Washington airport (75A-F6.1).

8.34 A memorandum in the committee papers for the 79th Congress (79A-F7) states that most of the papers of the committee created during the chairmanship of Theodore G. Bilbo (1945-46) were destroyed.

Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia, 1947-68

8.35 Following the implementation of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (Public Law 79-601), the records of the Committee on the District of Columbia (429 ft.) provide evidence of a wide range of growth-related issues and concerns that are characteristic of the post-World War II District. They document efforts of District residents to achieve home rule, the right to elect certain local officials, and an improved standard of living, as well as matters relating to local public works, taxes and revenue, law enforcement, public utilities, business regulation, and racial desegregation. Records relating to home rule and other legislative and congressional investigative matters considered by the committee during this period consist of legislative case files on bills and resolutions referred to the committee, general correspondence, minutes of committee meetings, papers relating to nominations, and records of investigative subcommittees, among other series.

Records of the Full Committee

8.36 The committee's most voluminous series, legislative case files ("accompanying papers"), 1947-68 (188 ft.), consists primarily of unpublished hearing transcripts, reports, correspondence, and copies of each bill and resolution referred to the committee. Also included are charts, maps, publications, and other informational materials submitted as hearing exhibits. Most case files occupy one or two file folders; however, others occupy numerous boxes. Many contain hearing transcripts that were not published because of their limited local interest. The case files document all legislative matters directly concerning the District of Columbia. Each Congress considered both public works and revenue bills. Transportation, parking, and highway development bills appear prominently, particularly in the records of the 84th-86th (1955-60) and the 89th Congresses (1959-60). Park development and the rehabilitation of various District neighborhoods frequently were on the committee's agenda.

8.37 Home rule is arguably the most significant issue facing the District of Columbia during this period. There are numerous bills and resolutions throughout the period, culminating in S. 1118, the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which passed the Senate during the 89th Congress, 2d session. The House passed a widely different version, and its Committee on the District of Columbia voted not to send the home rule issue to conference with the Senate. Following the failure of S. 1118, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent to Congress Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1967, which replaced the Board of Commissioners with a Presidentially appointed mayor-council form of government. The plan was referred to the Committee on Government Operations.

8.38 Presidential messages and executive communications ("messages, communications, and reports"), 1947-68 (16 ft.), consist of Presidential messages transmitting reports and legislative proposals as well as reports and letters submitted to the committee by executive agencies, District offices, and even certain businesses. The records are arranged chronologically for each Congress. Reports of the Office of the Assessor of the District of Columbia, reports of various local government commissions (e.g., the Public Utilities Commission), submissions from District businesses (e.g., Washington Gas Light Company), and proposals and reports relating to various issues from rent control to parking facilities are found in this series.

8.39 The committee also maintained a series of general correspondence, 1947-68 (95 ft.), arranged by Congress and thereunder alphabetically by subject and consisting of letters received, postcards, petitions, and transcripts of conversations and testimony from individuals, organizations, institutions, and interest groups. Also included are letters sent by the committee requesting that a report or investigation be undertaken or that an individual appear before the committee. The records, arranged for each Congress by subject and thereunder by date, include files devoted to public works, utilities, housing, highway construction, desegregation, taxes, revenue, law enforcement, and home rule, and as such are closely tied to the legislative case files. Some of the organizations and institutions represented include various citizen and neighborhood associations, commercial and business associations, libraries, schools, hospitals, and religious groups.

8.40 Nomination case files, 1947-68 (78 ft.), consist of nomination hearing transcripts, letters, and copies of testimony given by and about individuals being considered for Presidentially appointed positions to municipal courts, agencies, and commissions of the District of Columbia, such as the District of Columbia Municipal Court, Public Utilities Commission, DC Board of Commissioners, National Capital Transportation Agency, and the DC Land Development Agency. Nomination records that have not previously been made public are closed for 50 years under S. Res. 474, 96th Cong.

8.41 There are also executive minutes, 1947-66 (2 vols., 5 in.), except for 1959-60 (86th Cong.), that summarize actions by the committee while in executive session.

Records of Subcommittees

Subcommittee on the Investigation of Wiretapping

8.42 The records, 1950-51 (4 ft.), consist primarily of correspondence, with a few reports and hearing transcripts. On August 2, 1950, the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia voted to form a subcommittee, chaired by Claude Pepper, and launched an investigation of alleged wiretapping on the part of Washington, DC, police officers. It resulted in the introduction of S. 4154, which proposed to make unauthorized wiretapping a felony. The Senate failed, however, to enact this measure.

Subcommittee on the Investigation of Crime and Law Enforcement in the District of Columbia

8.43 Pursuant to S. Res. 136, 82d Cong., this subcommittee examined the alleged involvement of police officers in underworld activities, gambling, and narcotics violations. In a report issued June 28, 1952, the subcommittee, chaired by Matthew M. Neely of West Virginia, reported that narcotics racketeers were being protected, that gambling arrests were decreasing, and that members of the police force were exacting bribes from narcotics peddlers. The subcommittee recommended that a special investigative staff be established under the U. S. attorney to operate independently of the police and that congressional committees make periodic studies of law enforcement in Washington, DC. The records, 1951-52 (17 ft.), include general correspondence, minutes of subcommittee meetings, reports, resolutions, investigative files, transcripts of public hearings, and police officer personnel records and completed financial questionnaires. An unpublished preliminary inventory of the records is available at the National Archives.

Subcommittee to Investigate Public Transportation in the District of Columbia

8.44 Pursuant to S. Res. 140, 83d Cong., the subcommittee, chaired by Frederick G. Payne of Maine, was established to investigate the causes of a 1953 transit strike and allegations that transportation services provided by the private corporation that owned Washington's Capital Transit Company were inadequate. As a result of the investigation, Congress revoked the franchise and authorized a raise in pay for the transportation employees. Congress' action generated a great deal of debate over its right to arbitrate labor disputes through legislation. The records, 1953-54 (28 ft.), arranged alphabetically by subject, consist of reports, correspondence, memorandums, transcripts of hearings, news clippings, and detailed reports on the transportation systems of other cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and Atlanta. An unpublished name and subject index to these records is available at the National Archives.

Records of the Committee on the District of Columbia, 1969-72

8.45 Records are arranged by Congress and consist primarily of legislative case files and correspondence. There are no records of the committee for 1973-76; the committee was eliminated in 1977. For records relating to the District of Columbia since 1977, see the Subcommittee on Governmental Efficiency and the District of Columbia of the Governmental Affairs Committee.

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

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.