The House Limits its Number - 1920
Every decade, the Census determines the size of each state’s House delegation. Before 1913 (when membership reached 435), total House membership expanded steadily as the population grew—with some states getting more members while others kept the same number even if their population decreased. The chamber became increasingly crowded, forcing members to abandon individual desks on the floor in favor of compact theater-style seating.
The 1920 Census raised a new dilemma. More than half the population now lived in cities and towns. Rural states fought suggestions to shrink their delegations. Other members, meanwhile, resisted enlarging the already packed House. Congress broke the stalemate before the 1930 Census by deciding to keep the number at 435, with individual states gaining and losing seats after each Census.
Responding to the Great Depression, 1932 - 1932
The Great Depression devastated families and shattered lives. By 1933, one in four American workers was unemployed. People were desperate. Representative Wright Patman of Texas, a World War I veteran, introduced a bill for early payment of a $1,000 veterans’ bonus, originally scheduled to be awarded in 1945.
Veterans rallied behind the idea. More than 20,000 of them marched on Washington to show their support. The House passed Patman’s bill. The Senate did not. Standing on the Capitol plaza, Patman personally announced the results to the veterans. Most left Washington—but not all. A few weeks later, the U.S. Army forcibly removed the remaining “Bonus Marchers.” Press photos and news-reels of their eviction turned many against the Hoover administration, which had ordered the action.
"He had just as well try to sweep back the waves of the ocean with a broom."
—Representative Wright Patman of Texas on President Hoover's dilemma with the Bonus Marchers, 1932
Jeannette Rankin Votes for Peace 1917, 1941 - 1917
In 1916, four years before women nationwide won the right to vote, Montana’s Jeannette Rankin—the first woman elected to Congress—captured a House seat. (Montana granted women the vote in 1914.) A fighter for woman suffrage, the dedicated pacifist also was among 50 House members opposing U.S. entry into World War I.
Rankin narrowly lost a race for the Senate in 1918 but returned to the House in 1941. That December, as Pearl Harbor still smoldered from the Japanese attack, Rankin cast the sole vote against war. “As a woman I can’t go to war,” she said, “and I refuse to send anyone else.” After the vote, Rankin had to barricade herself in a phone booth until the Capitol Police escorted her to safety.
"As a woman I can’t go to war ... and I refuse to send anyone else."
—Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, 1941
Preparing for Global War, 1941 - 1941
Nazi Germany occupied Western Europe. Japanese forces were expanding across Asia. Many Americans became convinced that the United States faced grave threats. Were we ready? Early in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to extend the term of military service. But draftees, conscripted for one year, wanted to finish and go home. Could America afford to let them go?
"Things are changing fast," observed the new House Speaker, Sam Rayburn of Texas, "and matters are becoming more complicated and dangerous every day." As the Senate passed an 18-month extension for draftees, Rayburn lobbied House members to go along. That August, in a roll call vote, the extension squeaked through the House by one vote, 203–202. Four months later, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor. America was at war.
"The responsibility rests solely with the Congress."
—President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941