Art & History

Weekly Historical Highlights (January 11 through 17)

January 11, 1871

In its February 4, 1871 issue <i>Frank Leslie’s Illustrated</i> depicted a group of women addressing a congressional committee.
On this date, Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to address a congressional committee. Woodhull was one of the more colorful suffrage figures of the era: an advocate of free love, the first woman stockbroker on Wall Street, a self-proclaimed “medical clairvoyant,” and the first woman presidential candidate, nominated by the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Wealthy, forthright, and persuasive, she spent several months in the capital agitating for woman suffrage, and convinced the Judiciary Committee's Benjamin Butler—a high-ranking, Massachusetts Republican who would later chair the panel—to allow her to deliver her “Woodhull memorial” in person. Flanked by suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Isabella Beecher Hooker, Woodhull declared before the committee that the 14th and 15th Amendments implicitly granted women the right to vote. She believed that “whereas the continuance of the enforcement of [local laws] denying and abridging the right of citizens to vote on account of sex, is a grievance to your memorialist and to various other persons” that the committee should draft legislation granting women the vote. Only Butler and Representative William Loughridge, an Iowa judge, supported the proposal. Their minority report recommended “that female citizens…are competent voters….” The committee, however, overwhelmingly voted to table the request. For several weeks afterward suffragists descended on Capitol Hill, according to the New York Times, setting up headquarters in a room belonging to the House Committee on Education. In early February, the House rejected an appeal by Woodhull to use the chamber to deliver a suffrage address. Women nationally were not granted suffrage until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

January 12, 1991

Speaker of the House Thomas Foley of Washington served 15 terms in the House and eventually was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Japan.
On this date, the House passed a resolution authorizing President George H.W. Bush to use military force against Iraq, 250 to 183. The resolution granted President Bush the power to employ amassed U.S. military forces in the Gulf region to eject the Iraqi military from Kuwait, which it had occupied since August 1990. The vote marked the most divided congressional decision to commit U.S. forces to action since the War of 1812. Only three Republicans voted against the measure—Connie Morella of Maryland, Frank Riggs of California, and Silvio Conte of Massachusetts; more than 80 Democrats—many from southern districts with military constituencies—supported it. The vote came after several days of contentious debate and just hours after the House rejected an amendment by Majority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and senior Foreign Affairs Committee member Lee Hamilton of Indiana to continue economic sanctions against Iraq. Nearly 270 Representatives spoke about the resolution on the House Floor. Speaker Thomas S. Foley of Washington took the unusual step of addressing the House from the well to argue on behalf of sanctions. “But however you vote,” Foley said in conclusion, “…let us come together after the vote with the notion that we are Americans here, not Democrats and not Republicans…without anything but the solemn cry that on this great decision day we voted as our conscience and judgment told us we should.” Five days later the U.S. launched an air war against Iraq. The vote marked the first time since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 that Congress directly approved military action.

January 17, 1902

An eight-term Member from New Mexico, Antonio Fernandez chaired the Committee on Memorials during the 79th Congress (1945–1947).
Antonio Manuel Fernández, the third Hispanic-American Representative elected to the House from New Mexico, was born on this date. He attended local schools and studied at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Fernández subsequently earned a law degree at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, returning to Sante Fe to open a private practice. He also served in a number of prominent positions such as assistant district attorney and in the state assembly. Elected to the 78th Congress (1943–1945) during World War II, Fernández pursued a bold agenda during his freshman term. He lobbied for the rank promotion of prisoners of war in the Pacific Theater, many of whom were New Mexico National Guardsmen. “Promotion,” he declared, “…is only a token of the Nation’s gratitude for the valor of all those men who held the Japanese at bay for many months without hope of rescue.” Their families, he added, looked “to Congress for some recognition of the aggravated circumstances under which they fell.” Fernández also supported the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act (or G. I. Bill) of 1944, and the establishment of an Air Force academy. He was successfully re-elected to seven more terms. On October 15, 1956, Fernández suffered a stroke while campaigning for an eighth term. Even after he lapsed into a coma, voters returned him to office on November 6 though he passed away the following day. Majority Leader John McCormack of Massachusetts remembered Fernández as “a great man in this body” whose legislative contributions were “of great benefit not only to the people of his State…but to the people of our entire country.”

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