Biographies of the lawmakers
It begins, in strictly alphabetical order, with a man named Fisher Ames:
AMES, Fisher, a Representative from Massachusetts; born in Dedham, Mass., April 9, 1758; attended the town school of his native city and also received private instruction; was graduated from Harvard College in 1774; while teaching school, studied law; was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Dedham in 1781; served in the State house of representatives in 1788; member of the Massachusetts convention called for the ratification of the Federal Constitution in 1788; elected as a Pro-Administration candidate to the First through Third Congresses and as a Federalist to the Fourth Congress (March 4, 1789-March 3, 1797); chairman, Committee on Elections (First Congress); was not a candidate for renomination in 1796; resumed the practice of law in Dedham; member of the Governor’s council 1798-1800; chosen president of Harvard University in 1804, but declined to accept because of failing health; died in Dedham, Mass., July 4, 1808; interment in Old First Parish Cemetery.1
It ends, as of today, still in strictly alphabetical order, with a man named Todd Young:
YOUNG, Todd, a Representative from Indiana; born in Lancaster, Lancaster County, Pa., August 24, 1972; B.S., United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., 1995; M.B.A., University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill., 2000; M.A., University of London, London, England, 2001; J.D., Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Indiana University, Indianapolis, Ind., 2006; United States Navy, 1990-1991; United States Marine Corps, 1995-2000; aide to United States Senator Richard Lugar, 2001-2003; deputy prosecutor, Orange County (Ind.), 2007-2010; consultant; lawyer, private practice; elected as a Republican to the One Hundred Twelfth and to the succeeding Congress (January 3, 2011-present).2
And in between those two… another 10,813 men and women from 1789 to 2013.3
They are, and were, the members of the United States Congress — the House of Representatives and the Senate. The largest number historically who served over the years in the House of Representatives from any one State — 1466 men and women from New York. The smallest from any American state — 12 from Alaska.4
And there’s a single website where you can read all about them. It’s called the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present, and it’s presented and maintained by the historians of the House of Representatives.
The individual entries, as you can see, are short but full of genealogical detail, with birth, death and occupational details. And many of the older records have rich bibliographies and links to other research collections. For Fisher Ames, for example, there are 10 items included in an extended bibliography ranging from a biography by Winfred Bernhard5 to a collection of Ames’ own speeches.6 And the research collections page for Ames includes 16 repositories ranging from the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia to the Yale University Library’s manuscripts and archives collections.
You can find, here, the biography of the first Black American ever to serve in the United States Senate, Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi:
REVELS, Hiram Rhodes, a Senator from Mississippi; born in Fayetteville, Cumberland County, N.C., on September 27, 1827; attended Beech Grove Quaker Seminary in Liberty, Ind., Darke County Seminary in Ohio, and Knox College, Galesburg, Ill.; barber; ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church at Baltimore, Md., in 1845; carried on religious work in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri; accepted a pastorate in Baltimore, Md., in 1860; at the outbreak of the Civil War assisted in recruiting two regiments of African American troops in Maryland; served in Vicksburg, Miss., as chaplain of a Negro regiment, and organized African American churches in that State; established a school for freedmen in St. Louis, Mo., in 1863; after the war, served in churches in Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana before settling in Natchez, Miss., in 1866; elected alderman in 1868; member, Mississippi state senate 1870; elected as a Republican to the United States Senate; presented his credentials upon the readmission of Mississippi to representation on February 23, 1870; took the oath of office on February 25, 1870, after the Senate resolved a challenge to his credentials, and served from February 23, 1870, until March 3, 1871; first African American Senator; secretary of state ad interim of Mississippi in 1873; president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (formerly Oakland College, now Alcorn State University), Rodney, Miss., 1871-1874, 1876-1882; moved to Holly Springs, Marshall County, Miss., and continued his religious work; editor, Southwestern Christian Advocate, official newspaper of A.M.E. Church 1876-1882; in retirement after 1882, taught theology at Shaw University, Holly Springs, Miss.; died from a paralytic stroke in Aberdeen, Miss., January 16, 1901; interment in Hill Crest Cemetery, Holly Springs, Miss.7
And there’s a whole online exhibit, Black Americans in Congress, at the House of Representatives history website, History, Art & Archives, to read more about the 139 men and women who have served in the House and the Senate since Revels and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina became the first African Americans to serve in Congress in 1870.
The first woman to serve in the Congress was Jeannette Rankin of Montana, elected in 1916:
RANKIN, Jeannette, a Representative from Montana; born near Missoula, Missoula County, Mont., June 11, 1880; attended the public schools, and was graduated from the University of Montana at Missoula in 1902; student at the School of Philanthropy, New York City in 1908 and 1909; social worker in Seattle, Wash., in 1909; engaged in promoting the cause of woman suffrage in the State of Washington in 1910, in California in 1911, and in Montana 1912-1914; visited New Zealand in 1915 and worked as a seamstress in order to gain personal knowledge of social conditions; elected as a Republican to the Sixty-fifth Congress (March 4, 1917-March 3, 1919); was the first woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives; did not seek renomination in 1918, but was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for Senator; was also an unsuccessful candidate on an independent ticket for election to the United States Senate; engaged in social work; elected to the Seventy-seventh Congress (January 3, 1941-January 3, 1943); was not a candidate for renomination in 1942 to the Seventy-eighth Congress; resumed lecturing and ranching; member, National Consumers League; field worker, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; member, National Council for Prevention of War; remained leader and lobbyist for peace and women’s rights until her death in Carmel, Calif., May 18, 1973; cremated; ashes scattered on ocean, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.8
Rich, documented details and great search features make this site a must for anyone who has a federal lawmaker in the family — or just wants to know more about the men and women who’ve given us our laws over the years.
Image: Lithograph, Collection of U.S. House of Representatives
- “AMES, Fisher, (1758 – 1808),” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present (http://bioguide.congress.gov/biosearch/biosearch.asp : accessed 26 Aug 2013). Update: Ames was the first member in alphabetical order in the first Congress. George Fred Aandahl (R-ND), b1897-d1966, who served one term in the 82nd Congress heads the alphabetical list overall. ↩
- Ibid., “YOUNG, Todd, (1972 – ).” Update: Young is the last member in alphabetical order in the current 113th Congress. The last member ever in alphabetical order was John Matthew Zwach (R-MN), b1907-d1990, who served four terms from the 90th through the 93rd Congresses. ↩
- “Total Members of the House & State Representation, 1789 to July 16, 2013,” United States House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives (http://history.house.gov/Home/ : accessed 26 Aug 2013). ↩
- Ibid., “Members of the House of Representatives By State or Territory (March 4, 1789 to July 16, 2013)”. ↩
- Winfred E. Bernhard, Fisher Ames: Federalist and Statesman, 1758-1808( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965). ↩
- Fisher Ames, Speeches of Fisher Ames in Congress, 1789-1796 (Boston: Little, Brown, and company, 1871). ↩
- “REVELS, Hiram Rhodes, (1827 – 1901),” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present (http://bioguide.congress.gov/biosearch/biosearch.asp : accessed 26 Aug 2013). ↩
- Ibid., “RANKIN, Jeannette, (1880 – 1973).” ↩