Pictures of Congress: An Overview
Prints and Photographs
The Prints & Photographs Division has many photographs, prints, and cartoons depicting past members of Congress. The images were acquired primarily through copyright deposit, gift, and transfers from other units of the Library of Congress, including from papers held by the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. The division generally does not receive images directly from Congress.
The collections include relatively few portraits of Congressmen who served before 1850 and generally do not include photographs from the current Congress. Pictures of Congressional hearings can be found in the Harris & Ewing Collection (1930s-1940s) and in the CQ/Roll Call Collection (1990s), but are otherwise sparse and generally not specifically identified.
This reference aid provides search tips for locating images of individual Congress people and group portraits. It highlights Prints & Photographs Division collections that are particularly strong for such images and suggests additional sources for locating portraits.
Not all images of Congress people are digitized or individually described. In the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, some images are described item by item, while others are described in groups.
Generally, making a visit to the Prints & Photographs Reading Room is the best means for reviewing the holdings for relevant images. (See our "Information for Researchers" document for information about visiting the reading room and service from a distance.)
Gathering biographical information about the individual can be helpful in searching for images, especially: variant names, state represented, dates in office, key legislation in which the person participated, and activities in which he or she engaged. As individuals are not always identified in photographs showing activities, it is helpful to have an identified portrait, possibly from a published source, to use as visual reference in order to recognize the individual in question.
Even when images have been individually described, many descriptions rely heavily on information that is on or with the image; full names and dates are not always present in the description. When searching the online catalog, start by searching the person's first and last name. You may find additional images by using these techniques:
- Try searching the person's last name paired with the appropriate title and its abbreviation:
- Senator (Sen.) (example: Sen. Cameron)
- Representative (Rep.) (example: Rep. Butler)
- Honorable (Hon.) (example: Hon. Chas. Randall--including the spelled-out name "Charles" in your search would not retrieve the items where his name was abbreviated)
- Try searching by the person's title and the state he or she represented. Occasionally a photo will omit the person’s name entirely and just list their title and the state they represented (example: Senator from New York)
- Try the subject heading “legislator” sometimes followed by "United States" or the name of the state the person represented.
- Try looking for a group or composite photo (they do not always identify everyone pictured).
- Search for the particular session using both the numeral and number spelled out (i.e. 55th Congress and Fifty-Fifth Congress) because either may be used.
- If your search brings up too many images, including a year with the search terms can help narrow down the results.
These Prints & Photographs Division collections are particularly strong for images of Senators and Representatives. They are listed in rough chronological order. Beside each collection name is the time span for which it is strongest. Links to further descriptions of the collections are included.
- Biographical File (1800-1950) - Original and copy photographs and prints, filed by the individual's last name. A section at the end of the file, for group portraits, includes some items field as "Biog--Group Portraits--Legislators" [view catalog record]
- Cartoon collections - Relevant collections Include Cartoon Prints, American (bulk 1780s-1870s); Cartoon Drawings (1880-1980); Herblock Collection (1946-2001).
- LOT 7011 [Graphics File] (1780s-1880s)--Originals and copies of non-photographic images pertaining to the Congress of the United States from its inception to about 1880. [view catalog record]
- Brady-Handy Collection (1855-1910, bulk 1860-1880) - Photographs made and collected by the studios of Mathew B. Brady and his nephew Levin C. Handy. Searching by last name, without a first name, sometimes yields more comprehensive results. [view collection information/search]
- C.M. Bell Collection (1873-ca. 1916) - Photographs by a Washington, D.C. studio. The collection is primarily composed of glass negatives. The negatives are being digitized (2014); current access is through microfilm. [view catalog record]
- National Photo Company Collection (1850-1945; bulk 1909-1932) - Photographs made and collected by a Washington, D.C., news photo service. Searching by last name, without a first name, sometimes yields more comprehensive results. [view collection information/search]
- McClees' Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates of the Thirty-fifth Congress (1859) [JK1012 .M35 1859 Case X - served by appointment, only]. [view catalog record; view individual images]
- George Grantham Bain Collection (1860-1937, bulk 1910-1920) - Photographs made and collected by a New York City news photo service. [view collection information/search]
- Specific Subjects File ( 1850-1980, bulk 1870-1960) - Original and copy photographs. Some filed under the heading: Congress, U.S. [view catalog record]
- Harris & Ewing Collection (1905-1945) - Photographs made by a Washington, D.C., studio. Searching by last name, without a first name, sometimes yields more comprehensive results. Includes congressional activities. [view collection information/search]
- New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (1880-1967, bulk 1920-1967) - Photographs and illustrations made and collected by a New York City newspaper. Images that are online are primarily those for which researchers have purchased reproductions. Original images are stored off site and are retrieved by consulting an in-house finding aid and submitting a paper call slip. Five days advance notice generally required to view originals. In the Biographical section of the finding aid, search by last name of the individual. In the Subject/Geographical section, see the heading: United States--Congress--House or Senate [view collection overview]
- Congressional Portrait Photograph Collection (1940 -1979) - Portraits of 1,200 individuals. The U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Printing assembled the images to illustrate the Congressional Pictorial Directory, also called the Pocket Congressional Directory. No members after the 95th Congress (1977) are included. [view catalog record]
- Yanker Poster Collection (primarily 1960s-1980s) - Includes some campaign posters for candidates for House and Senate, searchable by their names and by "United States" and "Legislators." [view collection information/search]
U.S. News & World Report (1952-1986, bulk 1955-1979) - Photographs made and collected by the magazine. Images that are online are primarily those for which researchers have purchased reproductions. Original images are on site. Consult the accompany card index by last name to locate relevant "job" numbers. Jobs are stored in the reading room, usually as black-and-white contact sheets. [view collection overview]
Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy for presidential nomination. Photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran (U.S. News & World Report), 1972 Jan. 25.
- CQ/Roll Call Photograph Collection (1987-2000) - Photographs made and collected by Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call, including Congressional activities, as well as portraits. Catalog records for Roll Call photo assignments can be searched in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog by including "roll call" in the search, and contact sheets can be viewed in the reading room. Congressional Quarterly images are still being prepared for public service (2015) [view catalog record]
- Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg Collection - "How They Changed Our Lives: Senators as Working People" (2006-2009) - Portraits of United States senators paired with textual summaries of key bills they passed. One hundred of the senators were active in the 109th Congress (2005-2007), with 13 portraits added for new members in the 110th Congress (2007-2009). [view catalog record; view collection overview]
Supplementary Indexes and Finding Tools in the Reading Room
Rights to the images vary. Please consult our Rights and Restrictions Information page for guidance on assessing rights and risks of using an image from Prints & Photographs Division holdings, and for rights information for specific collections.
- Biographical Index (1800-1950 bulk) - A card index in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room that lists images found in the division's Biographical File and elsewhere in the division's holdings.
- ALA Portrait Index - An index to portraits published in 1,181 books and periodicals. Useful for locating published portraits of congressmen who were in office in the 18th or 19th centuries. Full citation: Browne, A.L.A. Portrait Index: Index to Portraits Contained In Printed Books And Periodicals. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906. The index is available online via the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/alaportraitindex00lane and via the HathiTrust.org: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/004478929?type=all&lookfor=a.l.a.%20portrait%20index&ft=ft. The publications it indexes are also sometimes available through HathiTrust.org and other full text databases.
Related Resources - Other Institutions' Collections, Web Sites, and Reference Tools
- National Portrait Gallery - Portrait Search, http://npgportraits.si.edu - A tool for locating paintings of members of Congress--especially those who were in office before the era of photography.
- United States House of Representatives Office of Art and Archives/Office of the Historian – The House of Representatives’ History, Art & Archives page includes a portrait search: http://history.house.gov/People/Search/. Many of these portraits came from the Library of Congress, but some were obtained from outside sources. The House of Representatives site also offers online presentations on:
The House of Representatives History Office can be contacted at [email protected].
- United States Senate Historical Office --The Senate has a portrait page at http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/common/collection_list/Sittername_List.jsp. These portraits come directly from the Senate’s collections.The Senate History Office can be contacted at [email protected].
- The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (https://bioguide.congress.gov/ ) - Some biographies are accompanied by small portraits, and the biographical information and pointers to where personal collections are deposited can provide leads to potential sources of images.
- National Archives Still Picture unit -- No systematic coverage, but members of Congress are represented especially in: New York Times - Paris Bureau (306-NT) covering 1920s-early 1940s.; U.S. Information Agency Master File (RG 306-PS) covering 1950s-1980s; files of the military services that include members visiting military posts or attending meetings, including Defense Imagery Management Operations Center (RG 330-CFD). Images from more recent decades may be available online at: http://www.archives.gov/research/search/. Contact information available at: http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/college-park/photographs-dc.html
- Portraits of members of Congress can sometimes be located in their home state. Consult the state library or archives. Congress people sometimes donate their papers to a university library in the state.
- The Government Printing Office has printed the Congressional Pictorial Directory since the mid-20th century. The directories have portraits of every member of Congress but most of the photos are small. [view catalog record]
- Newspaper photograph collections and newspapers can be a source of images:
- Biographical indexes and databases rarely include a portrait, but may have a citation for a biographical source that does.
Compiled by: Jonathan Eaker, Reference Assistant, August 2014; last updated: January 2015.