Statuary Hall: A History

/tiles/non-collection/s/sh_stathall_2010_016_027pq.xml Statuary Hall stereoview (detail), Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
The concept of a National Statuary Hall began in the middle of the nineteenth century. The completion of the present House wing in 1857 allowed the House of Representatives to move into its new and larger chamber. The old, vacant chamber became a cluttered thoroughfare between the Rotunda and the House wing.

Suggestions for the use of the old chamber were made as early as 1853 by Gouverneur Kemble, a former Member of the House, who pressed for its use as a gallery for historical paintings. The space between the columns seemed too limited for such a purpose but was considered more suited for the display of busts and statuary.

On April 19, 1864, the Honorable Justin S. Morrill in the House of Representatives proposed: "To what end more useful or grand, and at the same time simple and inexpensive, can we devote it [the Chamber] than to ordain that it shall be set apart for the reception of such statuary as each State shall elect to be deserving of in this lasting commemoration?"

This proposal was enacted into the law creating the National Statuary Hall, July 2, 1864 (sec. 1814 of the Revised Statutes), the essential part of which provides:

"And the President is hereby authorized to invite each and all the States to provide and furnish statues, in marble or bronze, not exceeding two in number for each State, of deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services such as each State may deem to be worthy of this national commemoration; and when so furnished the same shall be placed in the Old Hall of the House of Representatives, in the Capitol of the United States, which is set apart, or so much thereof as may be necessary, as a national statuary hall for the purpose herein indicated."

By 1935, 65 statues were crowded into Statuary Hall. In some places they were lined three deep which was aesthetically displeasing. More important, however, the structure of the chamber would not accommodate the excessive weight and there were statues yet to come.

On February 24, 1933, Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution No. 47 to provide for the relocation of statues and to govern the future reception and location of statues.  

"Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the Architect of the Capitol, upon the approval of the Joint Committee of the Library, with the advice of the Commission of Fine Arts, is hereby authorized and directed to relocate within the Capitol any of the statues already received and placed in Statuary Hall, and to provide for the reception and location of the statues received hereafter from the States."

Under authority of this resolution, it was decided that only one statue from each State should be placed in Statuary Hall. The other statues were located prominently in designated areas and corridors of the Capitol.

A second rearrangement of the statues was made in 1976 by authorization of the Joint Committee on the Library to reduce overcrowding and to improve the aesthetic quality and orderliness of the physical arrangement of the National Statuary Hall Collection. Statues were placed in the East Central Hall of the east front extension on the first floor of the Capitol. Other statues were relocated within the corridors, Hall of Columns and Statuary Hall.