Have you seen this?
Yep, that’s a lawmaker getting ready to go nighty-night right there in the office. The NPR story, which can be found here, says it is a matter of circumstances for many of our elected officials: It is expensive to live in D.C., to plunk down an average of $2,000 a month rent (not counting everything else), and maintain a household back in one’s district.
I get that. I lived on Capitol Hill for 17 years BK (before kids). The neighborhood was a little dicey; there was no off-street parking (so my car was dinged and broken into more than once); and, for the privilege of living a decent commuting distance downtown to my work, it was about $1200 a month back then.
I don’t blame these folks for camping out in the office; but, it isn’t ideal.
Personally, I like being able to step away from the workplace. I find that it is too easy for the job to become your life if you let it. You can’t do that if you cuddle up with the Congressional Record as a coverlet each night.
So, I was wondering how this all might have applied to our boy, Emmett Wilson. Emmett was a thrifty guy. Do I think that if the option to sleep in the office had been offered him, would he have taken it up?
Nah. The reason is because I don’t think it would have worked out. Take a look at some of the photos of the office he would have had in the Cannon House Office Building:
Here’s what the House of Representative’s historic page says about Emmett’s office space:
“…each (office) came equipped with identical oak and mahogany furniture. Modern conveniences included lavatories with hot and cold water, telephone lines, steam heat, and forced-air ventilation.” (Source: history.house.gov) Note: Not every office came equipped with a lavatory. And, these were one-room offices.
There were (and are) larger offices in Cannon, but a Freshman congressman like our Emmett would have scored the small office, sporting the furniture, above. The Speaker of the House scored an office with more than one room, where one could escape and close the door. Emmett wasn’t senior enough to have a multi-room office.
Curious, I decided to track down the exact rooms in which Emmett served his constituents.
Emmett’s office during both of his terms was in one of these smaller spaces. In 1913, he was in Cannon 480 (Cannon 432 in 2015); and, in 1915, Cannon 529 (Cannon 511 in 2015). These were, during Emmett’s tenure, on the smaller side, perhaps a little less than 15 x 23, according to the Clerk of Arts & Archives of the House of Representatives. The Clerk, by the way also sent me a nice email message inviting me to come on by sometime and see the rooms the next time I’m on the Hill.
In theory, Emmett could have lived in his office if he were so inclined, perhaps sleeping in the roll-top space of his desk, but he didn’t. Or, he wouldn’t have been able to, as he was over six feet tall, but I digress.
By the way, the first reported camping-out of a congressman-in-his-office was back in 1980, and the Congressman was House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, in Cannon 514, just a few doors down from Emmett’s old office. Armey’s office was probably larger than 15 x 23 feet in the 1980s, and likely had storage space for a cot, or pillows and so forth. There is very little storage space noted in the offices of Emmett’s time.
Of course, we know that Emmett lived across the street at the Congress Hall Hotel (now the site of the Longworth House Office Building). Emmett’s salary as a congressman in 1913 was $125 a month. Given the average salary of a family of four was about $600 a year, Emmett was making good money, if, he was still practicing law on the side when he came home during breaks (he was, but not often).
According to the handy-dandy Inflation Calculator for 2015, $1 in 1913 is the equivalent of $24.39 today.
If Emmett was making $125 a month in 1913, today, that’s about $3,048.78 today.
The cost of a room at the Congress Hall Hotel for Emmett in 1913 ran him $2.50 a day, or about $60 a day in 2015 money (that’s the price for a room with its own bathroom. You could get a less expensive room, but have to use a community john with everyone else on the same floor). I feel comfortable saying Emmett would not share a bathroom. I cannot see him standing in the hallway, unshaven, in a bathrobe, with his kit, waiting his turn in line with the hoi polloi. Nope. I digress.
Let’s say Emmett had the room at the Congress Hall Hotel for 30 days. In 1913 bucks, that’s $75. In 2015, that’s $1,829.27.
Emmett could afford the hotel room. But notice, I’m not including the meals or incidentals (taxis, train tickets, social events, trips to the doctor or the drugstore, or the liquor store). DC was an expensive place to live in 1913, and it is still expensive in 2015.
So, did he sleep in his office? No. Did he entertain the idea? Probably not; it would be considered undignified, and image was important to Emmett.