Senate

The Congressional Bathtubs

“A Senate bathtub, as it appears today. Six tubs were installed in a basement room in the Senate wing of the Capitol in 1859 to provide bathing facilities for senators” (Photo Credit: Senate Historical Office) https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/image/Senate_Bathtubs.htm

Deep in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building, used to stand six bathtubs, hand-carved from Italian Carrara marble. These tubs were installed initially as a practical bathing option for Congressmen living in D.C. boarding houses with primitive bathing facilities. Although mostly forgotten by the 1890s once the new Washington Aqueduct provided running water to most homes in the area, these exquisite tubs were once a popular attraction for Congressmen and their visitors alike.

Sen. Matthew Mansfield Neely of West Virginia introduced the first legislation to fund cancer research. Credit: West Virginia State Archives

How the Federal Anti-Cancer Effort Began

Today, the National Cancer Institute invests nearly $5 billion each year in medical research aimed at learning more about various types of cancer and finding cures for them. While it's a war in which many battles still lie ahead, there have been some encouraging signs of progress, with death rates decreasing for the most common types of cancer.

But it took a long time for the federal anti-cancer effort to get rolling, and it started small. By the late 1920s, the U.S. government had made barely a token investment in fighting an affliction that at the time claimed 83.4 lives per 100,000 population, making it one of the nation's leading causes of death.

More resources needed to be invested in fighting cancer, and the man who started the battle to get that money was a colorful politician born in a West Virginia log cabin named Matthew Mansfield Neely.

Constantino Brumidi (Photo source: Architect of the Capitol)

The Michelangelo of the Capitol

In the U.S. Senate's sculpture collection, there are plenty of busts of instantly recognizable historical figures such as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. But enshrined alongside them, there's also the lushly-bearded, bowtie-wearing likeness of an obscure 19th Century Italian-American artist. While Brumidi, who signed his work "C. Brumidi Artist Citizen of the U.S.," isn't a famous name, he left a lasting mark on the U.S. Capitol, by creating striking frescoes and murals that add charm and grace to the building's interior.

Brumidi's work, which can be found throughout the Capitol, includes the fresco The Apotheosis of Washington in the Rotunda canopy. But his masterwork is the hallways on the first floor of the Senate wing, an assortment of frescoes and murals known as the Brumidi Corridors. Inspired by Raphael's Loggia in the Vatican, Brumidi's art is distinguished by his blending of classical imagery with patriotic American themes. The Washington Post once described Brumidi as "the genius of the Capitol," and noted that "so many of its stateliest rooms bear the touch of this tireless brush that he shall always be associated with it." Art historian Francis V. O'Connor has called him "the first really accomplished American muralist." A journalist of his time went even further, labeling him "the Michelangelo of the U.S. Capitol."