Back In 1893….This Might Brighten You Day—With Flowers In Congress!

“The proceedings were dull, but the flowers were bright and fragrant, and in profusion, and the air was full of the odor of roses, hyacinths, carnations, and geraniums.” No, this isn’t a description of a spring trudge around the Tidal Basin, but The New York Times’ description of the opening of a congressional session in the winter of 1893.
In the 1890s, an event like the opening day of Congress was a grand affair. All of the galleries would be nearly at capacity, filled by a “distinguished assemblage, including many ladies in brilliant attire,” according to the San Francisco Call.
Attendance was probably appreciated by the members, but dressing up in finery wasn’t the only way for people to show affection for their favorite legislator. Family members, political supporters and those seeking favor would send members of Congress floral arrangements.
It’s unclear when the practice started, but by the early 1900s, the tradition of a chamber decorated with flowers had existed since a time “beyond the range of memory,” according to the St. Louis Post.
And the arrangements went well beyond simple vases. In 1893, The New York Times reported that the Senate chamber featured wicker baskets of roses, horseshoes of flowers draped over Senate desks and “a monster nosegay,” and that the task fell upon a small boy to lug in “a basket of flowers bigger than himself.”
“Viewed from the press gallery it was a bewildering collection. It seemed as if its designer had aimed to get every known flower and color in it and had succeeded beyond his expectations,” the Times’ report continued.
While the reporters of the era seemed to have no objection to the congressional flower show, those less prone to sentiment were concerned that the elaborate displays slowed Senate business in more ways than one.
The arrangements became so ridiculous that in 1905, The Baltimore Sun noted that “the persons [the flowers] were meant to compliment were completely hidden behind the productions of florists.”

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