A Documentary Short
While the original 1793 building plans for the Capitol included men’s restrooms that were easily accessible to the House and Senate chambers, women’s restrooms never even graced a blueprint. For close to two centuries, female Representatives and Senators were exiled by exclusionary architecture. Women had to leave their respective chambers when “nature called.” They could choose between either using tourist restrooms close to the House and Senate chambers, or the private, but further-away, lounges for lawmakers’ wives. The lengthy walks – or sometimes jogs – to these remote locations subjected them to any combination of long lines, inundations by lobbyists, and the risk of missing an important debate, or even a major vote.
Headlines in 1977 reported the would-be historic plans to finally construct a women’s restroom, but the much-needed renovation never materialized. It wasn’t until 1992, “The Year of the Woman,” that saw more women win elections than ever before, that the Senate Majority leader finally requested the construction of a women’s restroom just off the Senate floor. Thanks to the efforts of Senators Barbara Mikulski, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Carol Moseley Braun, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, the bathroom opened for business in 1993. The restroom was expanded from two stalls to four stalls in 2013, when a record 20 women served in the Senate.
On the House side, the struggle for equal facilities began in 1962, when female Members of the House pressed for the establishment of a women’s-only lounge on the Capitol’s first floor. That year, H-235 was dedicated as a powder room and lounge for female members, and included the only women’s restroom on the premises. This sole women’s restroom was not accessible from the chamber, unlike the men’s restroom, located right outside of the House floor. Thanks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representatives Donna Edwards, Rosa DeLauro and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the geographic bathroom parity became a reality in 2011 when a women’s restroom opened outside the House floor.
In 2020, with a rising number of women being elected to the House and Senate, the architecture in Congress will finally have to match reality. And these struggles go far beyond bathroom equality. For example, Senator Tammy Duckworth, a war veteran and a double-amputee who gave birth in office, motivated the Senate to change their rules so that she can bring her baby on the Senate floor. As a tribute to the ongoing fight for equality, Pissed Off will be produced in 2020, just in time for the 100-year anniversary of women winning the right to vote in America.