U.S. Senate History Briefings: FAQ -- Frequently Asked Questions
United States Senate
U.S. flag
SenatorsCommiteesLegislative ActivitiesLearning about the SenateVisiting the SenateContacting the SenateSearch
Learning about the Senate

Senate Briefings

Frequently Asked Questions

How many Senators have served to date?

There have been 1,864 U.S. senators as of January 3, 2001.

How many women have served in the U.S. Senate?

As of January, 1999, twenty-seven women have served as senators. The first woman senator was Rebecca Latimer Felton, who served for one day in 1922. The most recent woman to be elected to the Senate is Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, elected on November 3, 1998.

What are the constitutional requirements for a senator?

According to Artice I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, a senator must be 30 years of age, a citizen of the U.S. for 9 years, and must reside in the state he or she represents at the time of election.

What happens when there is a vacancy in the U.S. Senate, due to the death or resignation of a senator?

According to the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which established the direct election of senators:

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

Typically, the governor will appoint a replacement to complete the term. In some cases, a replacement will be named to serve until the next general election is held, or a special election is called.

Who was the only senator to serve from three states?

James Shields, a Democrat, represented Illinois in the Senate from 1849 to 1855, then Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, and finally was a senator from Missouri in 1879.

How do I find information about an ancestor who was a senator, or about any former senator?

Check the online Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, available at this web site. There you can search by name, state, and office for any senator or representative. If you need more information about any individual, contact the Senate Historical Office.

Who was the first and only senator elected by a write-in vote?

Strom Thurmond of South Carolina became the first write-in senator on November 3, 1954.

Who were the only father and son to serve simultaneously in the Senate?

Henry Dodge of Wisconsin and his son Augustus Caesar Dodge of Iowa served together in the Senate from 1848 to 1855.

What is the average age of the current senators?

The average age for senators in the 106th Congress is 57.

What is the history of the Senate gavel?

The original ivory gavel is one of the most precious articles in the Senate's collection. According to tradition, Vice President John Adams (our first Vice President and therefore our first President of the Senate) used this gavel to call the Senate to order in New York in the Spring of 1789. Although we cannot document that, we know for certain the gavel was used as early as 1831. In the late 1940s the old gavel began to wear out, so silver tips were added to each end to strengthen and preserve it. In 1954, as Vice President Richard Nixon presided over a heated discussion about atomic energy, the precious gavel fell apart. Senate officials wanted to recreate the original as exactly as possible. When no ivory of sufficient size could be found commercially, India, through its embassy, provided the ivory and had the new gavel hand-carved in exactly the same dimensions as the new one. The new gavel began service on November 17, 1954, and is still in use today. At the end of each long day of service, the gavel is placed in a box beside the mended original gavel.

Is it true the Senate restaurants serve bean soup everyday?

Yes. According to one story, the custom began early in the 20th century at the request of Senator Fred Thomas Dubois of Idaho. Another story attributes the request to Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota. We know that the House tradition dates back to 1904. Speaker of the House Joe Cannon came to the restaurant one day and found bean soup missing from the menu. "Thunderation," he cried, "I had my mouth set for bean soup! From now on, hot or cold, rain, snow or shine, I want it on the menu every day." Here is the recipe for the Senate's bean soup.

2 pounds dried navy pea beans
four quarts hot water
1-1/2 pounds smoked ham hocks
1 onion chopped
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Take two pounds of small navy beans, wash and run hot water through until slightly whitened. Place beans in pot with four quarts of hot water. Add ham hocks and boil for three hours. Set aside to cool. Dice meat and return to soup. Lightly brown the chopped onion in butter and add to soup. Before serving, bring to boil then season with salt and pepper. Serves 8 people.

What is the "candy desk"?

In 1968 California Senator George Murphy moved to a desk on the aisle of the last row on the Republican side of the Senate chamber, next to the door that leads to the elevators. Senator Murphy had a sweet tooth and always kept candies in his desk drawer. Given the senatorial traffic that regularly passed his new location, he invited other senators to help themselves. The desk became known as "the candy desk" and each senator who has subsequently occupied it has carried on the tradition, keeping the desk stocked with assorted mints, hard candies and chocolates. Some senators have even specified specific brands of sweets that they preferred. Eventually, the National Confectioners Association and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association began to provide an assortment of candies. The staff of the current occupant makes sure that the desk drawer is filled whenever the Senate is in session. The desk is usually assigned to a junior member of the Senate. Previous occupants of the Candy Desk include Senators John McCain, Slade Gorton, and Robert Bennett. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania currently occupies that seat.

Back To Top

Need help? :  Security and Privacy Notice


General Information
Brief History of the Senate
Facts and Milestones
Oath of Office
Senate Seal
Senate Flag
Constitutional Qualifications for Senator
Famous Five

Institutional Development
Origins and Developments
Meeting Places and Quarters
Senate Committees
Direct Election of Senators

Powers & Procedures
Impeachment Role
Filibuster and Cloture
Expulsion and Censure

President of the Senate
Senate President Pro Tempore
Floor Leaders

Officers & Staff
Secretary of the Senate
Sergeant at Arms
Senate Chaplain
Legislative Counsel
Legal Counsel
Capitol Police
Reporters of Debate & Congressional Record