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The History of Milwaukee and its Government, Photograph 3

When then-colonel Henry Martyn Robert was asked to preside over a church meeting in the late nineteenth century, the engineering officer who taught at the Downer Teacher's College in Milwaukee was embarrassed by the parliamentary anarchy that he witnessed far too often in his travels. Little did he realize that his Robert's Rules of Order would one day become the authority of deliberative assemblies, much like the one pictured in this photograph, dated 1898, of one of the first Common Councils to meet in the new City Hall, dedicated in 1895. Milwaukee's Common Council chamber is the largest city council meeting room in the United States, even after the wrought-iron balcony galleries were removed as part of a renovation in 1931. While the Wisconsin oak dais from where the council president and city clerk preside over meetings is still in pristine condition, many other features of the Common Council Chamber have changed. The ceiling was stenciled with the theme "Human Endeavor and Progress" in the 1930s by artist and Alderman Carl Minkley, and the chandeliers were later replaced with more efficient fluorescent fixtures. The Council changed in size several times, restructuring from two representatives per ward to the current district system. The roll-top desks were replaced by streamlined walnut desks in the 1960s, and replaced again with traditional oak desks in 1996. During proceedings, protocol dictates that only members of the Common Council and City Clerk's legislative staff may be on the "floor," denoted by the hand-carved oak railings that separate it from the viewing galleries.