Mrs. Wilson’s Alley Bill

Mrs. Wilson’s Alley Bill
Ellen Wilson: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One to two class periods


One of Ellen Wilson’s greatest concerns after she moved to Washington, D.C., was the housing conditions of the city’s poor.  The bill that bears her name is a lasting tribute to her compassion and caring.


The purpose of this lesson is two-fold:  (1) students will learn (or review) the federal law-making process and (2) students will develop an understanding of the financial implications of an appropriation bill to redress a domestic concern in a time of looming war.      

Materials Required:

Access to the curriculum biography of Ellen Wilson American History or Government textbook (for reference)


1.  Read to students (or have them read) the curriculum biography of Ellen Wilson, paying special attention to the housing conditions for the city’s poor and her response to it.

2.  Divide students into 2 large groups.  One will be the House of Representatives and one will be the Senate.  The two groups need not be equal in size; the Senate should be smaller.

3.  Have each group craft a bill to address the problems noted in the curriculum biography, building consensus within each group for its own bill. 

4.  If the bills are identical (unlikely), engage students in a discussion of what was occurring in Europe, our neutrality, etc., and how these concerns and the looming war threat might have played out in Congress as it considered “Mrs. Wilson’s Alley Bill.”

5.  If the bills are not identical (more likely), have the House and Senate select 2 or 3 students each to form a conference committee to resolve differences between the two bills.  When this small committee agrees, the resulting compromise bill will return to the two large groups (House and Senate) for approval.  Whether or not this occurs, this is an excellent opportunity to discuss how unified House and Senate must have been in 1914 for the passage of this bill.  Then move into the discussion outlined in #4 above.

Extending the Lesson:

The teacher may wish to note other times in American history when bills related to domestic spending collided with bills dedicated to war efforts (WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, etc.). 

Sources & Resources:


This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.