tv U.S. Capitol Page History and Research CSPAN August 22, 2016 5:58pm-7:01pm EDT
learn about their politics, policies and legacies. all this month in primetime and every weekend on american history tv on c-span3. our look at american history tv programs normally seen weekends here on c-span3 will continue in a moment. coming up, the history and research on the u.s. capitol page project. and then historian and author david mccullough receives the u.s. capitol historical society freedom award. at 8:00 eastern, a look at organized crime in the south during the 1950s. >> 100 years ago, an president woodrow wilson signed a bill creating the national parks service, and thursday, we look back on the past century of these care that's corrects of
america's natural and historic treasures. beginning at 10:00 eastern and throughout the day, we take you to national park service sites across the country as recorded by c-span. at 7:00 p.m. eastern, we're live from the national park service's most visited historic home, arlington house, the robert e. lee memorial at arlington national cemetery. join us with your phone calls as we talk with robert stanton, former national park service director and the former arlington house site manager who will oversee the upcoming year long restoration of the mansion, slave quarters and grounds. thursday, the 100th anniversary of the national park service live from avington house 7:00 p.m. eastern on c-span3. be. >> u.s. house of representatives historian matthew wasniewski and thous curator farar elliott join catherine scott in a
presentation about the u.s. capitol page program. using a variety of images, they discuss their latest research into the program, recent acquisition of artifacts and historic milestones such as the first african-american page and the first women pages. the u.s. capitol page alumni association hosted this hour long event as part of a reunion of pages. >> welcome back, jerry papazian, again, our second panel to moderate and introduce this is next panel of house and senate historians, the house historian himself, matt wasniewski. we at the alumni association developed, i think, a great relationship with the house and senate history offices and i'm often reminded this, what you heard in the previous panel that sometimes the historians are
looking for eyewitnesses to events that happened 50 or 60 years ago. >> we all know that if it happens at these hauls here were the people that are still alive and the pages. we came in handy of a few times on a couple of these projects and we hope to do so in the future. these weekends constantly maze me as cokie mentioned running into reading judge tracy here, who was a page for eight years, starting in 142. and had the pleasure driving over in his car. he was a capitol policeman for years afterwards. still has his badge and we got through all the security. so anyone needs a ride back, he's here. with great pleasure, i could introduce matt wasniewski, thank you very much. >> thank you all and good afternoon, as jerry said, i am
matt wisniewski, the historian of the house and i'm joined by my leagues farar elliott to my immediate right and further down the line, kate scott, the senate association historian. we are pleased to be here with you as we kick off the page reunion weekend. we would like to talk to you about recent research and leave about some of our recent research and collections acquisitions related to congressional pages and leave a little bit of time at the end for questions you might have. the history offices on both sides of the capitol have a strong interest in the history of congressional pages. on the house side as jerry alluded to, we have documented the history and development of the program in part by conducting numerous oral histories with former house pages for more than a decade now. these interviews extend all the way back to a pair from the 1930s. glen rupp, who served as a page
from 1932 to 1936, who told us many stories including one about training a young staffer, lyndon b. johnson, about how to operate the doors at the house chamber. john dingell junior who became a page in 1938 and was in the chamber on than fateful day, december 8th, 1941, and of course, would eventually go on to become the longest serving member of congress at more than 59 years. there is a nice synergy done by doing these oral histories and the work of the house curator in capturing the material culture of more than two centuries of pages in the house, and that is .of our interviewees as well as other folks have come to know
our program have donated artifacts to the house collection. and you'll hear more about that from my quizitive and very persuasive colleague in a few minutes. the curators have assembled dozens of images and artifacts, and objects that document the rich page history, everything from civil war era letters home from pages to a 1907 page uniform to a 1940s era capital page school varsity letter. and everything in between. in 2013, my office produced a roughly 40-page history of the house page program, copies of which are available online, you can download the booklet. here it is in paper form, or you can read it online. and in addition to highlighting the origins and development of the program, we use those oral histories that we had done with some well placed participants in the program over the years, including general joe bartlett, former clerk of the house don
anderson, and bill goodwin, who was a page in 1954 when the puerto rican nationalists attacked the chamber, march of 1954. in highlighting stories of pages who were pioneers, or firsts, we were fortunate to draw from interviews that we had conducted with thelda looper, the first female page to serve in the house, appointed by speaker carl albert in 1973, and also frank mitchell of springfield, illinois, who for many years was believed to have been the first african-american page to serve in the house. sponsored by illinois congressman paul finley, and republican leader gerald r. ford. mitchell's appointment was highly symbolic and an object of media attention. it occurred on the 100th anniversary of lincoln's assassination on april 14th, 1965, and just weeks after the galvanizing march on selma.
in our oral history with frank, he mar veried at the fact that he watched the debate on the landmark voting rights act from the doorway of the republican cloak room. and while researching, we came across tantalizing clues in the few secondary sources on pages and their history that perhaps there had been earlier such pioneers and these were obscure references and footnotes to some late 19th and early 20th century newspaper articles that suggested that african-americans may have served as pages in the latter half of the 19th century, perhaps even during the reconstruction era. though upon closer inspection, the ages of the individuals covered in these newspaper articles didn't add up and neither did their job descriptions. it may well have been that they were adult messengers or employees of the door keepers office, still we knew it was possible that the page ranks may have been integrated after the civil war. historians often described
congressional reconstruction that was imposed upon the south as the second american revolution in which political and citizenship rights were conferred upon freed slaves. at least the men. but in changing the reconstructed southern states, this process also changed the face of the membership of the house itself. for the first time african-americans, some of them former slaves, were elected to serve in congress. and all 20 served in the house between 1870 and 1901. two others in the senate before jim crow laws and customs effectively removed african-americans from political participation in washington for more than a generation. until recently, however, we knew very little about how reconstruction changed the house at the staff level. but that changed as more powerful research tools came online. namely digitized copies of historical newspapers and the
congressional record and its predecessors. in fact, these tools in an evolving appreciation for reconstruction's impact on our institution have brought into focus a whole new set of african-american pioneers. among them are george t. downing, a popular proprietor of the house restaurant, and william h. smith, who served as the house librarian which was a prominent appointed position. and it was through these historical newspapers, official house dispersement records and census records that we discovered that the very first african-american page was appointed on april 1st, 1871. he was a 14-year-old named alfred q. powell from manchester, virginia. this was during the first session of the 92nd -- 42nd congress and representative charles howell porter of virginia sponsored powell. porter was a carpetbagger republican from new york state
who served in the union army and then settled in virginia after the war and became involved in state politics and when virginia was readmitted to the union in 1870, he ran for and won a seat that represented greater richmond. so with porter's background, powell's appointment seemed a very purposeful and powerfully symbolic act. on powell's first day, a new york tribune correspondent watching from the galleries wrote, quote, that except for some practical jokes which have been put upon powell by some of the older pages, he got started ved credittively. house expense reports report that howell made $77.50 in his first month as a page. this was the going rate for his roughly 20 other page colleagues who worked on the house floor that congress. beyond that, we know only scant
details about his circumstances. second census records list his father as a wheel wright and mother as a homemaker. it appears powell wasn't just plucked out of obscurity for the groundbreaking appointment. he hailed from a prominent virginia free african-american family. powell's maternal grandmother -- maternal great uncle was one of the most influential black american politicians of the 19th century. john mercer langston who would go on to represent virginia in the house in the 51st congress in 1889, 1891. and there is a nice symmetry that links those stories of frank mitchell and alfred powell. just like mitchell, who arrived in 1965 during debate about voting rights, powell arrived in the republican controlled house, radical republican controlled house. amid a contentious debate on the
eve of the passage of the forced act of 1871, which was also known as the ku klux klan act, which em powered the president to use federal troops to break up the klan and imposed harsh penalties on those who is interfered with african-american voting rights. on powell's first day as a page, notable african-american members such as robert elliott and joseph rainy both of south carolina, rainy was actually the first african-american who serve in the house, they delivered speeches on the floor attesting to violations against the 14th amendment rights of their constituents. and so in that sense, paging provided a common experience for two teenaged african-american boys who, though, separated by nearly a century witnessed the house grapple with monumental civil rights issues. to change gears and conclude, i want to tell you about one other research question that nagged us as we wrote the history of the
house page program. and it is one that we're still trying to determine conclusively. and that's pinpointing the exact start date of the practice of paging in the house. we know that the use of legislative messengers evolved over the better part of a half century, from a continental congress when adults served as messengers until the late 1820s when according to official house records it is clear that a page corps em employing young boys and teenagers took shape. but when exactly? following the panic of 1837, which was one of the major economic recessions of the 19th century, the house committee on accounts which was responsible for the institution's expenditures and looking to trim costs delved into the practice of paging. the committee soon discovered the house never set a formal number, budget or guidelines to administer the program. interviewing quote/unquote old
and experienced officers of the house, the committee reported that the house first employed boy pages sometime, sometime, after it convened in the district of columbia in november, 1800. by the late 1820s, at least three-page boys served on the house floor. a decade later that number had grown to 18. apparently as members sought to provide income to local orphan boys or to their destitute families. christian heinz's recollection of washington city, which was published in 1866, makes a brief reference suggesting that some of the earliest pages dating back to the early 1800s, may in fact have been the two young sons and nephew of the long time house doorkeeper thomas claxton. so still while useful guides, these sources don't provide contemporary firsthand accounts. by happy coincidence, while researching something completely
unrelated, the history of members wearing hats on the floor, which is a subject for another day, just ask, i'm happy to talk about that, farar knows that. we stumbled upon the earliest first hand account of a house page of which i'm aware. thomas hill hubbard who represented a district in upstate new york served in the house in the 15th and 17th congresses. hubbard wasn't -- his career was not that long. not that distinguished. but fortunately for historians he wrote his wife phoebe many letters detailing his impressions of washington, the monroe administration, and his colleagues and these letters are at the library of congress. on christmas day, 117, just after the opening of the 15th congress, hubbard wrote phoebe a
long letter describing the hall of the house. this was interesting on a couple of levels, because at the time the house convened in the old brick capitol. congress' temporary quarters on the grounds of the modern day supreme court, while the capitol was being repaired after the british had sacked it in 1814. we don't have many descriptions of sessions in that space. and as i'm sure my colleagues will agree that research can be both -- can be very laborious, but there are rare occasions those days when it is serendipitous and even sublime. on the second page of his letter, hubbard remarked that, quote, the members sit with their hats on or off as they please. decorum, he added, still required that, quote, when one rises to speak, he must respectfully take off his hat and address the speaker. aha. question confirmed. but then in the very next line, quote, we have a charming little boy, about 12 years old, who waits on the house and when a member rises to submit a
resolution, the little fellow leaps around lightly and with the swiftness of an arrow stands by his side. the boy, whom hubbard identified only by the name oswald stood by any member who addressed the house and "if anything is submitted in writing, he takes it and conveys it to the clerk who sits under the speaker's chair, then takes his leave and watches till another member raises when the same ceremony takes place again." oswald was required to, among other things, pour glasses of water for long winded speechmakers. this is the earliest contemporaneous account we have that places page boys in the house chamber. oswald, more than likely, was john oswald dunn, who appears in a few house sources related to end of session pay and bonuses for messengers and other employees.
born in the early 1800s, dun was the son of then house sergeant at arms thomas dun. and this aligns with our other accounts that suggest the young sons or nephews of house officers may have been the earliest pages. like many house pages over the years, dun spent a long career in the house, succeeding his father in 1824 as the sergeant at arms, and serving in that capacity until 1832. so we are getting closer to taking the history of house pages back to the turn of the 19th century, and as i indicated at the opening finding and preserving these stories remains an abiding interest for our office. and with that, i'll turn it over to farar elliott. thank you. [ applause ] >> hello.
i'm farar elliott. i'm the curator of the house and it's great to get to follow matt who gave you a real sense of what 19th century page life was like and what some of the real defining elements of being a page 150 years or almost 200 years ago are. what i want to do today is walk you through the experience of a single family's pair of pages that they have. that they sent to the house in the 1860s. and the details of it really comport with what matt has been talking about today. i'm going to tell you all about -- oh, i'm not going to tell you that. i'm going to tell you quickly -- yes, all about bertie pillsbury. little bertie and his big brother elliott were pages in the house. this is bertie in his page uniform. and the reason we know about
bertie and elliot is that this photo and a lot of stuff i'm going to talk to you about today is part of a rich trove of artifacts on 19th century page life that was recently given just last year to the house collection by descendants of elliott and bertie. elliot was 13 when he became a page, and he was 16 when he left the house for the naval academy. and as soon as he left, albert, called bertie, took his brother's place in 1862 at the age of 11. we're going to talk about very young pages here. the pillsbury boys' story is as i said, pretty typical of mid-19th century pages in washington, as far as we know. you'll see it follows the course matt charted of families in need, destitute families and orphans that were assisted by members of congress in finding work for the young boys in a household that was in need. often it was local boys in washington, in this case, it was
boys up in the district. elliot and bertie's story, it's also based on letters for the most part. it's, for those of you who are the pre-aughts generation, the letters will seem a little familiar, the content of them, because their story is typical of pages of almost any generation in that their daily lives were a mix of their complicated ties back home and the communications that any kid might experience. ordinary work in the chamber, and these extraordinary moments of witnessing history. now, the letters that we used to find out more about elliot and bertie and what page life was like then, they're really -- it was a scatter shot approach to preserving them on the part of elliot and bertie and their family members. some are from their mother. some are to their mother.
some are from relatives and family friends. you know, there are no letters from elliot back home. i feel like elliot may have, like, just skated away pretty quickly. you know, i think he was a golden boy. he did everything right. and you know, that can be kind of irritating. i have a whole fan fiction about bertie and elliot and how bertie resented elliot. this is -- this envelope is typical of the ones we have. it's a free frank envelope signed by nathaniel banks, a massachusetts member of congress who had served as speaker of the house earlier in his career. dang, this thing is good. okay. so the pills bury family at the time elliott first comes, they weren't unfamiliar with
washington or with political life. this is the earliest document in the collection, from 1857, two years before elliot first comes here as a page. it's from a guy who is generally known as uncle albert. bertie's namesake who worked in washington. i haven't figured out what uncle albert did, but i will. he wrote to the family, and god, uncle albert, he wrote with pompous advice to elliot and bertie and even manages to make this long description of how boys played marbles in the streets of washington into a moral lesson. let me read some to you. the most common sport of the boys in washington when out of school at this season is marble playing. our streets and sidewalks are so wide, they afford plenty of room for youngsters to indulge in the game. can you imagine reading this if you're 9 years old? without annoying the carriages. many of them acquired great dexterity in snapping their marbles in a direct line and with a sure aim. i have often been amused to see
a boy hit a marble at 20 feet. i don't wish you to understand me to mean that i think the boys in washington are any smarter than those in chelsea, massachusetts. indeed, i'm sure they are not, but they acquire great perfection as everyone does in attending to a single object for a considerable time. i don't like uncle albert. so, at the time that uncle albert wrote that letter, elliot was 10 and bertie was 8. and around that time, bertie sat for a photograph with his mother, elizabeth pillsbury. he was a school boy at the time, and he used this book, also in our collection now, at school. he lived in a ship building port. chelsea, massachusetts, built wooden ships for the most part. it was just outside boston. now, the next year, his father john, an insurance agent, died. at that time and in that place, the death of the bread winner for this family threw them into complete disarray.
elizabeth pillsbury dropped from the thriving middle class into taking in boarders. and she had to rely on the kindness of strangers and friends to help provide for her. so one thing she did was contact old friends, and those friends did assist them by finding respectable work. she still had aspirations for her boys. so she was looking for work for elliot. this is an 1859 letter soon -- a month or two after her husband dies, and an old friend, william, writes this letter in response to a visit from her or a letter and a visit from her. from mrs. pillsbury or as he calls her, betty blue eyes. she had informed him of her husband's death and asked for help, and he was the general of massachusetts. he promised to do, quote, what lies in me to obtain for your
son the position you ask for him. and that probably means she was asking specifically for a house page post, because he says he hopes to be in washington himself as clerk of the next house. didn't happen. and there are several places in the gift of the clerk which boys fill and he shall have one of them and the best one too. and then he asked her if he can take her for a drive. however that worked out for betty blue eyes, it worked out really well for elliot. this is shown a little later in his life when he is just out of the naval academy. he entered the naval academy in '16, so he's probably about 20 here. he was 13 when he traveled to washington. you can see sort of what it looked like around 18 -- well, that's an 163 look, but it didn't look that much different. it was a really tough journey. he had to make it on his own. you had to go through cities, you had to go across rivers, switch methods of travel. bertie described what the trip from boston to d.c. was like. a couple years later.
trains would go to new york, then you take a stagecoach across the city to get to the different depot to catch the train to baltimore. then when you got to baltimore, the train cars get drawn across the city by mule. then you're in a train again getting down to d.c. now, presumably, once elliot and bertie got down there, uncle albert helped them find housing. they both seed to have lodged with somebody called the commodore who later gets updated to the admiral. by the time he's 14, bertie leaves the commodore, then admiral, to live in a rented room himself. so i think he wanted to move away from the leafy enclaves of living at somebody's house and live on his own. in fact, he lives across from ford's theater in 1865. so even as elliot -- even as elliot is trying to explore the city and learn his new job, and this is what it looked like at the time, work's happening on the capitol all the time, and letters from home start to
arrive. they aren't going to be unfamiliar to anyone who is a page alumni or alumnus. one of the letters that is up there on the screen is a letter from his mother to elliot on his arrival in d.c. she says i'm sorry you were not a little more particular in your writing. the spelling was good, but the letter was brief and written badly. and then she writes him again and says, wishes him a happy new year. expresses anxiety about his health and eating habits. is he heating enough, eating healthy enough, getting enough sleep? did you get letters like this at all? then she kind of dramatically says she wishes she could be with all her children when she still lives. these separations are as bad as death. you can see why maybe elliot ghosted on her. other letters show how people back home expected the boys to operate as employees and recipients of patronage jobs, which they were. these jobs were something that were in the power of someone to grant them to help a destitute family, but there was definitely
an expectation that you then will be of service to those folks back home who have helped you. in 1861, henry tenney writes asking elliot for help with getting 100 copies of a report from the war department, and there are multiple letters like that to both elliot and bertie treating them as peers and as useful people to know. sometimes they'll ask to have the local members support a particular person for a patronage position. the page was expected to go and express that, whether it was useful or not, there was still this real expectation that you are now a fully fledged player. and sometimes it's much smaller like asking for copies of speeches and things like that. there were not that many tourists coming town. they weren't like, can you give me a tour? that was nice for them. now we're back to bertie. elliott in 1862 is old enough to have a different patronage job. he gets to go to the naval academy.
the pressures at home were still there. bertie takes his space, and at the time, according to bertie, there are about a dozen pages in the house, and they stationed themselves on the steps of the rostrum and when a member clapped his hands, the page would run to do the bidding of the member. and later on, a little later in life, after a buzzer system is introduced in the house chamber, bertie thinks that is just terrible and you don't really know the members as well if they're buzzing instead of clapping. here's bertie's earliest letter home. he writes home to mom a lot more. this is just after his 12th birthday, and you can see for some sort of context what life was like there. the war has begun. the assistant door keepers told him he, quote, better not come up to the capitol to the night sessions as there were enough bigger boys than those of my size. indeed, it's a rough and tumble time in washington. soldiers are everywhere, headed to battle, streaming in and out of the makeshift hospitals. nighttime in the city was no time for a kid to be out. according to doorkeeper apparently. bertie also talks about the
possibility of being a page again. he treats this as a job and he's hopeful the re-election of two local members who presumably are friends of the family, alexander rice and john bassett alley will improve hid chances. then he turned to more urgent matters. he says, i stand a pretty good chance of being page next session, don't you think? then he tells his mother what he's having for lunch. and he talks about food a lot. so i mean, one of my favorite things about this whole endeavor of trying to decipher the different handwriting, some from kids whose penmanship is not that good, as mrs. pillsbury pointed out. they realliy love -- so many of their experiences are like that of any adolescent. he talks about dinner, breakfast, how much he likes his lunch box. which i guess she must have sent him. bertie is a page winner, too, so he keeps that in mind. at one point, he confesses that
he and his fellows don't like congressman washburn because in his role as watchdog of the treasury, he doesn't think the pages should be getting any pay for extra sessions. if there's an extra session of congress, they should not get paid. bertie's adventures, even though he's not allowed out in the dark, they continue in the daytime. this letter here is from a little later. it's one of my favorites. the first part described albert's experience with senator macdougal of california. now, he's a house page, but senator macdougal on the left is someone he runs across because, quote, this afternoon, senator macdougal was so drunk and riding horseback and he tumbled off. albert helped get the senator into a hack. the senator said to him, you are a good boy, i'll remember you. albert notes that the senator was not insulted to be riding in a hack, as he didn't know what he was saying for he was so drunk. and then after all that, he turns as you might when you're writing your mother, to a lengthy description of how he's
brushing his teeth. bertie really did a lot of other experiences as every page can of their interactions with members and what they meant to them and those little things that stick in their heads. like senator macdougal. he talks about former speaker nathaniel banks as being very gracious to all the pages. he said that he would sometimes, i think on purpose, congressman banks would drive the pages nuts by instructing them to go to the clark's desk instead of the clerk's desk, and the new pages would be like, what's the clark's desk, and someone would have to explain to them that congressman banks preferred the british pronunciation. ben butler and john bingham were also said to be very kind about the fact that bertie spilled ink all over them and all over the chamber carpet and they were very kind about it, even though the rumor got around that the two blen -- men were accused of
doing the deed themselves during a heated argument. now, bertie's experience sometimes moved from the ridiculous to the sublime, as it can happen to anyone in the house in a page capacity. in this case, from the wobbly senator and the ink to the end of slavery. in this letter on the right to his mother, albert describes the chamber at the passage of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. he said a vote was taken upon the amendment to the constitution this afternoon. two thirds voting for it, it passed. he described the reaction in the gallery and wrote that people were throwing up their hats in the air, waving their handkerchiefs. i never saw such thunderous applause before since i have been here. i need a new pair of blue pants. he got blue pants, actually, we find out later he got more pants. he also got a copy of the 13th amendment and had it signed by all of the member who's had voted for the amendment. although he mentioned it in the letter, it has not survived in the house collection. to be donated to the house. he talks about other important moments during his experience
seeing george bancroft give a eulogy to lincoln during his death, living across from ford's theater. and he collected a lot, not just memories but other keepsakes. he had an autograph book, for those of you who collected autographs in your page years. some of them you can see he pasted in. he filled it with signatures, and sometimes he would get extra signatures on slips of paper and he would send autographs home to his sisters, as well. he got this photograph of andrew johnson when he was tagging along after a member and went to the white house, and johnson patted the boy on the head and gave him his photo and signed it on the back for him. which was very nice. bertie's most substantial memento was a chair. he took the chair. it has a lid that flips up, which is very handy. we're not exactly sure where it was in the house, but we're pretty sure it was in the house. after he left, after both the boys left, elliot rose through the ranks of the navy. ultimately, he became an
explorer and admiral and later head of the national geographic society. bertie did not stay in public service. he went back home and moved home, took care of his mother. he's a good boy. he worked for a local lumber dealer and ultimately became their bookkeeper. and it was 30 years before he ever darkened the door of the house again. and in this cache of letters and autograph books and odd photos, and school books, things like that, this popped out from much later. and we were able to identify it through sort of some of the letters, through some newspaper articles, that this was his first visit to d.c. since his page days three decades earlier. there he is on the right. and we know at the time, the person he was most anxious to see and renew his acquaintance with was a library messenger from the 1860s.
a kid who had been working not as a page but as a library messenger, william h. smith, who, as you know if you were taking careful notes when matt spoke, later in the 1880s was appointed the house librarian, making him one of the highest ranking african-american individuals in government in the post-reconstruction period. they got together and took a snap right there on the east front of the capitol, and it was saved with his page material. he was kind of doing it for us, wasn't he? i hope that you all, that none of you all have waited 30 years to return to the capitol. and i also hope even more on behalf of the house collection that if you have artifacts, too, and amazing things like this from a different generation of pages, that you won't wait as long as the pillsbury boys did to approach us about seeing if they, too, could be part of the nation's collection. thanks so much.
hello. i'm kate scott, a historian in the senate historical office. i'm delighted to be here with all of you today. today's story is -- well, it's a story that we've been researching for three or four years in the senate office. i started in the office in 2010, and we have recently sort of wrapped this story up in a bow. that's what i'm going to present to you today. it's a story about senate trailblazers. and it starts with a question. should girls be allowed to serve as senate pages? that surprisingly simple question sparked a protracted and contentious senate debate in 1971. today, i'm going to tell the story of how three young women and their senate sponsors brought about the downfall of a
lingering senate tradition. oh, it is sensitive. you're right. okay. bear with me. there we go. nearly a century and a half earlier, we believe in the early 1830s, senator daniel webster appointed the first senate page, a boy by the name of graften hanson. he was 9 years old. he was the grandson of the senate sergeant at arms. soon thereafter, just one year after, actually, the senate appointed its second page, isaac basset, a 12-year-old boy, and these two young boys began a tradition much like the house, much like matt and farar described about house service. in that pages often started as a first step on a long senate career path. graften hanson held a variety of increasingly responsible senate jobs over the next ten years,
and basset, who was well known to students of 19th century senate folklore ended up serving his whole life, literally, in the senate. he died while still a member of the senate staff. in the 19th century senate boys were often orphans or children of widows, widowed mothers who lived here on capitol hill. their senate job kept them off the streets and out of trouble, and their senate paycheck helped to support their families. in the 20th century, the pages grew older. a school was established and later a dormitory was built. and participants arrived from all over the country to participate in this unique civics lesson. but as late as 1971, every single senate page appointment -- every single senate page had been a boy. no senate rule explicitly forbid the appointment of girl pages. but the practice of appointing male pages persisted well into the 20th century.
in the 1960s, some senators began to question this boys only tradition. and that forced then sergeant at arms joseph duke to defend the practice in a letter. while i know of no specific policy or rule which says that there shall not be girl pages, wrote duke in the 1961 letter to senators, i doubt such an innovation would be wise. the type of work performed by pages, duke explained, requires much walking and even running at times. in his opinion, such activity would preclude the employment of teenage girls. those are his words. finally, in 1970, there we go. finally, in 1970, three senators took a bold step. illinois senator charles percy raised the question with his
republican caucus. could he appoint a female page? the caucus responded that there was no prohibition. the caucus would put on payroll whomever the senator selected. so, senator percy issued a call for applicants. hundreds of young women applied. including 16-year-old ellen mcconnell, who is seated right up here in the front row. she got the job. [ applause ] when she reported for duty, however, the new senate sergeant at arms, robert dunphy, refused to swear her in. dunphy insisted that the senate rules committee must issue a formal decree noting a change in senate tradition. rules committee chairman b.
seemed disinclined to consider the issue. i don't detect any significant enthusiasm in the senate for admitting girl pages, he explained to a washington post reporter. without being prudish, it somehow seems to lack dignity and grace to picture young women sitting around on the steps of the senate chamber waiting to be dispatched. dunphy's refusal to break with senate tradition put ellen mcconnell in a bind. assured by senator percy's office that there would be only a short delay, her family helped move her out here to washington, where she settled in a nearby boarding house for professional women. dunphy's refusal to swear her in was a considerable inconvenience. she could neither enroll in page school nor could she work as a page. so senator percy found a temporary solution, and he placed ellen on his office payroll, where she could collect
her page stipend and work for the senator's personal office highway the senate worked out a more permanent solution. new york senator jacob javits also selected a female page for appointment. her name was paulette desell. a high school student, she lived with her parents actually in alexandria, northern virginia. her parents were also native new yorkers. since joining the senate in 1957, senator javits had already made two historic page appointments. in 1965, while congress debated the voting rights act, javits had appointed lawrence wallace bradford jr., an african-american, to serve as his page. now, contemporary accounts in 1965 identified bradford as the first black congressional page. i think there's some -- we need to dig into that further. our office has identified at
least one other black page who was appointed in 1869 by senator charles sumner of massachusetts. in 1966, javits made another noteworthy page appointment, selecting john lopez of brooklyn to be the first puerto rican page appointment in the senate. by 1970, javits had decided that the time had come to make a third historic appointment. and that's when he selected paulette desell. like mcconnell, desell was eager to be sworn in and begin her service. but unlike mcconnell, desell lived knee, and, there was she was able to continue to attend school. senator fred harris of oklahoma had also selected a female page for appointment. julie price of bartellsville. the child of a politically active oklahoma family, price had dreamed of serving as a congressional page since first
reading her eighth grade civics book. since first reading, excuse me, about the page program in her eighth grade civics book. the more she learned about it, the more she wanted to be a part of the program. in middle school, she began to mail letters of inquiry to her congressional delegation asking for an appointment. she was disappointed when she always received the same standard reply, we don't take girl pages. price thought girls could do anything boys could do. those were her words to me. and she was determined to challenge that boys-only senate tradition. she drafted a petition calling for congress to appoint girl pages and went around her neighborhood securing signatures for support. after collecting hundreds of signatures, she thought that was a lot, she then took that petition on a flight to washington, brought that petition on a flight to washington with her, she was out here with the young democrats,
and she and friends presented copies of that petition with hundreds of signatures to members of the oklahoma congressional delegation. at first, perhaps unsurprisingly, nothing happened. but years later, a few years later while she was a junior in high school, price received a call from senator fred harris' legislative assistant. senator harris is thinking about appointing a girl page, he said, would you be interested? she said she would. and she and her parents then shortly thereafter flew to washington for a swearing in ceremony that never took place. she then returned to oklahoma and continued in her studies, waiting for the senate rules committee to move forward or not. the senate rules committee kept the issue bottled up for a few months, as long as it could, really. pressure from percy javits and harris forced the committee to finally consider the issue. so the rules committee opened hearings on the topic in march of 1971. with percy and javits testifying
on behalf of the young women that they wished to sponsor. they reminded the panel of the passage of the 1964 civil rights act, which prohibited gender discrimination in the workplace. do we want to tell american people -- the american people that equality is sacred everywhere but on the senate floor, they asked? allowing girls to serve as pages was a question of fundamental human fairness, argued senator javits. senator harris submitted a letter of support. i feel that in accepting girl pages to serve in the u.s. senate, he explained, we would be taking an important symbolic step. the senate should end discriminatory hiring practices based on sex alone, he urged, to serve as an example for employers at all levels of american industry. the committee explored other issues of concern, such as how would the senate assure the safety of the girls when they left the capitol grounds?
where would the girls live? how would they get to and from the capitol each day safely? and what kind of clothing would they wear? for the pages awaiting appointment, this debate seemed ridiculous. in an open letter to members of the senate an impatient and rather impertinent paulette desell wrote, the most tragic note in all of this debate is the idea that merely because i am a girl, you would deny me the privilege to learn at close range about a most important branch of government. the bill's proponents noted that at a time when the nation's capitol was experiencing a lot of crime, page safety ought to be a consideration for girls as well as boys. senator howard canon of nevada presided over the hearings. he opposed the appointment of female pages. canon wondered, if this tradition was breached, what next?
would we have women, in his words, taking care of the capitol grounds and taking care of the plumbing and things of that sort? tradition is something that means a great deal to those of us who are privileged to serve in the u.s. senate, percy replied. but there comes a time when it is apparent that we should break with certain senate tradition. nearly two months later, the rules committee finally approved a resolution allowing for the appointment of female pages. on may 13th, 1971, senator javits introduced that resolution on the floor of the senate chamber. our resolution, our original resolution, would simply have permitted females to be pages, he explained. the rules committee, however, had revised the original proposal. the new resolution required senators who wished to appoint girl pages to submit a letter to the sergeant at arms assuming full responsibility for the
safety, wellbeing, and strict supervision of the female page, a responsibility which had never been required for boy page appointments. javits conceded that though the new proposal was not perfect, he would vote in favor of it. with the house and senate poised to reorganize the page system, which included the construction of a senate page dormitory, javits explained the interim character of this arrangement enables us in good conscience to let the revised resolution go through. senator harris echoed javits's statement, putting his feelings for the objectionable features of the proposed resolution aside, so that julie price, in his words, a truly outstanding american girl, can be sworn in as a senate page. opponents to the measure voiced their concerns. but the bill's proponents prevailed, and on may 13th, 1971, the senate agreed to end
the boys-only tradition, approving res-112 by voice vote. we have no record of how they voted that day. all right, so on to the swearing in. oh, darn. well, let's see. can i go back? probably not. yes, thank you. the next day, may 14th, 1971, ellen mcconnell and paulette desell followed by julie price on the 17th, blazed the trail to be sworn in as the senate's first female pages. there will be shuddering in the cloak rooms, predicted hugh scott of pennsylvania, can he -- and he was half right. the republican cloak room welcomed the young women. but it would be another six months before the democrats allowed their female pages to enter their cloak room. and i can go into that at a later time.
but i want to end really quick with a little personal story here. a story about why the senate historical office knows this story today. and it actually starts with a phone call. i started in -- i began in the historical office in 2010, and we had at that time a little story, short story, maybe 150 words on our website about the swearing in of the first female pages. it included a photo that you see up here on the right, the swearing in of paulette and ellen. so i received a phone call in the fall of 2012. and it was julie price calling, senator harris' page. she said, you know, i read that paragraph on the website, and she said very politely but firmly, it's wrong, or at least it's only partially right, because you have left out my piece of the story. i was sworn in three days later because it was a weekend and i had to fly from oklahoma to washington, d.c. i just didn't happen to be in
the city. but my piece of the story, well, it counts. and i think it should be included on the senate website. i said, well, we think so, too. we would love to update the story. but to get the full story, we would sure love to talk with you. would you consider doing an oral history with us? she said, graciously, that she would. she came down from pennsylvania, one interview led to another. so i interviewed julie, and then i interviewed ellen, and then i interviewed paulette. and those three accounts we have packaged together, and you can find those three oral histories on the senate website with dozens of other oral histories that we have taken with senators and long-time senate staff. the reason i bring this up is because those oral histories really helped us figure out what was going on here behind the scenes. the story is much cooler than their just being finally sworn in or even the rules committee hearings, but how these young
women petitioned, in some ways, the members to really start this process. and then hung in through the moments of frustration to finally be sworn in, really months after this whole thing started. and i encourage you to go read those stories, if you haven't already, because they -- those three interviews in particular talk about breaking the page program's gender barrier. they discussed the long waiting period following their appointment until their official swearing in. the media attention that they received, some of it unwanted. i noted in particular that the media attention, once they're sworn in and they're visible on the senate floor, there's a lot of talk about what the page girls are wearing. a lot of talk about, you know, is this too much work for them? they asked, the reporters asked them, are you feet tired? do you need to sit down? i guess i shouldn't be surprised by the sexist language, but it's there. they talk about the way that the boy pages and the senators received them. a couple of them note that there
were a few members, some southern members, who were not too pleased that the girl pages were there, but most of them were gracious and welcomed them despite the fact that they didn't agree with the admission of female pages. they discussed the members and staff they got to know, like many of you, as well as some of the political and policy debates of the era, including a great debate in the senate over the equal rights amendment. senator sam irvin, one of the women remembers senator sam irvin, i think it was the story by paulette, senator sam irvin pointing to the girl pages on the steps and saying, do you want one of these frail things going to war? you shouldn't be considering the equal rights amendment. they reflect on how their senate experiences, how their experiences as senate pages shaped their professional lives. and more importantly, their interviews, as do all the interviews that we try and collect in the historical office, they try to tell us
something about the institution in the particular era that we're gathering information about. so in this case, it's the senate as an institution in the 1970s. and the way that some of its male members resisted change, even the change of bringing in some female pages. so i encourage you just as a final note to, if you haven't already, to take a look at the senate website. look through our list of oral history interviews. you'll find that we've got dozens of things there that might be of interest to you, and probably many things there that mention the time period that you served in the u.s. senate or in the u.s. house, and might want to reflect again upon some of the things that were going on during that time. so i thank you for your time. [ applause ] >> we're right up against time for the documentary.
but i'm sure jerry will give us one or two minutes for questions if anyone has questions about the presentations or anything about the office's work. we answered everything. great. thank you very much. >> well, thank you, all three of you. let's have a proper round of applause for matt and fara and kate. just a couple of comments. and kate, first, i want to thank you for that presentation. ellen is here. you called her out earlier. i will tell you a story, reason i'm a page is because that picture of the three women sitting down there in 1971, my mother saw that in the los angeles times, and cut it out and put it on my desk and said
this is something you may be interested in. and, of course, applied and lo and behold, couple of months later, i'm going to school with all three of them. i consider all three of them my best friends. ellen is -- all three were the first pages. ellen was the woman who fought the fight. so all you female pages there, this is the person you thank, right here, right now, thank you, ellen. [ applause ] i want to just re-emphasize what farar said. if you have that memorabilia, please, when it is time, when the right time is there, please call us, call her, we'll review it -- refer you to her. it belongs here first. if you haven't had a chance, please, in the visitor center, the history displays, the house and the senate, absolutely incredible. these things are -- you can spend -- those of you who worked here like -- you could spend days here going through those exhibits. and i'm going to put in a little
push for a little bigger page presence soon. but that's another story. and, matt, thank you. the presentation of the history of the first african-american page, you're all going to see -- a lot of the panelists, these three and earlier panel, you're going to see in this documentary that we're going to show you in a few minutes, a lot of -- some of the same stories, some brought in. i will say that just a little bit of credit, the reason what julie called you, julie price called you, she interviewed for the documentary and she kept saying, what they have is wrong. i said, call them. and she did. so very good. a round of applause for these three here. [ applause ] thank you all. american history tv airs on c-span3 every weekend, telling the american story through events, interviews and visits to historic locations. this month american history tv is in primetime to introduce you
to programs you could see every weekend on c-span3. our features include lectures in history, visits to college classrooms across the country, to hear lectures by top history professors, american artifacts takes a look at the treasures at u.s. historic sites, museums and archives, reel america, revealing the 20th century through archival films and newsreels. the civil war, where you hear about the people who shaped the civil war and reconstruction and the presidency focuses on u.s. presidents and first ladies, to learn about their politics, policies and legacies. all this month in primetime and every weekend on american history tv on c-span3. in a moment, we'll have more from our american history tv programs that are normally seen weekends here on c-span3. coming up, historian and author david mccullough receives the u.s. capital historical society's freedom award. that's followed by a look at the congressional papers collection. and then the history of organized crime in the south