tv American Artifacts CSPAN December 24, 2014 10:52pm-11:36pm EST
at noon, fashion experts on first ladies fashion choices and how they represent the styles of the times in which they lived. and then at 10:00, tom brokaw on his more than 50 years of reporting on world events. that's this christmas day on c-span networks. for the complete schedule go to c-span.org. >> each week american history tv's american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places. next, we take you inside the u.s. capitol to learn about the history of the house of representatives page program. the program began in the early 1800s and continued up to 2011 when due to technological and staff changes house leadership decided pages were no longer critical to the legislative process and the program was ended. >> i'm matt nuesewsxi, and i'm
farah elliott. we're in one of the oldest parts of the capitol's house wing. we call it the new house wing, but it was really built in 1857. and this spot is an ideal place to talk about historic events in the capitol and the artifacts the broad sweep of history and the collection we have that matt and i work with and interpret all the time. >> so today we want to tell you about the history of the house page program. it has a history going back to the early 1800s. we don't actually know when the first pages served in the house. the tradition of having messengers and a page is simply a messenger, an errand runner. in u.s. legislative practice, it usually has involved, at least in the u.s. congress, young boys between age 8 and age 16 in the 19th century who would run all kinds of errands for members of congress. on the floor, rounding up members, things of that nature.
and we have a couple of accounts that place it at 1800 when the first pages, young boys served on the house floor as pages. there's an eyewitness account of the house door keeper, thomas claxton on the floor with his nephews. these are the the first accounts of pages. it developed over a couple of decades. by the 1820s we began to see pages showing up in expense reports in the house where we can say definitely that's a page, that's a floor attendant. and it develops over a number of decades. the pages again, tended to be young boys, as young as 8, and the house they tended to be a little bit older.
pre-teen, young teens, and the idea was that a younger child was much more liable to take direction. if you had an older teen, you might not get such compliance. and the thing, too, about the the house was it was meeting in a chamber, which is now modern national statuary hall. the old hall of the house was very cramped. it was filled with desks. it was really packed with members at a very early point in its existence. and the idea was that you wanted young, fleet of foot boys who could dart in between desks and take amendments from members to the chair and get on and off the floor quickly. there's a great entry in the diary of quincy adams. the great whig member that came back to the house. after serving as president for a term, he's the only member ever to have done that, and he kept a fantastic diary. at one point he's watching the pages on the floor. he refers to them in the diary as tripping mercuries, moving about the floor. in his era, it would have been about 18 to 20 pages who were
serving. and at that time the pages tended to be boys who were from washington, d.c. and its environs. they were sometimes sons of members or sons of federal officials, but a lot of times they would be orphans or children from destitute families who members of congress were looking to give a helping hand up, and the pay for pages in that era was actually pretty good. they were paid anywhere from $1.50 at the beginning of the 1800s to $2.50 per day. at the end of congress, they could get a large bonus from the members. so it was a lucrative enterprise, paging in the 19th century. >> one of the things really interesting about the visual history of pages is that they're such a part of the legislative process that they don't really get noticed in terms of
paintings and prints until a little bit later, until you start seeing illustrated journals. like harpers and leslie's illustrated news, and at some point it's not until the 1850s and early 1860s that they start showing up as part of the engravings. in fact, one of my favorite parts about that is they're used by the illustrators as a commentary of what's going on right then and in the rest of the image because the images are often of the chamber. it's a big space with a lot going on, and there's an accompanying story to tell you all the details of what's being discussed on the floor and why you're there. they want to illustrate what you think and how you put yourself in that image. and they will use pages to do that. for example, we have an 1861 london illustrated newsprint. and the article is talking about
how fractious the chamber is. and there are several folks in here yelling to be heard, trying to make their point, and right in the front there's a little page, and he is looking towards where some of the yelling is going on, and he is silhouetted. and one of the things he is there for is so we know, oh, consternation and confusion as to why this is happening is part of what's going on here. this isn't regular. according -- it might well be regular, but according to the london illustrated news, this is unusual because it's unlike what they're used to. that moves along often. a few years later in 1869 thaddeus stevens is giving what is considered his last great speech, and there are a lot of heads and suits here. and if you were an artist, that would probably feel tough to feel like all i'm doing is circles and torsos.
over here in the corner he has a pair of pages here and they're not just present sitting on the steps as pages did. but everybody knows he's not long for this world, and that goes on and on in 1877, their little page is sitting down here as part of a really lengthy process happening in 1877 to solve the problems related to the disputed presidential election. and it's so lengthy that some of these poor fellows on the roster have fallen asleep. others look plain exhausted, and so one of the things that the artist is letting us know is that this is probably late at night. it's probably been going on a really long time, and it might just feel a little bit tedious to the average joe, which is what the page stands in for. pages weren't just in the chamber, they were also out and
about doing other things. >> one of the the things the pages would do in the 19th century, prior to having a lot of staff on capitol hill, pages performed a lot of administrative jobs that staff do now. one of them was to have to go out, sometimes late at night and round up members for a late night vote. we have a wonderful memoir by a page who served in the early 1870s. his name was augustus thomas. and he recalled having to sit through what he referred to as soporific dribble, intended only for prints, and he said the pages would be sitting up at the rostrum, nodding off to sleep. maybe playing a game of marbles. but he would say we always had that problematic member who would demand a call of the house in the wee hours of the morning just to make a point.
so pages would do a lot of things. and in the 19th century again, when you think that the house is a much smaller institution, we didn't have house office buildings. members didn't have washington staff. the staff that was here was really bare boned. and so the pages performed a lot of administrative tasks. not just delivering messages or filling water glasses on the floor or lighting a cigar for a member or lighting a lantern, but they would haul in firewood for the members into the old hall of the house in the wintertime to feed one of the fires in the old hall. they also worked in the the document folding room where copies of speeches and committee reports would be prepared to be
distributed to members and distributed to their constituents in the districts. and this was endless hours of work. so the pages really performs a lot of important tasks that kept the institutions running and kept the the legislative process running. you know, that reminds me. one of the really nifty art facts we have in the house collection is from the other things pages were doing. you were discussing what pages were paid, and some pages would be able to supplement their income by doing something like this. this is a receipt for a page who managed to get this many people to order up extra copies of a speech by benjamin butler. and it was to be printed at the congressional globe office. you can see there are just hundreds. for starters, benjamin butler ordered up 2,000 copies of his own speech to distribute. and other people were ordering
about a hundred a piece. a few ordered different amounts. and by doing that, you would get a commission if you were a page. and this is a really rare example of actually seeing this in action. we know that's something that pages would do, but this is a great example of exactly how they did it and the receipt that he got for his hard work. that's a lot of people to round up. >> we have a newspaper account of one page who made $400 on certain speeches in 1890, so it could be a real way to supplement your income. >> that's a lot of money then. >> it was. >> wow. >> pages also, until it was banned, would go around the floor on a signature book and collect autographs from members, and then they would go sell it to visitors in the gallery. that was banned in the latter 19th century. but there was a lot of ways they could supplement their income to live in washington, d.c.
>> it's true that the chamber could get very crowded, which made it great to have little messengers running around. another way it came into play for pages was that eventually after a lot of debase and discussion and grumbling about who got the good seats, they instituted a lottery. it was in the 18 -- well it was the first half of the 19th century, the 1840s. but certainly by the the 1860s they had the pages drawing the the numbers. in fact, they would have one of the most senior head pages blindfolded at the speaker's rostrum. your number came out first. you got your pick of seats. certainly they already had sort of been sitting in party blocks by then but where you were going to be would often be whether or not the magic ball of that was your number was pulled by the blindfolded page. and it became one of those
things written about a lot in newspapers. it became a ritual in congress and people would write about the blindfolded page. this prints a little later, and you can see how crowded everything is and how important it would be to get a good desk assignment. and after the glamour of the lottery, the poor page just sits there holding the glass of water for the member who is speaking on and on. we have some artifacts that are really wonderful examples of how the pages lived and what they did. one of the ones that's my favorite is a page uniform from 1907. this was a gentleman named roy tasko jr. and he was a page in 1906 and 1907, and he loved being a page so much that he kept his uniform.
just a few years ago, his descendants found it. he kept it so carefully, they didn't find it when he died. but they found it and gave it to us. it's quite wonderful in that it's sort of influenced by military attire. so at some point he and the page program were becoming somewhat more formal. he had close connections to joe cannon, the speaker of the house, and so it's possible that one of the reasons this is such a fancy uniform is because of his connection there. but my favorite thing about it isn't the military part. it's the fact that right along the top, just in case you miss it, it says page. so as he's running around he's easily identified. most of the time, though, the identification wasn't written on your neck. it was a little button or sometimes there would be a numbered badge. and we have a few of those early, early buttons that pages war to identify themselves on the floor, although it might have been obvious from their age, but also to affiliate themselves with their core of page brethren.
this tiny piece of page fraternity pin is from the 1930s. and it's part of a whole raft of information from a page who served at that time, glenn ruck, who donated not only this, but some other objects that show exactly what -- how great it was to have this access to the capitol. things like, his membership card in the little congress. a ticket to get into the capitol, into the the galleries when herbert hoover was giving a speech. so a lot of things there. and we've learned so much more about it than just what was in the artifacts. >> we did an oral history with him, and at that point he was about 90 years old and the memories of being a page were just so fresh. he lit up when asking him these questions. he served for four years in the
early 1930s. so he was here longer than the typical page was. and for him it was really a full-time job as a page, but he had these great memories of coming into the chamber and hearing speeches by fdr. he heard fdr's inaugural. he was up on the platform. >> i know it was in 1933 and we're all anxious to hear the new president address the the joint session of congress. and johnny mccabe was one along with me sitting in front of the speaker's roster at that time. i just sat there for -- actually i was on duty. i just sat there for a little bit. i didn't know they were taking
the picture while i was sitting there. >> he also had such a memory that he could memorize member's faces and didn't need a cheat sheet or booklet. so he was put on the door by the house door keeper, right off the chamber, which is just behind us, and he would be responsible for making sure who was coming and going was a member or belonged on the floor, but also he could run in for a reporter or for someone who wanted to speak to a member and quickly get to them and bring them to the speaker's lobby. he did this for about a year. and one of the stories he told us was that he had to train this young staffer from texas. >> the door keeper came to me and said we're having a new door keeper that's going to work on the door here.
i want you to introduce him to everyone and he'll be working for you. and i said, fine. who is he? what's his name? he said, lyndon johnson. i said, lyndon johnson. i've known him since he arrived in washington. so he came and worked the rest of the station on the door with me. and i took him in and and introduced him to congressmen on the floor and went up and down each aisle and told him who they were, introduced them to the reporters. and a lot of things like that. >> his experience really is typical of a lot of the pages that it exposed them to a living civics lesson that you would never learn from the pages of a book.
and so there's a real continuity in the stories he would tell and the stories that later pages would tell us in oral histories. >> it's certainly true that when we look at artifacts, these are the ones that people saved. it was such an important and life changing period in their lives. as adolescence is always, but certainly for them. it absolutely was. and so we end up with a lot of things people saved like cards and pins and photos of themselves in their yearbooks. one of my favorite is this great early image that somebody had. it was matted and they saved it forever of pages at the very beginning of the 21st century all lined up in front of the rostrum in the house chamber with their supervisors in the front, and the pages look pretty happy. even though they're being formal. their supervisors look a little more severe. but i suppose if you're supervising that many kids,
maybe you want to look severe. but you can see how young they were and how much this would have loomed large in their memories forever. >> going back to this the 19th century. these are young boys. they're preteens. they're teens. they did a lot of hard work, but there was a lot of down time, too. and the stories of the things they did to entertain themselves. you're looking here at a card from the 1930s. and this is a membership card to a group called the little congress club. well, the little congress club was not just pages. it was staffers, secretaries from offices, who would get together on a regular basis for dinner, usually at a local hotel, and then they would have a meeting afterwards in which they would debate current legislation. in the 1930s, new deal reforms or new laws, and lyndon johnson
got involved with this as well, and actually he led the little congress club. but the pages actually had precursors to this club. in the 1920s and 1930s the pages had a club called the itsy bitsy congress, in which the pages, when the the house was in recess, would go to member chairs or seats or the leadership desk and actually manage a bill on the floor and they would run a debate on it. in the 19th century it was called the junior house of representatives. and in the 1890s, when we had the great speaker thomas bracket reid, who instituted reid's rules and really empowered the majority, the pages admired him so much they started this junior house of representatives and debated the impact of reid's rules. so they would do a lot to amuse themselves when the house was in
recess. >> so by the 20th century, the house is modernizing. it's becoming the modern institution that it is today. so one of the things that happens is the page's duties become more defined. and in the 20th century you see the development of a couple of different page positions. all pages were equal. but there was one page designated as the speaker page. and that page would follow the speaker around and basically be his attendant at all times, and that was considered a position of high honor. you got that if you had distinguished yourself as a junior page. but the vast majority of people who served as pages what what were referred to as bench pages. that is errand runners on the floor. they would bring in the congressional record in the morning and put it under the member's seat. they would deliver messages to members on the floor. later in the 21st century they would maybe run errands to the offices. in the latter we had what we called writing pages.
they would be dispatched literally on horseback sometimes down to the executive departments to deliver messages from the house. once we get a telegraph system in washington, d.c., they become telegraph pages and don't need to get on the horseback anymore. some of the other pages who have more responsibilities sit on the rostrum in the chamber, and they're much more involved in the legislative process in terms of delivering amendments to the bill of clerks and interacting with clerk staff and parliamentary staff. and they also operated later in the 20th century, the bell system that developed to let members know when a vote was on. prior to that pages would have to scurry out to the halls of
the capitol and shout to members that a vote was going on. you need to get into the chamber. >> the bell system, originally a gong system, that would call people to vote to the house came about right around the turn of the 20th century when you had electricity and this magic new technology to do that sort of thing. this is from the 1960s. it's one of the light boards you would find in a house office building or the capitol that changed a lot of that. from members being called by pages who were running through the restaurant or office buildings saying "what's going on?" to lights and and increasingly complicated buzzer signal system that would tell people exactly what was happening, what kind of vote, all of those things. and you know, interestingly, even before that, the -- in the chamber itself in a lot of the
prints used in the 19th century you see the pages sitting right up on the rostrum so they can see members who want something from them. they would often clap to get their attention or just call them. but at some point in the very end of the 19th century, the house installs a buzzer system. and that put in what looks like a doorbell. we have a great desk from 1873 that shows the alteration that happened a decade or so later to it. the doorbell is still there. for a long time we wondered why is there a doorbell there. then we were able to find out exactly when that came into play. >> one of the things that happens in the 20th century is that pages for the first time begin to get formal schooling during their experience here in washington, d.c. in the 19th century pages just worked in the house. when they didn't work in the
house, they were off. they lived in local boardinghouses. they didn't get formal schooling. that begins to change at about the same time that we have progressives pushing for child labor laws in the u.s. and for a formal education system. there were some progressives who looked at the pages and said, well, they know an awful lot about becoming a statesman, a representative or a senator. but they're almost devoid of useful knowledge other than that. so you begin to see a push in the early 1900s. and by the mid 1920s, parents of some of these pages who is are increasingly from across the country. they're no longer just from washington, d.c. parents become involved and then establish a private school inside the capitol. but the man who really starts
the first formal education system for the pages is earnest kendall. he establishes the capital page school, which is in the basement of the capitol, and it's both house and senate pages. and we have some wonderful oral histories. joe bartlett who would later go onto become a marine general. he would also become a reading clerk in the house and have a very long house career. he was a page in the early 1940s. and he has reminances of the capitol basement. >> it was dank. we generated our own electricity. the capitol generated its own electricity. it was direct current. so if you brought in an old device, you probably lost it. but it was done right across the hall from the page.
the line of those generators was constant. and it was a private school. it was conducted by e.l. kendall. he was the principal. a very spartan, baptist gentleman. i happened to like him very much, but he was straight laced. there was no doubt about that. we paid $19 a month for tuition. and there were other maintenance problems. the roof leaked, and it was not completely uncommon to go in there and find that on the floor there was a puddle. and you had put down planks. we would walk in on the planks, take our seats, hold our feet up and study. it was something. >> are also descriptions of pages in their spare time going through the capitol basement with terriers and pellet guns hunting the cat sized rats as part of their -- >> wow. >> -- part of their entertainment. >> rats and pellet guns are not part of everybody's high school experience.
but it's not high school if you don't have a yearbook. so very quickly, the capitol page school began to have all the things that you would expect of a lot of high schools. this is this 1944 yearbook. it's not very big. it was a small school. there's the president. the pledge of allegiance. here's sam rayburn and other folks involved. the democratic chief page. more folks. the student council, the faculty, and the many, many pages. the seniors, the juniors. like any yearbook, people were having their yearbook signed. all the things they did that year, they went to the white house. and these are two varsity letters.
this one is from 1944. from the basketball team. and this one is first scholastic varsity letter that was awarded. >> the sports programs, one of the big things the pages did in their spare time, and this goes back before the school days, in the earliest account we have is into the 1870s. the pages put together a baseball team that would travel around and play youth teams and sometimes they would play adult staffers on the hill and win regularly and there was a house baseball team that developed and a senate baseball team that developed. and the senate always had a tradition of younger than the house side. so the house completely dominated the baseball games. >> they had snowball fights. all kind of house and senate page activities. and i guess at that point they were going to school together often, but it was sort of an intraschool rivalry. >> and the day started very
early. they would typically be in class at 6:30 a.m., and the day -- the academic day would be done by 10 or 10:30 because they would have to be ready to go their respective chambers when the house or senate would typically gavel in at noontime. so it could be a tremendously long day, especially if it went to a late evening session. >> once the capitol page school happened and pages for the house and senate were all together, one things interesting reading people's memoirs and interviewing people is that changes in uniform in the different bodies didn't happen at the same time. the house left the nicker area earlier, and pages still wearing them very much envied the house pages. you can sometimes see that in the class photos for the 1930s. the house pages are taking full advantage of the fact that they can wear a slightly zippier suit. you'll see people with
wonderful, wonderful suits. stripes and all kinds of great stuff. these are photographs from the 1960s. they both document the first african-american page in the house since reconstruction who was -- this was upon his appointment and arrival at the the capitol. and this is him with his fabulous 1960 glasses right in front of the capitol. and these are both newspaper photographs. it was something not just of interest in the constitutional history of the house, but of interest from the news as well. >> this is frank mitchell, who was appointed in 1965. this is actually a centennial of lincoln's assassination. and he's from springfield, illinois, so there's a lincoln connection. there's a civil war connection. and he's here with -- among
others, congressman gerald ford, and congressman les aarons. >> les aarons was the house minority whip and gerald ford the house minority leader. and then after a few minutes discussing things with them, we went into a room and cameras, still, video were there, probably, i don't know, eight or ten of them and other reporters asking questions, and it was quite the whirlwind experience. i want to emphasize, this was 1965. frank mitchell in springfield, illinois, became the first negro ever appointed to serve as a page in the u.s. house of representatives. the clipping from my hometown newspaper. >> from a very long time we thought that mitchell was actually the very first african-american page to serve in the house. but we were able to do some research during -- about the
reconstruction period in the house history, which is an interesting period. you have african-american members serving in the house for the first time. there's actually a total of 20 who serve in the latter part of the 19th century and two over in the senate. and what you also see at the staff level is that there are african-americans who are appointed to positions. there was an african-american house librarian which was an appointed position in that era. but one of the things we came across was in 1871, a member who represented a district that encompassed richmond and a couple of towns south of the james river. he was a civil war veteran who stayed on in virginia. he became a political carpet bagger. when virginia was readmitted to the union, he was elected to represent this district, and o.n of the things he does is in april of 1871, appoints an african-american page, alfred q.
powell from manchester, virginia, and powell comes into the the house chamber. we know not a lot about powell. he was 14 years old. we don't have any pictures of him at this point. but we have found him in census records. we know his family was from manchester. we have press reports saying that he was the the first african-american page, including one report that said his first day on the job, the pages ribbed and teased him like they did every other page that came on board that he did his job admirably. he served for about a year. he's the only instance of an african-american page serving in the house in the 1800s that we know of. shortly after he leaves, the reconstruction era ends, and you have jim crowe laws go into place in the south, here in washington, d.c.
and the appointment of african-americans to staff positions subsides from that. just like the story of african-american members. by the end of the 1800s, we go through a long period with no african-americans serving in the house as representatives. >> one of my favorite things about alfred powell is that although we don't have any images of him and very little information about what his page experience was, we found in the record of the friedman banks his deposit slips where he's taking his earnings as a page and depositing it in the earnings bank, which i find just fascinating and gripping because it's such an example of something set up specifically in the reconstruction, and even before the war ends, period to serve the economic needs of newly free african-americans. he was born free to free african-americans in manchester. but african-americans all over used new programs and resources,
and i loved that alfred powell did too. >> so we had been talking about pages in the 19th and 20th century, and we've been talking about boys. and it was all boys. up until 1939 when briefly, for a day, we had a girl by the name of jeanne cox who was appointed by her father, who was a representative. and she served for the opening day in 1939 and was paid the going rate of $4 a day as a page, and it was really a symbolic appointment. but we don't see girls entering the page program really for another -- more than 30 years. it's not until 1973 when carl albert of oklahoma is speaker, and he had become pen pals with a young woman, thelda looper of oklahoma, who had come to the capitol and saw these pages and thought, wow, what a great opportunity this would be and saw they were all boys and was told, well, we just don't feel like this is the place for girls to operate.
>> and i at that age between sixth and seventh grade said, well that's just not fair. he said, well, maybe we can do something about that. so when i went back to school in the fall, i wrote letters to mr. albert. and wrote letters to mr. albert and wrote letters to mr. albert for many years, and finally one day when i was just about to graduate from high school, i got a call from charlie ward, who was mr. albert's administrative assistant, and he asked me how i would feel about being the first woman page. well, needless to say, i was finally ecstatic about this. i said, well i'll have to ask my parents first. he said, well, mr. albert has already spoken the to your parents and it's okay with them. and i said absolutely. so that's how it began.
>> and by the latter 1970s. it's about half and half females, half males, and it's in the early 1980s that we have the first female based on her grades in the capitol page school elevated to the speaker's page, which was a real accomplishment for the girls of the day. but they're a pretty late addition to the history of the page program. technology was always changing the job of the pages. whether it was the telegraph or the telephone, which obviated telegraph pages, so technology by the latter 20th century, particularly in the computer age, the hand held smart phone age begins to obviate the tasks that pages had taken.
the need for messengers on the floor was not that great by the latter part of the 20th century. and the ability to deliver documents electronically really cut back on a lot of the chores that the pages of old had to do. so by the early 20th century it leads house leadership in 2011 to decide that the page program is no longer central and critical to the legislative process, legislative functions. one of the commonalities in article history interviews or in memoirs that we have researched or even in news articles where individuals look back on their page service, they really saw it as a highlight of their youth. >> in retrospect certainly that whole experience that summer changed my life. i mean, it just changed the way i look at the world and politics, certainly our government.
>> well, i remember i was around for the voting rights act in '65. i think medicare also. those kinds of things, the legislation was more historic and certainly more important than anything about my appointment. >> we know of roughly two dozen individuals who would serve in the house or the senate, who had been pages, as teenagers. but it was an experience that again, gave them a human perspective on the way that congress worked, and an appreciation for the legislative process that you just couldn't pick up from a book. >> you've been watching c-span's
american history tv. we want to hear from you. follow us on twitter @cspanhistory. connect with us on facebook at facebook.com/cspanhistory where you can leave comments too. and check out our upcoming programs on our website. c-span.org/history. >> and we would like to tell you about our other american history tv programs. join us every saturday at 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. eastern for a special look at the civil war. we'll bring you the battlefields, let you hear from scholars and re-enactors again, that's program on the civil war, every saturday at 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv on c-span 3. here's a look at the programs you'll find christmas day on the c-span networks. holiday festivities start at
10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span with the lighting of the national christmas tree. followed by the white house christmas decorations with first lady michelle obama and the lighting of the capitol christmas tree. and just after 12:30 p.m., celebrity activists talk about their causes. then at 8:00, supreme court justice samuel alito. and former florida governor jeb bush on the bill of rights and the founding fathers. on c-span 2 at 10:00 a.m. eastern, venture to this the art of good writing with steve pinker. and at 12:30 see the feminine side of a super hero as jill lepore searches the secret history of wonder woman. at 7:00 p.m., author pamela paul talk about their reading habits. and at 8:00 a.m. eastern, the follow the berlin wall with c-span footage of president george bush and bob dole with speeches for presidents john kennedy and ronald reagan. at noon, fashion experts on first lady fashion choices and how they represented the styles of the times in which they lived. and then at 10:00, former nbc news anchor on his more than 50 years of reporting on world