“Let the doors of the public school house be thrown open to us alike if you mean to give these people equal rights at all, or to protect them in the exercise of the rights and privileges attaching to all freemen and citizens of our country.”
Whether weighing in on the 1875 Civil Rights Bill or advocating Title IX of the 1972 Higher Education Act, Members of the House have been champions of American education.
Committees with jurisdiction over education policy have been especially popular among women and minority Members. To date, 33 of the 139 African Americans and 49 of the 297 women in Congress served on one of these panels. Featured are three minority Members who made a particular impact on education policy.
Edith Green of Oregon
Nicknamed “Mrs. Education” and “the mother of Higher Education,” few women in Congress have left such a substantial legacy as did Edith Green, and few have demonstrated such independence of mind and deed. From the time that she was elected to the 84th Congress (1955–1957), through her service in the nine succeeding Congresses, she left her mark on almost every education bill enacted and subsequently gained considerable influence in the Democratic Party despite her refusal to support the party’s Presidents on all issues.
Augustus (Gus) Hawkins of California
During his nearly 30-year tenure in the House of Representatives, the “Silent Warrior,” Gus Hawkins, served his entire House career on the Committee on Education and Labor, eventually rising to chair the committee from the second session of the 98th Congress (1983–1985) until his retirement at the end of the 101st Congress (1989–1991). In 1988 he helped secure the passage of the School Improvement Act (also known as the Hawkins–Stafford Act). The bill altered the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965)—landmark legislation that authorized federal aid to U.S. schools—by stipulating that only schools demonstrating improved academic achievement would receive federal aid.
Patsy Mink of Hawaii
The first Asian-American woman in Congress, Patsy Mink introduced or sponsored important legislation relating to education: the first childcare bill and legislation establishing bilingual education, student loans, special education, and Head Start. Mink was also a sponsor for Title IX, one of the 1972 federal education amendments, which provided that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Capitol Page School
For their first century of service, congressional Pages were not required to attend school. That changed with the passage of the 1925 Compulsory School Attendance Act and the Capitol Page School grew from a one-room private school operating in the Capitol basement to a five-room school with an accredited curriculum by the mid-1930s. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 created a tuition-free program for House and Senate Pages funded by Congress—the Capitol Page School—which moved into the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in 1949. For more information, see our exhibit on Page history.
Listen to an audio clip of Joe Bartlett (former House Page, House reading clerk, and House Clerk to the Minority) describing his time at the Capitol Page School.
U.S. Capitol Page School
The student body of the Page School and their instructors posed on the East Front lawn of the Capitol in this large format photograph taken in 1947. The variations in dress acceptable at the time can all be seen here. Seated in the front row on the left, the Supreme Court Pages wore their mandated knickers and jackets. The House Pages had fewer dress restrictions, and donned a variety of fashionable sport coats and suits.
The fourth edition of the Page School’s yearbook, The Congressional reviewed the highlights of the school year, including the graduation, attended by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the christening of a Coast Guard helicopter that was purchased with funds from a Page School War Bond Drive. Day-to-day life was also documented in photo montages showing classes in progress, a basketball game, and other scenes around the Capitol.
House Education and Labor Committee Records
On March 21, 1867, the House established the Committee on Education and Labor, with Representative John Baker of Illinois serving as its first chairman. In 1883, the House split the committee into two separate panels—the Committee on Education and the Committee on Labor. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 merged both entities again beginning in the 80th Congress (1947–1949) and, since that time the committee has been named either Education and Labor or Education and the Workforce. For information on the historic records of the House Education and Labor Committee available at the National Archives, see Finding Aids for Official House Records. As committee names and jurisdictions often changed over time, use our list of Historic Committee Names to aid your research.
“Floral tributes,” enormous congratulatory bouquets, were a tradition in the House Chamber on the first day of each session of Congress from the 1870s until 1905. On December 3, 1894, at the opening of the 3rd session of the 53rd Congress (1893–1895), a cheer went up in the chamber as four men entered the chamber with a very special tribute for one of the House’s leading education advocates, William Linton of Michigan. More . . .
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators, highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. The series will appear monthly. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.