Edition for Educators—Congressional Staff

Despite the U.S. Postal Service's cancellation of Saturday mail in 1957, Congress still got its letters. Postal clerk Gene Renzacci delivered mail to Representative <a href="/People/Detail/19633" title="Gracie Pfost">Gracie Pfost</a> at her office door while Congressman <a href="/People/Detail/8581" title="James C. Auchincloss">James C. <span>Auchincloss</span></a> picked up his letters from clerk William Mitchell./tiles/non-collection/9/9-28-Postal-Staff-PA2012_04_0031.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Despite the U.S. Postal Service's cancellation of Saturday mail in 1957, Congress still got its letters. Postal clerk Gene Renzacci delivered mail to Representative Gracie Pfost at her office door while Congressman James C. Auchincloss picked up his letters from clerk William Mitchell.
This month’s Edition for Educators features stories and objects about staff who work for the Members of Congress. Since the late 19th century, Congressional staff have helped the House conduct the nation’s business in Members’ offices, on committees, or through House Officers such as the Clerk of the House or Sergeant-at-Arms. Learn more about some of the individuals who one scholar called the House’s “unelected representatives.”

Featured Highlights

Longtime Congressional Employee Ben Jones
On August 5, 1879, Benjamin (Ben) Jones—the longtime manager of the House Republican Cloakroom—was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. Upon the recommendation of Representative William August Rodenberg of Illinois, Jones left his home state in 1907 to take a job in the Capitol checking coats and hats for Republican Representatives. During his nearly four-decade career in the Republican Cloakroom, Jones worked under nine Speakers of the House, from “Uncle Joe” Cannon of Illinois to Sam Rayburn of Texas.

Ansel Wold’s Biographical Directory of the American Congress
On September 3, 1953, Ansel Wold, clerk for the Joint Committee on Printing and chief compiler of the 1928 edition of the Biographical Directory of the American Congress, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Wold spent four years revising the Biographical Directory; the Baltimore Sun eventually dubbed him the “official biographer of Congress.”

<a href="/People/Detail/23737" title="Victor Eugene Wickersham">Victor Eugene Wickersham</a> of Oklahoma (second from the right) meets with his office staff in 1941./tiles/non-collection/9/9-28-Wickersham-Staff-PA2014_09_0018b.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Victor Eugene Wickersham of Oklahoma (second from the right) meets with his office staff in 1941.
The 1998 Shooting of Two Capitol Police Officers
On July 24, 1998, two Capitol Police officers, Officer Jacob J. Chestnut, Jr., and Detective John M. Gibson, died in the line of duty. Within a few days of the tragedy, the House and Senate authorized a concurrent resolution for a memorial service for the officers to “lie in honor” in the Capitol Rotunda. The officers were buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

The Five Dunn Sisters Work for the House
On April 8, 1924, the five Dunn sisters ate lunch on the terrace of the House Office Building and sat for a series of photographs. The sisters occupy a unique place in House history as all five—Goldie, Vera, Billie, Marguerite (Marge), and Jean—worked as secretaries for various House Members.

Featured Oral History

Muftiah McCartin
Drawn to Washington, DC, by the excitement of the Watergate hearings, Muftiah McCartin looked for a job on Capitol Hill in the early 1970s. After interviewing with a number of offices, she took a secretarial position in the House Parliamentarian’s Office and planned to stay for six months. Thirty-four years later, she had built an impressive career as a parliamentarian and a committee staffer, becoming the first woman to hold the title of assistant House parliamentarian.

Muftiah McCartin, Staff Director, House Committee on Rules Interview recorded January 29, 2016 Transcript (PDF)

As part of the Century of Women in Congress project, the Office of the Historian has conducted interviews with several women staffers to capture their experience on Capitol Hill.

Featured Objects from the House Collection

Lyndon Baines Johnson appointment form
This document named budding politician (and future President) Lyndon Johnson as clerk to Texas Representative Richard M. Kleberg, and marked the start of Johnson's time in Washington. He spent all but two of the next 37 years there, eventually serving as Senate Majority Leader, U.S. Vice President, and President. In 1937, Johnson parlayed his early experience on the Hill to win his own House seat.

Possum in House Office Building
In 1946, this possum roamed the hallways of the Old House Office Building for a week, surprising staffers and escaping from traps. Neal Burnham, bookkeeper for the House stationery room, eventually enticed the creature out of a stack of paper with raw meat. Burnham crowed to reporters that he planned to bring it to the House Restaurant in the Capitol “to be cooked Southern style.”

Staff in the House Parliamentarian's Office pose for a photograph during the <a href="/Congressional-Overview/Profiles/74th/" title="74th Congress">74th Congress</a> (1935–1937)./tiles/non-collection/9/9-28-Parliamentarians-PA2015_01_0022.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Staff in the House Parliamentarian's Office pose for a photograph during the 74th Congress (1935–1937).

Featured Blogs

“Harry Needs a Rest”
In an institution still largely segregated and even unwelcoming to its African-American Members in the 1930s, Harry Parker’s six decades of loyal service to the House engendered respect and affection. The New York Times described the House Chamber’s 1937 celebration of Parker as the “most extraordinary tribute ever paid” to an African-American in the House up to that point.

“Through Her Lens”
With a bounce in her step and a camera in hand, Dolly Seelmeyer walked through the halls of the United States Capitol, from 1972 to 2004, as the first female House photographer, ready to prove she could do anything a male photographer could do—“and do it better.”

“His Own Little Club”
Before Lyndon Baines Johnson rose through the political ranks as a Member of the House and Senate (and later Vice President and President of the United States), the young, congressional secretary to Congressman Richard Kleberg of Texas set his sights on a smaller, lesser-known organization: the Little Congress.

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 appears monthly. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.

Categories: Education, People