Schools, Dorms, & Reforms
Schooling for Pages reflected the development of a national educational system in the United States. No formal provisions were made to provide nineteenth-century congressional Pages with an education, and those with prior formal schooling tended to be exceptions to the general rule. Quite often they were sons of sitting Members of Congress who were enrolled in a private prep school.74 Well into the twentieth century, advocates for the status quo argued that what Pages lacked in formal education was more than compensated for in practical experience. Reformers, however, believed that while Pages might get a statesman’s education and know intimately the rhythms and contours of the legislative process, and so be “fully equipped for the position of Senator or Representative,” that they were “deficient in almost all other useful knowledge.”75
Progressive era reforms aimed at improving life for the nation’s children elsewhere were instituted at a glacial pace on Capitol Hill. In April 1906, the House debated and passed child labor legislation for the District of Columbia (H.R. 17838), which specifically prohibited the House and Senate from employing any child under the age of 14 (but another provision restricting nighttime work effectively pushed the minimum age limit to 16).76 The Washington Post enthusiastically crowed that with the “Pages dethroned,” Members of Congress would have to “do their own chores” or pay their personal secretaries to do it for them.77 But the Senate, where traditions die hard and which consistently preferred that pre-teen boys be employed on the floor, killed the bill.
Two years later, Congress passed S. 4812, largely crafted by the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, that began to regulate child labor in the nation’s capital. Although it established a minimum employment age of 14 years, it specifically exempted from this provision “children employed in the service of the Senate.”78 The law applied to the House but in practice that chamber also continued to employ Pages under the age of 14, as it had done for a century.79 Although Congress passed another child labor measure for the District of Columbia in May 1928 that struck the Senate exception, lawmakers continued to appoint boys under the minimum age for another two decades.80
It was not until 1926 and the passage of the Compulsory School Attendance Law that the House finally began educating its Pages. Page parents acted first. They created a school association and hired a tutor to instruct the children. A space was set up in the basement of the Capitol and a limited number of Pages began to attend classes at the private, tuition-based facility. After several short-lived predecessors, the privately-operated Capitol Page School was established by Ernest Kendall for both House and Senate Pages in 1931. Kendall was a “straight-laced” disciplinarian who ran a “tight ship,” one of his students recalled.81 By the early 1940s, the Capitol Page School became more formalized with a modest staff, tuition of $19 per month, and a range of academic courses not unlike a normal high school curriculum.
Still, it was far from a typical school experience as its curriculum was shoe-horned entirely into a schedule that met the legislative needs of Congress. Classes were compressed, and met as early as 6 a.m.— with Senate and House Pages arriving in shifts. Instruction generally ended in the late morning, when both chambers moved toward legislative business, and Pages went to work on the floor, and picked up again in the late afternoon when floor business ended. Moreover, the school’s location was less than ideal. Joe Bartlett recalled the “dank” environs in the bowels of the Capitol as a “forsaken” place: “Nobody went down there without a reason.” The classrooms were across the hall from the Capitol’s massive electricity generators that whined constantly. And the rooms often flooded, so much so that “they had to put down planks so we could reach our seats,” Bartlett remembered. “We’d walk in on the planks, take our seats, hold our feet up, and study Latin. It was unreal.”82
The spartan conditions of the Capitol Page School—with constant water leaks, giant rats, and whirring generators—shocked Senator Harold Burton of Ohio, who moved quickly in 1942 to improve the physical plant of Kendall’s school. About that time, Representative Alfred J. Elliott of California introduced a bill calling for the creation of a Page dormitory managed by Congress, a proposal that Senator Burton backed. But that proposal ran into opposition from Members who did not support the looming costs. Burton also set his sights on raising the academic standards of the Capitol Page School, an effort that culminated in congressional hearings in 1945 on the state of Page academics. Under provisions of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the District of Columbia Board of Education assumed management of the Capitol Page School in 1947 and introduced, as historian Darryl Gonzalez points out, long-missing components of Pages’ educational experience: a standardized curriculum and professionally accredited, full-time faculty, long the staple of the public education system.83 Two years later, the school moved to the third-floor “attic” of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Although not commodious by any measure, it far exceeded the conditions in the Capitol basement. House Pages would be educated in this space for the next six decades.84
From the end of World War II to the early 1980s, the Capitol Page School, which accepted House, Senate, and Supreme Court Pages, operated much like a public high school, with freshman through senior grade levels. At this point, Page appointments typically were for a year or two but could last up to four years. Classes, which opened with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, convened at 6:10 a.m. and were usually finished by 10:30 a.m. The curriculum mirrored that of a typical high school and, with small classes and tenured faculty from local universities and schools, the education was strong. Still, the experience was unique. There were no field trips, only one school sport (basketball), and, with the exception of the annual winter and spring dances, very few extra-curricular activities or socials. However, the view from the third floor of the Jefferson Building, looking westward across the Capitol campus and down the National Mall made it, in the words of Donnald Anderson, “clearly the most magnificent high school campus in the world.”85
Questions about the traditional unsupervised living arrangements for Pages, however, lingered for years. For many decades, out-of-town Pages lived in the numerous boardinghouses that dotted Capitol Hill. Boardinghouse supervision varied considerably—from watchful and strict matronly owners to less diligent landlords.86 After World War II, a long line of House Members pointed out the need for changes, especially as Washington grew from a sleepy southern town into a metropolis. Many Pages, now drawn from districts around the country, had no adult supervision during their stays in the capital. In the 1950s, Representatives Charles E. Bennett of Florida, Ruth Thompson of Michigan, and Abraham Multer of New York each introduced measures to create a supervised Page residence or academy. All came to naught.87 Agitation for reform reached a crescendo again in the early 1960s after several widely publicized incidents involving crimes against Pages and the misbehavior of certain Pages. Representative William R. Broomfield of Michigan testified before the House Administration Committee that unless a formal supervised Page dormitory was constructed that the House could “expect a real scandal”; he added, “We are really sitting on a keg of dynamite.”88
More than anyone else, Representative Edith Green of Oregon pushed for major changes to the congressional Page system—in schooling, housing, work conditions, and qualifications in the performance of their jobs in both the House and Senate. Dubbed “Mrs. Education” and the “Mother of Higher Education” by her colleagues, Green shaped national education policy across two decades—from the National Defense Education Act of 1958 to the Higher Education Act of 1965 and Title IX of the extension of that act in 1972.89 In 1964, Green convinced House leaders to create a Select Committee on the Welfare and Education of Congressional Pages. The committee, which Green chaired, relied on an evaluation of the Capitol Page School by an independent school accreditation association, solicited information from college educators, and interviewed Capitol Page School staff, House officials, and Page supervisors.
In early 1965, Green’s committee filed a report criticizing the incongruity of providing “these youngsters the great opportunity to be of direct service to their Government, and at the same time, depriv[ing] them of the basic protections to which they are entitled at this stage of their development.” How, they asked, could a 14- or 15-year-old boy make independent adult decisions about his housing, nutrition, and “physical well being”?90
The problem, as the Select Committee on the Welfare and Education of Congressional Pages saw it, was that the program no longer employed Pages from the immediate Washington area. A century earlier, virtually all congressional Pages lived with their families in or near the District of Columbia, but by the mid-twentieth century the situation was nearly reversed. Of the 98 boys who attended the Capitol Page School during 1964, only one third of them were from Washington, D.C., and its surroundings or lived with family members in the capital area. “The committee considers this to be a very serious and potentially explosive situation,” the report warned, adding that the problem was made more combustible because away from school and the House Floor these teenage boys were left “virtually without supervision” and “with a considerable amount of spending money in their pockets.”91
Green’s committee reported to the full House two alternative courses of action to reform conditions. The first was to continue the existing system of appointing high school-aged Pages, with several modifications: admit only juniors and seniors; select Pages on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, religion, or sex; set minimum academic credentials for admittance and require enrollment in the Capitol Page School; and limit Page service to no more than one calendar year and no less than a typical school semester. Most significantly, the committee recommended that Congress build, maintain, and oversee a dual Page residence and school in which the Capitol Page School could be located.92 Construction costs alone, Green’s panel acknowledged, would require an outlay of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The committee’s alternative solution, toward which Green herself was inclined, sought to make Page service available only to college-aged students over the age of 18, many drawn from local universities, thus sparing Congress the cost of constructing a Page residence and operating a Capitol Page School. Appointing college students would not only save money, but it would also defuse issues related to Congress’s supervisory role.93 Green’s panel recommended the creation of a joint Senate–House committee to study the problem and to make recommendations in the 89th Congress (1965–1967), but neither body acted on this suggestion.
In the end, the Green committee’s recommendations went largely unheeded. One obstacle was that as two distinct institutions the House and Senate chose not to coordinate Page policy. When Congress weighed reforms eventually incorporated into the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, one proposal they considered would have required Pages to be college-aged students and to have graduated from high school but be younger than 21 years of age. That proposal was stripped from the final legislation in favor of a requirement that set the ages from 16 to 18, and stipulated that no Page could be appointed after his (later her) 18th birthday.94
A devastating scandal a decade later forced the House to reform its Page system further. In June 1982, press reports surfaced that federal and local law enforcement officials were investigating allegations of a D.C.-based drug ring that was reputed to have supplied congressional employees on Capitol Hill. And on June 30, the CBS Evening News broadcast additional allegations by two former House Pages that they had been the victims of sexual misconduct by Members of Congress. In this atmosphere, the House passed H. Res. 518 on July 13, 1982, by a vote of 407 to 1, directing the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate both issues. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., who had served as Special Assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson and as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Jimmy Carter, was named Independent Special Counsel to lead the investigation.95 After a wide-ranging, yearlong study, the committee found that the original sexual misconduct allegations by the two former Pages were spurious. But investigators uncovered several incidents of illicit drug sales and use by congressional staff, as well as two instances in which sitting House Members had engaged in sexual relationships with Pages over the course of the prior decade. On July 20, 1983, the House censured Daniel B. Crane of Illinois and Gerry E. Studds of Massachusetts for sexual misconduct with 17-year-old House Pages.96
Concurrent with the Califano investigation, Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill of Massachusetts quickly appointed a commission to review the status of the House Page program. Comprised of Members, key staff, and former Pages, the commission eventually recommended significant changes. First, in rejecting proposals to use senior citizens or college students as Pages, it recommended that only high school juniors at least 16 years of age would qualify and that they would serve a single academic semester. The commission also called for the creation of a House Page Board comprised of Members, House Officers, and the Architect of the Capitol. The chamber approved the board on November 30, 1982. Under the commission proposal, Pages would be required to live in a proctored dormitory established and managed by the House. Finally, the commission also recommended that the longstanding relationship with the District of Columbia Public Schools be terminated and that the House establish its own accredited private Page School.97 The House adopted all of the commission’s recommendations, although some House Members asserted that the Page program had outlived its usefulness and ought to be abolished outright.98
The Page Board continued to oversee the House program and the House Doorkeeper directly supervised the Pages on a daily basis. In 1995, when the House abolished the Office of the Doorkeeper and dispersed its responsibilities among the other elected Officers, the Clerk of the House, under the direction of the House Page Board, assumed responsibility for the entire Page program.
74Gonzalez, The Children Who Ran for Congress: 48–49.
75Gonzalez cites this on page 50. The primary source is Office of the Curator of the U.S. Senate, Office Files, “Capitol Pages, 1903–1939,” n.d.
76See House of Representatives, “Child Labor in the District of Columbia,” 59th Cong., 1st sess. (6 April 1906): 1–5. While the bill specifically forbade using children younger than 14 to perform most Page tasks, it also had another provision that prohibited children under 16 from working between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. Considering the frequent nighttime sessions in both the House and Senate, this raised another potential barrier to using boys as Pages.
77Josephine G. Tighe, “Stops Boys Working,” 10 April 1906, Washington Post: 2.
78Statutes at Large, PL–149, 60th Cong., 1st sess., 35 Stat. 420 1902–1909.
79See “Employment of Child Labor in the District of Columbia,” Senate Report No. 292, 60th Cong., 1st sess. (25 February 1908): 1–2; Gonzalez, The Children Who Ran for Congress: 59, 61–62.
80Statutes at Large, PL–618, 70th Cong., 1st sess., 45 Stat. 998 1927–1929.
81Bartlett, Interview 1: 10, 12.
83Gonzalez, The Children Who Ran for Congress: 131.
84Gonzalez dedicates an entire chapter to Senator Burton’s reform efforts. See The Children Who Ran for Congress: 99–141. Though the Capitol Page School was disbanded during the 1980s, and House and Senate Pages were then educated in separate programs, House Pages retained the classroom space in the library’s attic.
85Anderson, Interview 1: 6–11.
86See for example the Office of the Historian’s oral history interviews with Joe Bartlett, Donnald Anderson, and Bill Goodwin.
87Gonzalez, The Children Who Ran for Congress: 149–160.
88“Single Home Proposed for Frolicking Page Boys,” 13 April 1961, Washington Post: B1.
89See Green’s profile: Office of History and Preservation, Women in Congress, 1917–2006 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2007): 352–357; online at http://history.house.gov/Exhibition-and-Publications/WIC/Women-in-Congress/.
90“Study of the General Welfare and Education of Congressional Pages”: 1–23; quotation on page 1.
93Ibid., 9. As for the suggestion that college students could serve as Pages, the committee’s proposal was met with skepticism by many on Capitol Hill. Doorkeeper William Miller’s testimony before the panel represented a view widely held by advocates for the status quo, when he expressed apprehension “that we would have to do away with boys of the smaller size that we use to operate the floor right around the Speaker’s chair, around there, the documentarian, the Speaker’s page, who have to be ‘Jack be nimble, Jack be quick’; get out on the floor, get right in and right out; don’t go in front of a Member, all that— I don’t know that a college student would be able to fit in that category or not.” See “Hearing Before the Select Committee on the Welfare and Education of Congressional Pages,” U.S. House of Representatives, 88th Cong., 2nd sess. (17 December 1964): 29. Other Members pressed for the need to employ college-aged students. See William Springer, “Congressional Pages: Their Work and Schooling,” in James C. Cleveland et al., We Propose a Modern Congress—Selected Proposals by the House Republican Task Force on Congressional Reform and Minority Staffing (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966): 181–188.
94Amer, “Pages in the United States Congress”: 12–13. See also, House Committee on Rules, “Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970: Report to Accompany H.R. 17654,” H. Rep. 91–1215, 91st Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1970): 128.
95For more on the episode and the investigation see, House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, H. Rep. 98–559, 98th Cong., 1st sess. (17 November 1983): 1–431. See also, “Two Members Censured,” CQ Almanac, 1983 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1983): 580–583.
96House Report 98-297 of 14 July 1983 had recommended only a “reprimand” for both Members but, in debate on the floor, the House increased the punishment to the more severe form of censure, which had been imposed in fewer than two dozen cases in the previous two centuries. See also, Congressional Record, House, 98th Cong., 1st sess. (20 July 1983): 20012–20037. For more on the history of censure, see Jack Maskell, “Expulsion, Censure, Reprimand, and Fine: Legislative Discipline in the House of Representatives,” 9 August 2010, Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report No. RL31382 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress).
97House of Representatives Page Board, “Final Report to the Speaker,” 11 December 1984 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1985): 1–12; “Two Members Censured,” CQ Almanac, 1983: 580–583.
98In the 98th Congress (1983–1985), Representative Bill Frenzel of Minnesota, Ranking Republican of the House Administration Committee, introduced H. Res. 291—a bill to abolish the House Page program. Twenty-one cosponsors from both parties—ranging from Patricia Schroeder of Colorado to Newt Gingrich of Georgia—signed on. It never came to a vote on the House Floor.