Historical Highlights

Longtime House Employee Helen Sewell

July 18, 2006
Longtime House Employee Helen Sewell Private Collection Helen Sewell and a coworker featured at the lunch counter in the Republican Cloakroom.
On this date, Helen Sewell, the longtime manager of the Republican Cloakroom lunch and snack bar, died. Born on September 2, 1917, in Washington, D.C., Sewell began working at the Capitol when William Bankhead of Alabama was Speaker of the House. During her high school vacations, Sewell assisted her father Benjamin Jones, a coat and hat checker in the Republican Cloakroom who later established a snack stand for Members. As the popularity of the stand increased, Sewell joined her father full time in serving sandwiches, coffee, and snacks for the Representatives of the House. Sewell took over her father’s position upon his death, but continued to follow his admonition “Always make the sandwiches heavy because the members enjoy them that way.” Called a “living legend” and an “institution” during her more than 70-year tenure as a House employee, Sewell fostered a collegial atmosphere in the cloakroom earning the respect of Members on both sides of the aisle. “When sessions run late into the night, your good counsel keeps us in good humor, and contributes to the civility of this institution,” Paul Henry of Michigan remarked. “You’ve won your way into our hearts, and helped keep this institution human when the going gets rough.” The recipient of the John W. McCormack Annual Award of Excellence for 1982—recognizing the exceptional achievements of House employees—Sewell eventually retired in 2005. “I’ve been so close to them, they’ve been like family,” Sewell once noted of the Representatives she served.

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