Tucked behind the scenes of floor debates, committee hearings, and major votes, House staff perform a myriad of functions to keep Congress running smoothly. Over the years, women have made great strides working for Members, committees, leadership, and House Officers. In doing so, they have gained equal access to staff positions historically held by men and played an integral role in the evolution of the institution.
Mary Ellen Atkins’ success on her high school’s competitive typing team led her to a job with the U.S. House of Representatives. From 1943 to 1947, she worked as a secretary in the Washington office of Iowa Congressman Karl Le Compte, greeting constituents, taking dictation, and exploring the capital during the World War II era.
Kathy Gille worked in the office of Representative David Bonior of Michigan for more than 20 years. Her responsibilities included speechwriting, foreign policy research, and working on the House Rules Committee and the Democratic task force on Central America. She was eventually promoted to executive floor assistant and senior advisor for policy and communications, becoming one of the first women to supervise a Whip operation in the House.
Betsy Wright Hawkings experienced a rapid rise in the office of Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, becoming chief of staff within three years. She used her leadership and organizational skills to build a career on Capitol Hill that spanned nearly 25 years.
For 26 years, Judy Lemons worked for three Members from the same California district. Her experiences with Representatives Phil Burton, Sala Burton, and Nancy Pelosi, as well as her time spent working for two subcommittees, transformed her into an accomplished congressional advocate for the San Francisco community.
Muftiah McCartin worked in the Parliamentarian’s Office for 29 years and was the first woman to hold the position of assistant parliamentarian in the house. Her expertise in parliamentary procedure led her to the House Appropriations and Rules committees, where she drafted legislation on antipoverty programs and healthcare.
Initially hired as a secretary for the House of Representatives, Patricia (Tish) Speed Schwartz worked her way through the administrative ranks to serve as chief clerk of the Science Committee, and later the Judiciary Committee, during her nearly four decades on Capitol Hill.
Linda Steele came to Washington, D.C., in January 1961 as a secretary for Representative Stanley Tupper of Maine. In 1970, she began more than two decades of service in the office of Representative (and future Republican Leader) Robert Michel of Illinois, rising to the position of deputy chief of staff in Michel’s leadership office.