The boy in the center twists and spins, leaning into his right foot before launching the snowball. To the right, another Page ducks as a white sphere rockets over him, clearing his head by only a foot or so. On the left, a young man in glasses bends down to scoop up snow with both hands, the edge of his smile visible in this grainy photo nearly a hundred years later. Photographs from the House Collection capture the fun of snowball fights outside the Capitol, a tradition for House and Senate Pages.
Though it is unclear when the custom began, the earliest image of a Capitol Page snowball scrap in the House Collection dates from 1923. These Pages “enjoy[ed] ‘a battle royal’ in the first snow of the season,” according to the photo caption. By 1926, reporters declared it an annual fight.
In this 1928 photograph, Pages waged an icy clash by the East Front. During this bout, they formed teams by chamber, with House against Senate Pages. A newspaper article explained that House and Senate Pages tended not to socialize before the 1931 establishment of the Capitol Page School, but events like baseball games and snowball scrums brought them together. In other matches, Democratic and Republican Pages duked it out in the slush for their parties, instead of aligning by chamber.
The caption of this 1932 image focuses on the Democratic and Republican Pages who battled for supremacy. “The Democrats won by wide margin,” it turned out. However, other figures also appear in the photograph: behind the battling Pages, several men in long coats observe the sport. These figures may be Members of Congress who refereed the match. The Daily Times photo spread reported that Representatives James McClintic of Oklahoma and Melvin Maas of Minnesota served as umpires for one annual brawl—and, as a result, became the target of numerous icy tosses.
Photographs of Pages slinging snow appeared in newspapers, bringing some humor to a view of the wintry Capitol. Playful photo captions mixed in political puns—including the Democratic Pages’ large “margin” of victory in the 1932 image above. “Hot debate raged with snowballs,” the Springfield Republican reported about one annual skirmish by the East Front. But the “G.O.P. outballoted opponents.” The Evening Star termed another match “a hot snowball debate.”
When the Pages began to tussle, cameramen followed, trying to get a good snapshot for the newspapers. In a 1940 snap, some Pages seem to be posing for the camera, and not simply slinging snow. In the ankle-deep snow of the Capitol plaza, one Page holds up a sign reading “REPS,” and another, “DEM.” However, posing for the camera leaves them open for a hit. With their signs held above their heads, each boy squints, as if bracing for the impact of a slushy rocket to the chest. Near the left side of the image, another Page packs a big, cold orb, directly and ominously eyeing the young man with the “DEM” sign.
Snowball bout images appeared not only in newspapers, but also in movie theaters. Glenn Rupp, a former House page, recalled in an oral history that when flakes hit the Capitol grounds, “a few times, we had people like Fox Movietone would come down if there was snow on the ground, and we’d have snowball fights and things like that, which they would show in the different theaters, like they used to do.”
Taking a wintry break from tasks, school, and congressional duties, Pages brought playfulness—and some icy battles—to the Capitol grounds. Photographs and newsreels transmitted their games to the public, melting away politics to uncover frosty fun.
Sources: Christian Science Monitor, 11 May 1934; Daily Advocate (Stamford, CT), 24 January 1939; Daily Times (Chicago), 25 December 1932; Houston Chronicle, 22 January 1935; Springfield Republican (Springfield, MA), 13 January 1926, 18 June 1939; Evening Star (Washington, DC), 27 January 1935, 26 March 1939; “Glenn Rupp Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, 2005; Marcie Sims, Capitol Hill Pages: Young Witnesses to 200 Years of History (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2018); “Pages of the U.S. Congress,” 27 September 1990, Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report No. 90-470.Follow @USHouseHistory