Representatives as Role Models & Mentors
Across the House Page program’s two centuries, many individuals have noted a strong relationship between Page service and a person’s decision to be civically engaged or to pursue a life in public service.
Pages often enjoyed a strong bond with the Representatives they served, many of whom they looked to as role models or patrons. The House Floor was a nexus for their interactions. Joe Bartlett described the experience as something of a living civics course. “I knew every Member, certainly every Member on our [Republican] side of the House. And the great thing was that virtually every Member knew me, by name . . . the friendships I made were priceless,” Bartlett noted. “And, you know, when you see any Member who was here at the time, representing something like, I guess, 350,000 constituents, and he had been elected to be their Representative in Congress, there’s something about that person worth knowing, and worth studying. . . . So it’s a very rich experience, just to be in the presence, in the company, of such a group of chosen representatives of the people.”37
Glenn Rupp recalled a seemingly ever-present bowl of hardboiled eggs placed on a round metal table in the Democratic Cloakroom in the 1930s that drew Pages and Members seeking snacks during long legislative sessions. One time while Rupp was seated at the table, Speaker William Bankhead of Alabama strode up, pulled up a chair, and talked with Rupp over a hardboiled egg.38 In the days before electronic voting and television, recalled Donnald Anderson, the House Chamber bustled with activity and was a forum in which to socialize. Anderson, whose Page service in the early 1960s established career-long connections within the institution, rose to the post of Democratic Cloakroom manager and, eventually, Clerk of the House (1987–1995). “Members would often spend hours in the afternoon sitting on the House Floor, not necessarily following debate but socializing with each other, visiting, sitting in the cloakroom telling jokes and stories,” recalled Anderson, who was appointed by his Congressman, John Moss of California. “And so there was a lot of exposure to the Members. We actually got to see them up close and personal.”39
As they had in the nineteenth century, Members took a familial interest in the welfare of Pages. In the 1930s, Representative Joseph B. Shannon of Missouri hosted an annual dinner banquet for House Pages at the swanky Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. This yearly event featured prodigious amounts of food, raucous speeches, music, and, quite often, celebrations for the triumph of the House Page baseball team over its Senate counterpart.40 House Members also continued to make appointments based on the economic needs of some of their constituents. Bill Goodwin, who served as a Page in the 1950s, received an appointment from Michigan Representative George Dondero in part because he had lost his father at age 8. “He wanted somebody who would qualify if—not so much academically, but from a personal character standpoint…” Goodwin recalled. “But he also wanted somebody appointed that could benefit financially, because in those days, Pages were paid pretty decent, and considerably more than any other 15-year-old boy who had a paper route, or worked at a local grocery store. . . . And, so, because Mom was a widow . . . that was a major consideration in me being selected also.”41
Representative John D. Dingell, Jr., of Michigan, who served as a House Page in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and went on to become the longest-serving Member of Congress (1955 to present), described paging in this way: “I think the Congress is one of the greatest educational institutions in the world. And a bunch of kids had the chance to participate in that.” Appointed by his father, Representative John Dingell, Sr., of Michigan, the younger Dingell served as a Page from 1938 to 1943 and would eventually succeed his late father as a Member. Pages, the younger Dingell added, “had a chance to learn and see. And it had a life and a meaning to it that you don’t see if you’re just taking this in a course. . . . Something you don’t get out of looking at a book.”42
37Bartlett, Interview 1: 6–7.
38Rupp, Interview 1: 27.
39Anderson, Interview 1: 15.
40See, for example, “House Page Boys Have Banquet as Guests of Rep. J.B. Shannon,” 26 July 1937, Washington Post: 5.
41Bill Goodwin Interview, 20 October 2005, Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives: 2.
42Hon. John D. Dingell, Jr., unpublished interview, 3 February 2012, Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives: 23.