Benjamin C. West

Benjamin C. West Image courtesy of Benjamin C. West, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
“On slack days and non-event days I used to spend a lot of time in the attic of the Capitol building. Not many people know there was an attic. And I would rummage through old ledgers and I’m surprised I have any respiratory system left... A lot of the old payroll handwritten records were bound and some were not. Some were just stacked. Some would be in an old paper bag that disintegrated when you lifted it. And so I spent a lot of time rummaging through those things... And the result of all that kind of rummaging about is that it manifested itself into an intense interest in the House of Representatives as an institution. And also as kind of a press gallery historian.
— Benjamin West, August 24, 2005 

Abstract & Transcript

Benjamin West joined the staff of the House Press Gallery in 1942 when he was 15 years old. His 44-year career spanned the pinnacle and the decline of the newspaper as Americans’ primary source of information and the ascendancy of electronic media. In this series of interviews, West discussed the evolution of the House Press Gallery, particularly as the press sought to explain federal actions and policies that had become increasingly important in Americans’ everyday lives. He described the structure of the gallery, related its early history, and detailed its daily operations under its second and third superintendents, William J. Donaldson, Jr., and Richard (Dick) Embly. West explained the role of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, mentioning many of its key members, and its dynamic relationship with the gallery. He recalled pioneering women reporters and African-American reporters in the 1940s and historic events such as the 1954 shooting in the House Chamber and the 1974 Nixon impeachment hearings, both of which he witnessed. West also provided insight into the complex role of the gallery staff—particularly the superintendent—in its efforts to serve “two masters”: the press and the Members and staff.

Biography

Benjamin C. West was born on December 27, 1926, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He grew up near the Capitol and was educated in District of Columbia public schools, graduating from the D.C. Evening High School in 1945. West served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. At an early age, he began delivering newspapers to support his family. In 1942 at age 15, West took a three-month position as a part-time electrician’s helper in the Office of the Architect of the Capitol. He then worked as a Senate elevator operator for four months and subsequently secured a position in the House Press Gallery, where he remained for the next four decades. West began as a messenger and worked his way up the ranks before becoming superintendent of the press gallery in January 1969.

West oversaw the daily operations of the House Press Gallery during his 17 years as superintendent. He also supervised the remodeling and the modernization of the gallery, implemented a detailed reference system to facilitate reporting, and played a leading part in major gallery functions such as providing on-site management for national political conventions before his retirement from the House in April 1986 during the 99th Congress (1985–1987). Benjamin C. West died on June 13, 2014, in Cheverly, Maryland.

Video

Eyewitness to History

Benjamin C. West provides a detailed account of the shooting in the House Chamber on March 1, 1954.

Benjamin C. West, Superintendent, Daily Press Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded May 23, 2007 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Meeting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Description of a chance encounter with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945.

Benjamin C. West, Superintendent, Daily Press Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded May 23, 2007 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The Nixon Impeachment Hearings

Background on the decision to hold the Nixon impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee Room in 1974.

Benjamin C. West, Superintendent, Daily Press Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded May 23, 2007 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Audio

Keeping a Log of the House Proceedings

Historical overview of the practice of keeping a legislative activity log in the House press galleries.

Benjamin C. West, Superintendent, Daily Press Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded August 24, 2005 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Remodeling of the House Press Gallery

Detailed description of the 1967 remodeling of the House Press Gallery.

Benjamin C. West, Superintendent, Daily Press Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded August 24, 2005 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Serving Two Masters

Personal account of the delicate balancing act performed by House Press Gallery directors in their role as mediators between the Members and the press.

Benjamin C. West, Superintendent, Daily Press Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded August 31, 2005 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Tradition in the House Press Gallery

Brief account of a longstanding House tradition.

Benjamin C. West, Superintendent, Daily Press Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded August 24, 2005 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Images & Artifacts

Benjamin C. West, Press Gallery Superintendent
<em>Benjamin C. West, Press Gallery Superintendent</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_west_portrait.xml
In 1942, Benjamin C. West began his 44-year career in the House of Representatives as a messenger in the House Press Gallery. He eventually served as superintendent of the gallery from 1969 to 1986.
Image courtesy of Benjamin C. West, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
House Press Gallery Main Room, 1951
<em>House Press Gallery Main Room, 1951</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_west_press_gallery1951.xml
The main room of the House Press Gallery in 1951; Benjamin C. West is standing on the left near the bulletin board. In 1967, the press gallery underwent a major renovation.
Image courtesy of Benjamin C. West, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
President Gerald R. Ford Addresses Joint Session of Congress, 1974
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Days after succeeding Richard M. Nixon as President, Gerald R. Ford addressed Congress and the nation at a Joint Session in the House Chamber on August 12, 1974. An arrow points to Benjamin C. West who is seen witnessing Ford’s address from the press gallery.
Image courtesy of Benjamin C. West, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
House Judiciary Committee Impeachment Hearing, 1974
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Benjamin C. West sits in the daily press section during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings into the Watergate break-in.
Image courtesy of Benjamin C. West, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
Last Member Press Conference in Gallery, 1981
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In 1981, Representatives Delbert Latta of Ohio, Robert Michel of Illinois, and Phil Gramm of Texas held the last Member press conference in the House Press Gallery. Benjamin C. West is standing in the far back near the bulletin board.
Image courtesy of Benjamin C. West, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
Speaker of the House Carl Albert’s Daily Press Conference, 1974
<em>Speaker of the House Carl Albert’s Daily Press Conference, 1974</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_west_press_conference1974.xml
Speaker of the House, Carl Albert of Oklahoma holds a daily press conference in 1974.
Image courtesy of Benjamin C. West, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
House of Representatives Press Gallery Staff
<em>House of Representatives Press Gallery Staff</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_west_staff.xml
The House Press Gallery staff poses for a picture in January, 1960. From left to right: Charles Marston, Richard Embly (Superintendent), Benjamin West, and Wilbur DePerini.
Image courtesy of Benjamin C. West, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives