I think that’s the most important thing: to get to know people, and to get to know them on a personal basis. And just not mouth somebody else’s ideas or words that you hear about. Get your ideas out of your own head because we all have them, basically; we don’t share them, necessarily. But I think that’s a pretty good thing. But you have to have that desire to come here and work, and not be coming here to have people see you on the floor, or see you in a committee, or see you there, and then hope that you have some idea of what’s going on, that’s not it. We’re not television stars by any means, especially when they take the camera away…anyway, you have to have a deep desire for it. And I, apparently, must have had it after seeing what had gone on in my life and to have hoped I could make a difference. But at least be in the process of trying to help others. I think that’s the bottom line, always to do that. — Pat Kelly, October 26, 2009
In 1957, Maura Patricia (Pat) Kelly, a recent graduate of Marymount College in New York, reported to Capitol Hill for her new job. But while the start of Pat Kelly’s House career followed a storyline familiar to many Hill staffers, she was no ordinary newcomer. For many years, politics were the Kelly family business in Brooklyn, New York. Her grandfather and father had held prominent political appointments, and her mother, Edna Kelly, had won election to the U.S. House in 1949. Pat Kelly was eager to participate in the political process; as she once put it, “I just felt the urge to do something.” That impulse led to a House career that spanned 54-years, beginning as a researcher for the House Un-American Activities Committee, and continuing as a legislative assistant in her mother’s congressional office and, later, that of Martha Griffiths of Michigan. More than half of Kelly’s time in the House was spent in the Clerk of the House’s Office of Legislative Operations, where she became the longtime editor of the House Daily Digest from 1979 to her retirement in 2011. In her series of interviews, Kelly discusses her mother’s early political career, first election to the House, and subsequent work on the Foreign Affairs Committee and on behalf of legislation related to women’s rights. Kelly’s recollections of the Congressional Staff Club, and her personal memories of leading women Representatives such as Martha Griffiths and Leonor Sullivan of Missouri, and the effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, offer unique perspectives on the institution.
Maura Patricia (Pat) Kelly was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 5, 1934, daughter of Edward L. and Edna Flannery Kelly; she had one brother, William. Her family had long been active in Brooklyn politics. Her paternal grandfather, William Kelly, served as Postmaster of Brooklyn during the Woodrow Wilson administration and, later, as the Clerk of Kings County. Edward Kelly became a lawyer, served as a City Court Justice of New York City, and was active in Brooklyn Democratic politics as head of the Madison Democratic Club. Edna Kelly also was politically active and helped revive the women’s organization of the Madison Democratic Club, and would later work as a legislative researcher of the New York Assembly.
Pat Kelly was educated in parochial schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan. She attended Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York, from 1951 to 1955, earning a bachelor of arts degree in political science and history.
After Edward’s death in a car accident in 1942, Edna Kelly became increasingly active in Brooklyn and New York state politics as a protégé of Irwin Steingut, the local political boss and minority leader in the New York Assembly. When New York Representative Andrew L. Somers died during the 81st Congress in 1949, Kings County leaders chose Edna Kelly as the Democratic nominee to run for the vacant seat. Kelly won the special election, beginning a 20-year career in which she became a leading member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a firm advocate for advancing women’s rights.
Pat Kelly arrived to work as a staffer on Capitol Hill in 1957, later recalling, “I just felt the urge to do something.” For a decade she was employed as a research analyst for the House Committee on Un-American Activities. She then worked as a legislative assistant in three Member offices: for her mother, during her final term from 1967 to 1969; for Michigan Representative Martha Griffiths, 1969 to 1975; and for freshman Representative Matthew McHugh of New York, 1975 to 1977. She then served as a legislative assistant for the House Committee on Rules, before joining the Clerk’s Office in 1979. For the next 32 years, Kelly edited the House Daily Digest in the Congressional Record— making her responsible for compiling information on committee meetings, subject matter, witnesses, and actions on legislation.
Pat Kelly was long active in the Congressional Staff Club during its heyday from the 1950s through 1970s. She served as an officer of the club, eventually becoming its president in 1976. For her work on behalf of the large and active staff community, Roll Call newspaper gave her its 1976 Staffer of the Year Award.
On March 1, 2011, when Pat Kelly retired with 54 years of service, House leaders celebrated her career on the floor and praised her for her devotion to the institution. Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, reflecting on Kelly’s role as longtime editor of the Daily Digest, “it’s clear Pat has not merely recorded the House history—she’s been a rich part of it, too.” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California described Kelly as “a committed public servant, a woman of this House, a key thread in the fabric of the congressional staff.”
In retirement, Kelly resides in Alexandria, Virginia.
Representative Edna Kelly's Congressional Start
Recollections of Representative Edna Kelly of New York's political involvement at home.
Learning Without Textbooks
Recollections of learning from Representative Edna Kelly of New York and other Congresswomen.
Martha Griffiths of Michigan and Leonor Sullivan of Missouri
Memories of Representative Edna Kelly of New York's circle of friends.
The Congressional Staff Club
Personal memories of the Congressional Staff Club and being awarded "Staffer of the Year."
The Madison Club
Recollections of the Madison Club of Brooklyn.
Representative Edna Kelly and the Foreign Affairs Committee
Description of how Representative Edna Kelly of New York was seated on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Equal Rights Act Discharge Petition: Part One
Memories of approaching the Parliamentarian and suggesting a discharge petition to Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan.
The Equal Rights Act Discharge Petition: Part Two
Memories of Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan gathering signatures to move the bill out of committee.
Generational Divides in the House
Discussion of Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan and the generational gap between women in the House.
Members of the Congressional Staff Club had the option to get a license plate for their cars. As president of the club, Kelly had the honor of having the "number one" plate.