The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
“But the thing that struck me in those first weeks or two that, as we were rushing over to vote, I said it was like going from the playing field to the locker room. The only thing that was missing was the snapping of the towels. There was this kind of physicality and energy that I think reflected the fact that it has been historically shaped by men only and that women had not been part of it. Had we been part of it from the outset, I do think there would have been a different kind of aura on the floor of the House.”
—The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, January 18, 2018

Abstract & Transcript

U.S. Representative from Massachusetts (October 16, 2007-January 3, 2019)

Growing up in a military family, Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas traveled the world and lived abroad as a child. In her interview she describes how the frequent moves encouraged her to adapt and connect with people from different countries and diverse backgrounds. Initially drawn to politics during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, her marriage to Paul Efthemios Tsongas and support of his political aspirations had an impact on her own career path. Tsongas recalls her active work in her husband’s House, Senate, and presidential campaigns. She credits her “independent role” on the campaign trail during this period as valuable experience in engaging with and understanding voters—skills she utilized during her six terms in the House of Representatives. Tsongas recalls her time as a congressional wife, including the observations about her husband’s “Watergate baby” freshman class, as well as the culture and typical lifestyle of Capitol Hill during the 1970s and 1980s.

During her interview, Tsongas describes why she ran for Congress in 2007. With her special election win she became the first woman in 25 years to represent Massachusetts in Congress—an important achievement for Tsongas who spoke of the need for women to seek elected office. Tsongas compares her experience in the House with her husband’s time in Congress, pointing out key differences such as campaigning, fundraising, and life at the Capitol. She also describes her time on the Armed Services Committee and how she worked on issues directly affecting women in the military. Finally, Tsongas shares her reasons for not seeking re-election to Congress.

Biography

TSONGAS, Nicola S. (Niki), (wife of Paul Tsongas), a Representative from Massachusetts; born in Chico, Butte County, Calif., April 26, 1946; graduated from Narimasu American High School, Tokyo, Japan, 1964; attended Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.; B.A., Smith College, Northampton, Mass. 1968; J.D., Boston University, Boston, Mass., 1988; social worker; lawyer, private practice; dean of external affairs, Middlesex Community College, Lowell, Mass., 1997–2007; elected as a Democrat to the One Hundred Tenth Congress, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Representative Martin Meehan, and reelected to the five succeeding Congresses (October 16, 2007–January 3, 2019); was not a candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Sixteenth Congress in 2018.

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Video

Inspired by Change

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas describes some of the early influences in her life.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Drawn to Politics

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas explains how she first became interested in politics.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Learning to Campaign

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas recalls the ways in which she helped her husband Paul Tsongas when he ran for Congress.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Evolving Campaigns

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas compares campaigning when her husband served in Congress and her own House tenure.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Special Elections

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas describes the unique nature of special elections.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"You Don't Arrive as a Member of Congress"

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas discusses the learning curve facing newly-elected Members to Congress.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Changing Legislative Schedules

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas reflects on the family life of Members when her husband served in Congress.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Time with Constituents

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas reveals the valuable experience she gained campaigning for her husband.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"Set the Stage for Broader Change"

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas recalls an experience on the Armed Services Committee and explains how women Members can bring about change.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Run for Office and Surprise Yourself

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas talks about the importance of women running for elected office.

The Honorable Nicola S. (Niki) Tsongas, U.S. Representative of Massachusetts
Interview recorded January 18, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Images & Artifacts

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas
<i>Congresswoman Niki Tsongas</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_tsgonas_portrait.xml
Congresswoman Tsongas spent six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Tsongas Family
<i>The Tsongas Family</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_tsgonas_family.xml
Niki and Paul Tsongas photographed with their three daughters.
Image courtesy of the Tsongas Collection, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Lowell History
The Honorable Paul Tsongas
<i>The Honorable Paul Tsongas</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_tsongas_microphones.xml
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas' husband, Paul Tsongas, represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1979 before being elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1985.
Image courtesy of the Tsongas Collection, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Lowell History
On the Campaign Trail
<i>On the Campaign Trail</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_tsongas_cameras.xml
Representative Niki Tsongas joined her husband on his presidential campaign in 1991.
Image courtesy of the Tsongas Collection, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Lowell History
Political Ambitions
<i>Political Ambitions</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_tsongas_rally.xml
In her interview, Representative Tsongas recalls participating in all of her husband's campaigns.
Image courtesy of the Tsongas Collection, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Lowell History