Tucked behind the scenes of floor debates, committee hearings, and major votes, House staff perform a myriad of functions to keep Congress running smoothly. Over the years, women have made great strides working for Members, committees, leadership, and House Officers. In doing so, they have gained equal access to staff positions historically held by men and played an integral role in the evolution of the institution.
Mary Ellen Atkins’ success on her high school’s competitive typing team led her to a job with the U.S. House of Representatives. From 1943 to 1947, she worked as a secretary in the Washington office of Iowa Congressman Karl Le Compte, greeting constituents, taking dictation, and exploring the capital during the World War II era.
Rochelle Dornatt worked on Capitol Hill for more than three decades. Her vast experience in the House included constituent service and legislative work in Member offices, opposition research for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and counting votes on the House Floor for Majority Whip Tony Coelho of California. She went on to spend 24 years as chief of staff for California Congressman Sam Farr.
After beginning her career working for two Puerto Rican Resident Commissioners, Jennice Fuentes later served as chief of staff for Representative Luis Gutiérrez. During her 25 years on the Hill, Fuentes assisted individuals seeking U.S. citizenship, became adept as a legislative strategist, and advocated for issues important to the Puerto Rican community.
Kathy Gille worked in the office of Representative David Bonior of Michigan for more than 20 years. Her responsibilities included speechwriting, foreign policy research, and working on the House Rules Committee and the Democratic task force on Central America. She was eventually promoted to executive floor assistant and senior advisor for policy and communications, becoming one of the first women to supervise a Whip operation in the House.
Betsy Wright Hawkings experienced a rapid rise in the office of Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, becoming chief of staff within three years. She used her leadership and organizational skills to build a career on Capitol Hill that spanned nearly 25 years.
For 26 years, Judy Lemons worked for three Members from the same California district. Her experiences with Representatives Phil Burton, Sala Burton, and Nancy Pelosi, as well as her time spent working for two subcommittees, transformed her into an accomplished congressional advocate for the San Francisco community.
Muftiah McCartin worked in the Parliamentarian’s Office for 29 years and was the first woman to hold the position of assistant parliamentarian in the house. Her expertise in parliamentary procedure led her to the House Appropriations and Rules committees, where she drafted legislation on antipoverty programs and healthcare.
For a decade, Linda Melconian was a legislative assistant and assistant counsel for Representative Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill of Massachusetts as he served as Majority Whip, Majority Leader, and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. During her time on Capitol Hill, she became one of the first women staff members to hold floor privileges in all three House leadership offices.
During the 1970s, Muriel Morisey was a constituent case worker, press secretary, and senior legislative assistant for New York Representative Shirley Chisholm and District of Columbia Delegate Walter Fauntroy. Her skills as a speechwriter, education policy expert, and advocate for constituents on Capitol Hill served as valuable preparation for the next phase of her career as a civil rights lawyer and academic.
Initially hired as a secretary for the House of Representatives, Patricia (Tish) Speed Schwartz worked her way through the administrative ranks to serve as chief clerk of the Science Committee, and later the Judiciary Committee, during her nearly four decades on Capitol Hill.
Carlottia Scott worked in the House for more than 20 years. Before becoming the chief of staff for California Representatives Ronald V. Dellums and Barbara Lee, she worked for the Committee on the District of Columbia, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and Congresswoman Cardiss Collins of Illinois. Throughout her career, she advocated for diverse perspectives in the legislative process.
Linda Steele came to Washington, D.C., in January 1961 as a secretary for Representative Stanley Tupper of Maine. In 1970, she began more than two decades of service in the office of Representative (and future Republican Leader) Robert Michel of Illinois, rising to the position of deputy chief of staff in Michel’s leadership office.