Linda Melconian

Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
“One time, we were talking to other female Members and maybe there were three or four of us—two staff people and one or two Members. Male Members would come over to us and say, ‘Oh, what are you girls cooking up? Are you conspiring against us?’ . . . Three or more women . . . on the floor congregating—chatting—would cause concern among the male Members. Were we conspiring against them? What I found so fascinating about this experience is that years later, when I served in the Massachusetts senate [during] my freshman year, I was talking to two other female members. I had male state senators come up to us and say, ‘Are you three conspiring against us?’ I thought, ‘I can’t believe this. It’s happening here in Massachusetts years later—the same thing that happened on the House Floor in Washington.’”
—Linda Melconian, June 7, 2018

Abstract & Transcript

Linda Melconian was a recent college graduate when Congressman Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill of Massachusetts hired her in 1971. During the next decade, she worked closely with O’Neill as he moved up the leadership ladder from Majority Whip, to Majority Leader, and, finally, to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. As one of the first women to hold floor privileges in all three House leadership offices, Melconian offers a unique perspective on floor proceedings, leadership initiatives, and the role of women staff members in the House.

In this oral history, Melconian recalls her path from her hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, to Capitol Hill, where she started as a legislative assistant working on the House Floor for Majority Whip O’Neill. She outlines the structure of the Democratic whip operation, including the role of congressional staff in counting votes and crafting and conveying the message of leadership. She recounts her observations in O’Neill’s office during the Watergate investigation, offering a first-hand account of the way the crisis unfolded on the House Floor.

Melconian also discusses her roles as a speechwriter, researcher, and assistant counsel for O’Neill during his terms as Majority Leader and Speaker. Reflecting on Speaker O’Neill’s efforts to shape the Democratic Party’s agenda during the 1970s, she provides insight into his legislative priorities, leadership style, and his relationship with President Jimmy Carter. She highlights O’Neill’s focus on ethics reform and his foreign policy efforts, from his involvement in the Camp David Accords to his interest in finding a peaceful solution to the political violence in Northern Ireland. She also chronicles her experience on a congressional delegation to Europe in April 1979, where she joined Speaker O’Neill as he visited the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Biography

In 1971, Linda Melconian began her career on Capitol Hill working for Congressman Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill of Massachusetts. Over the next 10 years, she worked as a legislative assistant and assistant counsel as O’Neill served as Majority Whip, Majority Leader, and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. In doing so, she became one of the first women to hold floor privileges in all three House leadership offices and gained valuable political experience that formed the foundation of her own political career.

Linda Melconian was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the daughter of Virginia Melconian, a homemaker, and George Melconian, a line-type machinist for the local newspapers. She attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she secured an internship on Capitol Hill with Massachusetts Representative Edward Boland. She also worked as an intern for Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine before graduating from college in 1970.

As part of then-Majority Whip O’Neill’s staff, Melconian learned the workings of the institution from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. She represented Whip O’Neill on the House Floor and was educated in the finer points of legislating through her interactions with Members of Congress. She participated in vote-counting and the behind-the-scenes dialogue that shaped important legislation.

When O’Neill became Majority Leader in 1973, Melconian added speechwriting and research to her duties on the House Floor. She also worked to build connections between the Speaker and the Democratic Caucus in anticipation of O’Neill’s future campaign for Speaker by planning district visits and serving as a liaison between Members and the Speaker on legislative matters.

During O’Neill’s Speakership, Melconian was involved in the Speaker’s effort to implement ethics guidelines and revise the seniority system and the committee selection process. She also assisted the Speaker in his forays into U.S. foreign policy, providing information and accompanying him during meetings with visiting dignitaries in Washington, DC, and abroad.

After completing law school at George Mason University, Melconian served as assistant counsel to Speaker O’Neill before returning to Springfield to run for a vacant seat in the Massachusetts state senate in 1981. The following year she won election to the first of 11 terms in the Massachusetts legislature, rising to become the first woman to hold the title of majority leader in the state senate. She resides in Springfield and teaches courses in government and politics at Suffolk University in Boston.

Video

"Boland Girl"

Linda Melconian discusses her first experience on the campaign trail for Massachusetts Representative Edward Boland.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Women Staff in the 1970s

Linda Melconian explains the lack of opportunities and pay disparities facing women staff in the 1970s.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The Democratic Cloakroom

Linda Melconian describes the way then-Majority Whip Tip O'Neill introduced her to the Democratic Cloakroom.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"What Are You Girls Cooking Up?"

Linda Melconian recalls the way women working in politics in the 1970s were often viewed with suspicion by their male colleagues.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"Notice I Haven't Mentioned Any Women"

Linda Melconian remembers the small number of women Members of Congress in the 1970s.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The Workings of the Whip Organization

Linda Melconian provides a behind-the-scenes view of the Democratic Whip organization under then-Majority Whip Tip O'Neill.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The 18-Minute Gap

Linda Melconian recounts her experience on the House Floor during a pivotal moment in the Watergate investigation.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Learning from Ways and Means Chairman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas

Linda Melconian recalls observing Chairman Wilbur Mills at work counting votes on the House Floor.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Interacting with Members on the Floor

Linda Melconian describes her role as Speaker Tip O'Neill's "eyes and ears" on the House Floor.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"Nobody was Better than the Speaker"

Linda Melconian explains Speaker Tip O'Neill's ability to connect with his colleagues.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The Most Popular Man in the House

Linda Melconian recalls the way Speaker Tip O'Neill methodically built a strong base of support in the Democratic Caucus.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Advice from Representative Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut

Linda Melconian remembers the sage professional advice she received from Representative Ella T. Grasso.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The Speaker and Ireland

Linda Melconian describes her experience on a congressional delegation to the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom in April 1979.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Tip O'Neill and Young People

Linda Melconian recalls Speaker Tip O'Neill's willingness to hire and encourage young people.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts
Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Images & Artifacts

Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill
<i>Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_tip.xml
Linda Melconian worked for Congressman and later Speaker Tip O'Neill from 1971 to 1981.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
"Boland Girl"
<i>"Boland Girl"</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_steps.xml
Linda Melconian posed for a picture on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with Massachusetts Representative Edward Boland. She first worked on his campaign and then interned for him on the Hill.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
"Get Involved"
<i style="">"Get Involved"</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_oneill.xml
Linda Melconian and Speaker Tip O'Neill pictured in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol. In her interview, Melconian remembers how the Speaker encouraged young people to get involved in politics and do their best.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
Visiting Students
<i>Visiting Students</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_students.xml
House Majority Leader Tip O'Neill met with a group of students from his Massachusetts congressional district in his Capitol Hill office. O'Neill was Majority Leader during the 93rd and 94th Congresses (1973–1977).
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
A Typical Day
<i>A Typical Day</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_desk.xml
Linda Melconian and Majority Leader Tip O'Neill hard at work.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
Hank Aaron
<i>Hank Aaron</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_aaron.xml
Linda Melconian sat in the Speaker's chair while professional baseball player Hank Aaron signed autographs in the Speaker's Office.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
The Boston Red Sox
<i>The Boston Red Sox</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_sox.xml
Speaker O'Neill and his staff met with members of the Boston Red Sox in the Speaker's Office. Linda Melconian is second from left.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
President-elect
<i>President-elect</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_reagan.xml
President-elect Ronald Reagan visited Speaker O'Neill and his staff in the Speaker's Office. Standing left to right: Linda Melconian, Greg O'Meara, President-elect Reagan, Billie Gay Larson, Christine Sullivan, Mary-Alyce Jones, Elizabeth Daust, and Ari Weiss. Seated left to right: unidentified, Dessa Howard, and Leo Diehl.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
Congressman John Brademas
<i>Congressman John Brademas</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_brademas.xml
Linda Melconian photographed with Representative John Brademas of Indiana.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
Bob Hope
<i>Bob Hope</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_hope.xml
Entertainer Bob Hope visited Speaker O'Neill's office in 1986. He is pictured with then-Massachusetts state senator, Linda Melconian and members of Speaker O'Neill's staff. Left to right: Linda Melconian, Dessa Vrtikapa, Bob Hope, Mary-Alyce Jones, Jay Killeen, and Eleanor Kelley.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
President Carter
<i>President Carter</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_melconian_carter.xml
Linda Melconian greeted President Jimmy Carter before he addressed a Joint Session of Congress. Former Representative Bella Abzug of New York stood next to Melconian to speak to the President.
Image courtesy of Linda Melconian, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives