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Donald J. Detwiler: Senate Page (1917-1918)

Donald J. Detwiler
Senate Historical Office

“Each senator’s desk had holes in the bottom.”

Interviewed by Senate Historian Richard Baker, Detwiler reflects on a "typical" day as a Senate Page, and how the Senate Chamber was ventilated at the time.

Baker: I would be interested in knowing what a "typical" day was like. You told me earlier that you would have lunch at eleven o'clock or 11:30. The Senate would normally go into session at twelve o'clock. How would you prepare the Senate chamber? What were your duties before the Senate went into session?

Detwiler: We had to take the Senate calendars off the senators' desks. We would put them all in a row on a long table. Then we opened the calendars, they were loose-leaf binders, and took the bills that had been passed and put in the new ones that were supposed to be considered. The way that was done was to have the pages all in a row. I'd have the first bill, and you'd have the second bill and he'd have the third bill. I'd put mine on and you'd come over and put yours on and then he'd put his on. That way we didn't get them mixed up. The last man came along and would clamp the books shut tight. Then we had to take the books and put them back on the senators' desks on our side. The Republican pages were doing the same thing over on their side under O'Toole. Sometimes there were five or six bills to be changed. Other times there was only one to be taken out. Halsey would tell us what to do about it.

Baker: Were those just the bills that were going to be considered on that day alone?

Detwiler: I'm not sure.

Baker: Were there a large number of bills in the calendar?

Detwiler: Yes. It was a fat book.

Baker: So it included all bills cleared for floor action?

Detwiler: That's right.

Baker: They no longer do it that way, with all of the bills actually on the calendar physically present on a senator's desk. I don't know when the practice changed.

Detwiler: They had a special ventilating system in the Senate chamber when I was a page. Each senator's desk had holes in the bottom. The foot of the desk was wide. It had a brass plate on it with many holes in it and the air came in right by his feet at each senator's place.

Baker: Was the air cooled in the summer?

Detwiler: No. I don't think so. Just circulated air. It was cool because it came from the basement under the Capitol. I guess that's the reason why they did that so it would be naturally cool.


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