The first youngsters to be appointed to positions in the Senate were relatives of Senate employees. The first boy to appear on the payroll of the Senate was 13-year-old James Tims, who appears in Senate records in 1826. Tims was the son of former doorkeeper Henry Tims and the brother of Charles Tims, who had served as an assistant doorkeeper. The title “page” was not yet used, but Tims was compensated as “boy—for attendance in the Senate room.” In 1829 Tims was listed in the Report of the Secretary of the Senate as a messenger, but unlike the six other messengers who earned $2 per day, Tims earned only $1.50. In 1830 Tims was joined by nine-year-old Grafton Hanson, grandson of Sergeant at Arms Mountjoy Bayly, as a messenger receiving $1.50 per day. When Tims turned 18 in 1831, he began receiving the salary as a regular messenger. That same year messenger Simeon Bassett’s son, Isaac, was appointed to serve alongside Grafton Hanson. Bassett and Hanson were the only two boys to serve the Senate between 1831 and 1836.
Some of the earliest pages went on to hold long careers in the Senate. Tims spent years as a messenger before becoming clerk of the Senate Post Office and finally postmaster of the Senate. Bassett became a messenger and then assistant doorkeeper and served until his death in 1895. During his decades of service, Bassett kept a diary that has become an invaluable record of the 19th-century Senate.
Beginning in 1837, other boys were appointed to replace Tims, Hanson, and Bassett, and the title of “page” was adopted to describe these young Senate messengers. In the 1830s and 1840s there were only three or four pages serving at a time. One page was specifically designated to serve the vice president. Some of the pages were orphans or the sons of widows and their salaries were paid to a parent or guardian.
By the mid-19th century, pages varied in age and some served in their positions for several years. In 1854 the Senate passed a resolution setting a minimum age of 13 to be appointed and prohibiting pages from serving past the age of 17. In 1870 the Senate amended the limits to 12 and 16 years respectively. The Senate sometimes made exceptions to these rules, however, as when Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania sponsored nine-year-old Richard Reidel in 1918. In 1949 the Senate again revised the age limit for pages, declaring that those eligible for service must be between the ages of 14 and 17. Since 1983 the Senate has required that pages be high school juniors and has limited service to one session.
Pages have assisted senators in numerous ways. In the 19th century, in addition to acting as messengers, they helped prepare the Chamber for each day’s session, ensuring that each desk was supplied with quills, ink, and paper, and keeping the snuff boxes full. For late-night sessions, pages were responsible for bringing oil for the lamps, candles for the desks, and wood to feed the fires in the stoves. In the days before the Senate installed the legislative light and buzzer system to inform senators about floor action, pages spread the word about impending votes. Senators tasked the pages with sealing and delivering their correspondence to the Senate post office. Pages were also enlisted to help sell printed versions of senators’ speeches, a job that netted the pages some additional income based on how many they could sell. For these hard labors, the Senate sometimes voted the pages a bonus at the conclusion of a session.
In addition to those who assisted in the Chamber, pages filled other positions throughout the Senate. The Senate Post Office enlisted pages, also known as “mail boys,” to help carry mail. A small group of “riding pages” delivered messages from the Capitol to executive departments throughout the District of Columbia. A young man named Andrew F. Slade was a riding page between 1869 and 1881 and was the first African American page in Senate history. Other pages became “telegraph pages,” whose duty was to deliver incoming and outgoing messages through the Capitol’s telegraph offices. When telephones were installed in the Senate wing, a “telephone page” position was created.
The ranks of pages grew by the late 19th century when the Senate employed 16 pages in the Chamber at a time. The Republican and Democratic Conferences divided appointments, with the majority party appointing the majority of pages. Sponsored by individual senators, pages came to the Capitol from all over the country.
In the early 20th century, the Senate took steps to provide for the education of the pages. Initially the Senate merely encouraged pages to enroll in night classes, but in 1925 the District of Columbia passed a law raising the age for compulsory schooling from 12 to 14. Because page duties in the Capitol conflicted with the ordinary school day, the House of Representatives doorkeeper established a special one-teacher school for pages in the basement of the Capitol. Pages attended school in the early morning hours before the Senate sessions began, a practice continued today. In 1929 the Devitt Preparatory School assumed the education of the pages, though this lasted for only a few years. In 1931 the pages returned to school in the Capitol, which grew to five classrooms by 1937.
In 1945, in the course of its investigations into operations of the House and the Senate, the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress heard testimony about the poor conditions of the page school. Consequently, when Congress passed the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, it provided for tuition-free education in a school that was part of the District of Columbia public school system. The page school was moved to the attic of the Library of Congress in 1949. Beginning in 1983, the House and Senate pages were split into two separate schools, and in 1995 the Senate Page School became an independent school and was relocated to the lower level of the Daniel Webster Senate Page Residence.
By the 1960s the Senate page program, which had been exclusively male and almost completely white, became more diverse. In 1965 Jacob Javits of New York sponsored Lawrence Bradford, Jr., at the time considered to be the first African American page. The next year Senator Javits appointed the first page of Puerto Rican dissent, John Lopez. In the late 1960s, a number of high school girls applied to enter the program, and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held hearings to consider admitting them. On May 13, 1971, the Senate, after long debate, passed a resolution allowing for the appointment of female pages. On May 14, Ellen Blakeman and Paulette Desell, followed by Julie Price on the 17th, blazed the trail and were sworn in as the Senate’s first female pages.
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