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Secretary of the Senate

Sonceria Ann Berry

As an elected officer of the Senate, the secretary of the Senate supervises an extensive array of offices and services to expedite the day-to-day operations of the United States Senate. The first secretary was chosen on April 8, 1789, two days after the Senate achieved its first quorum for business. From the start, the secretary was responsible for keeping the minutes and records of the Senate and for purchasing supplies. As the Senate grew to become a major national institution, numerous other duties were assigned to the secretary, whose jurisdiction came to encompass clerks, curators, and computers; the disbursement of payrolls; the acquisition of stationery supplies; the education of the Senate pages; and the maintenance of public records. The responsibilities of the secretary include legislative, financial, and administrative functions.

The Assistant Secretary

In 1789 the secretary was authorized to hire "one principal clerk." This principal clerk, or chief clerk, for many years served primarily as a reading clerk on the Senate floor. But during the 1960s, in response to the secretary's growing administrative duties, the position evolved into that of assistant secretary of the Senate. The assistant secretary oversees the administration of the 26 departments within the Office of the Secretary and performs the functions of the secretary in his or her absence.

Some Notable Secretaries

The Senate secretaryship is a position of great trust and responsibility that has been held by a long line of distinguished individuals. Samuel Allyne Otis, the first secretary of the Senate, had previously been speaker of the Massachusetts legislature and a member of the Continental Congress. Otis held the post of secretary for 25 years, never missing a day that the Senate was in session. General Anson McCook of New York, a former House member and one of the "fighting McCooks" of the Civil War, served as secretary, as have two former U.S. senators—Charles Cutts of New Hampshire and Walter Lowrie of Pennsylvania. Other former House members who have held the post are William Cox (NC) and Charles Bennett (NY). During the 99th Congress (1985-1987), Jo-Anne Coe became the first woman to serve as secretary.

It has not been unusual for secretaries of the Senate to have devoted their entire careers to the Senate. Several began as Senate (or congressional) pages, including Edwin Halsey, who served throughout the dramatic New Deal years; Leslie Biffle, a close confidant of President Harry Truman; Carl Loeffler and J. Mark Trice, secretaries during the 80th and 83rd congresses; and Walter J. Stewart, secretary from 1987 to 1994.

History of the Secretary of the Senate