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Oral History Project

Sheila P. Burke Legislative Assistant to Senator Robert J. Dole; Deputy Staff Director, Finance Committee; Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of Staff to Republican Leader Robert J. Dole; Secretary of the Senate (1977–1996)

Sheila P. Burke

Sheila Burke came to the Senate in 1977 to serve as legislative assistant to Kansas senator Robert J. Dole. A native of San Francisco, California, with a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of San Francisco and a master of public administration degree from Harvard University, Burke assisted Dole on matters of public health in his position as ranking member and then chairman of the Committee on Finance. She became deputy staff director of that committee in 1982. In 1985 Dole brought her into the Office of the Majority Leader, first as deputy chief of staff and then as chief of staff in 1986. She remained as chief of staff to the Republican leader for 10 years. From January to June of 1995, she also served simultaneously as secretary of the Senate. In many ways, Burke’s Senate career from 1977 to 1996 mirrored the development of the Senate itself—the rise of women to positions of influence, and the backlash that caused; the development of policy expertise within members’ and leadership offices; and the frequent transfer of majority power between the two parties. Discussing the growing role of women on Capitol Hill, Burke noted, “The fact that you have women at the table for many of these very complicated questions and issues I think has made a huge difference both in the substance of what we do and the nature of the debate.”

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Scholarly citation: "Sheila P. Burke, Legislative Assistant, Senator Robert Dole, 1977–1982; Deputy Staff Director, Finance Committee, 1982–1985; Deputy Chief of Staff, Republican Leader Robert Dole, 1985; Chief of Staff, Republican Leader Robert Dole, 1986–1996; Secretary of the Senate, 1995" Oral History Interview, March 16, 2018, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C.

Disclaimer: The Senate Historical Office has a strong commitment to oral history as an important part of its efforts to document institutional change over time. Oral histories are a natural component to historical research and enhance the archival holdings of the Senate and its members. Oral histories represent the personal recollections and opinions of the interviewees, however, and should not be considered as the official views or opinions of the U.S. Senate, of the Senate Historical Office, or of other senators and/or staff members. The transcripts of these oral histories are made available by the Senate Historical Office as a public service.