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Oral History Project

Capitol TelecommunicationsCapitol Operators (1970–2006)

Image: 1937 Capitol Switchboard

When the U.S. Senate installed its first telephone switchboard in its Reception Room on December 2, 1897, young male pages were assigned as the first switchboard operators. In July 1898 the U.S. House of Representatives received a similar exchange switchboard. By then the experiment of using adolescents as operators had proved a failure and its first operators were more mature women. By 1901 the Senate and House had merged their services into a single Capitol switchboard to serve both bodies.

By the time the Senate entered the 21st century, technology had evolved to meet the expanding communications needs of the Senate. Moving from switchboards to computers, Capitol operators continued to field incoming calls ranging from the White House to agitated constituents. Operators helped to set up weekly teleconferences between senators’ staff in Washington and their home states. They also handled members’ telephone press conferences and town meetings. They managed organized “call-ins” by protesters and helped track down employees to take calls from their children. They also dealt with the extreme demands on the communications system on September 11, 2001.

In order to capture the development of congressional communications technology, the Senate Historical Office convened these two roundtable interviews with Capitol operators and information technology managers, each with long experience on Capitol Hill.

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Scholarly citation: "Joan Sartori, Ellen Kramer, Martha Fletcher, Barbara Loughery, Kimball Winn, and Rick Kauffman: Capitol Telecommunications, 1970–2006" Oral History Interviews, August 4, 2006 and November 1, 2006, 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.