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Oral History Project | Women of the Senate

Paulette Desell, Ellen McConnell, and Julie PriceFirst Female Senate Pages (1971–1972)

First Female Pages: Paulette Desell and Ellen McConnell

In the 1830s Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster appointed a Senate page for the first time—Grafton Hanson, the nine-year-old grandson of the Senate sergeant at arms. Though no Senate rule explicitly forbid the appointment of girls, the practice of appointing male pages persisted well into the 20th century. In the 1960s, senators began to challenge the tradition of “boys only” page appointments. After long debate and delay, the Senate broke a 150-year-old tradition when it accepted female appointments to the Senate page program on May 13, 1971. Soon thereafter, Paulette Desell, Ellen McConnell, and Julie Price made Senate history when they were sworn in as the Senate’s first female pages. In these interviews, the three women remember what it was like to break the gender barrier—the long waiting period between being selected by their sponsoring members until the Senate formally approved their appointment; the media attention; and their reception by the boy pages and the senators. They recall the members, staff, and other pages they got to know, as well as some of the political and policy debates which defined the era. They reflect on how their experiences as Senate pages shaped their lives.

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Scholarly citation: "First Female Senate Pages: Ellen McConnell Blakeman, Paulette Desell-Lund, and Julie Price," Oral History Interviews, December 5, 2012, to April 15, 2014, 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.