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Oral History Excerpt | Ruth Young Watt on her role with the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Howard Hughes testifying in the Senate

Ruth Young Watt, Chief Clerk, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
July 19, 1979
Interviewed by Senate historian Donald Ritchie

The following is an excerpt from the oral history interview with Ruth Young Watt, the chief clerk of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and one of the first women to serve as chief clerk of a Senate committee.

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Donald Ritchie: What were your functions at first with that committee?

Ruth Young Watt: The same as they have been all through the years. I handled all the finances, setting up the hearings, and was sort of a housekeeper, ordering anything in the office, typewriters, telephones or anything, and assigning work for the girls.

Ritchie: Did you handle the structure of the committee room where they met?

Watt: Oh, yes.

Ritchie: Who sat where, and who came in and who was admitted?

Watt: That was a routine. See, ordinarily at a hearing you have chairman in the center, Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other. The name plates [are placed] according to their seniority on the committee, the subcommittee or the full committee or whatever. Then the staff, usually the counsel would sit next to or just in back of the chairman. Back then there were no staff that were minority and majority. They had people who were hired, from Maine for instance, but they were not considered minority or majority. That didn't…many years later that came about. But people became very political along the line. And of course, I think it was more so then because the Republicans who were just coming in were feeling their oats a little bit. The Democrats had been in so long they had taken everything – run the show for so long – I don't remember when there was a Republican Congress before that.

Ritchie: Back in 1930 was the last one.

Watt: See, I was not even curious about politics at that point. That was the year I came to Washington, as a matter of fact. Yes, because remember after that President Hoover tried to put in all these reforms and he couldn't get anywhere because there was a Democratic Congress. The same thing, when Roosevelt took over, he was able to do it because he had a Democratic Congress with him, and they were doing the same things that Hoover had tried to do. I remember that much of politics.

Ritchie: You handled all the paperwork, then, in the committee?

Watt: Yes, the exhibits, I was responsible for them, making sure that the senators got there, sending out the notices, and those things.

Ritchie: Did you find this a little overwhelming at first to come in to something like this?

Watt: Not really, because I had worked [at the hospital.] No, I wasn't overwhelmed. I was impressed with the senators. In fact, I had a great deal of respect and awe of them, and I still do. I've gotten over it some, but not too much. I still thought they were elected by the people and I feel that they are to be respected. In fact, I've heard people call a senator by his first name, and I couldn't do it if I had to. I think once in the Press Club, when I was up there and Senator McCarthy was there, I called him "Joe," but it was because I had had a cocktail. But to me they are all "Senator" and they deserve respect. If they’re being elected by the people, they should have that respect. Of course, it was quite a contrast from working with doctors for almost ten years and then coming to work with senators. They were sort of a different world. No, I wasn't overwhelmed at all.

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.