Capitol Messengers:
History of the House Pages

Historical Highlight

From the earliest Congresses, Pages were employed by the House of Representatives to assist Members in their duties. Over time, their principal tasks—carrying documents, messages, and letters between various congressional offices—passed from older messengers to teenage boys and (much later) girls.

The earliest known instance of boys being employed as messengers and errand-runners was during the 20th Congress (1827–1829). House records indicate that three “Pages” and eight older “messengers” worked in the Capitol. Members sponsored boys—many of whom were destitute or orphaned—and took a paternal interest in them. In 1842, the House tried to cap the number at eight; each was paid the princely sum of $2 per day. Their ranks expanded as new states entered the Union and new Members were added. In the years after the Civil War, several dozen Pages typically served in each Congress. Until 2011, Pages were appointed and sponsored by individual Members, though at a ratio that favored the majority party. In modern Congresses, there were approximately 70 House Pages at any given time.

For their first century of service, congressional Pages were not required to attend school. That changed with the passage of the 1925 Compulsory School Attendance Act, which required boys less than 14 years of age to attend school. The Capitol Page School grew from a one-room private school operating in the Capitol basement for House Pages to include Pages from the Senate and Supreme Court. By the mid-1930s, five rooms were required to accommodate the Pages and the curriculum was accredited by the District of Columbia School Board. The Page School graduated its first class in 1932. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, created a tuition-free program for House and Senate Pages funded by Congress—the Capitol Page School, which moved into the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in 1949.

Social change also shaped the face of the House Page Program. On January 3, 1939, Gene Cox, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Representative Eugene Cox of Georgia, broke long-standing practice when she served in her father’s office for the opening day of the 76th Congress  (1939–1941). Girls permanently joined the Page ranks in May 1973, when Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma appointed Felda Looper of Heavener, Oklahoma. African-American boys also were admitted, though haltingly. As early as the Reconstruction Era, the House appointed the first black Page. On April 1, 1871, Alfred Q. Powell of Manchester, Virginia, was appointed by Representative Charles H. Porter of Virginia. No other African Americans are known to have served as Pages until the mid-twentieth century. In January 1959, five House Members sponsored James A. Johnson, Jr., of Illinois, as a special messenger for their offices, thus qualifying him for attendance in the Capitol Page School. In April 1965, Frank Mitchell of Springfield, Illinois, became the first African American to receive full admittance to the Page program in the modern era.

Before the 1980s, Pages were responsible for arranging their own room and board and often lived unsupervised in local boarding houses and apartments. Reforms in 1982–1983 changed this: a Page Board was established with oversight of the program, an official Page dormitory opened with a professional staff and cafeteria facilities, the school curriculum was improved, and a comprehensive health care plan was added. Until 2001 the House Pages lived in the O’Neill Building (formerly the Old Congressional Hotel).

After the O’Neill Building, Pages roomed in a new dormitory facility several blocks from the Capitol until the program ended in 2011. Beginning in the 1983–1984 academic year, the House and Senate also initiated separate Page School programs housed on the third floor of the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress. Both chambers also issued new age requirements, mandating that Pages be admitted to the program in their junior year of high school instead of their senior year.

The Office of the House Historian invites former Pages to complete a biographical form as a part of an ongoing project to document the history of the House Page Program.