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Capitol Pages

Capitol Pages

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have had Page programs, which have evolved throughout the years. The first Senate page was appointed by Senator Daniel Webster in 1829, and was a nine year old boy named Grafton Hanson. Senate pages served as messengers and general helpers throughout the 19th century. In the early days of the program, the Senate pages were most often around 12 years old, and were frequently local orphans and children of widowed mothers, their Senate income helping the family. Early pages were responsible for the delivery of correspondence, as well as smaller tasks such as refilling ink wells, cleaning spittoons and fetching chewing tobacco, and constructing fires. 

The Senate page program was originally limited to boys only. In 1971, the first female Senate pages, Paulette Desell, Ellen McConnell, and Julie Price, were appointed.

A group of Senate pages with Vice President Marshall

Above: A group of Senate pages on the steps of the Capitol with Vice President Thomas R. Marshall.

Today, pages are still appointed and sponsored by a senator, but they must be at least 16 years old, and still attend school. The duties of senate pages largely consist of delivering legislative material and correspondence throughout the Congressional complex. Their duties also include preparing the chamber for Senate sessions, as well as carrying amendments and bills to the desk. In the early morning the pages attend classes at the United States Senate Page School. The school is fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

To become a Senate Page, a student must be nominated by a Senator, generally from his/her state. Candidates must be 16 or 17 years old, either a high school sophomore or rising junior, and must have a GPA of at least 3.0. The process of selection varies by state and senator, but the application process is consistently highly competitive, with a high level of interested applicants vying for a handful of openings. Most commonly, a senators office will require the applicants to submit a transcript, resume, and various essays. A board of review often interviews final applicants.

There are four terms that students can apply for: a Fall semester (September-January), a Spring semester (January-June), as well as three or four week sessions in both June and July. There are 30 pages for each session, with the majority appointing 16, and the minority 14.

Throughout the years the Senate Page Program has faced significant scrutiny. There has been frequent criticism that the program is overly patronage-based, too demanding on minors, as well as too isolating for the students. Pages are not allowed to have personal cell phones during their time as Pages, and are only allowed to access the internet at Webster Hall for educational purposes. Pages are often able to get only six hours of sleep or less per night, and must maintain over an 80% average in rigorous courses, while simultaneously working up to 60 hours per week at the Senate. During their stay in DC, Pages do receive free access to healthcare and counseling.

While the House of Representatives has ended their Pages program, citing technological advancements making the program unnecessary considering the high cost of the program, the Senate Page program is still active today.

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Looking for something else to read? Check out the history of the Washington Monument

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