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“I think in those days, the Congressmen just said, ‘Would you like to be a page?’” recalls Crenshaw, who was appointed a House page for June 1961 by the late Rep. Charles Bennett (D-Fla.), a friend of his father’s. “I was what was known as a 30-day wonder.”
“You should have seen the size of the annual reunion,” laughs Cooper, who also was appointed for just a month. “Every kid [in the district] sooner or later got picked.”
These future Members whose fathers served in Congress lived at home as pages, while others moved into one of the many boarding houses that dotted the streets around the Capitol. (Not until 1983 were pages required to live in a supervised dormitory with curfews.)
Their duties during the school year by and large were similar to those of House and Senate pages today — early morning academic classes, followed by a full day in their respective chambers running errands and delivering messages.
All tasks were not equal — and some were a little silly, they say.
At an address by the president of Mexico, the pages were ordered to fill extra seats in the House chamber, recalls Wicker, who spent October 1967 as a House page. The president “would speak a little while, then [House Doorkeeper William] Fishbait Miller would lead us in applause. We had no idea what he was saying. Then it would be translated into English and we would applaud the same sentiment.”
“The errands were stupid,” says Cooper, who often was sent to fetch cigars for Congressmen and once was even dispatched to retrieve a set of curlers for a “lady” Member who had forgotten them at her hair salon. The endless delivering of flags that had been flown, if ever so briefly, over the Capitol grew tiresome, he adds.
It’s telling that much of what these ex-pages recall is walking — copiously. Dingell, who served as a House page from 1938 to 1941, says one time he put a pedometer on his leg. By the end of the day, he says, “I had walked 14 miles.”
The Best Seat in the House
From their perches on the floor or in the Cloakroom, these Members-to-be were eyewitnesses to some of the most historic events in the nation’s political history.
Dingell was sitting in the House gallery assisting a radio commentator in December 1941 when President Franklin Roosevelt came to the Capitol to ask Congress for a declaration of war against first Japan and then, a few days later, Germany. (“A lot of us [pages] were killed in World War II,” says Dingell, who also would be drafted, though he did not see combat.)
Kanjorski, who served as a House page from January 1953 until September 1954, watched the Rotunda memorial service for Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio) from the Capitol Dome in 1953, which was then freely accessible. He later sat in on the Army-McCarthy hearings, and also would be on the House floor on the fateful day in March 1954 when Puerto Rican extremists sprayed the chamber with gunfire.