House names first African-American page, April 14, 1965

On this day in 1965, Frank Mitchell, 15, from Springfield, Illinois, became the first African-American House page. Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.) made the appointment the day after Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) named Lawrence Wallace Bradford Jr. as the Senate’s first African-American page.

Mitchell’s arrival generated wide media attention. Findley, joined by Rep. Gerald Ford (R-Mich.), the minority leader, and Leslie Arends (R-Ill.), the minority whip, held a news conference at the U.S. Capitol to publicize the event.

As early as 1827, young men were hired to serve as congressional messengers. In the Congressional Record, formerly known as the Congressional Globe, the term “page” was first used in 1839. It referred to youths employed as attendants to people of high rank. It appears, however, that these “pages” had served as messengers since the first Congress in Philadelphia in 1789.

“This marks a historic moment in the history of the House of Representatives,” Ford, a future president, said at the news conference. Findley, whose congressional district included parts of the district that Abraham Lincoln represented when he served in the House from 1847 to 1849, added, “The party of Lincoln is finally giving this very proper recognition to the Negro race.”

Mitchell began working the day after his appointment — which also marked the centennial of Lincoln’s assassination. “It’s a great honor and a privilege,” Mitchell said when asked about his job. “I’m mighty proud to be here.”

The first female pages were appointed in the summer of 1973.

The Senate’s first page, in 1829, was a 9-year-old boy named Grafton Hanson who was appointed by Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. Usually around 12 years old, pages during this era were often local orphans or children of widowed mothers. Their Senate income would supplement family finances.

Pages have served as couriers, answering telephones, doing research for members, and preparing the chamber floors for sessions, and distributing legislation and papers.

Beginning in 1983, Congress required that pages be at least age 16 when they started their duties and high school juniors with at least a 3.0 grade-point average. They lived in a supervised residence. (Previously, pages could be as young as 14, and no housing was provided.)

In 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) jointly terminated the House page program, citing high costs and technological advances that they thought had rendered the program no longer essential.

Nowadays, senators nominate pages for 30 available slots. They attend early morning classes at the U.S. Senate Page School before assuming their duties at the Capitol.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corp. and one of the world’s wealthiest persons, served as a House page in 1973. Notable former Senate pages include Neil Gorsuch, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; Sen. Michael Bennet, (D-Colo.); and Amy Carter, daughter of former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.

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