Pages: A Capitol Hill Tradition
Having young men or boys as Pages, or messengers, in our political institutions dates back to the United States’ earliest history, including the Continental Congress. In the days before electronic communications, photocopy machines and horseless carriages, the Pages were literally responsible for spreading the news.
An informal Page Program may have existed in the House and Senate in the early 1800s, employing boys as young as eight years old. Senator Daniel Webster is credited with sponsoring the first Senate Page in 1829. The House Page Program is believed to have officially begun in 1842, though Congressman John Quincy Adams (among others) may have employed Pages as early as 1827. The Supreme Court Page Program started in the 1860s.
In addition to distributing messages and delivering packages, early Page duties included cleaning spittoons and filling ink wells, even getting firewood and building fires to warm the legislative chambers. Formal school education for Pages was often spotty, even non-existent, as it was for many young people in those days.
In the beginning, many Pages were local orphans or sons of widows, and their wages were important to the family’s finances. Over time, the Page programs evolved into prestigious patronage positions. Senators and Congressman appointed Pages from their state or congressional district, and soon the Page corps included young people from all over the United States. The Pages who lived away from home were housed in private boarding houses located on Capitol Hill. In 1926, a formal Page school was created, first in the basement of the Capitol and ultimately on the top floor of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
As civil rights and the diversity of the nation evolved, the Pages came to mirror modern society. Today, Pages are young men and women of all ethnicities. Pages today must also be high school juniors and be 16 years old. They must attend a high school for Pages and live in a dormitory.
Regardless of when or where a Page served, each young person had a unique experience observing the Supreme Court or Congress and participating in its legislative work.