Farewell House Page Program: A Look Back

Boehner and Pelosi are ending a centuries' long tradition that had highs and lows

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Much of the coverage of John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi's announcement that the House Page Program would be ending for good on August 31 carried references to its most recent brush with publicity: the Mark Foley scandal in 2006, when the six-term Florida congressman got caught sending sexually explicit emails and text messages to a 16-year-old Page. But with more than two centuries worth of history behind the program, there is plenty more to remember about the House Pages.

Boehner and Pelosi issued a statement on Monday afternoon that they had "directed the House Historian to prepare an official history of the House Page Program as a tribute to the many Pages, Members of Congress and congressional staff who have contributed to the program over the years." That's probably going to take a while so we whipped up an executive summary cobbled together from the current official history and the news. We're going to go in reverse chronological order which also happens to arrange the events from most to least sensational.

Mark Foley gets busted for illicit exchanges with teenage Pages (2006) Mark Foley sent quite a few emails and IMs to under-age Pages. (Pages are, by definition, all under-age.) Though the initial report surfaced in the form of five emails between Foley and a Page from Louisiana, a nearly year-long investigation would show that Foley's inappropriate behavior dated back to 1995 when one Page remembered, "Almost the first day I got there I was warned. It was no secret that Foley had a special interest in male pages." Other scandal highlights include Foley "going cruising" with a male Page in his blue 3-Series BMW in 2005 and Foley "having internet sex" with a Page during a vote in 2003. One anonymous Page claimed that the exchanges went well beyond emails and text messages. When a former Page was a 21-year-old intern in Washington, Foley invited him over for a "sexual encounter" during which they had "wine and pizza on a backyard patio and then retired to a spare bedroom," The Los Angeles Times reports. Eventually, Foley resigned and some say pulled his entire party down with him. By the time the scandal died down, the Republicans had lost control of the House.

A whopping 11 Pages are dismissed for smoking pot (2002) Over 15 percent of the entire Page class got sent home after "at least one" Page brought pot back to her dorm. That Page had grown up in the Washington, DC, area and invited the other ten back to her house for a weekend of partying. After they all returned, her roommate found the pot and turned it in, leading to the dismissal of all 11 Pages. The only other reported partying-related scandal happened in 1996 when five Pages were sent home for drinking.

Rep. Jim Kolbe takes two Pages rafting (1996) It took a decade for him to get caught, but Congressman Kolbe took a pair of former Pages on a camping and whitewater rafting trip in 1996. Though it launched an investigation, Kolbe refused to go into detail about what went on and his spokesperson insisted that "no inappropriate behavior" took place. Another person on the trip, which also included five staffers and one of the Page's sisters, reported feeling "creeped out by it" and said there was a lot of "fawning, petting and touching" between one of the Pages and Kolbe, who has since come out of the closet.

Several incidents of congressmen having sex with Pages leads to regulation (1973 - 1983) A massive scandal struck the House Page program in the early 1980s. (Seriously, it makes Mark Foley look like an angel.) After two Pages spoke up about "sexual liasons between Congressmen and their teen-age gofers during 1981 and 1982," the entire program came under scrutiny. It turns out that Reps. Gerry Studds and Daniel Crane had sex with Pages. Studds took a male Page on a two-week trip to Portugal in 1973, and Crane had sex with a 17-year-old girl in his apartment "four or five times" in 1980. According to Time's coverage, the female Page "found the Congressman as an older man very attractive," admitted that she was "perhaps more responsible for the sexual relationship than he was." The scandal led to the Page program becoming much more formalized. The Doorkeeper of the House, who runs the program, set up a co-ed dorm in the O'Neill House Office Building and set strict rules on Page life, including curfews and demerit system for misbehavior.

First female Page is formally admitted to the program (1973) Speaker Carl Albert appointed Felder Looper (pictured to the right) from Oklahoma as the first female Page in 1973.

Bill Gates was a House Page (1972) The Microsoft founder and CEO gets credit for becoming the most famous former House Page. Other notables can be found here.

Civil Rights movement hits the House Page Program (1959 - 1965) Illinois native James A. Johnson, Jr. became the first African-American to attend the Capitol Page School in 1959 after five Members sponsored his appointment as a special messenger. Frank Mitchell, also from Illinois, became the first African-American fully admitted into the Page program in 1965.

Puerto Rican nationalists open fire inside House chamber, Pages come to the rescue (1954) On March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists stormed onto the Ladies' Gallery in the House chamber, unfurled their party flag and fired thirty shots at Members. House Pages Bill Emerson and Paul E. Kanjorski helped carry a wounded Rep. Alvin Bentley off of the floor, and years later, both men were elected to Congress. The shooters were all sentenced to 70 years in prison, but three of them were released to Cuba in 1979 in exchange for imprisoned CIA agents. The fourth had been released from prison the year before.

The Capitol Page School opens (1925) Due to the Compulsory School Attendance Act, Pages are required to attend classes, and the Capitol Page School opens in the basement of the Capitol building. The school moved to the attic of the Thomas Jefferson building of the Library of Congress in 1949 and educated House Pages as well as Senate Pages (pictured below) and Supreme Court Pages until the programs split in the 1980s.

The House formalized the program (1827 - 1829) The name "Pages" was first used on Capitol Hill during the 20th Congress to describe three younger messengers out the total eight. According to the Office of the Clerk of the House "Members sponsored boys--many of whom were destitute or orphaned--and took a paternal interest in them." The ratio of appointment allotted to Democratic members versus Republican members then (and now) depended on which party held a majority.

Congress employed young messengers from the beginning (1774) The House Page Program can be traced back to the First Continental Congress when young boys worked as "messengers."

[Full disclosure: I was a House Page from 2000 to 2001.]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.