Final Chapter: The Congressional Page Program’s Highs and Lows

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Congressional pages listen to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in the House Chamber on January 25, 2011.

First stagecoach drivers, then assembly-line workers, and now congressional pages. Technology has claimed them all. To commemorate the end of the pages, NewsFeed looks back at notable moments of their gofer history. 

House Majority Leader John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi released a joint statement yesterday explaining that the program was going to be shut down. The primary purpose of pages has been to run documents (and letters and messages) from place to place, which means that fax machines, computers and smart phones have rendered them quite obsolete. Eliminating the program saves about $5 million, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of budgets, but does make for a good p.r. these days.

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Here are some highlights from their timeline, as outlined by the Office of the Clerk:

1827: The first official pages worked in the 20th congress, making the page program an impressive 93 congresses old. According to the clerk’s office, “Members sponsored boys—many of whom were destitute or orphaned—and took a paternal interest in them.”

1842: The errand-runners are being paid an unthinkable $2 per day. The number of pages goes up as new states are admitted and with them new congressmen. (The last state added to the Union was Hawaii, making us an even 50 in 1959.) In recent congresses, there were roughly 70 pages.

1925: Page boys under 14 years old are required to attend school, roughly a century after the program starts, and they’re educated in-house. The first class graduates in 1932.

1939: The first female page, 14-year-old Gene Cox, serves in the office of her father, Rep. Eugene Cox. (Who would have guessed they were related?)

1946: Tuition becomes subsidized by Congress. The cost per page per school year was currently between $69,000 and $80,000. (All pages today were high school juniors coming to serve for a fall, spring or summer term.)

1965: The first African-American page, Frank Mitchell, gains full admittance to the program.

1973: Girls become a permanent fixture in the page program.

In recent history, some news stories about the pages have been scandals the House might prefer to forget. Perhaps the most high-profile incident occurred in 2006, when Florida Rep. Mark Foley was accused of exchanging sexually suggestive messages with a teenage page and resigned. (Nearly two years later, authorities concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to charge him with breaking any law.)

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Katy Steinmetz is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @KatySteinmetz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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