Recently I was conducting some research for a book I’m writing and was delving into the realm of the legislative panels at the Kansas Historical Society in order to find portraits of some key individuals for that project. Early panels are rather simple, became more complex through the years as the state grew and more features started appearing within them – pictures of anyone associated with legislative activities (doorkeepers, sergeant at arms, clerks, etc…). One feature that caught my eye was pictures of children like this one of the 1875 House of Representatives:
Who are they? Was the answer as simple as the youth being legislative pages? If so, the African American boy may be easy to identify because he would be a rarity for this time societal views on people of color. I love tackling bunny trails like this because they present a challenge – it’s like a personal check on my research skills. Actually, I may need a twelve-step program for it, but we’ll go with the former because using it to continue my education sounds better right? ;) The short answer to my question is – yes! They are pages.
Becoming a page at this time was highly competitive, applicants would at times number more than a couple of dozen, with just a handful being selected for the honor. “There is a young army of little boys and girls seeking positions of page in both houses of the legislature, and some of them display remarkably fine judgment in electioneering and presenting their respective claims for the positions they are seeking.” (Holton Express 1875:2).
Narrowing down the number of applicants for the final selection of Senate pages in 1875 was so intense that the Senate took a 25-minute recess and then went directly into caucus to decide upon two page positions (Daily Commonwealth 1875:1). For the House of Representatives in 1875 (above picture), selection was finally made for Josie Bell, Charles Jones, Emma Duncan, Minnie A. Scrafford, Jennie Maxwell, and Thomas Taylor (Wyandotte Gazette 1875:2).
The page’s residence like today was not limited to just the surrounding area, which begs the question of how the duties were worked around their school terms. Jennie Maxwell, however, of the House pages was from Topeka. A bright and responsible student, this was Jennie’s second time as a legislative page; she first served in 1871 at the age of 12. At the end of the 1875 session, she was named specifically by the legislature for her and “the other pages for the unvarying courtesy, thoughtful attention and marked promptitude and ability with which each and all have discharged their several duties” (Atchison Weekly Patriot 1875:2). Duties for the pages were much like they are today, carrying messages, bringing water to the representatives, etc… (Winfield Courier 1876:2).
Despite her age at the time of her first term of service in 1871, Jennie was accepted into a group of women who met at the Tefft House (owned by Charles Jennison of Kansas Civil War notoriety) that were active in various positions in the legislature, such as clerks (Kansas State Record 1871:4). The suffrage movement had started gaining momentum in the early 1870s and legislative positions were freeing for women and allowed them a chance to take part in the political process even before they were allowed to vote.
Allowances as clerks and pages were still disputed among some legislators that held anti-suffrage views. Such is the case in 1876 when Rosa Blanton was chosen as a page to the House of Representatives (Rosa was the niece of Napoleon Blanton who was well known in early Kansas for his crossing of the Wakarusa River in Douglas County):
“There were twenty-seven candidates for pages, and the discussion on the claims of each was earnest, spirited and prolonged. Mr. Eskridge made an eloquent speech in favor of a young man named Blanton, stating that he was prompted in his efforts in favor of his candidate at the request of a brother member, Mr. Wood, who was now absent. After Mr. Eskridge had concluded his thrilling effort in favor of his candidate, the young man, and had taken his seat, he again rose and stated that he had been mistaken in the sex of his candidate – that it was a young lady – Rosa Blanton, whom he wished to have elected. This statement was received with shouts of laughter, the well-known opposition of Mr. Eskridge to female suffrage doubtless contributing to the amusement. Mr. Eskridge gracefully relieved himself from his embarrassment by explaining that it was the principle he was contending for, not personal preferences" (Kansas Daily Tribune 1876:5).
Women were not the only ones that found empowerment though legislative positions. In 1875, John Carter who was a man of color from Topeka, was elected to the position of assistant doorkeeper (Winfield Courier 1876:2). Mr. Carter was the only individual in the legislature in that year, aside from the aforementioned young page, to be of African descent. The doorkeeper position was the only position allowed to speak during legislative proceedings, announcing the various members. An 1885 panel showed an African American man, Sam Lee of Lawrence, that held the assistant doorkeeper position. He was paid $3 a month for his service (CITE).
I finally had to tear myself away from all the bunny trails that arose from looking at these panels. It is something that would be fun to return to again. Many of the Kansas panels can be found on www.kansasmemory.org, search term “legislative panel.”
Atchison Weekly Patriot
1875 Atchison Weekly Patriot (newspaper), Atchison, KS. March 13, 1875, page 2.
1875 "Kansas Legislature". Daily Commonwealth (newspaper), Topeka, KS. January 13, 1875, page 1.
1875 Holton Express (newspaper), Holton, KS. January 15, 1875, page 2.
Kansas Daily Tribune
1875 “House”, Kansas Daily Tribune (newspaper), Lawrence, KS, January 15, 1876, page 5.
Kansas State Record
1875 “A Levee”, Kansas State Record (newspaper), Topeka, KS. January 10, 1871, page 4.
1876 “Conclusions Concerning Capital City Carpet Baggers”, Winfield Courier (newspaper), Winfield, KS. February 17, 1876, page 2.
1875 “Legislature Organized”. Wyandotte Gazette (newspaper), Wyandotte, KS. January 15, 1875, page 2.