Our Past in the Capitol
Though Jackelyn Gitlin ’15 spent her summer in a basement, it was the underground warren of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., home of the U.S. Congress. The history major, who is co-president and co-founder of the Washington College Historical Society, and who dreams of teaching social studies, considered it heaven.
“I wasn’t expecting to be right in the Capitol complex,” says Gitlin of her internship as a 2013 Comegys Bight Fellow with the Office of the Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives. “But the basement is where all of the tunnels are and I could literally walk to the Capitol whenever I wanted and get lunch and run into a Congressman. It was really exciting.”
On her first day—she was so excited she walked all the way from her mother’s office at the EPA on 12th Street and skipped her morning coffee—she was whisked off for an extensive tour by Albin Kowalewski ’07, who works as Historical Publications Specialist for the Office of the Clerk of the House.
Gitlin started doing research almost immediately—from collecting quotes about health care from the longest-serving Congressman in history (Rep. John Dingell, Jr.) to writing an article for the office’s website about a Florida Congressman who had been an executive with the Ringling Brothers circus and who had been convicted (and pardoned) of manslaughter when 100 people died in a circus fire.
She had to become comfortable with searching the Congressional Record and the speeches and proceedings it contains, as well as a wide range of archives, including historical newspapers. She even had to research the history of envelopes and how they have been folded in order to answer a public query about whether a certain mid-nineteenth-century gentleman had been granted money by the House to create an envelope-folding machine. (Unlikely, she concluded.)
One late afternoon, acting on a suggestion of Kowalewski’s, she stood alone in the Capitol Rotunda, and stared up at the majestic dome. “Just being part of Capitol life really hit me,” she says. “I was even there for the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) decision and one of my co-workers and I walked over to the Supreme Court to hear it. It was one of my favorite moments of the summer.”