Fifty years ago last month, Estelle Tyler arrived in Washington to work for a Baltimore attorney who had just been elected to Congress.
It was cold and sunny on March 4, 1927, when the 21-year-old Tyler, garbed in a racoon fur coat, rode the train from Baltimore to Washington. She ate roast beef and a baked potato for lunch in the Capitol restaurant, she remembers. Her only concern was what she would do if her boss, Vincent Palmisano, was defeated in two years.
Now, 10 presidents, nine congressmen and four administrative assistant jobs later, her only concern is that she might be getting too fat from drinking milkshakes because she doesn't like the food in the cafeterias.
The 71-year-old "Miss T," as she is known to Hill veterans, makes appointments, keeps the books and does her share of case work in the office of freshman Rep. Ray Lederer (D-Pa.).
Her starting salary back in the days when a congressman's clerk-hire fund was $4,000 (currently $255,144) amounted to 1,700. The remaining $2,300 went to the congressman's administrative assistant, and all three of them worked in the same room.
"There was only one office building in those days," she muses from her Cannon Building office. "If the congressman had a visitor, I had to stop typing so they could hear each other."
Well past the 32 years of Hill service that would make her eligible for full retirement benefits. Tyler could conceivably earn up to 80 per cent of her top three years' salary - around $30,000 a year for the rest of her life. But she'll hear nothing of it.
"I'm not going to retire - no way," she said. "When I get up in the morning, I feel alive, like I'm going somewhere.I love it up here.
And what would her last seven bosses - all rookies - have done without her? She broke them in, set up their offices, organized their staffs and literally ran the show.
"There was never any question at all that she would be my administrative assistant," said former Rep. Bill Greene Ill (D-Pa.). "She worked for my father (William Greene Jr.) for years, and the woman is indispensible. She knows all there is to know about the Hill."
Among the other congressmen Miss T worked for were E. Albert Austin (R-Conn.), Howard Campbell (R-Pa.) and Anthony Sadlak (R-Conn.).
What many on the Hill don't know about "Miss T" is that she's not a Miss at all. "I've been happily married for 45 years, but everyone always knew me as Miss Tyler and it just stuck." Her husband, Paul Sullivan, is a retired Baltimore attorney.
Short, wide-eyed and loquacious, she types 70 words per minute on an antique Underwood typewriter, now valued at close to $1,000. It was the first one she was given when she started working on the Hill.
She remembers the petition she started to get a beauty salon in the House of Representatives in the late 1920s. She has had her hair done there every week since.
She remembers Lyndon Johnson when he was a clerk working for a senator from Texas, and John Kennedy when he used to stop by the office before he was elected to Congress. She remember the inaugurations of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy.
"You couldn't even walk in the street when Roosevelt was inaugurated, there were people everywhere," she said. "But Kennedy's inauguration - that was something else. The night before was a big snow storm, and the Capitol looked like a big fairyland."
And when Charles Lindberg came to town to take the congressional wives on the plane ride around Washington. Miss T was aboard. It was the first and last time she ever flew.
For more than 30 years Miss T commuted from Baltimore, until she and her husband took and apartment on Capitol Hill and went to Baltimore on weekends. And in her 50 years on the Hill, she has missed less then one day a year of work.
She says people were a lot more serious when she started on the Hill, but no one had to work as hard. "It seems when Roosevelt got here, we all got a lot busier.
"But I don't mind being busy. There's something that has always fascinated me about the Hill. I don't know what it is. It just makes make feel alive."