Rep. Charlotte T. Reid, walks through the U.S. Capitol in a scandal-stirring pantsuit, 1969. Apologies for the smudge on the image. (Matthew Lewis)

In our review of congressional dress code controversies Wednesday — prompted by Barney Frank’s all-too-thin T-shirt — we recalled the debate over which woman was the first to wear pants on the House floor: Pat Schroeder, by some accounts, Susan Molinari or Cynthia McKinney by others. But a Library of Congress source nudged us to look back further — to a Dec. 24, 1969, Washington Post story that hailed Rep. Charlotte T. Reid (R-Ill.) for showing up on the last day before recess “in a black wool, bell-bottomed pantsuit. . . a first in the annals of the U.S. Congress.” Many male colleagues ran to the floor to gawk, she told The Post, but all were kind. “Gerald Ford [then the minority leader] told me he thought it was great, and I should do it more often.”

Read the entire 1969 story. . .


The Washington Post

Dec. 24, 1969


By Nancy L. Ross

Rep. Charlotte T. Reid (R-Ill.), by her own admission, had been in Congress five years before she ever made a headline. When she did, it was front page news in papers as far away as Paris. For Mrs. Reid was one of three congresswomen who, after seeing a flyer announcing exercise classes for members, showed up at the House men’s gym ready for calisthenics.

Yesterday she made history again, only this time it was a solo act. The 56-year-old widow, a striking brunette who once sang on Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club under the name of Annette King, showed up on the House floor in a black wool, bell-bottomed pantsuit. Her appearance marked a first in the annals of the U.S. Congress.

How did her male colleagues react? One incredulous congerssman told her, “I was told there was a lady here in trousers, so I had to come over and see for myself.” Of the dozen or more men who spoke to Mrs. Reid about her outfit, none had other than compliments, she said. (There were no other congersswomen on the floor to comment.)

“(Rep.) Gerald Ford told me he thought it was great and I should do it more often,” she added.

Despite the Minority Leader’s enthusiasm for lady members of Congress in pants, Mrs. Reid said later she didn’t think she would wear them again. “I am really quite serious about my service in the Congress and I wouldn’t want to do anything that seemed facetious.” She continued, “Neither would I want to do anything to take away from the feminity of the women in the House, even though I think pants are feminine-looking.”

The pantsuit was a Christmas gift presented to her yesterday by her staff. Even though the outfit comes with a matching skirt, Mrs. Reid — who wears evening pajamas and occasionally shows up at her office Saturdays in trousers — decided to wear the pants in the chamber.

“At first I hesitated, but everyone on my staff urged me to wear them. I thought it would be fun on the last day of the session and people wouldn’t mind.”

Reflecting upon her historic appearance, Mrs. Reid, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, commented, “You know, I have always tried to do my job, but i never seemed to attract much notice before.”

She did yesterday.

(What was the “Don McNeill Breakfast Club”? This, apparently.)

Read also: Chicago Tribune: Charlotte T. Reid: 1913 - 2007, 1/31/07

Read earlier: Barney Frank: What’s the House floor dress code, anyway?, 12/20/11