Massachusetts State Senator for the Berkshire District, 1950-1958, and representative for Massachusetts's First District in the United States Congress for 17 terms, 1959-1991, where he made significant contributions in the areas of health and human services, the environment, education, energy, transportation, and small business. Spanning four decades and eight presidents, the papers offer an extraordinary perspective on the major social, economic, and cultural changes experienced by the American people. Includes correspondence, speeches, press releases, bill files, his voting record, committee files, scrapbooks, travel files, audio-visual materials and over 5,000 photographs and slides.
The Silvio O. Conte Papers are open for research, except for a group of case files that are closed for a period of seventy-five years for legal reasons of confidentiality and privacy.
Inquiries regarding the Conte Papers should be addressed to Special Collections and University Archives in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. Because the papers are stored off-site there may be up to a twenty four hour delay between request and retrieval of material. Photocopying and publishing from the collection are allowed subject to the policies of Special Collections and University Archives and fair use under the copyright act.
Background on Silvio O. Conte
In the book Congress and Its Members Congressional scholars Roger Davidson and Walter Oleszek discuss the"dual nature of Congress," observing that"there really are two Congresses. One of these is Congress as a lawmaking institution - the Congress of textbooks, of how-a-bill-becomes-a-law...There is also a second Congress...it comprises men and women of diverse backgrounds...whose electoral fortunes depend less upon what Congress produces as an institution than upon the support and goodwill of voters hundreds of miles away."1 This duality is revealed throughout the Silvio O. Conte Congressional Papers - from the vast array of bill files, position papers, mark-ups for consideration, reports, and floor statements, to the constituent mail, Conte speeches delivered throughout the district, returned constituent questionnaires, and the hundreds of photographs of Conte with his constituents.
The Silvio O. Conte Congressional Papers, 1950-1991 document Conte's public service first as Massachusetts State Senator for the Berkshire District, 1950-1958 and primarily as representative for Massachusetts's First District in the United States Congress for 17 terms, 1959-1991, where he made significant contributions in the areas of health and human services, the environment, education, energy, transportation, and small business.
The collection comprises 575 linear feet of those files maintained by Conte and his staff in Washington, D.C. and in the two district offices in Pittsfield and Holyoke (most of which is casework with restricted access), including correspondence, speeches, press releases, bill files, his voting record, committee files, scrapbooks, travel files, audio-visual materials and over 5,000 photographs and slides. The papers have been divided into five subgroups delineating broad functional areas of a congressional office: Personal/Political/Official; Legislative; Press Relations/Media Activities; Constituent Services; Office Administration. Each subgroup has been further divided into series based on file format and type of activity documented. Detailed descriptions of each of these 27 series are included in this guide.
There are folder title lists - which serve as primary subject access to the materials - for each series, although several have been omitted from this guide because of excessive length. The series excluded are: Legislative Subject Files, General Subject Files, Bills Files and item-level lists of VIP Correspondence, Speeches, Press Releases, Audio-Visual materials, and Photographs. These lists are available to researchers in the Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room.
The State Senator series (Subgroup I, Series 2), documents Conte's beginnings as a politician. Divided into speeches, correspondence, campaign and subject files spanning 1950-1958, this valuable series illustrates issues central to 1950s politics on the national and state level. Other early files of significance exist in the Travel series (I, 3) which feature Conte's handwritten notes and taped recordings with his personal accounts of the inspection tours of U.S. foreign aid programs in Africa and Southeast Asia during the 1960s that he participated in as a member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee (see also Audio-Visual series, III, 6).
The bulk of the collection is contained in the two series identified as House Appropriations Committee Files (II, 3a-3m) and Legislative Subject/Correspondence files (II, 6a-6b). The Appropriations Committee Files reveal Conte's powerful position as ranking minority member of that committee from 1979-1991, a position that gave him a vote on all thirteen subcommittees. Although official committee records remain in Washington, D.C., housed in the Center for Legislative Archives, documentation of much of the work done by aides as they monitored the appropriations process and gathered information that Conte needed to make informed decisions remained within the collection. Although Conte served on the Small Business Committee from 1965-1991 and was very active in crafting legislation and providing vigorous support to small businesses in the First District, few files remain in this collection to document his influential role. Within the House Appropriations Committee Files, the Subcommittees on Interior and Health and Human Services are the largest of the subseries and cover areas in which Conte took a passionate personal interest and was an established leader in Congress.
The Health and Human Services Files (II, 3h.2) document Conte's largely successful efforts to continue full funding to the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research; and to support programs such as the low income home energy assistance program, (LIHEAP) and family planning centers in Western Massachusetts.
An ardent conservationist and outdoorsman, Conte fought for 10 years for passage of stringent acid rain legislation, and his efforts to clean up the Connecticut River and restore the Atlantic salmon to it are manifest in the Subcommittee on Interior Files (II, 3g). Within the General Budget subseries (II, 3a) are Conte's handwritten notes regarding periodic meetings (1983-1989) he attended at the White House with cabinet members, the Republican leadership, and the President as well as notes on his participation in the Budget Summits of 1987 and 1990. His attendance reveals his important position as ranking minority member of the Appropriations Committee and his recognized ability for bipartisan compromise.
While supporting most large-scale social spending requests, Conte established himself as a fiscal conservative in other areas. A colorful figure with a penchant for theatrics, his vocal denunciations sometimes took the form of satirical poems or pranks. The later years of his longstanding crusade to limit the size of farm subsidies are documented in the Subcommittee on Agriculture Files (II, 3i). The Energy and Water Subcommittee files (II, 3d) reveal his opposition to water projects such as the Garrison Diversion project in North Dakota and the Dickey-Lincoln Dam project, both of which he viewed as environmentally damaging boondoggles. The Department of Energy Files (II, 3h.2), a segment of the Subcommittee on Interior Files, document his efforts to kill the Synthetic Fuels Corporation which he had accused of"bankrolling the pet projects of the fat-cat oil barons."
The Legislative Subject/Correspondence Files (II, Series 6) reflect Conte's early assignments on the Treasury-Postal Service & Foreign Operations Subcommittees and contain mostly constituent correspondence and the office's response. Issues documented include the invasion of Cambodia, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Civil Rights movement, communism, firearms control, abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, oil import quotas, the energy crisis, and federal aid to education.
Davidson and Oleszek make the observation that"Members of Congress . . . depend upon the support of their electorate in order to serve. In turn, they are expected to understand and promote the views of constituents and to serve as their links with the federal government."2 Two sections of the collection that illustrate this reciprocity are the Press Relations/Media Activities and Constituent Services subgroups. Conte kept in touch with his constituents by mail, by public appearances, and by radio and television appearances. The Speeches, Press Releases, Radio and Television Transcripts, and Newsletters series document this function. Maintained by staff more carefully than most other parts of the collection, the series offer valuable synopses of Conte's political career.
A large portion of the Audio-Visual materials (III, Series 6) consists of audio recordings of Conte's weekly radio show. Most of the 16mm films consist of Conte's five minute television programs, often condensed versions of the radio show, which aired mainly during 1959, 1961 and 1967-1968. Included here is an audio recording of a 1958 testimonial dinner honoring Conte's election to Congress; a 1967 film of an interview with John W. Lederle, President of University of Massachusetts; and an audio recording of the 1987 fund raiser for the endowment of the Silvio O. Conte chair at the University of Massachusetts.
Research strategies should be formulated carefully and researchers should keep in mind that there is substantial overlap of topical coverage and information is widely dispersed throughout this large collection. A good example of this is Conte's fight against oil import quotas. Because New Englanders are highly dependent on oil for heating fuel the quotas adversely affect them by causing oil prices to rise. Conte began his vocal opposition in his first year in Congress when the Eisenhower administration instituted the quota system. He continued to fight for free trade with regard to oil throughout his career. Discussion of his continuing efforts can be found within the Floor Statements series in the form of a compilation by staff of all floor remarks Conte made regarding oil import quotas and fees spanning the years 1959-1984; this issue is also documented in the staff-compiled Oil Notebooks located in the Issue Books/Briefing Books series. His efforts to inform his constituents of his activities are reflected in the Speeches, Press Releases, Radio and Television Transcripts, and Newsletters. Documentation of the legislative initiatives he sponsored exist in the Bill Files, Voting Record, and all the way up to the 1990 Budget Summit notes filed in the Appropriations Committee Series, which document Conte's efforts to block Senator Lloyd Bentsen's proposal to reinstate the quotas to increase revenues. And finally, constituents' opinion on this topic can be found in the Legislative Subject/Correspondence Files and annual constituent questionnaires.
Aside from the study of legislation, public policy debates, and the relationship between Congressman and his constituents, the Conte Papers are a history of the times in which he served. Spanning four decades and eight presidents, the papers offer an extraordinary perspective on the major social, economic, and cultural changes experienced by the American people.
1. Davidson, Roger H. and Oleszek, Walter J., Congress and Its Members, 4th ed. (Washington, DC 1994)
This collection is organized as follows: