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Representative Nita M. Lowey Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-1048

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of the records of Representative Nita M. Lowey's thirty-two year career as a congresswoman of the United States of America for three of New York State's Westchester-area districts: the 20th District (1989-1993), the 18th District (1993-2013), and the 17th District (2013-2021) of New York Congressional Districts. Westchester County is located directly outside of the five boroughs which make up a collective New York County. Westchester and New York City share residents as commuter workers and other governing and planning matters including transportation, environment and security issues.

The records consist of documentation on federal, state, and local levels of government prior to and after, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the subsequent wars and military actions of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, and the presidencies of George Herbert Walker (H.W.) Bush (under his presidency from 1989-1992), William "Bill" Jefferson (J.) Clinton, George Walker (W.) Bush, Barack Hussein (H.) Obama, and Donald John (J.) Trump. The records document New York State and local administrations under Governors George Pataki, Mario Cuomo and Andrew Cuomo, and State officials and local Westchester and a few New York City government officials.

The collection documents the interaction of the office of the Representative and constituents and has a strong focus on Federal actions, particularly Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs. On a national level, Lowey's records document a host of varied legislation, such as the 1994 Crime Bill, the push to establish better imaging for women in regards to breast cancer, drunk driving legislation, food allergies, school construction, oil and gas, environmental disasters, the Patriot Act, bioterrorism, and aviation. At the same time, there is an adequate amount of material, particularly regarding the aftermath of 9/11, as well as environmental issues regarding pollution in the Long Island Sound, the Indian Point nuclear energy plant, and the Millennium Pipeline.

On an international level, the records document the wide range of actions undertaken by the United States government, from war (Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq) to government aid through USAID to Afghanistan, Armenia, Congo, Lebanon, Palestine, Pakistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, for general aid as well as avian flu research, family planning, food aid, and microcredit. Rep. Lowey was a staunch supporter of Israel as well as education for women in Muslim countries.

Representative Lowey served as the Democratic ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee starting in 2013, and from 2019-2022, was the first woman to Chair the Appropriations the establishment of the committee on December 11, 1865. Materials from 2013 to 2022 can be used to focus on her work as committee chair.

Materials include correspondence, memoranda, articles, newsclippings, photographs, video cassette tapes, and electronic born-digital medium chronicling Lowey's work as a Congresswoman.

Dates

  • [1960]
  • 1984-2021
  • Majority of material found within 1989 - 2019

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility or privacy.

Conditions Governing Use

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at mmeyers@ajhs.org.

Biographical Note

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address this house for the final time. For thirty-two years it has been my privilege to serve as United States Representative from the State of New York and in the 116th Congress it has been my distinct honor to be the first Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. ... There is one principle that has guided my thirty-two years of public service: when you see a problem, whether it's here or in the district or in another community, do something about it. Too many people see a problem, they are good people, but they'll go off on this personal activity or another personal activity. Members of Congress know when they see a problem, we have a responsibility to address it and do something about it to make life better for our community, the nation, and the world... (Representative Nita Lowey's Last Speech to Congress, C-Span, 2020)

The Representative Nita Lowey’s papers consist of the entirety of her thirty-two year career as Congressional Representative of the 20th District (1989-1993), the 18th District (1993-2013), and the 17th District (2013-2021) of New York, covering Westchester and Rockland Counties, and at times, small sections of Queens and the Bronx.

Nita Sue Melnikoff was born in 1937 in the Bronx, New York, not far from Yankee Stadium, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. The Melnikoff household kept kosher, and while not Orthodox, she attended Orthodox Hebrew schools in her youth. Lowey ultimately graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and the first of the Seven Sisters Schools, Mount Holyoke College (School photo here). While not a religious school, Mount Holyoke required students to attend church, which was a predicament for Jews in a school with less than a 10% Jewish student body. Melnikoff and a group of Jewish friends gathered to hold Shabbat services, and she would become the president of the Jewish student group. In 1958, she interned with Hubert Humphrey and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., where she got her first taste of politics.

After graduating with a degree in political science (Class of ‘59), she worked at the Rubicon and Young advertising agency, quitting to marry Stephen Lowey in 1961. Stephen graduated from Harvard and Columbia University Law School and worked for three years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. The Loweys would have three children: Dana, Jacqueline, and Douglas, and the family moved from Queens to the City of Harrison in Westchester. While raising her family, Nita Lowey actively worked in her community and on the Parent-Teachers Association, while Stephen left the DA’s office and formed what would eventually become the law firm of Lowey Dannenberg, specializing in securities, antitrust, and consumer protection law.

Lowey’s political career started fifteen years after raising her family, and she put her undergraduate degree in political science to work. Her involvement in New York State Democratic government began in 1975 where she worked for ten years as a staff member of the New York Secretary of State for Economic Development and Neighborhood Preservation. For two of those years, future New York State Governor Mario Cuomo was Secretary of State from 1975-1978, and in 1977, Lowey became the primary fundraiser for Cuomo’s run for New York City Mayor that year. While he lost that race, he would eventually become governor in 1982. In 1985, Lowey became the New York Assistant Secretary of State, leaving that position in 1988 to run for—and win—the office of U.S. Representative in the 100th Congress of the United States of America until her retirement in the 116th Congress in 2021.

Lowey ran for the 20th District against the gaffeprone and staunch President Reagan supporter, two-term Republican Representative Joseph DioGuardi. DioGuardi had filled the seat of ten-term Representative Richard Ottinger when he abruptly retired from his seat in 1984, with DioGuardi winning a narrow race to replace him. In the next election, DioGuardi faced former Manhattan Representative Bella Abzug, who had not held political office since 1976 after an unsuccessful race for the Senate. DioGuardi campaigned against Abzug as a political outsider and carpetbagger after she moved from Manhattan to Mount Vernon, but he could not use that argument in his run against Lowey, as she had lived in Westchester since the 1960s. Lowey won the seat by a 50%-47% margin, and over the years of her representing the district, her seat was relatively safe.

Lowey, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and former president Bill Clinton are friends and Lowey was their representative as well since the Clintons live within Lowey’s former districts. In 2000, Lowey considered pursuing a run from the House of Representatives to the Senate, but once Clinton announced her plans to run for the junior New York State spot, Lowey announced her plan to remain in the House. In 2001, Lowey became the first woman to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Despite her leadership, Democrats did not win back the House back in the 2002 election.

In 2013, Lowey set another milestone by becoming the first woman Ranking Democrat of the House Appropriations Committee. It was a challenging time, particularly after 2017 with tensions heating up between former President Trump and Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate regarding Trump’s Southern border wall, and the thirty-five-day partial shutdown of the government in 2018. In 2019, Lowey became the first woman to Chair Appropriations, and in 2020, Lowey spearheaded the first two of three bills committed to the relief of the American people during what she called the “most difficult time I can remember as a member of Congress” in an April 13, 2020 interview with C-Span.

During Lowey’s career, she was the primary sponsor of twenty-six bills that were enacted, among them Appropriations bills and joint resolutions, disaster relief, renaming government buildings in Westchester, honoring Thomas Paine, and making grants available for research on breast cancer and environmental connections. She was a driving force in food allergen warning labeling and Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD) legislation on DWI .08 breath analysis. In 2017, Lowey introduced H.R. 672 (115th) Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017. The bill requires the Department of State to include in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom information regarding occurrences of antisemitism in European countries “where there have been particularly significant threats or attacks against Jewish persons or institutions."

Lowey's overall tenure as a member of the Democratic Party has been one of a center-left supporter of reproductive rights and a center-right supporter of Israel and a two-state solution in regards to Palestinian Territories. She pushed for education funding nationally and internationally, particularly funding the education of children in Muslim countries. In 1991, Lowey voted against the Iraq War, but supported the 2002 Iraq War Resolution. Lowey was a proponent of the 1994 Clinton Crime Bill and a supporter of law enforcement and first responders, particularly those affected by the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

In 1991, Lowey appeared in an iconic New York Times photograph featuring her and several of her fellow Congresswomen approaching the stairs of the Capitol in opposition to the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in the midst of his confirmation hearing and appearance by lawyer Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of misconduct.

In 2020, Speaker Nancy Pelosi presented the official portrait unveiling of Representative Lowey as the first woman in the 155-year history of the House Appropriations Committee to serve as Committee Chair. The portrait, by Jon Friedman of the United States Capitol Historical Society, is unlike the portraits of those men who proceeded her. Lowey is pictured in her signature suit in a bright blue color with a wide, confident smile, sitting in front of a window overlooking the Mall with the Washington Monument rising behind her. Over her right shoulder is a photograph picture of her family and to her left, a photograph portrait of her husband, with the Appropriation Chair's gavel at her hand on the desk.

Committee Assignments of Rep. Nita Lowey, 1989-2020

Lowey Congress Profile

House Committee - Appropriations
Appropriations - Chair
State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Chair
House Committee
Education and Labor
House Committee
Homeland Security
House Committee
Merchant Marine and Fisheries
House Committee
Select Committee on Homeland Security
House Committee
Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control
Joint Committee
Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform - Chair

Extent

834 Gigabytes

120 Boxes (In 118 .05 manuscript boxes and 2 0.25 manuscript boxes)

2 Boxes (2 boxes of Photos) : 1 linear ft.

2 Boxes (In 2 OS1 boxes) : flat file box, ; 18X20

2 Folders (In 2 OS2 folders in a shared box) : flat file box ; 20X24

43 VHS (Comprised of 43 VHS tapes (AVC box numbers 121 and 122); ) : 1 bankers box; 1 legal manuscript box ; 1 linear foot and .05 linear ft.

1 Boxes (One DAT tape and three hard drives in 1 manuscript box) : .05 linear ft.

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Nita Sue Melnikoff Lowey (1937- ) worked in New York State government prior to winning the first election of her thirty-two year career as a Congressional representative from Westchester County's 17th, 18th, and 20th Districts from 1989-2021. Lowey served on several United States House committees including Education and Labor, Homeland Security, Merchant Marine and Fisheries, the Select Committees on Narcotics Abuse and Control, Budget Reform and Appropriations, and was the first woman to Chair the House Budget and Appropriations Committee. The collection documents world and local events and contains paper and electronic records, correspondence, memoranda, reports, press releases, and campaign materials.

Arrangement

The Papers of Representative Nita M. Lowey are organized into seven series with subseries or sub-groups. The materials are arranged into alphabetical order by subject unless otherwise noted. VHS, CDs in various formats, floppy discs, and museum objects are arranged by consective item number.

Collection Series List

  1. Series I: Congressional—National, undated, 1984-2020
  2. Subseries A: Health, undated, 1989-2014
  3. Subseries B: Education and Labor, undated, 1989-2020
  4. Subseries C: Energy and Environment, undated, 1985-2015
  5. Subseries D: Homeland Security, undated, 2002-2016
  6. Subseries E: Law Enforcement and Immigration, undated, 1997-2005
  7. Subseries F: Telecommunications and Transportation, undated, 1993-2014
  8. Subseries G: Special Interests, undated, 1984-2020
  9. Series II: Congressional Records—International, undated, 1991-2016
  10. Subseries A: Foreign Affairs, undated, 1988-2021
  11. Subseries B: Codel Travel Itineraries
  12. Series III: Communications, undated, [circa 1960], 1988-2021
  13. Subseries A: Newsclippings and Magazines, undated, 1988-2021, bulk: 1988-2012
  14. Subseries B: Correspondence, undated, 1989-2021, bulk: 1989-1992
  15. Subseries C: Publications, 1991, 2001, 2007
  16. Subseries D: Mailings—Franked, 1989-2018
  17. Subseries E: Press Releases, 1992-2005
  18. Subseries F: Statements, Floor Remarks, Speeches, undated, 1989-2019
  19. Subseries G: Photographs, 1989-2018
  20. Series IV: Born Digital Material, 1995-2021
  21. Subseries A: Congressional and District Records—National, 2002-2020
  22. Subseries B: Congressional District Records—International
  23. Subseries C: Communications, 2000-2020
  24. Series V: District and Campaign Records, 1986-2020
  25. Subseries A: District Records, 1986-2019
  26. Subseries B: Campaign Records, 1992-2020
  27. Series VI: Audio-Visual and Media, 1991-2021
  28. Subseries A: A/V and Media, 1991-1998
  29. Subseries A: VHS, undated, 1993-2021
  30. Subseries B: Floppy Discs, 3.5, 1994-1998
  31. Subseries C: Hard Drives, undated, 1993, 2020
  32. Series VII: Museum, undated, 1994, 2019

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Electronic records are available to view outside of the Center for Jewish History except for videos or newsclippings which may be copyrighted. These copyrighted materials are viewable only at the Center for Jewish History. Videos that have not been digitized and are in VHS format are viewable onsite at the Center for Jewish History with advance researcher request.

Custodial History

The collection was generated in the National and Local offices of Rep. Lowey. The first shipment of forty-nine bankers boxes were sent directly from the House Chief Administration Office (CAO) in Washington, D.C., to the American Jewish Historical Society. One bankers box of materials was sent directly from the District Office Manager in Westchester. One large binder of material was sent directly from the home of Rep. Lowey to the American Jewish Historical Society. One portable hard drive was sent from Rep. Lowey's Chief of Staff.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were donated by Representative Nita Lowey.

Related Materials

The Representative Nita M. Lowey Papers, undated, [1960?], 1987-2021, bulk: 1989-2019 (a collection of 123 boxes) joins the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) as the second collection donated from a Jewish member of Congress, the first being New York Representative Isaac Siegel, who served as a Republican from 1915-1923, and was one of the 373-50 House members who voted in favor of entering World War I on April 2, 1917. The Representative Siegel Papers, 1897-1944 (P-33) is a single manuscript box collection. Siegel’s collection of papers were donated by his wife, Annie, after Siegel’s death in 1947.

Separated Materials

VHS tapes and hard drives have been separated into the Audio-Visual Collection (AVC). Museum objects have been separated into the Museum Collection (MUSEUM). Photographs have been separated in the Photo Collection (PHOTOS).

Bibliography

The following is a list of materials consulted.

Dimensions

126 manuscript boxes, 2 oversized (OS1) boxes, 3 audiovisual boxes (1 bankers box and 2 manuscript boxes) and one box of electronic media in a manuscript box, 2 photos boxes (manuscript boxes), 2 oversized folders (OS2) in shared box; 4 museum objects (including one folder of various campaign stickers).

Processing Information

The collection was refoldered into acid-free folders and boxes. Electronic records were uploaded into a digital asset management system and processed.

The records were donated with box labels by “type of committee” or “type of subject,” e.g. with box labels such as “Choice/Medical/Pandemic,” “Environment,” “Education,” “Foreign Affairs,” "COPS/Immigration" and “Homeland Security” with folders containing a series of topics relating to those subjects. It was difficult to distinguish who or what area of the office created the records during a specific House Committee, a general committee, or during Lowey's tenure as Appropriations Chair. Many of the Washington records may derive from the office of the Chief of Staff or from a variety of staff members or departments which are integrated into their current series including national and international records, general communications to constituents and colleagues and district and campaign management and electronic records.

The office staff in Washington and Westchester consisted of Chiefs of Staff, Administrative Assistants, Legislative Directors and/or Counsels, Communications Directors, Press Secretaries, Schedulers, Personal Secretaries, Case Workers, Executive Assistants, Legislative Correspondents, Office Manager, Assistants and Receptionists. There is very little documentation in the collection as to who staffed these positions at any given time. Staff members in general can be broken down into personal, committee, leadership, institutional, and support staff members. The records donated to the American Jewish Historical Society were not transferred and organized by name of specific staff members or departments known to the archivists at the time of processing.

Materials are arranged into series as they were found in the collection, with some structured renaming of original folder titles used to aggregate the contents of a series of folders (i.e., School Construction—Lowey New York City School Infrastructure Survey; School Construction—No Child Left Behind—Co-sponsor Action Forms and Articles, etc) without creating additional series for each subject area. For the most part, each structured renaming of a topic acts as a "mini series" to distinguish folder material adjacent to each other when the materials were surveyed at their acquistiion from the House Chief Administration Office (CAO) in Washington, D.C. Records were separated into two major series regarding National and International materials with Homeland Security and Health at times straddling Foreign Affairs and vice versa. Correspondence, press releases, mailings, statements, and photographs were combined under Communications as dictated by the arrangement of files located in electronic format.

Title
Guide to the Papers of Representative Nita M. Lowey, undated, [1960?], 1987-2021, bulk: 1989-2019
Status
In Progress
Author
Tanya Elder
Date
2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States