Shepherdstown, W.Va. (Jan. 13, 2016) – Walter J. “Joe” Stewart, chairman of the board of directors of the Congressional Education Foundation, Inc. which operates the Robert C. Byrd Center on the campus of Shepherd University, announced a new logo and name – Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education – that more aptly captures the expanded mission of the private, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization.
Chairman Stewart said the Byrd Center is seeking private sector, foundation and government funding to help tell the “rich and motivating story of a poor Appalachian child who rose to become West Virginia’s leading Senator and a national and international leader who served with eleven U.S. Presidents.” He said Byrd is “best known for being a champion of the Constitution and for superb constituent service to fellow West Virginians.”
Stewart, the former Secretary of the Senate from 1987 to 1994, said a fact-filled dynamic traveling exhibit will tour the state of West Virginia starting in early 2016, culminating with a grand celebration in the state capital of Charleston in November 2017 on the Centennial of Senator Byrd’s birth. Stewart said the exhibit is in the final phase of design and will capture stages of the Senator’s public service and many contributions to the Mountain State. He added that the exhibit will also be hosted on Capitol Hill and other venues in the nation’s capital.
Raymond W. Smock, former historian of the U.S. House of Representatives, who has directed the Byrd Center since 2002, said, “the Center has operated for 13 years as a place of research on Congress and as the archive of the late Senator Robert C. Byrd, the longest serving Senator in American history, as well as housing other West Virginia political collections.” He said, “Our focus on congressional history will continue, but going forward we will place a greater emphasis on programs for teachers, students, congressional staffers, and others who want to learn about Congress in its broad context of representative democracy over more than two centuries. This is in keeping with Senator Byrd’s well known commitment to all forms of education in American society.”
The Center’s board of directors also voted to add former U.S. Senate Historian Donald A. Ritchie to its board of directors.
Ritchie, who retired from the Senate Historical Office in May of 2015, served that office for nearly 40 years (33 as associate historian and 6 as historian). Among his achievements — including writing several books and serving as a resource to Robert Caro for his work on Lyndon Johnson — perhaps his greatest achievement was to conduct the extensive Senate Oral History Project. A former Marine, Ritchie received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Maryland. Among Ritchie’s books, The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction came out in 2010; and he has written two books on the press, including, Reporting From Washington: A History of the Washington Press Corps and Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents, which won the Organization of American Historian’s Richard Leopold Prize.
Smock noted that Ritchie’s addition to the board “will give the Byrd Center considerable additional professional expertise. Between Dick Baker, Don Ritchie, James Thurber, and Jay Wyatt we are talking about more than a century of experience.”
Former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-Pa.) created the Senate Historical Office in 1976 at the urging of historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Baker was the inaugural director. Smock was the inaugural director of the House Historian’s office from 1983-95; appointed by Speaker Tip O’Neill.
The Byrd Center board includes historians, educators, former staffers to the Senator and two Byrd family members.
About the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education: The mission of the Robert C. Byrd Center is to advance representative democracy by promoting a better understanding of the United States Congress and the Constitution through programs and research that engage citizens in the history of Congress.