Special Collections & University Archives University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Conte, Silvio O. (Silvio Oltavio), 1921-1991

Silvio O. Conte Papers, 1950-1991.
389 boxes (583.5 linear feet).
Call no.: MS 371

Silvio Conte, 1973
Silvio Conte, 1973

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.

Biographical Note
1921 Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on November 9th to Ottavio and Lucia (Lora) Conte.
1940 Following graduation from Pittsfield Vocational High School worked for a time as a machinist at General Electric Co. and later in the press room of the Berkshire Eagle.
1942 Enlisted in the Navy and served from 1942 to 1944 with the Seabees in the Southwest Pacific during World War II.
1947 Married the former Corinne Duval on November 8th.
1949 Graduated from Boston College Law School in June.
1950 In November was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate for the first of four successive terms. Served on the Committees of Judiciary, Public Welfare, Towns and Juvenile Delinquency. Was Chairman of the Committees on Judiciary, Conservation, Constitutional Law and Insurance.
1954 Received the Young Man of the Year Award from the Massachusetts Junior Chamber of Commerce.
1958 Elected to the United States House of Representatives defeating Professor James M. Burns of Williams College by a decisive margin.
1959 Named to the powerful Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on the Treasury and Post Office and Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. Traveled to Southeast Asia to inspect the Mutual Security Program (foreign aid) operations. Cosponsored an Area Redevelopment Bill that would provide federal funds on a loan basis to finance industrial development projects to areas with chronic unemployment.
1960 Delegate to the Republican National Convention. Five new towns – Amherst, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton and Easthampton – were added to the First District as a result of redistricting.
1961 Cast a deciding vote that changed the make-up of the House Rules Committee to enable President Kennedy to move his legislative agenda through Congress. Legislation to establish a Cape Cod National Seashore was signed into law. As an original co-sponsor, worked for over two years to enact this measure. Voted enthusiastically in favor of legislation authorizing the establishment of the Peace Corps. House adopted Conte amendment to Peace Corps bill prohibiting members of Peace Corps from serving in any country where they may be subjected to discrimination.
1962 Won re-election by a wider margin than any other Republican incumbent who faced opposition. Urged approval of sponsored bill, House Joint Resolution 479, intended to protect the golden and bald eagles from extinction. Introduced an amendment to eliminate the use of occupant and boxholder mailing privileges of Members of Congress.
1963 Named by Republic of Italy to the rank of Commendatore of the Order of Merit for his work in support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Introduced legislation that would create a National Economic Conversion Commission, its mission to minimize changes in defense spending on the economy. Cast crucial Appropriations Committee vote in support of President Johnson’s foreign aid package, bucking Democratic Chairman Otto Passman.
1964 Denounced by extremists at the Republican National Convention held in San Francisco for outspoken opposition to the John Birch Society. Received the nomination of both the Republican and Democratic parties in bid for re-election to Congressional seat. Cosponsored immigration and naturalization reform legislation. Conte bill would liberalize policies and overhaul the quota system.
1965 Appointed a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission on February 1st. Named to the Joint Commission on the Coinage when that body was authorized under the Coinage Act of 1965. One of first members of Congress to support the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid Programs. Marched along with Martin Luther King, Jr. on historic march to Selma, Alabama.
1966 Eliminated quota on residual oil imports to the East Coast. Supported the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Began serving on the Small Business Committee and held ranking minority seat from 1969 to 1978.
1967 Helped to establish public broadcasting by voting for the Public Broadcasting Act.
1968 Spoke out against Vietnam War before Pittsfield Area Council of Churches, becoming first member of Massachusetts delegation to oppose the war. As member of the Republican presidential convention’s platform committee, publicly opposed nomination of Spiro Agnew as Vice-President, preferring George Romney of Michigan.
1969 Introduced first bill ever to eliminate the oil import quota system that had been instituted in 1959. Appointed to Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.
1970 Wrote law creating Amtrak to preserve passenger rail travel. Won re-election unopposed for the fourth election in a row. Voted against supersonic transport (SST) despite widespread support in First District.
1971 Secured assignment on Health, Education and Welfare Subcommittee and relinquished seats on Subcommittees on Foreign Operations and Treasury, Postal Service. Became ranking minority member of Transportation Subcommittee. In April held first annual trout derby on Onota Lake, Pittsfield.
1972 Voted against a constitutional amendment which would prohibit the busing of school children to achieve racially balanced schools. Cosponsored the Fair International Trade Act of 1972 to modernize existing law regarding the regulation of
1973 Named co-chairman of the newly organized New England Congressional Caucus. Reappointed to the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, after two-year hiatus. Awarded honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Massachusetts. Obtained initial grant to fund the Five College free bus system.
1974 Demanded immediate Congressional investigation into effect of aerosol sprays on the ozone layer. Introduced amendment to Foreign Aid bill to limit funds to Cambodia.
1975 Traveled to the Middle East with Congressional delegation. Met with Israeli and Egyptian leaders. Cosponsored legislation to study feasibility of establishing a nationally sponsored cross-country bicycle trails system. Sponsored successful amendment to bar expenditure of $122.9 million for further production of the F1-11F fighter bomber. Satirized Emergency Farm Price Support Bill by proposing
1976 Broke a House-Senate deadlock on the abortion issue, by writing compromise language to prohibit federal funding
1977 Traveled to China as part of congressional delegation.
1978 Created with House Speaker Tip O’Neill, low-income home energy assistance program, (LIHEAP).
1979 Became ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee and ranking minority member on the Legislative; Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; and Transportation subcommittees. Gave up seat on Foreign Operations subcommittee. Appointed by Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, Jr. to the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Supported the passage of the Alaska Lands legislation which provided for the preservation of millions of acres of wilderness in Alaska. Released final report of the New England Energy Congress. Sponsored by the New England Congressional Congress, of which Conte was co-chairman, the report addressed 22 energy conservation bills, many of vital concern to oil-dependent New England.
1980 The Small Business Development Center opened at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Played a leading role in obtaining federal funds necessary to start program. Introduced legislation for a nuclear freeze.
1981 Kept Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee open with joint-use agreement. Prevailed in the decade-long fight against the Dickey-Lincoln water project in Maine with the deauthorization of project. Traveled to Australia and New Zealand as part of a Congressional delegation.
1982 The Small Business Innovation and Development Act passed. Had sponsored and supported for past five years through legislative initiative as a member of the House Committee on Small Business. Joined the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues. (Formerly the Congresswomen’s Caucus)
1983 Cosponsored the first $5 million for AIDS research. Donned a pig’s snout and ears on the House floor to denounce pork-barrel projects and specifically to fight the Garrison Diversion Project in North Dakota. Was the second Paul Hoffmann Lecturer at the United Nations in New York. Voted against funding for MX missiles in Appropriations Committee vote. Ultimately approved by 30-26 vote.
1984 Introduced H.R. 5175 to impose a nine-month moratorium on large oil company mergers.
1985 The Conte Africa Supplemental was signed into law. It provided $800 million for famine and disaster relief and was one of the largest emergency supplemental bills ever approved by Congress. Traveled to the Soviet Union as a member of first Congressional delegation to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev. Urged Soviet leader to halt nuclear arms race. An original sponsor of H.R. 700, Civil Rights Restoration Act. Act was ultimately defeated by pro-life groups. Launched
1986 Helped to prevent the construction by the U.S. Air Force of the highly unpopular Radio Relay Tower (
1987 Underwent surgery for removal of cancerous growth in prostate gland. In the wake of
1988 Won passage of cosponsored plant-closing legislation. Announced support for own party presidential candidate George Bush over Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Announced a $300,000 Health and Human Services grant to the Holyoke Health Center to combat high infant mortality rates.
1989 Coauthored the landmark North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which provided up to $25 million annually for wetland and waterfowl habitat preservation and restoration. Spoke at dedication of the Silvio O. Conte Forum, the new Athletic Arena, Boston College on February 19. Obtained $2 million grant for Smith College in Northampton. Won enactment of resolution to declare the 1990′s
1990 Reelected to 17th term with 78 percent of the vote. Announced allocation of funds through amendment on Treasury, Postal Service Appropriations Bill for move of the Regional United States Fish and Wildlife Service Office to the Amherst area. Through same amendment allocated funds to build a New England Regional Archives of the National Archives in Pittsfield. In February introduced bill H.R. 3977 Antarctica Protection and Conservation Act, the first bill to increase protection for the Antarctic environment and prevent mineral exploitation. Established an educational foundation to assist graduating First District high school students attend a college of their choice. Passage of the Clean Air Act, the culmination of a decade-long fight to stop acid rain. Had signed on as the first Republican sponsor of new clean-air and acid-rain legislation. Appointed by President to sit on Budget Summit, as one of eleven members of the House. Worked out a proposal to keep the federal deficit on a declining track. Attended dedication of the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, Turner’s Falls capping twenty-four-year effort to bring Atlantic salmon back to Connecticut River. Introduced amendment to farm bill limiting government subsidies to $100,000 per farmer and banning farmers from collecting multiple subsidies. Although amendment went down in defeat, succeeded in limiting subsidies to $250,000 per farmer. Through position on Subcommittee on Transportation restored popular Montrealer service from Washington to Montreal with service through Amherst and obtained $139 million to set up high-speed Boston-New York Rail service. Broke with President Bush in voting against constitutional amendment banning burning of U.S. flag. Singled out by the Citizens Against Government Waste as one of four representatives most accomplished at garnering grants for his state and district.
1991 On January 12th submitted last big vote as one of only three Republican members of Congress to deny President Bush the authority to use force to repel Iraqi troops from Kuwait. In honor of career-long efforts to restore the Connecticut River and to complete the work begun, passage of H.R. 794 was completed which named the fish and wildlife haven along the Connecticut River the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, only the second such designated refuge in the country. Died February 8th at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland of complications caused by cancer.
Scope and Contents of the Collection

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.

Footnotes

1. Davidson, Roger H. and Oleszek, Walter J., Congress and Its Members, 4th ed. (Washington, DC 1994)

2. Ibid.

This collection is organized as follows:


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

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.

Preferred Citation

Cite as: Silvio O. Conte Papers (MS 371). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

History of the Collection

Following the death in office of Silvio O. Conte in 1991, his widow, Corinne Conte, donated his congressional papers to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, located in Congressman Conte’s First District, which he represented for over 31 years. The Conte Papers came to the University in two major installments. The first and larger group arrived in the Spring of 1991 directly from the Federal Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, where the records had regularly been sent by office staff since 1967.

The second installment came from Conte’s Washington, D.C. office and the Holyoke and Pittsfield District offices — hastily packed by staff in order to vacate the premises after his death. Three minor installments can be counted as well. In July 1994 a visit by the project archivist to Conte’s eldest daughter’s barn yielded several boxes of biographical and press-related files. The arrival of fifty missing scrapbooks from the Conte family complemented the twenty-eight already here. And, a shipment of eight boxes of Appropriations Committee files arrived as a result of the change in majority party in Congress (and consequently a housecleaning) following the November 1994 elections.

Processing Information

Processed by Gail L. Giroux, with assistance from, Linda L. Seidman, Patrick Browne, Jared Crellin, Peter Fairman, Paul Fireman, Beth Jones, Elaine Parmett, and Peter Weis, 1985.


Additional Information

Sponsor
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Language
English.

Separated Material

A few documents were sent to the National Archives for declassification.

Additional Finding Aids Available

The several long lists excluded from the printed guide as described in the Guide’s Scope and Contents note are available in the Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room, W.E.B. Du Bois Library. An electronic version of the printed guide is available to be searched by keyword, and audio-visual materials have been indexed within a database with additional name and subject terms.

Subjects
  • Massachusetts--Politics and government--1951-
  • Massachusetts. Senate
  • United States--Politics and government--20th century
  • United States. Congress. House
Contributors
  • Conte, Silvio O. (Silvio Oltavio), 1921-1991
Types of material
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Sound recordings
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