Skip to main content

Tip O'Neill congressional papers

Collection CA-2009-001: Tip O'Neill congressional papers


  • Creation: 1936 - 1994
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1953 - 1986

Scope and Contents

The Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Congressional Papers document the Speaker's career in the U.S. House of Representatives. Much of the material was generated by the Speaker's staff, though O'Neill's personality is apparent throughout the collection. Politics at the highest level of government never overshadowed constituents' concerns. O'Neill's identification with the common man and his generous sense of humor are preserved in the papers.


Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research. Selected items are closed due to fragility; a microfilm access copy is available. Audiovisual recordings in this collection have been migrated from source media; digital use copies can only be accessed onsite in the Burns Library Reading Room.

Restrictions on Use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note

Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. was born to Thomas P. and Rose Ann (Tolan) O'Neill on December 9, 1912, in North Cambridge, Massachusetts, a section of town once called "Old Dublin" because of the high concentration of Irish families; he was the third of three children. His mother died when he was nine months old and for his first seven years he was raised by a French-Canadian housekeeper, Rose La Blanc. When O'Neill was eight his father married a woman named Mary Cain. By this time O'Neill was being called "Tip," a nickname that came from a popular baseball player of the previous generation, Edward O'Neill, a master at drawing walks and fouling off pitches, thus, "Tip" O'Neill. Many O'Neill male children were given this nickname. Originally a bricklayer, O'Neill's father became active in Cambridge politics first as a member of the Cambridge City Council and then as Superintendent of Sewers. He was known in the neighborhood as the Governor and was a generous man. Throughout his life O'Neill recalled that his father taught him five important lessons: 1) Loyalty; 2) Live a clean and honest life; 3) Remember responsibilities to fellow men; 4) Remember always from whence you came; and 5) Politics as a profession depended on your honesty and integrity. Neighbors often remarked that the younger Thomas was like his father and he tried to live up to him and these ideals.

O'Neill attended his parish grammar school, St. John's, and the high school, St. John's High. He graduated from St. John's in 1931 where he was captain of the basketball team. Even in high school he was active in local politics. He worked for various candidates and helped get out the vote by making sure everyone had a ride to the polls. In 1935 O'Neill entered political life with his first campaign, trying for a seat on the Cambridge City Council as a senior at Boston College. This was his first and only loss. This was the campaign in which O'Neill learned that "People like to be asked" and "All politics is local." In November of the next year, 1936, after graduating from Boston College, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the first of 25 consecutive elections spanning 50 years of public service. The Great Depression had hurt his constituents and O'Neill became a strong advocate of New Deal liberalism.

On June 17, 1941, he married Mildred Ann Miller, "Millie," his high school sweet heart. In 1947 he was elected Minority Leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and in 1949 he became Speaker of the House and the first Democrat since the Civil War to hold that position. O'Neill had thought about running for governor of Massachusetts after two or three terms in the Massachusetts House. Instead, when John F. Kennedy gave up his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to run for the Senate in 1952, O'Neill ran and was elected in his place.

Cultivating his constituency, O'Neill secured his political base and was reelected every two years for the next 34 years. He was appointed Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1971 and in 1973 was elected Majority Leader. In 1977 he was elected Speaker of the U.S. House by acclamation. Throughout his years he supported civil rights bills, antipoverty programs, Medicare, and federally funded health care. As one of the few remaining New Deal Democrats, he became a national leader who never lost touch with his constituency. He counseled his colleagues to pay close attention to constituent service because "All politics is local," and he transformed the speakership from a focal point of inside maneuvering to a position of national political leadership.

O'Neill was unstintingly loyal to the Democratic Party, reminding people that his party was the party of the working people, the poor and the needy. O'Neill's relationships with presidents and foreign leaders include a long list of some of the twentieth century's greatest men. In 1967 O'Neill announced his stand against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, one of the earliest to do so. He called the war "the most frustrating conflict in American history." In 1974 he played a pivotal role in managing the Nixon impeachment proceedings. His relations with President Jimmy Carter were strained and as his party's highest ranking official he found the anti-liberal attacks of the Reagan administration difficult to tolerate. Still, O'Neill remained steadfast in his philosophy and emerged as a popular figure when he retired in 1986, ending 50 years of public service and a record tenure of ten consecutive years as Speaker.

After retirement O'Neill published two books. Man of the House, which appeared in 1987, soon became a best-seller. O'Neill's second book, All Politics is Local, was published in 1993. O'Neill also received many honorary degrees, awards, and tributes. Of special importance were the Laetare Medal, received from the University of Notre Dame in 1980, and the Ignatius Medal, received from Boston College in 1981. In 1991 O'Neill was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George Bush. The citation reads in part: "Tip O'Neill had an uncanny ability to understand people and politics ... his demonstrated faithful service to the people also well serves the nation." On January 5, 1994, O'Neill died of cardiac arrest at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The Funeral Mass was celebrated at St. John the Evangelist Church, Cambridge, his home parish. Burial took place at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Harwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.


"Thomas Philip, Jr. O'Neill." Encyclopedia Americana, 1995. Volume 20.

O'Neill, Thomas P. All Politics is Local and Other Rules of the Game. New York: Times Books, c 1994.

O'Neill, Thomas P. Man of the House: the Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O'Neill, with William Novak. New York: Random House, c1987.


436 Linear Feet (597 containers)

3708 Gigabytes (183 files with approximately 81 hours of audio and moving images)

Language of Materials



Composed of correspondence, publications, photographs, audio tapes, videocassettes, artifacts, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks of Speaker Tip O'Neill. Most of the material relates to O'Neill's career in Congress, and documents his views on such issues as the Vietnam War, Watergate, and relations with Ireland. Also includes papers of O'Neill's staff, files of Democratic Committees, and some letters of late twentieth-century presidents.


The papers are organized in ten series: I. Personal/Office Files; II. Staff Files; III. Legislative Files; IV. Grants/Projects/Subject Files; V. Party Leadership/Administrative Files; VI. Press Relations; VII. Photographs; VIII. Audiovisual Materials; IX. Awards and Honors; and X. Memorabilia.

Series I contains seven subseries: A. Biographical Information; B. Campaigns; C. Awards, Certificates, Honorary Degrees; D. Memorabilia; E. Correspondence; F. Invitations and Appointments; and G. Intern Projects.

Series II contains two subseries: A. Kirk O'Donnell Files; and B. Eleanor Kelley Files.

Series III contains seven subseries: A. Legislative/Committee Files; B. Department/Agency Files; C. Early Legislative Files; D. Bill Files; E. Bills-Not Sponsored; F. Congressional Record Statements and Voting Records; and G. Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

Series IV contains three subseries: A. Subject Files; B. Local/Project Files; and C. Grant Files.

Series V contains seven subseries: A. Whip Office; B. Majority Leader's Office; C. Speaker's Office; D. Speaker's Appointments; E. Congressional Organizations; F. Democratic Party; and G. Executive/White House.

Series VI contains six subseries: A. Speeches; B. Press Statements; C. Press Conference Transcripts and Briefings; D. Press Assistant Files; E. Clippings; and F. Guest Books and Scrapbooks.

Series VII contains nine subseries: A. Colleagues; B. Commemorative; C. Constituents and Celebrities; D. Events; E. Foreign and Diplomatic Affairs; F. Golf; G. O'Neill Family; H. Presidents; and I. Photograph Albums.

Series VIII contains three subseries: A. Political Songs; B. Recordings of O'Neill; and C. Recordings Owned by O'Neill.

Series X contains thirteen subseries: A. Bills, Resolutions, and Proclamations; B. Campaigns and Conventions; C. Clippings; D. City Keys; E. Commemorative Plaques and Certificates; F. Desk Accessories; G. Donkeys; H. Gavels; I. Medals and Medallions; J. Other Artifacts; K. Political Cartoons and Caricatures; L. Portraits of O'Neill; and M. Prints and Paintings


Gift of Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. (1987).

Existence of digital copies

Selected photographs have been digitized. Digitized photographs may be viewed at

Separated Materials

Published works associated with this collection have been transferred within the Burns Library and can be found in the Boston College Library catalog.


Tip O'Neill Congressional Papers
Leah Weisse. Updated by: Amy Braitsch, Meghan Ryan, and Laura Smith 2009. Updated by: Adrienne Pruitt
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States