Pell, Claiborne, 1918-2009

Alternative names
Birth 1918-11-22
Death 2009-01-01

Biographical notes:

Claiborne deBorda Pell was born on November 22, 1918 in New York City to Matilda Bigelow Pell and Herbert Claiborne Pell. The Pell family lineage includes five members of Congress and George Mifflin Dallas, who was Vice President to President James Polk, 1845-1849. Senator Pell's father served as a United States Congressman from New York, 1919-1921, as well as Minister to Portugal, 1937-1941, Minister to Hungary, 1941-1942, and a United States Representative to the United Nations War Crimes Commission 1943-1945.

Senator Pell attended St. Georges High School in Middletown, Rhode Island, graduated from Princeton University in 1940, and received a Masters degree from Columbia University in 1946. He joined the United States Coast Guard four months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II. Senator Pell continued his service after the war and attained the rank of Senior Captain in 1978.

After graduating from Columbia University, Pell participated in the San Francisco Conference that culminated in the creation of the United Nations and established the United States Consulate General in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia after the communists seized control of that nation. Senator Pell then served as a State Department Foreign Service Officer stationed in Eastern Europe and Italy for seven years.

After leaving the Foreign Service, Pell served as Vice President for the International Rescue Committee. He was stationed in Austria and assumed responsibility for assisting refugees from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. During this time, Pell was arrested and placed in jail by agents from three fascist governments and three communist governments. In 1959, President Eisenhower appointed Pell to the delegation meeting on the International Maritime Consultative Organization. Senator Pell has received more than 20 decorations for his service including the Presidential Citizens Medal.

In 1960, Senator Pell was elected to the United States Senate and served for the next six terms as the Senator from Rhode Island until his retirement in 1996. He won his first Senate race by the largest plurality of that time and is the longest serving Senator in Rhode Island's history. He has served as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Education. Senator Pell also served as ranking member on the Labor and Welfare Committee, Rules and Administration Committee, Executive Committee on the Environment and Energy Study, as well as the Special Committee on Aging, and the Joint Congressional Committee on Libraries and Museums.

Senator Pell's appointments included being Senate Advisor to the United States delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, delegate to the 25th United Nations General Assembly (1970), Senate Advisor to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), and a member of the Commission on Improving the Effectiveness of the United Nations. Senator Pell also played a principle role in outlawing the placement of weapons of massive destruction on the seabed and to ensure international cooperation in protection of the environment.

Senator Pell was the principal sponsor of the 1965 legislation creating the National Endowment for Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He authored the National Sea Grant College and Program Act of 1966 which provides annual funding for oceanographic studies. He is also the author of the Basic Educational Opportunity Grants (renamed Pell Grants in 1980), that eliminate financial barriers to higher education. He was a driving force in the Senate to establish the International Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty aimed at reducing nuclear weapons, in addition to authoring legislation banning the manufacture and use of biological weapons.

Senator Pell also served as a member of the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving and was the original Senate advocate for tougher penalties against those caught driving while intoxicated. He also authored the High Speed Ground Transportation Act aimed at improving rail service including the establishment of a continuous electrification infrastructure between Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston.

Senator Pell passed away on January 1, 2009. In addition to his wife Nuala, Senator Pell is survived by his son, Christopher T. H. Pell of Newport, his daughter Dallas Pell of New York, his five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

A televised biograpraphy of Senator Pell's life and career can be viewed here.

From the guide to the The Senatorial Papers of Claiborne Pell: Congresses, 1960-1997, (University of Rhode Island Library, Special Collections and University Archives)


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