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39 years since first Black woman court reporter covered the State of the Union

Brenda Renee Pearson made history as the first Black woman stenographer/court reporter to record a State of the Union address. It was delivered by President Ronald Reagan on Feb. 8, 1985. As an official court reporter for the U.S. House of Representatives, Pearson’s role was to capture and record the House proceedings. Congress is reported to employ more than 100 stenographers to cover both the House of Representatives and Senate — many of whom are NCRA-certified members!

From the initial update in 1790 by President George Washington until 1913, the message was delivered to Congress via courier until Woodrow Wilson decided to provide the update himself. Outlined as a presidential duty in the Constitution, this annual address to a joint session of Congress has since evolved into a major political event.

President Reagan’s speech lasted approximately 40 minutes and consisted of 4,955 words. The address was broadcast live on radio and television. Upon adjourning the joint session, a bipartisan group of Senators and House members sang Happy Birthday to the President who turned 74 years old that day.

To learn more about capturing the spoken word in Congress, visit the U.S. House of Representatives History, Art, and Archives’ dedicated page to stenography in the Capitol.