O’Neill at the O'Neill

By David Horn

When you enter the main library at Boston College, please tip your hat or at least nod your head as you notice the name over the door: Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Library. The library is only one example of the many ways in which O’Neill proved to be a loyal and helpful alum (1936).

Tip O'Neill ExhibitTip: for more on this topic, with photos, see the virtual exhibit Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. and Boston College on the website of the John J. Burns Library.

The library’s namesake is almost always referred to as Tip O’Neill, and he is best known for serving as the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States for the longest consecutive term, 1977 to 1987. Around BC Tip was known for many things, and several of them are mentioned in the virtual exhibit. Tip graduated from Boston College in 1936 and was soon serving in the Massachusetts General Court, where he later became Speaker of the House. In 1952 O’Neill ran for and won the Congressional seat vacated by John F. Kennedy when the latter ran for the U. S. Senate.

Throughout his entire political career O’Neill was involved with Boston College. As a typical alumnus, he returned for class anniversaries and attended athletic functions. He helped raise money for the O’Neill Scholarships in the Political Science Department, and he helped to establish the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in American Politics in the same department.


The Burns Library has the voluminous papers – we’re talking not just trees but forests – of O’Neill’s years in Congress. A detailed guide to the papers is available.

To read every speech made in his 35 years in the House, use the Government Documents on level 1 of O’Neill the Library.

To visit the Speaker’s office, notice his picture at the stairwell to the right of the lobby on O’Neill level 3. Follow the blue line from the picture down stairs to an informative retrospective: Tip’s desk while Speaker, originally used by Grover Cleveland in the White House; many photographs of his local, national, and international career; and a recreation of an early campaign office. Tip: don’t try to eat the donut or drink the coffee.

Himself by himself: O’Neill’s two books are readily available: Man of the House (E840.8.O54A3 1988); and All Politics Is Local, and Other Rules of the Game (E840.8.O54A3 1994). Tip: the authoritative Library of Congress entry for this author in the online catalog is O’Neill, Tip.

Of the many books about O’Neill, the best, and the best place to start, is Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century, by John Aloysius Farrell (E840.8.O54F37 2001).

As mentioned above, the O’Neill Congressional papers are in the Burns Library, which is open to all Boston College students on an all come, all served basis.

Tip O'Neill Quiz

Why was Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. called “Tip”?

Are the ten years of O’Neill’s Speakership the highest number of years ever served by one individual as Speaker or just the longest consecutive term?

O’Neill was Speaker of the Massachusetts House and of the Congressional House: how many other people – if any – have done both?


David HornDavid E. Horn is the Head Librarian of Archives & Manuscripts at the Burns Library.


Photo: Stephen Vedder