CLAS graduate makes history while presiding over the U.S. House during Speaker slog

Cheryl Johnson graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in journalism and mass communication.
Thursday, January 5, 2023

By Katie Linder

A Hawkeye alum made history as she controlled the U.S. House of Representatives for four days until a new Speaker was elected. 

Cheryl L. Johnson
Cheryl L. Johnson

Cheryl Johnson, who serves as House Clerk, presided over the body and conducted each vote for a new Speaker. She’d been seen prominently in the coverage that dominated national news—wielding the gavel during 15 votes, until finally Rep. Kevin McCarthy, of California, won early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. 

William Lacy Clay, a former congressman from Missouri, has known Johnson for more than 40 years, telling MSNBC in a recent interview that he is proud of his friend.

“The country should know the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives is in great hands with Cheryl Johnson presiding over it,” he said during the on-air interview with the cable television network. 

Johnson received a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1980. While on campus, she worked on the copy staff for the 1979 Hawkeye Yearbook

After graduating from Iowa, she went on to earn her law degree from Howard University and graduated from the senior management program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Johnson was sworn in as Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She is the 36th individual to serve as Clerk and had done so since 2019. There will be a vote on a new Clerk now that speakership has been determined. 

Before becoming Clerk, Johnson worked for nearly two decades in the House followed by 10 years at the Smithsonian Institution, where she most recently served as Director of the Smithsonian’s Office of Government Relations, working with leadership to maintain strong relationships with Congress.

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.