Claiborne de Borda Pell (born November 22, 1918) was a United States Senator from Rhode Island from 1961 to 1997. A Democrat, he was that state's longest serving senator. Born in New York City, Pell attended St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Princeton University in 1940, and a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1946. While in Princeton, he was a member of Colonial Club. He served in the United States Coast Guard and United States Coast Guard Reserve, and from 1945 to 1952, he served in the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer in Czechoslovakia, Italy, and Washington, D.C..
In 1960, Pell won the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Theodore Francis Green after defeating (as an unendorsed outside candidate) two former Governors, Dennis J. Roberts and former U.S. Sen. J. Howard McGrath in the Democratic primary.
Pell is largely responsible for the creation of Pell Grants in 1973 (originally known as "Basic Educational Opportunity Grants"), which provide financial aid funds to U.S. college students. He was also the main sponsor of the bill that created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was active as an advocate for mass transportation initiatives and domestic legislation facilitating and conforming to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. He served as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1987-1994.
Pell is the son of former United States Representative Herbert Claiborne Pell, Jr., great-great-grandson of former Congressman John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne, great-great-grandnephew of former Senator and Vice President of the United States George Mifflin Dallas and great-great-great-grandnephew of former Senator and Representative William Charles Cole Claiborne and of former Congressman Nathaniel Herbert Claiborne. He is also a direct descendant of mathematician John Pell, who is said to have originated the modern division symbol.
Pell is married to the former Nuala O'Donnell, a descendant of the Hartford family and, as such, one of the heirs to the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company fortune. Pell himself is one of the heirs to what started out as the Lorillard tobacco fortune, although the family has been out of the Lorillard firm for generations. Their primary residence is the house known as "Pelican Ledge" overlooking Newport, Rhode Island's Bailey's Beach.
Upon his retirement from the Senate, Rhode Island's Newport Bridge was redesignated the "Claiborne Pell Bridge" and the Pell Center of International Relations and Public Policy was established at Salve Regina University, in Newport, Rhode Island, Pell's home town.
In 1993, during the bitter confirmation battle over Roberta Achtenberg, a lesbian, to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Pell stated that his daughter was a lesbian, and that he hoped that it would not be a barrier to federal employment for her. Many agree that Pell, arguably one of the most popular U.S. Senators of the later years of the 20th century, helped secure Achtenberg's nomination, making her the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the United States Senate. Pell now suffers from advanced Parkinson's Disease.