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From cuts to candles, this Capitol barber has made her mark

Veronica Baugh is a familiar face on the Hill. ‘Everyone up here knows me,’ she says

Veronica Baugh sits in the House barbershop in the Rayburn Building on May 22.
Veronica Baugh sits in the House barbershop in the Rayburn Building on May 22. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s been a while since David Bowman worked at the Capitol, and yet he finds himself back there every couple of weeks, seated in a chair at the House barbershop.

“He comes in and he gets on my nerves,” laughed Veronica Baugh, known to many around the Hill as Ms. V, as she took clippers to his hair on a recent Friday. 

“I don’t let everybody at my hair. I’m very particular, and she’s able to deal with me,” said Bowman, over the hum of the electric blade and R&B music playing softly. 

He’s been a customer since his days as a staffer for the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. “She’s like my second mother. We’ve fought a few times, about many things, but I still find my way back,” Bowman said.

Baugh has that effect on people. In more than a decade cutting and styling hair on the Hill, Ms. V has become a fixture. Her face appears in a mural that hangs in a House office building. Her line of candles, which she makes at home on nights and weekends, is now sold in the House gift shop. And customers say she makes Congress a brighter place.

“Hi, Ms. V,” a Capitol Police officer said as she walked into the Rayburn Building cafeteria one recent afternoon.

“Everyone up here knows me,” Baugh said, giving her customary rolling laugh. “I laugh a lot. I’m a happy person, why not?”

Baugh is the latest in a line of Capitol barbers who have made an impression on the Hill. Joe Quattrone, or Joe Q, as his friends and clients knew him, achieved iconic status over the course of his more than 50-year career before retiring in 2022.

Quattrone’s reign spanned generations, harking back to a time when a mustache trim cost less than a dollar and there were several places to get a buzz or a bob around the Capitol complex. The House privatized the shops in the mid-1990s, but this small corner of the Rayburn basement remains a refuge for some.

Customers credited Quattrone with creating an apolitical oasis on the Hill, and Baugh has picked up where he left off.

“You go in there and she’s always happy to chat but never forces you to chat. And she never asks about work,” said client Britton Burdick, communications director for House Agriculture Committee Democrats. “She’s not impressed by who you work for or what your bill is. It’s not that she doesn’t care. I think she just gets that most people are there to step out of the bubble.” 

“It’s not a political space, which is interesting because it’s in the middle of one of the most politicized institutions in the country,” he said.

‘It’s like family here’

Baugh grew up in D.C. and started cutting her brothers’ hair when she was around 10. Her clientele expanded to neighborhood kids, and eventually she started hanging in local barber shops, soaking up the stories and honing her craft along the way.

“Once the clippers got in my hand, it was like magic,” Baugh said. “And I loved the atmosphere.”

After decades working in local shops, Baugh answered a Craigslist ad and landed her first job on the Hill in 2010. She’s done stints in the Senate barbershop and the Cannon beauty salon before it closed. But Rayburn is home.

“It’s like family here,” said Essita Cox, who works in the chair next to Baugh’s. 

A beautician by training, Cox had to adjust to cutting mostly men’s hair when she first arrived. “She’s been good to me,” she said of Baugh. “I’ve gotten better since I got here.”

Baugh is not bashful about her technical abilities. She’ll cut any style of hair and calls herself “the master of the fade.” She believes she’s the first Black woman to occupy the shop’s first chair, which she said goes to the top barber.

“I don’t care where you cut at, the first chair is it. Everybody’s going to go to that first chair,” she said. 

But it’s the relationships that matter most, and Baugh will happily take credit for saving people’s marriages. “Being a barber is like being a counselor. I give people advice,” she said.

From her station in the shop she hears a lot, though she isn’t awed by her political clientele. Congressional politics is “all a game to me,” she said. She doesn’t give them any special treatment, and she doesn’t tolerate tardiness.

“I have the members running in the hall because I get on them,” Baugh said.

Baugh gives Rep. Frank D. Lucas a trim in the House barbershop. Her clients include lawmakers and congressional staffers, and she encourages everyone to be on time. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. called Baugh a “creative and interesting personality” who cares deeply about her customers. He confirmed that he’s run afoul of Baugh for being late or failing to make an appointment in advance.

“She prefers for you to book online, but some of us have difficulty doing that,” the Georgia Democrat said. “And so we have to withstand the tongue lashing when we show up.”

Rep. Steven Horsford is another regular who admires her “vision and passion as an entrepreneur,” the Nevada Democrat said in an email.   

Civil rights icon John Lewis was a customer before his death, as was New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., who died in April. She keeps a photo of Payne in her stall.

On a recent Wednesday, she cut Oklahoma Republican Rep. Frank D. Lucas’ hair. GOP firebrands like Matt Gaetz and George Santos have sat in her chair, too, as have many congressional staffers.

“It’s not some luxurious setting where you think all these politicians would go for like $400 hair cuts,” Burdick said. “It’s $20 for a fade, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a staffer or the speaker of the House.”

‘They healed me’

As much as she enjoys her work as a barber, candle-making has taken up increasingly more of Baugh’s time in recent years. 

She said she started making the candles after a run-in with a couple Capitol Police officers on the Hill over the course of several days in 2021. Baugh said the officers took offense to an Egyptian ankh tattoo on her right shoulder and alleges they proceeded to harass her.

The ankh symbolizes eternal life, and has also become tied to neopaganism and is popular in Gothic subcultures. “It represents life to me,” Baugh said. “I’m not a religious person, but I’ve always liked the ankh.” 

Baugh filed two lawsuits against the officers, but both were dismissed, in part because her lawyer made procedural errors. 

“We take allegations like this seriously, so the Office of Professional Responsibility thoroughly investigated this and found no wrongdoing,” a spokesperson for the Capitol Police said in a statement. 

Through it all, Baugh leaned into candle-making to cope with the stress of the situation.

“The candles, they helped me. They healed me. Sometimes I still have little anxiety attacks, but I’m gonna get over it,” she said. 

She started her business small, bringing in a few candles at a time and selling them to customers at the barbershop. Demand grew and she expanded her operation, ultimately launching her brand, BlackTree Candles. 

The hand-poured soy candles include scents like “Capitol Cherry Blossom” and a rose, vanilla and lavender variety called “Independence Day.” She sells them online and in the House gift shop, and she hopes to expand further, hire staff and open her own manufacturing space.

It’s an exciting prospect for Baugh, but customers say they can’t imagine the Hill without her.

“She wants to retire but I told her she can’t retire, because where are we going to go?” Bowman said. 

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