Women of the House Characters

Though the series was short-lived, this offspring of Designing Women produced some entertaining
characters as support for Suzanne Sugarbaker during her brief stint in Congress.


A former staff writer for the Washington Post, Sissy Emerson takes on the position of Representative Sugarbaker's Press Secretary. At the time, her life is kind of pathetic; she's a drunk, hasn't dated in ages, been evicted from her apartment, lost her job and all of her credit, and basically has no more self esteem -- but Suzanne hires her anyway, unconcerned with resumes or experience because she considers her stay in Washington temporary. Suzanne's realization that Washington is as much for the little people of the country as it is for the snooty politicians has a big impact on Emerson too. All of a sudden she has a position to be proud of and a reason to get up each day. Emerson is a definite liberal and a constant advocate for women's rights. It is hysterical to watch her go head-to-head with her Republican counterpart, Natalie -- loving to get her digs in at Natty by insulting the Republican Party and the people involved in it. Even her general comments about her own life are sarcastic and hysterical -- once saying that the closest thing she had to a date recently was when two homosexuals took her out and asked her to incubate their baby.


Natalie Hollingsworth comes to work for Suzanne with many years in politics under her belt -- having previously worked "under" Congressman Ed Sharkey. Unfortunately the married Congressman was sent to a Virginia minimum security prison for taking bribes, leaving Natty to share conjugal visits to the prison with his "horse face" wife. Conservative Natty is convinced that she can eventually turn independent Suzanne toward Republicanism, but seems to have little luck -- spending more time in debate with the liberal Emerson, who knows just how to push her buttons. Natty expresses very little warmth, though her hard exterior does melt away when she is feeling shy and feminine. As she gets to know her co-workers better, she does start to show the more sexual side of herself, but aloofness is not her strong suit. She's not much of a people person, and her attempts to relate to her co-workers or joke around generally fall pretty flat. Since Natalie takes her job very seriously and wants to advance herself while molding the politically naive Suzanne, she is always concerned with appearances. She feels that Suzanne's image, along with the image of the entire staff, is of unequaled importance. Very short tempered, Natty becomes continually frustrated with the ridiculous non-professional behavior and comments of her co-workers -- feeling that everyone should better follow her experienced direction.

JENNIFER MALONE (Valerie Mahaffey) and (Julie Hagerty)

Jennifer Malone applies to work as Suzanne's receptionist directly after her separation from her philandering husband Jerry, an assistant coach for the Washington Redskins. Her main life experience comes from being a very naive wife and mother to her two teenage sons, so her exuberance and excitement over her new position is very evident. Malone -- as she is called by her co-workers -- is like a wide-eyed child, absorbing the daily stories from the other ladies in the office as if they were the smartest, most interesting people in the world. Jennifer is also naive enough to have sewn Devil's insignias on her sons' jackets at their request -- getting them suspended from school. Neurotically cleaning and baking all the time, she carries a large purse that seems to have anything you could ever want in it -- including mugs, homemade muffins and doilies, and even a can of furniture polish. She jumps into each new experience with both feet, including starting a college course in drawing male nudes (obsessing slightly since her ex was her only naked man up to this point), jumping back into the dating pool by buying a thousand condoms, and learning to express her sexuality by becoming a "bad girl."

VEDA WALKMAN (Lisa Rieffel)

Veda is sent to work for Representative Sugarbaker through a Congressional Leadership Intern Program that targets young people who had good high school test scores but did not pursue college. Being of a different generation than most of the people in the office, Veda's everyday behavior shocks her co-workers. She goes as far as to start moshing incidents at a Young Republican Dance that Natty drags her to and even tries to convince the head of the Christian Coalition to get his nipple pierced. Suzanne is also concerned to hear that Veda is going around asking if her breasts are real. She also seems to have a bizarre influence over the rest of the staff -- even rubbing off on older gentleman Dave, who starts wearing an occasional T-shirt with his suit instead of a dress shirt. The ladies make several attempts to dismiss her, but as they learn about her rough and lonely childhood, they start to feel sorry for the girl. Their last attempt at firing her comes by telegram, but after witnessing the practical jokes being played around the office, Veda assumes that this is her initiation gag and that she has finally been accepted. She continues to work in the office after that, but Suzanne -- finding both Veda and her name to be odd -- never does get her name correct, often referring to her as Velma, Vida, Leela, or even Velveeta.

JIM SUGARBAKER (Jonathan Banks)

The character of Jim Sugarbaker makes his debut in this series -- never having even been mentioned during the course of Designing Women. Where he fits into the history of the family is never made clear, and we know that Suzanne never took care of him before. We see very little of him, and know even less about him other than he is developmentally-challenged. We do know that he never forgets a date -- being a human calendar for Suzanne, and that he never spills anything. He likes to shine everyone's shoes and leaves them outside their doors every morning. When Suzanne decides to accept the President's invitation to go jogging, she and Jim come up with a secret plan: knowing that she doesn't jog, she has Jim peddle a bicycle with a sidecar so that she can ride alongside the President.

(Miss Sugarbaker Goes to Washington; Guess Who's Sleeping in Lincoln's Bed)


The Congresswoman's adopted daughter is seen only a couple of times over the series but is often referred to. The six year old girl -- who is of hispanic heritage -- dreams of being an actress, and Suzanne never misses her school plays. Desi sleeps on a bed shaped like a cloud and has a very close relationship with her mother, who sits hours helping with her homework and tells her bedtime stories every night. When Desi was a little girl, she and Suzanne brought-the-house-down at a mother/daughter talent show with their lip-sinking rendition of Jennifer Holiday's And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going.

(Miss Sugarbaker Goes to Washington; That's What Friends Are For)

SAPPHIRE JONES (Barbara Montgomery)

Suzanne's life-long mammy and housekeeper Sapphire is one of the most referenced characters in the series. It's never explained though why she was not with Suzanne -- or even mentioned -- during Suzanne's years on Designing Women. The ladies seem to have a close bond and a mutual understanding and respect for one another (though Sapphire is very sarcastic about it) -- a far cry from the attitude Suzanne used to have toward hired help.

(That's What Friends Are For)


A former Congressman who was sent to a minimum security prison for taking bribes, Ed Sharkey was Natatie's employer and lover of choice. Unfortunately for her, he was also married at the time. Natty feels that Ed has softened and become rather whiny since going to prison -- even getting into arguments with inmates over the Nintendo, but when Emerson spends time with Ed, she finds him rather hard to resist.

(The Conjugal Cottage)


Head of the Congressional Ethics Committee, Congresswoman Seizmore is determined to have Representative Sugarbaker thrown out of Congress. In her eyes, Suzanne is the most ridiculous and superficial person ever to be sent to the House of Representatives and an embarrassment to everyone around her. Upon finding out that Suzanne keeps a diary, Seizmore has it subpoenaed, despite Suzanne's begging.

(Dear Diary)

DAVE (William Newman)

The older gentleman who works in the office, Dave is kinda just there in the background. He doesn't really have a role in the series, but is the most frequent recurring character, there to give people messages and move the stories forward. His biggest role was in the episode Veda, where he seemed to be taken in by Veda's charms and even starts dressing more hip. Poor "fossil" Dave is also the butt of many office jokes.

(Guess Who's Sleeping in Lincoln's Bed; You Talk Too Much; Bad Girl; Veda; Women In Film)


Designing Women Online, Designing Women Tribute, Women of the House Magazine
and Belled Online ©1998-Present. All Rights Reserved.

  Julia Sugarbaker
  Charlene Frazier
  Mary Jo Shively
  Suzanne Sugarbaker
  Anthony Bouvier
  Carlene Dobber
  Allison Sugarbaker
  Bonnie Jean Poteet
  Bernice Clifton

  The Gentlemen Callers
  Supporting Characters
  Women of the House