Governor Edwin Sydney Stuart



January 15, 1907 - January 17, 1911




December 28, 1853


March 21, 1911


Governor Edwin Sydney Stuart
Photo courtesy of Capitol Preservation
Committee and John Rudy Photography


"I was never happier than when I was mayor of Philadelphia," were the words of Governor Edwin Sydney Stuart. Although he expressed regret to have become governor, Stuart nevertheless was a dedicated politician and had numerous positive accomplishments. He was born in Philadelphia, December 28, 1853. His father, Hugh Stuart, a farmer, was born in Scotland and his mother, Anna P. Newman, was a native of Ireland. His early education was acquired at the Southwest Grammar School in his native city. When thirteen years of age he earned three dollars per week as a clerk at Leary's, a Philadelphia bookstore. He took over management of the store when the store's owner, W. A. Leary, became ill and eventually purchased a controlling interest by 1876.

Stuart's education was supplanted by work at the bookstore and an intense interest in political activity. After joining the Young Republicans of Pennsylvania in the late 1870s, he became the Philadelphia chapter president in 1880 and led the organization during the successful campaign of President James A. Garfield. In 1882, Stuart became the statewide president of the Young Republicans and, at the same time, helped organize and lead the State League of Republican Clubs. He was re-elected president of both organizations each year until 1886 when he was elected in the twenty-sixth ward to Philadelphia's Select Council (later renamed City Council).

In the mayoralty convention of 1891, he was unanimously nominated by the Republican Party and was elected by the largest majority ever given a mayor in Philadelphia up to that time. Mayor Stuart, at age thirty-eight, enjoyed the distinction of being the youngest man in Philadelphia history to be elected to that office. Within one week of taking office, he was faced with a major scandal. Stuart discovered that City Treasurer John Bardsley had been speculating with public funds, misappropriating investments to city banks. Word of the arrest of Bardsley and several co-conspirators caused a run on deposits and collapse of several banks. The appointment of a new treasurer and full accounting of public funds at other banking institutions stabilized the city's financial outlook. Bardsley and several co-conspirators were prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. Respect for Stuart's no-nonsense approach continued to grow among citizens and ward politicians after he fired the director of Public Safety for wrongdoing. Stuart also required streetcar companies to help pay for street paving. He served on the board that managed Girard College, was a member of the Board of City Trusts, and chairman of the finance committee of that body, was twice a member of the Electoral College of Pennsylvania, and was its president when McKinley and Roosevelt were elected. During 1906, he was president of the Union League of Philadelphia.

After his term as mayor, Stuart returned to a seat on the Select Council in 1896, while he garnered the support of Boies Penrose, who succeeded as the leader of the state's Republican Party following the death of Matthew Quay in 1906. Although he did not seek the nomination, the Republicans drafted Stuart to run against Democrat Lewis Emery Jr., who campaigned on a theme of anti-Penrose political machine. Stuart was an avid campaigner and won the election over Emery by more than forty-eight thousand votes. Stuart became the first mayor of Philadelphia to serve as governor.

Once again Stuart when he faced a scandal soon after taking office in 1907. The new governor had no choice but to order a thorough investigation of public charges that the new state capitol building had millions of dollars in cost overruns, primarily for furnishings and fixtures. The construction was approved during the William A. Stone administration after a fire destroyed the old building in 1897. The new capitol was dedicated in October 1906, just prior to Stuart's election. State Treasurer William H. Berry uncovered fraud and conspiracy on the part of chief interior furnishing contractor John H. Sanderson, chief architect Joseph M. Huston, former State Treasurer William L. Mathues, Superintendent of Public Grounds and Buildings James Shumaker, Auditor General William P. Snyder, and Pennsylvania Construction Company official and former Congressman H. Burd Cassel. All were convicted, fined, and imprisoned, except Mathues who died a few days after sentencing. Former governor Samuel W. Pennypacker was not implicated in the scandal.

The investigation and trial lasted through Stuart's entire term of office and fifty hearings, two hundred witnesses, four thousand pages of testimony. This probably led to Stuart's remark that he regretted becoming governor. However, Stuart managed to focus on other issues. Stuart applied his leadership in the campaign against tuberculosis, at the time the nation's leading cause of death, and the improvement of the state's common school system. Stuart proposed a law establishing a school district in each municipality. However, it was not passed during his administration.

In 1900, Pennsylvania had the dubious distinction of leading the nation in cases of reported child labor. More than 120,000 state children under age sixteen were working in agriculture, coal, textiles, glass, and other industries. A law passed during the previous Pennypacker administration prohibited boys under age eighteen working in coal mines, but the law was declared unconstitutional. More sweeping laws withstood constitutional tests that raised the minimum age for factory and mine work to fourteen, prohibited night work, and set penalties for falsifying ages. Governor Stuart made it a point to expand the statutes, and required that industries obtain certification from local schools verifying a child's age and his or her ability to write in English.

Stuart's increased concern for public health was brought about with the fact that more than ten thousand Pennsylvanians died of tuberculosis in 1909 alone. The governor signed legislation in 1907 to transfer Mount Alto Sanitorium in Franklin County from the Department of Forestry to the Department of Health. The number of patients afforded the only treatment available at the time-fresh air, rest, good food, and exercise-at that facility increased from thirty to more than one thousand by 1911. Members of the at-risk public were also given pasteurized milk and eggs and well as free medical services. The state had greater success with smallpox as the result of a successful vaccine introduced in 1909, while health officers dispensed chemicals to eradicate such diseases as typhoid fever. Stuart also signed a law requiring the licensing of midwives in first class cities.

While Stuart routinely vetoed bills that favored pet projects of legislators, or unnecessarily regulated professions, such as blacksmiths, he enthusiastically supported bills that benefited the public at large. The 1905 legislation authorizing the establishment of The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg to house the accumulated artistic, historical, and natural treasures of the commonwealth was funded under Stuart's administration. The museum opened in 1907. Stuart signed legislation establishing a state fair at Harrisburg, the origin of the Pennsylvania Farm Show. He also continued expanding the state highway program, adding 550 miles of roadways, while he signed the bill creating the State Railroad Commission to regulate the state's railroads and telephone and telegraph construction that paralleled rail lines. With less importance, but making a significant impact on certain constituencies, Stuart also signed a bill in 1909 that required nomadic "gypsies," commonly seen in southeastern and central Pennsylvania squatting on land, begging for food, and occasionally involved in petty thievery, to obtain licenses from respective counties in order to set up camp and sell goods in their makeshift marketplaces. The Ice Cream Law, signed in 1909, was also popular in helping to protect the public from false labeling and adulterated contents of one of their favorite desserts.

The state constitution prohibited Stuart from seeking another term, but Stuart was ready to quit politics by the end of his term in office. Although he circulated among the social and economic elite of Philadelphia, he never again sought public office, choosing instead to retreat to the office of his bookstore. He gave press interviews and served as president of Philadelphia's Board of City Trusts for twenty years. He was also appointed to the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in 1914, became its deputy governor in 1915, was the president of the Union League of Philadelphia, and headed the Pennsylvania Society of New York.

Self educated, he received honorary degrees from Lafayette College, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Pittsburgh. Edwin Sydney Stuart died on March 21, 1937. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County.