Historical Markers
George H. Earle III Historical Marker
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George H. Earle III

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
3 Earle's Ln., Newtown Sq.

Dedication Date:
September 28, 1918

Behind the Marker

Head and shoulders portrait of Earle wearing a suit.
George H. Earle III, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1935-1939.
"My fundamental conviction is that life must be made more secure for those millions who by accident of birth are left at the mercy of marker economic forces."

So spoke newly elected Governor George Earle during his first address to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1935. As the first Democrat to occupy the governor's seat in Pennsylvania in nearly fifty years, Earle had ridden the New Deal tidal wave that had broken the GOP's hold on many states, Pennsylvania included. For the next four years, Earle would work to do for Pennsylvania what FDR was doing for the country, and newspaper reporters would dub the landmark legislation of his administration Pennsylvania's "Little New Deal."

On issues ranging from poor relief to labor legislation to civil rights, Earle aimed to fortify national New Deal policy with state policies to even the playing field between the haves and have nots in the Keystone State. "It is a philosophy of liberalism," Earle told the New York Times shortly after his election in November, 1934. "It is a philosophy that demands that one must strive constantly to attain as nearly as possible fair play and equal opportunity for all. In other words, any man or group that likes fair play doesn't need fear me. Otherwise they need fear me a great deal."
Standing on the reviewing stand, left to right, are Senator Joseph Guffey, Governor George Earle, Mrs. G.H. Earle and Harry Earle son of the Governor.
Inauguration of Governor George Earle, Harrisburg, PA, January 15, 1935.

Earle's rhetoric was reminiscent of President Franklin Roosevelt; and so was his pedigree. Born into a wealthy and influential Philadelphia family, Earle boasted deeply patrician roots. One ancestor purportedly came over on the Mayflower and helped establish the colony of Rhode Island. Others were close associates of William Penn and prominent in the affairs of colonial Pennsylvania. A great grandfather on his paternal side had helped rewrite the state's constitution in 1838.

As a young man, Earle showed no such inclination toward public life. After attending private schools in the Philadelphia area, and - again like Roosevelt - graduating from Harvard, Earle served with distinction during World War I as a commander of a submarine chaser. Earle then entered the family's sugar business. Handsome and athletic, he confined his competitive spirit to polo matches and dog shows.

Typical of his class, Earle was a rock-ribbed Republican. But the Depression changed all that, and in 1932, disillusioned with Hoover's handling of the crisis, Earle abandoned the GOP for the Democratic Party and Roosevelt. The newly elected president rewarded Earle's conversion - and his campaign contribution of $35,000 - by appointing him Minister to Austria in 1933. A year later, Earle resigned that position to run for governor of his home state. In the spring of 1934, with the backing of state Democratic boss Joseph Guffey, Earle won his party's nomination, in part because his personal wealth insured a well-funded campaign. Earle then won the general election, handily defeating Republican state attorney general William Schnader.
Governor Earle shakes the hand of one miner as another miner stands on crutches on the porch above them. A small child stands at the bottom of the stairs.
Governor George Earle visiting coal workers about to lose their homes in Scranton,...

Once in office, Earle wasted little time in setting the agenda for his "little New Deal." At the first of his special legislative sessions in 1935, he presented a series of measures designed to bring the long delayed New Deal to the Commonwealth. In this he had the cooperation of the lower house, composed of newly elected and enthusiastic New Deal Democrats. The still solidly Republican Senate, however, blocked his more ambitious plans for improving working conditions, and for the introduction of federal unemployment compensation.

In 1936, after Philadelphia hosted the video Democratic presidential convention, voters provided Democrats the majorities needed in both houses to implement his program. In 1937 and 1938, the Commonwealth witnessed the most productive legislative sessions of the decade, as the state legislature passed ambitious slate of new laws that included a state minimum wage, and unemployment compensation. In a blow against the powerful coal companies, it also abolished the coal and iron police, which companies had used to intimidate and control their workers.

The crowded floor of the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia.
The floor of the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia, PA, June 23,...
Earle also succeeded in changing the Pennsylvania's antiquated system of public relief. When he took office in 1935, the Commonwealth still relied heavily on county poor boards, and a less than efficient State Emergency Relief Board. Earle and his legislative allies succeeded in dismantling the poor boards and replacing the state board with a permanent Department of Public Assistance. Earle's social and labor policies helped make Pennsylvania what many considered one of the most reform-oriented states in the nation. Certainly his was the most reform-driven administration of the state's history.   
Oil on canvas of the <i>James J. Davis,</i> official portrait of the Secretary of Labor, March 5, 1921 to November 30, 1930.
James J. Davis, official portrait of the Secretary of Labor, March 5, 1921 to...

As he entered the second half of his term in 1937, Pennsylvania's charismatic governor seemed destined for great things. Earle made the cover of Time Magazine that July and was the subject of numerous national magazine and newspaper stories. A profile in the American Mercury declared him "the nation's Number One Carbon Copy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt." A feature in the New York Times proclaimed "A Political Star Rises in Pennsylvania." A Gallup poll conducted later that year was even more encouraging: next to Roosevelt and Vice President William Garner, Earle was the most popular Democratic politician in the country, and a likely successor to Roosevelt should he not seek a third term.

Unfortunately, the second half of Earle's term also was marred by a series of scandals that fueled a Republican backlash in his home state and tarnished his national reputation. Republicans and the conservative press exposed how party functionaries in his administration were dunning state employees for campaign contributions and channeling WPA jobs for patronage. Although Earle was never directly implicated, the investigations ruined his political future. Forbidden by the state constitution from succeeding himself in office, Earle in 1938 ran for the U.S. Senate. Despite considerable name recognition, he suffered from the same conservative backlash that elevated Republican markerArthur James to the Governor's seat, and the sent his Republican opponent, James "Puddler Jim" Davis, to the U.S. Senate.

The 1938 senate race marked the end of Earle's career in elective office, but not his ventures in public life. In 1940, Roosevelt appointed Earle to serve as U.S. minister to Bulgaria. A year into his assignment, the former Pennsylvania governor made headlines when he purportedly told Adolf Hitler during a private meeting that "I have nothing against the Germans, I just don't like you." After a final diplomatic appointment to Samoa ended in 1946, Earle returned to Pennsylvania and to private life. He died in Montgomery County in 1973.
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