Historical Markers
Martin G. Brumbaugh Historical Marker
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Martin G. Brumbaugh

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
PA 26, 1.3 miles NE of Marklesburg

Dedication Date:
July 1, 1949

Behind the Marker

Photograph of Pennsylvania Governor Martin Brumbaugh sitting in a chair, circa 1915
Pennsylvania Governor Martin Brumbaugh, circa 1915.

"We have been overlawed. We should never make a law that in its operation will work harm to the many, and good only to the selfish or potential few. It is the business of government to make it easy to do right and difficult to do wrong. We need few additional laws. We could well afford to repeal many more than we enact."

Martin G. Brumbaugh, From his inaugural address as Governor of Pennsylvania, January 19, 1915.

In 1912 the people of the United States elected Woodrow Wilson, the first and only Ph.D. to serve as President. (Wilson was also the former college president of Princeton.) Two years later, the voters of Pennsylvania chose Martin G. Brumbaugh the first Ph.D., and a former college president of Juniata College, as their governor.

Disappointed by the performance of political "machines" run in the interest of business by often poorly educated political bosses, Americans during the Progressive era turned to civil engineers, professional city managers, economists, college professors, and other experts to solve pressing civic problems. Both Wilson and Brumbaugh, ironically, entered politics at the urging of party bosses. Wilson's election as governor of that state had been engineered by Democrat James Smith of New Jersey; Brumbaugh's candidacy was sponsored by the Vare brothers of Philadelphia. The bosses hoped that by controlling which experts served in high office they could control the nature of reform.

Cover Page
Frontpage of Martin G. Brumbaugh's The Standard First Reader, Christopher Sower...
Brumbaugh was born in 1862 into a Pennsylvania-German farm family in Huntingdon County that belonged to the pacifist Church of the Brethren, better known as "Dunkers" because of their insistence on total immersion of the body during baptism. After earning a B.A. at the Brethren Normal School (today's Juniata College) in Huntingdon, Brumbaugh became superintendent of schools for Huntingdon County, ran teachers institutes in Louisiana, and in 1894 earned a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. He then became President of Juniata College, a position he left in 1900, at the personal request of President William McKinley, to become commissioner of education in Puerto Rico.

In 1902, Brumbaugh returned to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a national reputation as an expert on how to teach American children patriotism along with reading, writing, and arithmetic. Schools throughout the nation used his Brumbaugh Standard Readers, which replaced the markerMcGuffey Readers in many schools as the basic text for teaching children how to read. His popular leaflets, Stories of Pennsylvania and The Liberty Bell, instilled patriotism in the youth of America.

In the early 1900s, the Philadelphia city school system was one of the largest and worst in the nation. Poorly paid teachers had to bribe the Republican city leaders to get their jobs, while politically connected contractors made large sums repairing and building schools. The Vare Brothers, who controlled the city's Republican machine, had themselves risen from the working class. The sons of a pig farmer, they started as refuse collectors. They genuinely represented their constituency by favoring better schools, women's compensation, and laws regulating children and women's working conditions.

In 1906, the Vares convinced Brumbaugh to become superintendent of the Philadelphia public school system, and gave him relatively free rein to make improvements. Brumbaugh did just that, hiring teachers on merit and reducing the fees paid to contractors while having the political savvy to realize the party faithful also had to wet their beaks.

Brumbaugh's tenure as superintendent made him popular with both the Philadelphia Republican machine and reformers. In 1914, the state Republican Party was struggling to maintain control of the Commonwealth. Machine candidate markerJohn Tener had only narrowly been elected governor in 1910, and former president Theodore Roosevelt had handily defeated the machine-backed Republican William Howard Taft in Pennsylvania while running as the Progressive Party presidential candidate in 1912. To unify the party, the state Republican leaders accepted the Vares' proposition that Brumbaugh become the next governor. In November 1914, Superintendent Brumbaugh defeated Democrat Vance McCormack by 130,000 votes out of over 1,200,000 cast.

Children playing volley ball on a roped off street in front of a school,
Children playing volley ball in front of a public school, Pitcairn, PA, 1919.
Once Brumbaugh took office, the legislature passed some of the reforms advocated by the governor, the Vares, and state progressives. The state passed its first marker workmen's compensation law, established a Workman's Compensation Bureau to enforce it, and forbade children under sixteen from working more than forty-eight hours a week. The legislature and governor set up a State Commission of Agriculture with a county agent system to advise farmers on the latest techniques. Road construction continued to accommodate the emerging automobile age. Brumbaugh also set a record for vetoing 400 bills, most of them the sort of local boondoggles that legislators had long taken for granted.

In 1916, Pennsylvanians hoped the Republican Party would nominate Brumbaugh to run for president against Woodrow Wilson, but he refused to be a candidate. A pacifist, prohibitionist, and supporter of women's suffrage, Brumbaugh might well have won, for Wilson's slogan "He kept us out of war" was a leading reason he defeated Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican Governor of New York.

Once the United States declared war, however, Brumbaugh converted completely to Wilson's crusade. In 1917, he demanded that all state employees take a loyalty oath or be fired. He set up a state Committee of Public Safety that organized Liberty Loan drives and medical assistance for the troops, supervised the draft, and investigated people who opposed the conflict.

Brumbaugh did a good job protecting Pennsylvania Germans and Hungarians from the wartime harassment they experienced in other states, perhaps because he himself was a German-American and initially had strongly opposed U. S. intervention in World War I. The police reduced several thousand complaints to 632 arrests, only twenty-one for espionage or as enemy aliens, the rest for draft-dodging, desertion, and flag-burning.

After his term as governor ended in 1919, Brumbaugh spent his time lecturing, using his state and national popularity to support Republican candidates, and returning to Juniata College, which he again served as president from 1924 until his death in 1930. Brumbaugh exemplified the Progressive impulse of the Republican Party in the early twentieth century, but was also flexible enough to work with the bosses to achieve the moderate yet respectable record of reform that was possible in this machine-dominated, most Republican of states.
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