[C.1895–1922 Archive of U.S. Senatorial Letters and Papers kept by Republican “Boss,” Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania].

“Public office is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

“Magnificently coarse” and a formidable Philadelphia Boss and Senator, Boies Penrose (1860–1921), i.e. “Big Grizzly,” dominated the Gilded Age world of Pennsylvania Republican politics for thirty years. Penrose was literally larger-than-life. At six foot four he was an enormously obese man with an extraordinary intellect and an even more extraordinary appetite. Purportedly, Penrose would routinely eat a dozen eggs for breakfast with twelve rolls, copious coffee and a huge slab of ham. Graduated from Harvard, the name of “Big Grizzly” stuck while hunting in Wyoming with his brother “the latter was badly mauled by a bear; [and] disregarding the advice of the guides, Boies carried him out of the wilderness on his shoulders.” A big game hunting enthusiast, later in life he had to have a special horse and saddle because of his girth.

Largely friendless, nationalistic, nativist, cynical, ethical yet corrupt (“One of his favorite schemes, the “squeeze bill,” extracted large campaign contributions from wealthy industries by threatening them with punitive legislation near election time.” –ANB), Penrose was more interested in power than self-gain. He was a large figure on the national stage, promoting Big Business interests, knocking down labor rights, fighting against woman suffrage, Prohibition and the income tax, and helping to promote Theodore Roosevelt’s nomination as vice president under McKinley. Yet he disliked Roosevelt (“a cock-eyed little runt”) and Woodrow Wilson (“a schoolmarm”) and he was rumored to have thrown the 1920 presidential nomination to Warren Harding.

Penrose was scrupulous with having all correspondence addressed to him replied to promptly. He relied on a bevy of secretaries and was one of the first major politicians to understand the power of the telephone, racking up monthly thousands of dollars in bills. “Public office is the last refuge of a scoundrel” is perhaps the most famous Penrose quote. ANB observes: “The last of the big bosses, he valued political power above all else, including friendship and statesmanship.”

Series 1. Incoming Correspondence to Senator Boies Penrose, etc., c.1895–1921. Approx. 360 letters, in all (approx. 395pp including memoranda etc.). This large group of letters and other correspondence represents a nexus of Pennsylvania and national politicians, political insiders, newspaper editors and publishers, and other public persons. Its contents concern legislation and political endorsements and intrigues and include a substantial group concerning the candidacies of Pennsylvania Governor William C. Sproul (1870–1928), who served from 1919 to 1923, and his Lieutenant Governor Edward Beidleman (1873–1929). NB. Some carbon copies and original outgoing correspondence are also seen in this series.

This series includes 5 telegrams from President Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary, writing on behalf of TR; an ALS by playwright Charles Dazey (1855–1938) mentioning opening his play The Stranger in competition with a play starring Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923) and desiring that President William Howard Taft would attend his opening; an ALS from U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root; brief material concerning BP’s involvement with the Liberty Bell Tour in 1916; a brief TLS mentioning a cartoonist and dealing with voters of “foreign extraction”; excellent TLS from a woman voter complaining bitterly of local bootlegging; 8 copies of letters from Cardinal Dennis J. Dougherty (Archbishop of Philadelphia), President Warren G. Harding, etc. re: filling a position on the Board of Indian Commissioners; an anti-Roosevelt TLS; a secretarial TLS from Russell H. Conwell of The Temple College of Philadelphia (now Temple University) seeking an endorsement of the school and annotated by BP “send him a good letter of endorsement”; a few letters from members of the Mellon Family of Pittsburgh; a petition, possibly a draft, from a Pennsylvania labor union concerning the work of painting and decorating the Pennsylvania State Capitol; a small cache of three TLsS, memoranda, and seven pages of typed carbon copied letters concerning the “McCool Elephant case” which concerned a scheme involving a bronze sculpture of an elephant, emblematic of the Republican Party, rejected by Penrose; and other material.
 Correspondence includes letters from constituents, newspaper editors, and politicians etc.; some concerning Pennsylvania state politics and the Republican Party. Much of the correspondence is retained in small, discrete groups that might include multiple letters, memoranda by BP or BP’s secretary, Leighton C. Taylor, notes by BP, and retained carbon copies of replies sent by BP or by Taylor, etc.

Excerpts from select letters:

I believe as a result of this War that the Democrat party will build up a tremendous political machine which will attempt to remain in power during the next twenty five to fifty years. It will popularize itself in the same manner as the Republican party did after the Civil War. It is important that the republicans should now take unusual care to follow the public pulse. Undoubtedly there is a strong growing feeling in favor of Prohibition and Woman Suffrage. I think it is a mistake to stand in the way of either of these, as it subjects our party to criticism. I think the Republican party should assume an aggressive attitude toward any class of legislation that will popularize itself consistent with public welfare. There can be no denying the fact that Democrats have “the whip handle” on us and they have a decided disposition to take advantage of it. (Edward M. Greene, Mount Union Tanning and Extract Co., to BP, April 8, 1918)

As to your letter of the 5th. relative to the candidacy of Senator Sproul, we are with him, lock stock and barrel. He is going to win, and if he isn’t an improvement over the present incumbent, I will begin to lose faith in you. Did you select Brumbaugh? If so, where had you been the night previous? Of all the lemons that ever came down the Pike he is the sourist. If I had his egotism, his self sufficiency and all powerful nerve, I would put the “Kaiser” off his throne and do the German job better than he is doing it. He, (Brumbaugh) is a misfit, a petty politician and has done the Republican party more harm than green apples ever did to a four year old boy. ... Ed Beidleman is all right, if you can hold him down, but Ed gets off on a tangent now and then, explodes too easily and is liable to have time to think it over too late. As usual and ever we are with the“ Old Guard” but the way PIKE COUNTY has been recognized, one would wonder that there were any Republicans left in it. (Attorney Alfred Marvin, Matamoras, Pike County, Pa., to BP, April 9, 1918)

I have yours of April 8th [present in the archive], and have carefully noted the contents thereof. It did not seem possible to avoid a contest on the office of Lieutenant Governor. The Vare outfit insisted upon Scott who will be severely attacked and exposed in the newspapers upon his record, which is very bad, and as a tenderloin lawyer, and particularly as the attorney for the Frog Hollow murderers in the 5th Ward [a case involving the murder of a policeman]. Every newspaper in Philadelphia has given notice that such a nomination will not be tolerated and, in my opinion, should Scott be nominated it would place the ticket in jeopardy. Hence another candidacy was rendered necessary and the Republican leaders who took occasion to look into the matter decoded with singular unanimity that Senator Beidleman would be the best man to run. (retained carbon copy of a typed letter by BP to former Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor L.A. Watres, April 10, 1918)

Permit me to offer my sincere congratulations upon your re-election and by such a splendid majority. ... The women of the country and state have done nobly. Personally I was not enthusiastic for woman suffrage and was not in favor of regulating the sale of liquor by an amendment of the constitution. However these changes have arrived, and have come to stay. The women have started out right as Republicans. The Democratic enforcement of the Volstead Act is disgraceful. Among the great majority of the women, Prohibition is the important question. With a new administration, new officials etc. there is a great opportunity for the incoming Republican administration to make lasting friends and Republicans of the women, by an honest and efficient enforcement of this law. ... A little publicity; a statement that the Republicans will enforce the law; a simplification of the methods adopted and the achievements of some results, duly advertised, will add to the Republicans the woman vote of the country for years to come. (U.S. Commissioner William A. Skinner to BP, November 4, 1920)

Since writing to you last [a]bout the Wanamaker matter, they are moving heaven and hell to cover the thing up and they are trying to make light of the whole matter saying that it will be all right when Tom comes home. Tom sails about the 2Xth of this month and if you are wise you will have him looked after because is man here says he will be taken care of when he arrives and also says that if Philada. people give them any trouble they will transfer all of their work to New York Custom House where they won’t be troubled. Tom has bought a lot of stuff on the other side and he never declares anything what you want to do is to get busy and have him looked after and by the shades of Lou McGargee, he would have as good a photograph of that fraudulent case in the Custom House as they could make of the plaster[?] things at Harrisburg. Huston gave John his picture which he has hung up in his office but whose face will now be turned to the wall since John did not get any of the contract work, if he had there would not have been a word said, why would they give themselves away? Wes Andrews ought to get this thing into shape and they ought to get it good and hard. They will knock anybody and everybody unless things come their way and if they don’t they will ruin anybody if they can’t control them. There is not a dirtier lot on the Globe than this bunch. The reason I am writing you again is that their man is so confident that this thing will be quietly passed over that I am afraid it will be and your people will be the biggest fools living if you don’t get this thing out and show them up and then the people would know who they are to believe. People will never believe the ones they accuse in the North American are anything but thieves look at this morning’s paper for instance. Get the case that is down here photographed with their name on it and put it out in little book form and it will convince a whole lot that they are the thieves crying stop thief in order to cover up their own tracks. (“Amicus” to “Dear Senator” [BP], n.d.; accompanied by two related typed documents)

Series 2. Outgoing correspondence, etc. by Senator Boies Penrose, 1914–1919; some carbon copies and original incoming correspondence are also seen. 14 letters, in all (approx. 30pp including memoranda etc). Includes a very brief short MS. apparently in BP’s hand regarding “Negro Clubs,” government departments and segregation, etc. with related incoming TLS. 5 ALS by BP to: W.L. Mellon of Pittsburgh and others including newspaper editors. All letters quite brief.
 Also seen are memoranda by BP, some with newspaper clippings, to his secretary, Leighton C. Taylor, and retained carbon copies of replies and a telegram sent by BP. The MS. on African-Americans reports that the Democratic administration of President Woodrow Wilson ordered the segregation of “...the Negro Clubs in all Departments of the Governments… This order caused alarm and Republican Congressmen & Senators were called upon to intercede. Upon inquiry at the various Departments information was given that no such order had been issued or printed — Of course it was not printed, it was given out verbally and executed — Because the Negro Clubs were placed in rooms by themselves and other wise discriminated against and that is the condition to day.”

Series 3. Fourteen Unique Public Speeches by Boies Penrose plus other misc. writings including political statements, position papers, speech topic suggestions, etc., 1913–1914, 1919 (approx. 290pp). Speeches are typed and double spaced; included among them are 8 rough drafts or edited versions with manuscript emendations and corrections; some speeches are present in duplicate, though these duplicates are not part of the unique speech count. Includes speeches on Mexico; Abraham Lincoln; Ulysses S. Grant; agriculture; protectionism and free trade; and speeches to such groups as the National Association of Letter Carriers; The Young Men’s Republican Tariff Club; and The Welsh Tract Society of Philadelphia, The Logan Improvement League (Philadelphia), the 21st Ward Board of Trade (Philadelphia), and the Central Germantown Avenue Business Association (Philadelphia); plus speeches for such occasions as the Annual Appomattox Day Banquet and the York County Fair.

Series 4. Political Memoranda and Notes kept by or for Senator Boies Penrose, c.1910s–1920. 7 items, in all (approx. 108pp). Includes one-page thumbnail sketches of political office-holders noting their affiliations, strengths, weakness, character, etc. plus quips about them: “The best-dressed man in Harrisburg” or instructions: “He should be let go…” etc.—all inside information, perhaps gleaned by an investigative operative or detective or by a shrewd political observer; quarto, 79pp. A similar 7pp., evaluating New York members of the Republican National Committee, many excoriated. Various folios., 22pp., presenting lists of names and brief details of important party members.

Series 5. Typed Campaign Biography of Senator Boies Penrose and Correspondence between H.B. Nesbitt and BP regarding a BP biography Nesbitt will write, etc., c.1902 and 1920 (12pp). Comprises a 2½-page, single-spaced typed mimeographed copy of a campaign biography of BP by Randolph Keim, on three oversized folio sheets; a TLS from writer H.B. Nesbitt; two retained carbon copies of letters by BP to Nesbitt; a 1-page book treatment proposal to which is attached a 5-page mimeograph book synopsis, outlining each proposed chapter for Nesbitt’s book.

Series 6. Campaign Literature for Senator Boies Penrose, etc. c.1914. 4 Items (approx. 145pp). Comprises The Real Penrose. 1914. 16mo; illustrated wrappers. 56pp.; A Record of Service for Pennsylvania and the Nation. c.1914. Small 8vo; illustrated wrappers. 80pp.; a 1914 postcard invitation, with half-tone portrait of BP, to meet BP and other protectionist candidates. Galley sheets in advance of a 1914 BP Senate speech on internal revenue and touching on the First World War, then just beginning in Europe. BP infrequently gave Senate speeches.

Series 7. Senator Boies Penrose’s Campaigning Itinerary, Engagement Lists, 1914. 9 Items (approx. 37pp). Comprised of folio sheets, mostly mimeographed, some with ink or pencil annotations. Groups, named parties, dates, locales, events.

Series 8. Three Shorthand Letter or Notebooks, kept by Senator Boies Penrose’s private secretary, Leighton C. Taylor, and an Address Book, 1900–c.1903 (approx. 325pp). A substantial trove of content, two of the three shorthand-written notebooks appear to be, in effect, retained copies of letters, one notebook bearing a handwritten cover label: “Letters from June 12th 1900 to July 20th 1900.” The address book is thinly used.

Series 9. Incoming Correspondence and other papers of Senator Boies Penrose’s private secretary, Leighton C. Taylor, 1903–1925. 23 Letters (approx. 40pp). Letters, memos, etc. Mainly routine save for one retained letter written just after the death of BP, by Taylor to President Warren Harding. Poignantly, the letter is written on BP’s letterhead, BP then being deceased. Leighton has mis-dated the year of the letter. In part: “The Senator was ill more than two years … through it all, he was the personification of optimism, which coupled with an iron will, kept him alive and enabled him to render his country invaluable service through at least a part of the most critical time of history … No one knew Senator Penrose better, nor loved him more, than I…” Also seen here is a clutch of LCT material, non-related to Penrose.

Series 10. Correspondence, documents, notes, etc. regarding Senator Boies Penrose’s Yacht Betty, 1908–1910 and 1918–1920 (approx. 20pp). Includes two TLS by BP and the 1909 “Bill of Sale…of the Schooner Yacht or vessel, called the Betty” to BP.

Series 11. Correspondence, Notes, etc. regarding Senator Boies Penrose & Party going via Private Railroad Car, to Florida, 1920 (approx. 22pp). The logistics of this special trip are fleshed out, primarily by BP’s secretary, writing numerous notes, in granular detail, showing a remarkable variety of preparations required for the trip.

Series 12. Miscellaneous Correspondence and Papers relating to Senator Boies Penrose, 1917. Approx. 39 Items, including 3 letters (approx. 50pp, in all). Includes an abstract of a legal refereed by noted Philadelphia lawyer, George Wharton Pepper, concerning an auto accident involving BP; Penrose’s list of Christmas gifts (to political cronies?); misc. political or government related printing; 21 calling cards; some brief material regarding an issue with veterans as civil servants; a photographic reproduction of an 1894 ALS, purportedly authentic, demonstrating how a Democratic civil-officer was anti-Republican; and miscellaneous memoranda. 

Series 13. Collection of Newspaper Clippings given to or kept by Senator Boies Penrose, 1899 and 1917–1922, approx. 55 items. A number of clippings are from a professional newspaper clipping service in New York City.

Series 14. 350 Cancelled Checks signed or written on behalf of Senator Boies Penrose, 1903, 1912, 1919–1921. Includes one book of unwritten checks; one 1912 book of receipts showing expenses, bills, donations.

Series 15. Orders for a Memorial Day exercise and parade with Senator Boies Penrose’s participation etc., 1913–1914 (7pp). Includes Orders for Memorial Day, 1914 (4pp); 3 U.S. House of Representatives slip bills, including one duplicate; comprising a 1914 Resolution requesting the wearing of “a sprig of evergreen, tied with a bow of tri-colored red white, and blue” for Decoration Day (i.e. Memorial Day) and a 1913 Concurrent Resolution proposing a design for a 48-star U.S. flag.  Also seen are two newspaper clippings and an evergreen sprig with a tri-colored patriotic ribbon tied around it, likely a souvenir of the 1914 parade and exercises.

Description: [C.1895–1922 Archive of U.S. Senatorial Letters and Papers kept by Republican “Boss,” Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania].

[Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, et al. c.1895–1921 and 1925. Approx. 1,480 typed and manuscript pages. Arranged in 15 Series; see description below for details.] Housed in Archival Boxes. BCJ 319449.


See Lukacs, “Big Grizzly (Senator Boies Penrose of Philadelphia” within American Heritage Magazine October/November 1978, Vol. 29, issue 6. ANB. Boies Penrose Papers via the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.

Price: $4,500.00

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