Back in the Days When Good Republican Governors Stood Up to Republican Bosses
This biography favorable captures the essence of Martin Grove Brumbaugh. He enjoyed learning and built upon his education towards furthering his endeavors. When once questioned how long it took him to write a speech, he responded “the preparation of that speech took me just five minutes—and 40 years.” The bulk of his working life focused on education issues.
Growing a mustache to hide his youth, Brumbaugh was elected County Superintendent of Schools at the age of 22 in 1884. Winning election by just one vote, it became his duty to annually visit 200 schools with 235 teachers and 9,000 students during an era when the average age of a teacher was 25. Brumbaugh distinguished himself by objecting to the fact that male teachers earned far more than female teachers, an issue he remained devoted to throughout his life. Further, he designated Music and Drawing as core courses. Braumbaugh was also an early supporter of requiring teachers to pass qualifying examinations before they could teach. He developed such an exam. One year, about half the prospective teachers failed his exam.
The education programs fought for by Brumbaugh led him to become an unofficial but important advisor Louisiana schools from 1889 through 1893. He was saddened by the poor conditions of many of the Louisiana schools he visited. He brought the concept of blackboards to schools that were unfamiliar with them. Brumbaugh returned to Pennsylvania to further his own studies. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Afterwards, he resumed his crusade for education improvements, including fighting for offering college classes during evenings, weekends, and summertime. In 1989, he became the President of the Pennsylvania State Teachers’ Association.
Brumbaugh became Puerto Rico’s first Commissioner of Education in 1900. His tenure was controversial. He persuaded President McKinley to increase funds for schools in Puerto Rico. He was accused of purchasing school desks in an improper fashion and was questioned for having schools purchase a textbook he wrote, decisions he vigorously defended as legal and proper as he had great faith in his own work.
Brumbaugh returned to Pennsylvania to serve as Philadelphia’s Education Commissioner. He found a system where Philadelphia’s Republican ward leaders were powerful influences on education policies as each ward had a 12 member school board in addition to each ward sending one representative to a citywide Board of Education. Some school directors were caught and successfully prosecuted for selling teacher positions. As Philadelphia’s Commissioner, Brumbaugh assisted in establishing the first Traders School in America, almost tripled the salaries of female teachers (who still remained with less pay than male teachers), led a successful drive to create a new state school code, and, noting there were over 50,000 Black students, and increased the number of Black teachers from 49 to 97.
Physical fitness became a priority of Brumbaugh’s, who recognized the connection between fitness and learning. In 1907, Brumbaugh became President of the Playgrounds Association of Philadelphia where he sought donations to purchase vacant lots near schools to turn them into equipped playgrounds.
The Philadelphia Republican machine in 1914, led by the Vare brothers, decided Brumbaugh made an attractive candidate for Governor. Brumbaugh agreed to run. The Vare brothers had their opponent in a statewide Republican power struggle, Boies Penrose, agree to a compromise ticket with Penrose for U.S. Senator and Brumbaugh for Governor. Running for office was something that was alien to his Brethren religion, and there were some Brethren who felt that had Brumbaugh prayed properly he never would have become a candidate. Brumbaugh, though, strongly defended his desire for government service and even declared that anyone who criticized Pennsylvania’s government committed treason.
Brumbaugh defeated Vance McCormick in being elected Governor and his margin of victory likely helped the political boss Boies Penrose to a more narrow election. Brumbaugh then returned his more moral roots and, stunned to realize he suddenly controlled 54,000 patronage jobs, began to stand up to the Republican leaders who had persuaded him to run. Penrose openly vowed revenge. When he vetoed a bill that would allow railroads, a powerful lobby and key backer of the Republican Party, to be required to have one less person on crew on each train, the Republican power brokers began splitting with Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh offered himself as a favorite son candidate for President, as some Republicans thought Brumbaugh was the Republican academician answer to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Yet, Brubmaugh received only 21 Pennsylvania delegate votes with 34 Pennsylvania votes going to Philander Knox for President.
Penrose attempted to have Brumbaugh impeached. Republican legislators loyal to Penrose accused Brumbaugh of diverting $30,000 of a legislative contingency fund for Executive Mansion maintenance expenses. A resolution to investigate the Governor passed the legislature. The Auditor General, though, stated that Executive Mansion expenses should not be paid for by the Governor personally. The impeachment movement failed.
While Governor, Brumbaugh reluctantly signed into law a direct inheritance levy. He successfully pushed and won passage of bills that increased the minimum salaries of teachers and superintendents. He fought for and lost an attempt to abolish capital punishment.
Brumbaugh, both for religious reasons and representing a state that had 12% of its population of German descent, spoke out for staying neutral in the war in Europe that would later be known as World War I. When America entered the war against Germany and its allies, Penrose loyalists in the legislature feared Brumbaugh would not properly exercise his duties of Commander in Chief of the Pennsylvania National Guard. They unsuccessfully sought to place the National Guard under legislative control. Brumbaugh though declared that being American was more important than his pacifism. He performed his National Guard administrative duties and further created a Pennsylvania Reserve Militia to assist the State Police due to the depletion of the Guard within the state.
After serving as Governor, Brumbaugh was to have served as the State War Historian, yet legislators allied with Penrose objected and the appointment did not occr. Sadly, many World War I documents were collected but never properly categorized. Brumbaugh, other than continuing his advocacy of education, physical fitness, and recreation, never returned to politics. Brumbaugh left with a distate for politics, claiming “the whole mess of nonsense that crept upon our statute books …is more honored today in its breach than it is observance.” Thus, Brumbaugh, was perhaps an accidental politician who though rose to the demands of the office. This book is an excellent examination into this life.