For the early history of how AMEN CORNER came about, the reader is urged to review the "Genesis" of the AMEN CORNER written by Eugene L. Connelly, about 1927.
Prominent Pittsburghers of the 1900 era, the originators of the AMEN CORNER are Andrew Daugherty, Cluss Lawrence (father of Mayor Lawrence), John F. O'Toole, B.A. Joyce, John Sheppard, John McKelvey, Wm. Brennan, P.J. Berry, Chas. Flinn (brother of Senator Wm. Flinn) John Dunn, Judge John Sweeney, John Flannery, Joe Joyce, James McKay and William Lang.When you check these names, you will note that the composition consists of members of both political parties.
While the records show that Senator Frank Harris was the acting president of AMEN CORNER some time before 1923, the first president listed was Samuel Robertson. Unfortunately, we have not been able to track down details on these formative years about the men who were the officers in the early 20's.
As best that we can determine, the first Annual Dinner of the AMEN CORNER was held on Saturday night, May 23, 1925, in the William Penn Ballroom, and was in honor of its retiring president, Senator John P. Harris. It is interesting to note that the invitation read: "The AMEN CORNER, Pittsburgh's most unique association of men of many minds, respectfully requesting...". We do not have a dinner program of that event; however, we can assume from the printed roster of attendees, that a most successful dinner was held. Actually, there were 781 men in attendance, and the list of those present reads like a Pittsburgh's Who's Who of the middle 20's. There were 27 men at the speaker's table, including Genreal Edward Martin; Commanding Genreal of the 28th Division, later the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, Auditor General, Treasurer, Governor, U.S. Senator in Pennsylvania, Actor Raymond Hitchcock, Theatre Mogul Edward F. Albee, Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania, D.J. Davis, Congressman, W.D. Porter; Ex-Governor, John K. Tener, Judges, the Mayor, late Senator Joseph F. Guffey, and former Heavyweight Champion James J, Corbitt.
Undoubtedly, the Harris Brothers, John and Frank (both of whom were State Senators) and Eugene L. Connelly, member of the news media, were the catalysts who fashioned the AMEN CORNER in the image that we know today.
It has been mentioned by some of those who have some recall of the early 1920's that the AMEN CORNER then was made up of members who were nearly all registered Republicans. However, upon perusal of the old dinner programs, there is a sprinkling of those prominent in the Democratic Party. One such is David Leo Lawrence (later mayor of Pittsburgh and Governor of Pennsylvania), who was credited as a leader of Pittsburgh's renaissance. Undoubtedly, he was the greatest political figure this area has produced so far. Then there is Joseph Guffey of oil fame, who became a U.S. Senator in 1934. An interesting sidelight, he defeated incumbent David A. Reed, Republican. They both lived in Shadyside within a block of each other and voted in the same precinct of the Seventh Ward. It should also be noted that Frank Harris and David Lawrence were partners in an insurance agency. Another noteworthy item--the motion picture industry started in Pittsburgh and the Harris' were the first theater owners.
The AMEN CORNER has always been identified as having strong political ties, and after the turn of the century may have been considered an arm of the Republican Party. On of our former Presidents, Judge Elder W. Marshall, mentioned often that at one time "every candidate chosen from this area to run for office in the state of Pennsylvania was elected at meetings in the AMEN CORNER rooms". It should be remembered, however, that there were very few registered Democrats in Pittsburgh or Allegheny County; hence, the preponderance of Republicans in the AMEN CORNER history, of course, will attest that after Mr. Roosevelt's election in 1932, practically all of the Republicans registered Democratic.
The programs at the annual dinners, starting with the first in 1925, were all very grand events. In addition to the speakers, there was a musical presentation saluting over 30 years of Pittsburgh's own Danny Nirella's Orchestra.
Danny was a musical institution in those days, and undoubtedly was Pittsburgh's premier musician. He was a member of the AMEN CORNER. Old timers may recall that his wife was a beautiful opera singer, and for years sang "The Star Spangled Banner" at opening day at Forbes Field, as well as the World Series in 1925 and 1927. Also, the programs contained lyrics, which were to be sung to the tunes of well-known songs. These were parodies sometimes on the major political parties and speakers of the evening. For example, the dinner program in 1932 had the following ditty called "Socialist Platform" to be sung to the tune of "Maryland":
"The Socialists are marching on.
They're on the road to Washington;
And Norman Thomas is the man
Who leads this roving caravan.
For those who do not understand
We'll mention here some things they've planned.
The first is the Big Event
'A Clean and Honest Government'.
Their Platform we'll explain to you
Please give attention until we're through;
Five billion dollars for the poor
For Public Works five billion more.
Five days a week, six hours a day;
With no reduction in their pay.
Put higher taxes on financiers
And pension all at sixty years."
Since the inception of the annual dinners in 1925, the AMEN CORNER had brought to Pittsburgh a coterie of after dinner entertainers and speakers of nationwide distinction and worldwide significance. Probably, this is one of its unique characteristics in that it has presented a forum annually to the members, their guests, and the local news media of persons who have literally made history in their respective areas of participation--entertainers, sports, industry and politics.
The annual dinner traditionally honors the outgoing president of AMEN CORNER, and the list of presidents of the last 57 years is one who have made their contributions to the Pittsburgh Community in vast fields of business, civic, entertainment, professional and political affairs.
Probably no organization in any area of these United States has perennially provided its community a more prestigious group of speakers than has the AMEN CORNER since its beginning.
There are some dinners that are remembered for their special significance, and we list them below only for a matter of record and fond memory:
Honoring RAYMOND D. EVANS. The actual debate took place without rebuttal. For the Republican Party: George H. Moses, former Senator, N.H.; for the Democratic Party: Senator Alben W. Barkley, KY (A future Vice President). Subject: New Deal,Fair Deal, Square Deal.
April 5, 1962
Honoring THOMAS McCAFFEREY, JR. When Senators Robert. S. Kerr (Dem.--OK) and Harry P. Cain (Rep.--WA) engaged in one of the greatest off-the-cuff debates ever outside of Capitol Hill.
April 27, 1967 Honoring HOUSTON B. MARSHALL, Gov. George C. Wallace was the speaker representing the Democratic Party. The Washington contingent backed out. This was undoubtedly our most publicized dinner and the best attended. Gov. Wallace survived his critics. The AMEN CORNER, under tremendous pressure, refused to withdraw its invitation, thus demonstrating its integrity and fairness.
April 12, 1973 Honoring Eugene F. Connelly. Just returned Vietnam prisoners of war from our area were present, along with Astronaut James Lovell, and Senators Ernest F. Hollings and Charles H. Percy. This was a most emotional dinner.
Over the years AMEN CORNER has had wonderful friends in Washington and those persons to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for assisting in obtaining the finest speakers for our programs, including Ed Martin, Jim Duff, Hugh Scott, Jennings Randolph, and John Heinz, U.S. Senators all from the state of Pennsylvania, with the exception of Jennings Randolph from West Virginia, who has the distinction of serving in the Congress longer than any other person form 1932 to present--an unbelievable 50 years of dedicated, productive public service to his state and nation.
A Partial List of Honored Guest Speakers At Amen Corner Annual Dinners
George D. Aiken, Alben W. Barkley, E. L. Bartlett, Birch Bayh, J. Glenn Beall, Jr.,Wallace F. Bennett, J. Caleb Boggs, H. Styles Bridges, John W. Bricker, Dale Bumpters, Thomas A. Burke, John M. Butler, Harry Flood Byrd, Robert C. Byrd, Harry P. Cain, Joseph Clark, Marlow W. Cook, John Sherman Cooper, Jeremiah Denton, L.J. Dickinson, Eerett McKinley Dirksen, Edwin T. Dixon, Thomas J. Dodd, James H. Duff, John A. Durkin, Thomas F. Eagleton, Guy M. Gillette, Barry M. Goldwater, "Pat" Harrison, Vance Hartke, John Heinz, Ernest F. Hollings, Kenneth B. Keating, James P. Kem, Robert S. Kerr, William F. Knowland,Thomas H. Kuchel, Philip F. LeFollette, Frank J. Lausche, Josh Bryan Lee, Gale William McGee, Thomas J. McIntyre, Warren G. Magnuson, Michael J. Mansfield, Edward Martin, Jack Miller, A.S. "Mike" Monroney, George H. Moses, Frank E. Moss, Daniel P. Moynihan, Karl E. Mundt, Herbert R. O'Connor, James B. pearson, Charles H. Percy, Winston L. Prouty, Jennings Randolph, Joseph Taylor Robinson, Eilihu Root, Jr., Leverett Salstonstall, Andrew F. Schoeppel, Richard S. Schweiker, Hugh Scott, Alan K. Simpson, George A. Smathers, Ellison DuRant Smith, John J. Sparkman, Arlen Specter, John C. Stennis, Robert Taft, Jr., Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., John J. Williams.
Members of the House
Gerald R. Ford, Charles A. Halleck, Joseph M. Martin,Jr., Arch A. Moore, William S. Moorhead.
Gordon Browning of TN, John S. Fine of PA, David Lawrence of PA, Allan Shivers of TX, Richard S. Thornburgh of PA, William Munford Tuck of VA, John A. Volpe of MA, George C. Wallace of AL.
Marty Allan, F. Lee Bailey, Herbert Brownell, Vice Admiral Richard L. Conolly, Jim Corbett, Rear Admiral Robert Donahue,, Joseph Dunninger, Robert H. Finch, Glenn Frank, Edgar Guest, General Hugh Johnson, Captain James A. Lovell, John D. Rockefeller, IV, General Carlos Romulos, Mayor Jimmie Walker.
Recent Guest Speakers
Allegheny County Chief Executive James Roddey; Coroner, Dr. Cyril Wecht; Mayor, City of Pittsburgh Tom Murphy; Pittsburgh City Council President Bob O'Connor; U.S. Senator Rick Santorum; Congresswoman Melissa Hart; Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cappy; Owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates Kevin McClatchey; ABC Newscaster Paul Long; Political Analyst Jon Delano; Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala; and Attorney General Mike Fisher.
The AMEN CORNER, ever since its inception, has sponsored some types of events of its members and guests. In the early years there were picnics held at various farms and groves. In the 20's the picnics were held at "Indian Mound" in McKees Rocks; in the 30's the picnic spots included "the Dells" at Wildwood, PA, Turner Park in Perrysville, PA, Rainbow Park in Versailles Township, PA, and the Henry Townsend Farm near Carnot, PA; in the early 40's Daniels' Grove was the site of these outdoor parties. In the latter 40's and early 50's these gatherings were at the Stanton Heights Golf Club. In 1956, no trip was planned. The group instead took a boat trip to Wheeling Downs. No picnics were held from that time until 1975 when President Thomas J. McCaffrey re-instituted them; first at Lovuola's Farm in Greentree, and since 1978 in Scott Township Municipal Park.
Our picnics are always held in early fall (September) and since every year there is an election naturally, it has become quite an event where office holders and aspirant to public office consider it a must on their campaign trail. Candidates for statewide offices, particularly from other than the western part of the state generally include "THE AMEN PICNIC" on their campaign schedules. It is a good time for the members and guests to meet these persons in the atmosphere of friendship and congeniality. Our picnics have been held at the Riverwatch on the Boardwalk in the Strip District, the Mayernick Center, and Schenley Park.
The annual Holiday Party held in one of the large public rooms in the William Penn Hotel is recognized as "The Holiday Event" in Pittsburgh The first of these events was held in the 30's on New Year's Eve, between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. For many years afterwards, these were on New Year's Eve. However, in 1964 the date was switched to the Friday before Christmas. Today, the event is held around the second Wednesday of December.
From time to time the CORNER has held luncheons to recognize persons of achievement in our area who have contributed to making Pittsburgh really Some Special Place. Today, luncheons are held to welcome new members to AMEN CORNER and give them the opportunity to meet other members.
Since 1965 we have had affairs honoring the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania when they are sitting in Pittsburgh. This body comes to Pittsburgh one week in the spring and one week in the fall. Originally we had luncheons, but since time during their working day was so limited, in 1972, we held the first cocktail party. This has become an outstanding event with practically all of the federal judges attending, as well as members of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania and Judges from the Courts of Western Pennsylvania Counties. It is quite an occasion and very well attended, not only by lawyers, but the full spectrum of our membership. In 2001 we honored the Female Judiciary of Western Pennsylvania. At no time in the history of AMEN CORNER, as well as the State of Pennsylvania, have women judges been honored.
In addition to the aforementioned events, which really are the traditional ones (The Annual Dinner, The Supreme Court Cocktail Party, the Stag Picnic, and the Holiday Party), from time to time social events have been planned such as evenings at the Meadowlands Race Track, dinner at the Allegheny Club, and a ballgame, cruises and a dinner on the Gateway Party Liner, wine and cheese parties, etc.
Traditional events in the 1930's included Saturday luncheons and minstrel shows.
The origin of the name "AMEN CORNER" and how it came about should be recorded for future historians to know and to savor.
From the "Genesis" we learn that "the progenitor of the AMEN CORNER" was called "The Steps" because the group met on the steps of a building. Voice legend has it that when "The Steps" began to meet in the corner of the lobby of the William Penn Hotel, lively discussions on the events of the day--but more probably on the current politics going on at the time--would be punctuated with "Amen" when a valid point was made. So, out of the corner of the lobby to the club floor rooms the transition to the now famous "AMEN CORNER".
Readers are encouraged to read the "Creed" of the AMEN CORNER as well as the "Genesis". It, too, was written by Eugene L. Connelly and has drawn some noteworthy attention, especially when perused for the first time by many of our famous speakers from the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Throughout the years, much publicity has been afforded our annual dinners due in part to our holding a press conference prior to the dinner when the local media have an opportunity to meet with our distinguished guests and speakers. Occasionally, we draw members of the national press corps, such as in 1967 when Governor George Wallace was a speaker, and in 1975when we had both the majority and minority leaders in the U.S. Senate ( Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana and Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania).
We particularly point to an article in "The New York Times Magazine" dated March 22, 1970 to substantiate our claim to widespread fame. We quote from that piece entitled "Why Can't We Just Give Them Food?" by Robert Sherrill: "even illogical arguments are enough to spike most legislation in the Senate Agriculture Committee if the arguments are offered by one of the three patriarchs: Chairman Allen Ellender, 79, Holland, 77, or George Aiken, 77. Most of the other members of the committee are very eager to please these three, who see eye to eye. Though Aiken is from Vermont,he has alway felt close to the southern viewpoint on farm matters.When he came to the Senate 30 years ago he was sponsored for a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee be South Carolina's Cotton Ed Smith (those were the days when the Farm Committee had some status and Senators actually sought to get on it, freshman had a hard time making it without a powerful sponsor)".
A couple of years earlier,Cotton Ed and Aiken, who was then the Governor of Vermont, had shared a speaking engagement at the famous "AMEN CORNER" in Pittsburgh and they discovered that they had just about the same thing to say on every topic brought up. So when Aiken arrived in the Senate, the colorful South Carolinian took him under his wing.
Of course, from time to time, a crossword puzzle comes out with "Pittsburgh Society _____ Corner". This appeared in the Pittsburgh Press Sunday Puzzle on June 4, 1972. We have had two other crossword puzzles with "AMEN CORNER" fill-ins brought to our attention. One of these was in the New York Times.
The AMEN CORNER has been very fortunate since 1927 to the present time in having two dedicated and loyal secretaries. Starting in 1927 and until his death on June 16, 1962, Fred E. Obley was the so-called man behind the scene. Fred was, for several years, one of the City of Pittsburgh's voter registration board members, and when not working at that position could be found at his desk in the AMEN CORNER. He was one of Pittsburgh's best known citizens and universally liked and respected by all with whom he came in contact. He was also active in the Republican Party, and for several years served as its headquarters manager and handled many campaigns.
Upon his death the AMEN CORNER Board of Governors decided to have an annual award given to the outstanding Pittsburgher in Fred's honor and memory. Those so honored included Colonel Joseph Walker, Chief Test Pilot of the U.S. Air Force and, at the time the person who held the world's speed record; Frank L. McGee, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Alcoa; Fred C. Foy, Chairman of the Board of Koppers Co.; Col. William F. Rockwell, Chairman of the Board of Rockwell Manufacturing Co.; and Adm. Ben Moreell, Chairman of the Board of J&L Steel.
In 1956 Fred Obley asked a young woman,Mrs. Dolly Branchik, who had worked for the National Association of Manufacturers in the Pittsburgh Regional Office, which was located on the same floor as the AMEN CORNER rooms, to assist him with the stenographic work connected with the annual dinner. She continued to help run the office through Fred's illness, and when he passed away in 1962, the Board of Governors elected Dolly secretary. She continued to serve well and faithfully.
Through the years it has been customary to present the retiring President a gift on occasion of the annual dinner,which is held in his honor. Prior to 1962 the honoree was gifted with cameras, golf clubs or other items that members of his family would inform us he desired. However, in 1962, Franklin A. West, the 36th President of AMEN CORNER changed all of that.
Mr. West was very interested in heraldry, and introduced an added dimension to the tradition of the organization. He suggested that the gift we present be silver trays with the simple engraving of the name "AMEN CORNER"--followed by the name of the recipient and the year of his tenure. Along with that innovation, he made a magnificent contribution, which has been cherished greatly.
He designated and had John M. Roberts and Son execute in sterling silver a ceremonial necklace, which is presented to the incoming president as the last act on the banquet's agenda. The President retains the necklace for the year he holds the office.
The links of the necklace are triangles--representing the Golden Triangle of Pittsburgh. Besides that fine symbolism, that design is very practical. The names of the Presidents receiving this necklace are engraved with one name on each side of the triangle. When these links are filled with names, the necklace can be reversed and the same number can be engraved on the opposite side.
The medallion is inscribed on both sides; on one side the outline of the blockhouse at Pittsburgh's Point is etched at the top, which, there again, comes to a "point". Below that is the engraving of the original "Steps", fore runner of the AMEN CORNER and original meeting place of the founders. The words "Amicus Nequit Iniuriam Inferre" appear below that. The Latin means "A friend never does injury". The underside of this medallion simply has these words, "Presented to AMEN CORNER April 14, 1962 by Franklin A. West, its 36th President".
It was Mr. West's hope that this marvelous silver necklace would be a legacy to those who followed him, and would remind all of this beautiful tradition and history of our AMEN CORNER. He died on October 12, 1967--much too young, much too soon.We all mourn him, but thank him for his foresight, talent and generosity in bequeathing his outstanding piece to us. He wanted this to outlive him--it will outlive us all.
A greatly enlarged photograph hanging in the barroom of the quarters of AMEN CORNER aroused much interest in first-time viewers. The picture was taken during the week of the Republican National Convention held in Philadelphia in 1940. The occasion was the breakfast for the members of the Allegheny County delegation hosted by Amener Senator Frank Harris, Chairman of the Delegation. Seated on Senator Harris' right is about to be nominated Wendell Wilkie.
The AMEN CORNER has been called the organization of tradition. This, we believe, is its most apt description. We hope it never changes.
We march to no man's drum.
We believe in friendship and loyalty.
We believe in the right to meet and be informed, and we provide the forum.
We champion no political cause or person.
We believe in the rights and privileges of each individual.
We believe in the Golden Rule.
We honor each man's religious beliefs.
We believe in the United States of America.
We are Patriots.
We are the AMEN CORNER!
Over the years, the AMEN CORNER has been headed by men who have been dedicated to its principles, and they have been men of prestige in our community and in their chosen professions and fields of endeavor. All of them have found their tenures rewarding. One of our past Presidents, Harold A. McKamish, said it best when he wrote recently, "My term as President of AMEN CORNER was truly an honor; the honor in being associated with good people. Any organization is only as good as its people. That's what makes AMEN CORNER so successful".