Since Penn’s founding in 1740, dozens of Penn alumni and faculty have gone on to serve in Congress, including James Wilson, a former Law School professor and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, current Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and George Wharton Pepper, a 1889 Penn Law alum and former Law professor.
Pepper’s career in politics began when he was an undergrad at Penn in the mid-1880s. He was president of his freshman class. He also was involved in nearly every activity on campus, from academics to sports, including crew, football, cricket and baseball. Pepper was the captain of the football team for three of his four years on the squad and co-founded the student newspaper, The Pennsylvanian, which eventually became The Daily Pennsylvanian.
After graduating from the Law School, Pepper developed a successful private law practice while also teaching at Penn, specializing in constitutional and corporate law. Pepper was a strong advocate of having law students learn by studying judicial decisions rather than by listening to lectures or reading textbooks. His suggestions to the Pennsylvania Bar Association in the late 1800s were instrumental in reforming legal education and requirements for admission to the bar.
Pepper was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Pennsylvania Governor William Sproul after Senator Boies Penrose died in December of 1921.
The accompanying photo is Pepper’s campaign ad for the special election for the remaining four years of Penrose’s term. Pepper won the May Republican Primary for the position and was elected to the Senate in November of 1922.
Pepper was very active and influential in his five years in the Senate, serving on the Military Affairs, Naval Affairs and Foreign Relations committees. He also chaired the committees on Banking and Currency and the Library of Congress.
Pepper surprisingly lost the 1926 Republican senatorial primary to William Vare, who ran on an anti-prohibition platform. Pepper returned to his Philadelphia law practice and never ran for public office again, but remained active in law and professional organizations until his death at age 94 in 1961. He was a Trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and the Carnegie Foundation, and served as director of the American Law Institute.
For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on May 20, 2010