In 1899, an historian and native Pennsylvanian named James Barr Ferree, who was living in New York City, invited 55 fellow Pennsylvanians living in New York to join him for dinner at The Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. While feasting on oysters and Delmonico steaks, they decided to form a group known initially as “The Pennsylvania Society of New York.” Their goal was to establish a society “uniting all Pennsylvanians at home and away from home in bonds of friendship and devotion to their native or adopted state.”
They also decided to meet for dinner every year, same time, same place. This was the era when The Waldorf=Astoria still occupied the site where the Empire State Building would climb to the clouds thirty years later.
The following year, in 1900, a young British journalist and Member of Parliament dropped in and regaled the diners with stories about his adventures in the Boer War in South Africa. The young man’s name was Winston Churchill, and thus began a tradition of having a guest speaker of interest at the dinner.
In the years that followed, some of the better known figures of the 20th century followed young Mr. Churchill on the dais: Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford; Generals George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower; author James Michener and painter Andrew Wyeth; statesmen George H. W. Bush and Joseph R. Biden, Jr.; popular sportsmen like Arnold Palmer and Dan Rooney, and beloved entertainers like Bill Cosby and Fred Rogers. What a treat it was to hear them speak!
In 1903, when the organization was incorporated, the name was shortened to “The Pennsylvania Society.” As the years passed, that dinner at The Waldorf=Astoria became the hallmark event of The Pennsylvania Society year. But that wasn’t the whole story.
In the more than 100 years that have passed since that first gathering, the Society has sponsored scores of historical and social functions, bringing together its members and friends to remind them of Pennsylvania’s vital and long-standing leadership in the economic and industrial life of the nation. And today, as members of The Pennsylvania Society, we are dedicated to continuing and renewing that leadership.