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Governor William Warren Scranton

Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania State Archives

Term: January 18, 1963 - January 20, 1967
Affiliation: Republican
Born: July 19, 1917
Died: July 28, 2013

William Warren “Bill” Scranton, born into a wealthy family, prepared for public service from the time he was a young boy. Although Scranton’s parents, Worthington Scranton and Marion Margery Warren Scranton, were residents of the city of Scranton, William Scranton was born on July 19, 1917, in his ancestral town of Madison, Connecticut, where the family was vacationing at a cottage. Worthington Scranton descends from John Scranton who left England to settle in Madison in 1637. William Scranton’s great-grandfather, Joseph H. Scranton, moved to the city of Scranton, then called Slocum Hollow, in 1846 to join his cousins George Whitfield (1811–1861) and Seldon Scranton. George and Seldon bought most of the downtown area and, as founders of the Lackawanna Steel Company in 1840, were the first in the Western Hemisphere to use the necessary technology to manufacture iron rails for railroads. One out of six rail tracks used in America were made in Scranton. George W. Scranton was also elected to and served in Congress 1859–1861 and his cousin, Joseph Augustine Scranton (1838–1908) served in Congress 1881–1896. In 1866, the city was renamed Scranton in honor of George Scranton and the Scranton family who were responsible for the city’s industrial growth. Joseph A. Scranton, in addition to being elected to five terms in Conguress, was the postmaster general of Scranton, and the founder of the city’s newspaper, the Scranton Daily Republican. Joseph’s brother-in-law, David Davis, played a major role in the election campaign for Abraham Lincoln.

William Scranton’s mother, sometimes referred to as “The Duchess” and whose paternal Warren ancestors descended from the Mayflower Warrens, was also a major political influence. Margery Scranton was very active in the Republican Party for forty years and was a national committeewoman for twenty-three years. Young William followed his mother to presidential conventions, met presidents, future Pennsylvania governors, senators, and congressmen. Ironically, when Scranton ran for Congress in 1960, Mrs. Scranton discouraged her son from seeking political office. As a child, he suffered from asthma and his mother believed that he was too frail to withstand the party infighting and stress associated with campaigning. His mother died that same year before seeing her son win his election.

The wealth of the governor’s immediate family was actually credited to his grandfather, William Walker Scranton, who founded the Scranton Gas Works and Water Company, which was sold by Scranton’s father Worthington for $25 million in 1928. The timing of the sale before the stock market crash of 1929 insured that the family would live a privileged existence in a new mansion at Marworth during the Great Depression. The previous mansion, built in 1871, is today the graduate offices of the University of Scranton. The abject poverty of the people of Scranton during the Depression made a deep impression on the family. The family became very involved in voluntarism. The Worthington Scranton branch campus of Pennsylvania State University was named in honor of the governor’s father for his civic and industrial contributions to the community.

William Scranton began his schooling at the Scranton Country Day School, founded by his parents, with his basic schooling completed at Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts, and the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Scranton went on to earn his bachelor of arts degree at Yale University in 1939. Before earning his law degree (LL.B.) at Yale Law School in 1946, his studies were interrupted by World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp as an aviator—even before the attack on Pearl Harbor—in October 1941. As an Airport Transport Command pilot, Lieutenant Scranton did not see combat, but he played an important role in moving combat planes from Brazil to North Africa, as well as training pilots in the Middle East and the China-Burma theatre of war. Discharged with the rank of captain at the end of the war, Scranton was able to complete his law studies and pass the Pennsylvania Bar exam in August 1946 and begin his law practice with O’Malley, Harris, Warren & Hill in the city of Scranton. Scranton would remain active with the Air Force Reserve for another twenty years before retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

It was during World War II, on July 6, 1942, when Scranton married a neighbor he had known from childhood, the former Mary Lowe Chamberlin. Her widowed mother married J. Curtis Platt, another Scranton descendant. Mary’s stepfather was the leader of the movement to rename the city of Slocum Hollow after George Scranton. Four children were born to William and Mary Scranton: Susan, William Worthington, Joseph Curtis and Peter Kip.

Scranton's active involvement in the activities and campaigns of the Republican Party led to him being noticed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was appointed in 1959 as a special assistant to the secretary and was retained that same year by succeeding Secretary of State Christian A. Herter. Although Scranton only served until 1960 when he first ran for Congress, in administering the secretary's private office and interpreting United States foreign policy for the press, he had access to almost everything that came across the secretary’s desk.. He represented the United States at conferences in Latin America, at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and at the United Nations, all of which would prove to be valuable experience for an international role after serving as governor.

In 1960, Scranton campaigned for Congress in the Tenth District with a Democratic registration advantage of about 50,000 voters and without a Republican victory in twenty-two years. Campaigning vigorously in six counties, including door to door canvassing, attracting young voters, and strong party unity, he was elected to the Eighty-seventh Congress over his opponent, incumbent Stanley A. Prokop (1909–1977), by a margin of about 17,000 votes. Once in Congress, Scranton was appointed to the Banking and Currency Committee, but the freshman representative was not afraid to speak his mind and vote how he thought would best serve his constituents, as opposed to succumbing to partisan politics or precisely following the “party line.” He supported the legislative views of Democratic President John F. Kennedy on 54 percent of congressional votes. He was liberal on civil rights, social security benefits, supported aid to dependent children, and voted for an increase in the minimum wage. Considering himself to be an “internationalist,” Scranton favored the creation of the Peace Corps. However, he was conservative on matter of fiscal spending and first decided on a basis of if there was a need to be met by government before supporting the commitment of tax dollars. Because he did not walk a consistent line as a liberal or conservative, he received only moderate ratings from opposing organizations interested in conservative or liberal agendas. On the other hand, while his independent discrimination annoyed political ideologues, Scranton was building bi-partisan appeal among voters across Pennsylvania.

By 1962, state Republicans had lost two gubernatorial elections in a row, to Democrats George M. Leader and David L. Lawrence, and, in a close national presidential election in 1960, Kennedy carried Pennsylvania in the win column. Republican Party leaders believed that Scranton could appeal to both Democrats and Republicans and revitalize the party. Facing possible divisive primary opposition from Congressman James Van Zandt of Altoona, Scranton told party leaders that he would run only if all sixty-seven county GOP chairmen would endorse him. Sixty-six of sixty-seven did so and Van Zandt decided instead to run for the U.S. Senate. The ticket was balanced with Raymond P. Shafer of Meadville, Crawford County, for lieutenant governor. Shafer was a classmate of Scranton’s at Yale, but Shafer, who would succeed Scranton as governor, was a strong campaigner and was a hometown star athlete and war hero as a PT boat commander, traits that played well to compliment the Scranton campaign.

The election, however, proved to be one of the most acrimonious and bitter in state history. Scranton ran against Democratic Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth (1898–1974), who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1950. Dwight Eisenhower campaigned for Scranton and senatorial candidate Van Zandt, while President Kennedy stepped in to rally voters to elect Dilworth and senatorial candidate Joseph Clark, who preceeded Dilworth as Philadelphia's mayor. Through emotional attacks and other name calling by Dilworth, Scranton appeared to remain calm and performed particularly well during the first gubernatorial television debate in state history. Dilworth’s impulsive campaign style worked well in defeating an entrenched Philadelphia Republican machine for the mayor’s office, but worked against him among more conservative voters across the state. While Van Zandt lost the race for the Senate, Scranton carried sixty-two out of sixty-seven counties and won by nearly half a million votes out of 4.5 million cast. With a Republican majority in both chambers of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, Scranton was in a good position to be an effective governor.

Scranton’s programs generally received good legislative support and a steady stream of bills were signed into law. Major reforms were created in the educational system, not the least of which was the creation of a community college system, a State Board of Education, and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency that would prove to be of valuable help to student access to higher education for decades to come. The governor called for realignment of the state’s legislative districts, a Department of Mental Health, and the creation of a Council of Science and Technology after advocating new technical training programs. In addition, Scranton initiated a program to promote Pennsylvania in national and world markets and make the state more attractive to industries and buyers of Pennsylvania products and services. He received funding for the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority and created the Governor’s Committee of 100,000 Pennsylvanians as ambassadors to sell the state’s potential. To resolve a fiscal crisis, Scranton signed a bill increasing the state sales tax from 4 to 5 percent and raised taxes on liquor and cigarettes, although the tax increases dropped the governor’s popularity rating.

Just as his work in Congress drew notice for being drafted as the gubernatorial nominee, Scranton drew national interest as a possible presidential candidate in 1964. With the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, who had been considered likely to be reelected, the Democrats were less certain with President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president who became president upon Kennedy’s death. However, while a “draft Scranton” movement began to gather momentum, Scranton did not actively seek the nomination, although he let it be known he would accept the vice presidency. A growing opposition to the nomination of Arizona's Barry Goldwater as the GOP standard-bearer led many Republicans to join the Scranton bandwagon, but Scranton’s statements that he was not a candidate slowed the groundswell of support. Scranton expressed concerns that party unity was more important and refused to join those verbally attacking Barry Goldwater. Then on June 12, 1964, Scranton announced that he was a candidate for president. Scranton’s late public start in the campaign and Goldwater’s strong organization proved to be a barrier to the nomination. In addition, a letter prepared by a member of Scranton’s campaign staff and sent to Goldwater without the governor’s approval of the wording, but signed as though Scranton sent it, stated that “Goldwaterism has come to stand for nuclear irresponsibility” and a “whole crazy-quilt collection of absurd and dangerous positions.” The next day the letter was copied and circulated among Republican convention delegates and damaged Scranton’s regard among them. Goldwater won the nomination with 883 delegates on the first ballot while Scranton had 214 delegate votes, winning majorities in among ten state delegations, including Pennsylvania as a "favorite son."

Scranton returned to the governor’s office to continue his agenda for state government. He announced in 1966 that he would never again seek public office, although he was elected as a delegate to the state constitutional convention that took place in 1967–1968. Like several predecessors, he pushed for a referendum to revise the constitution, campaigning for voter approval with former Governor Leader across the state. The effort finally succeeded and Scranton played a low key role as co-chairman of the convention’s judiciary committee. One of the outcomes of the convention allowed governors to succeed themselves for a second term. The change, however came after the completion of Scranton’s term of office.

Scranton returned to private business for a time in banking, broadcasting, and manufacturing, but he was not finished with public service. He also served on the boards of IBM, Scott Paper, Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, Pan American World Airways, Mutual of New York, Glen Olden Company, and Sun Oil Company and was a trustee of Yale University. He served as vice president and director of International Textbook Company, director of Scranton-Lackawanna Trust Company and, later, president, when that company merged with Northeastern National Bank and Trust Company. A pioneer in television in northeastern Pennsylvania, he formerly served as chairman of the board of Northeastern Pennsylvania Broadcasting, Inc. His telecommunications background helped him to make important contributions in 1969 as a member of the International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium (INTELSAT).

Among his many civic activities, Scranton served as director of the Boys Club of Scranton; Family Service of Lackawanna County; vice president, President's Council, University of Scranton; trustee, Westminster Presbyterian Church; director and member of the Scranton Chamber of Commerce; member-at-large, National Council of Boy Scouts; vice president of the board of directors, Geisinger Memorial Hospital and Foss Clinic in Danville. He has received the B'nai B'rith Americanism Award and the St. David's Society Distinguished Citizens Award.

In 1968, President Richard Nixon approached Scranton to become secretary of state. Scranton turned down the job, but accepted a role as a special envoy to the Middle East. True to speaking his mind, Scranton recommended a more even-handed policy in the Middle East, but his remarks offended the American Jewish community and caused Nixon to disassociate his administration from this recommendation. Still, the president continued his confidence in the former governor in 1970 after four students were killed by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio. Scranton served as chairman of the Commission on Student Unrest and the “Scranton Report” identified the principal causes of campus violence and made specific recommendations to benefit students and colleges, as well as law enforcement.

Again, sticking to his vow not to run for public office, he turned down a draft to run for the U.S. Senate in 1969, but Scranton continued to accept less political public roles. He served on the Presidential Price Commission (1971-72), the United States Railway Board (1974-75), White House Fellowships Commission, Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, vice chairman of the Urban Institute and chairman of the Municipal League. When Vice President Gerald Ford became president after the sudden resignation of President Nixon, Ford appointed his friend and Chi Psi fraternity brother at Yale, William Scranton, to his four-member transition team. Scranton made recommendations to Ford for a smooth change of administrations at a time of national crisis.

On February 25, 1976, Ford appointed Scranton as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Although Scranton served only until January 1977, he made a lasting impression on U.N. delegates. His style of diplomacy, a higher priority for human rights over political considerations, and skill in arbitration earned the respect of many Third World countries and nations embroiled in opposing conflicts. Scranton’s “speak softly and carry an olive branch” approach reflected favorably on world opinion of the United States and softened the hard-line rhetoric of his predecessor that had alienated some countries.

During the Republican National Convention of 1976, speculation again grew as to whether President Ford would select Scranton as his vice presidential running mate. However, Ford selected Senator Robert Dole of Kansas. That November, Ford and Dole lost the election to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale and Scranton left the U.N. with the start of the new administration.

On June 7, 2000, Scranton became the third recipient of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Pennsylvania Founders Award. Presented by Governor Tom Ridge, the criteria of this honor is for a living person who represents the ideals of William Penn in individual rights, religious toleration, representative government, public support of education, and free enterprise.

William Warren Scranton passed away in Santa Barbara, California on July 28, 2013 at age 96. His son, William W. Scranton III, served as Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor from 1979 to 1987 under the administration of Governor Dick Thornburgh.