Compiling a History of the Eclectic Club:
the work of Dr. George Jackson
Selected entries from his efforts in 1996 and 1997
embarked on a history of the Eclectic Club in 1996 in honor of its 75th
anniversary. In 1997, he produced what is essentially a compilation of
biographies of all the members from the Club’s founding in 1921
to 1997. He wrote to current members,
and their widows (and their daughters-in-law!) He
contacted historical societies and members
of the Legislature. He sought the help of the most noted writer on
history. He was relentless!
In June 1996, Jackson wrote to William Edel, President Emeritus of Dickinson College summarizing his purpose.
“Dear Dr. Edel, This letter from an amateur historian and member of the Eclectic Club of Harrisburg is a request for your help. Prior to Bob Crist's untimely death, he and I had talked about a history of this club. He had mentioned that you were an early member who was blessed with a remarkable memory. With the recent death of Maurice Goddard, Ph.D., I find that I am the member with the longest active tenure (now more than 32 years), and because of my interest in history a logical one to try to complete Bob's mission. Recently Fran Pitkin's Eclectic Club file was made available to me. From the earliest information in 1943, I find the membership was:
George H. Ashley James Duff
John C. Kunkel Henderson Gilbert
H.H. Shenk W. Emory Hartman
Sterling G. McNees Paul J. Rupp
J. Horace McFarland Frank Robbins
F. A. Pitkin Harvey Smith
Your name appears first in 1948 and last in 1956. From these sources and others, I have found that the club celebrated 25 years of existence in 1946 and that Dr. Ashley was one of the founders and its first president. Would you remember anything about Dr. E. M. Gress who resigned from the club in 1950?
I would be most grateful for any information you may recall about the early years of the club prior to 1948. I would especially be interested in the names of other founders or members prior to 1948.
Thank you for any help you can offer. I will be 73 this year and have trouble remembering what I did last week - Bob said you were incredible. Happy 101st Birthday!!!”
In this letter to John Harper at DCNR, in June 1996 Jackson thanked him for his help.
“Thank you sincerely for the information you forwarded on that Renaissance man, Dr. George Ashley. You may recall that my inquiry originated with my desire to create a history of the Eclectic Club of Harrisburg. Lo and behold in Dr. Stanley Cathcart's memoriam in the BULLETIN, it states that he was "one of the founders of the Eclectic Club of Harrisburg and its first president." The scientist's creed which Dr. Ashley authored is also reproduced there. You might be interested to know that Dr. Maurice Goddard, until his untimely death last year, was a member of the Eclectic Club. Again, thank you for the assistance.”
In a letter dated June 18, 1996, Jackson asked the writer and PA historian Paul Beers for additional information about 68 (!) members of the EC, including current and recent members Bill Alexander, Ashley, George Hall (1866- 1951) one of the founders of the EC, Bill Burns, Arthur Climenhaga, former Pennsylvania Governor James Duff (1883-1969), publisher Robert Fowler, Maurice Goddard, Ph.D. (1912 - 1995), Gettysburg College President Arnold Hanson, Hershey School President John O. Hershey, state representative John Kunkel, Pennsylvania Governor George Leader, Bishop of Harrisburg George Leech, conservationist Horace MacFarland, Gettysburg National Bank president Bruce Maclay, Harrisburg Mayor Vance McCormack, Lebanon Valley College President Frederick Miller, George Moffitt, Admiral Roger Nelson (1902-1996), Henry Rhoads (and his father, Paul Rhoads, also a member), James Scheiner, Shippensburg College president Gilmore Seavers, Publisher Edward Stackpole, Pastor Frederick Wertz
Beers responded with information to two additional inquires from Jackson about 30 more names!
Jackson also reached out twice to PA Representative Bruce Smith; in his second message to Smith, Jackson wrote: “You noted in your reply that my appeals to your office become increasingly interesting and difficult. As always you have responded with flying colors.”
Smith responded by asking Brent Glass, Director of the PA Historical and Museum Commission, to assist Jackson. Here is Jackson’s request to Brent Glass:
“Thank you for your reply and your capable staff's efforts in response to my request of Representative Bruce Smith for help in obtaining biographical data for members of the Eclectic Club.
I have been working with the Dauphin County Library System and the East Shore Branch, which is the repository for microfiche copies of the PATRIOT and EVENING NEWS. Since I do not have dates of death and the microfilm copies are incomplete and only currently indexed, the process has been daunting.
You probably know all about this Club. If you do not, it confirms that its existence is a well-kept secret. The Club was founded in 1921 by Dr. George Hall Ashley (and some others, probably, although their names are not known to me at this time) who was also its first president (although we no longer have officers). No formal history has ever been kept. To date I have been able to identify 83 men who have been members. These include at least two governors of the Commonwealth, State Cabinet officers or Department heads, several College/University presidents, jurists, entrepreneurs, military men, professional men, etc. In August 1953, General Edward J. Stackpole wrote Edgar Z. Wallower (son of Elias Z. Wallower, also a member of the club) when he confirmed Edgar's election to membership, This club has no dues, no constitution and like the British Empire is regulated mostly by tradition......After the reading of the paper there is free discussion which is often spirited but never acrimonious." Again thank you for your assistance. I was beginning to think I had run into a brick wall.”
Jackson did not stop with the living. In a letter to the Harrisburg Cemetery Association in April 1997, he asked if 8 members of the EC were interred at the East Harrisburg Cemetery, and the date of interment.
In a brief introduction to the work July 1, 1997, Jackson wrote:
“In the past two decades, two members of the Eclectic Club of Harrisburg expressed interest in creating a record of the club. There may have been others. Unfortunately both the Reverend Dr. Sheridan Watson Bell and Dr. Robert Grant Crist died prematurely before their efforts bore fruit. Their widows are unaware of the existence of any records of their efforts. Since joining the club, I often wondered about its founders, early members, how long it has existed, etc. Early in 1996 and with some trepidation, since by tradition the club kept no records, I began to collate the information I had collected and requested help from others in an attempt to fill in the blanks. In spite of this, as you will observe, several of the biographical entries are incomplete or outdated. I take full responsibility for any inaccuracies or omissions. Please report any corrections or additional data to me that this record will more accurately portray our predecessors as well as our current members.