The Founding of the Ohio Society of Washington, D.C.
In 1910, Ohio was a rising power in Washington. With 22 seats in Congress, the Buckeyes had the fourth largest state delegation. Ohio House members included Nicholas Longworth IV, who would later serve as Speaker, and James M. Cox, the Democratic candidate for President a decade later. Cincinnati’s William Howard Taft was in the White House and William R. Day of Canton was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
Like a dozen other states in the late 19th century, Ohio had been represented in the Capital by an association of members with ties to the home state. The Ohio State Association, which dated back to the 1870s, and the Ohio Republican Association were made up of federal workers from Ohio who banded together to protect their jobs in the era of the spoils system. However, with the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883, federal jobs gradually came under the protection of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and the two groups faded away by 1910.
On January 20, 1910, a group of former Ohioans living in Washington announced plans to start a non-partisan Ohio society that would be more social than political and would offer former Ohio residents living in Washington a chance to “enlarge the acquaintanceship of Ohioans.” It was to be modeled after the Washington Society of New York, which was famous for its banquets. Also, membership would be open to both men and women, which was a break from many of the all-male state societies of that era. The next day, The Washington Post reported, “Telephones were busy yesterday spreading the news among those who will be eligible for membership, and promises of prompt and enthusiastic support were forthcoming from every walk of private and official life.”
An organizational meeting was planned in Ohio Senator Charles Dick’s office on Saturday night, January 29, 1910. However, growing interest, in large part whipped up by The Washington Post, necessitated a larger space and the meeting was moved to the banquet hall of The Arlington, at Vermont and H Streets, N.W. (at a site now occupied by the Department of Veterans Affairs). The Arlington, just a block from the White House, was one of the swankiest hotels in the city, and had hosted Benjamin Harrison the night before his Inauguration.
Ohio Governor Judson Harmon joined the supporters. He wrote that he was “glad to know that the Buckeyes at the Capital are going to form an Ohio society,” but he expressed his regret he could not attend the meeting. Speculation swirled in the press who might lead the new organization, with the suggestion of President Taft as honorary president and Justice Day and Representative Longworth as president.
The date of the organizational meeting was auspicious. It would have been the 67th birthday of former President William McKinley, who had been assassinated only nine years earlier and who was still fondly remembered in his native state. Many who attended honored him by wearing his trademark scarlet carnation.
The room was packed with Buckeye supporters. According to a front page story in The Washington Post, the meeting started “with every available chair filled and the overflow filling the back of the room and the aisles.”
Former Ohio Lieutenant Governor Alphonso Hart referred to Ohioans who lived in Washington as “political orphans” because they would have to return to their native state on election days. “There is always a large Ohio representation in Washington, and now the times are such as to call every Ohioans, regardless of political creed, to the front,” he said in his enthusiastic remarks.
Justice Day was unanimously named interim president. In his acceptance speech, Day said, “The Ohio Society of Washington is bound to be a success. The word failure is not in the Ohio lexicon. It is eminently fit and proper that Ohio should have an organization in Washington in which the social features are preeminent and in which politics plays no part; that we should have a place to meet socially and to promote ideas of Ohio and renew home acquaintances.” By the end of the evening, more than 200 charter members enrolled, A committee was appointed to draft a constitution and bylaws.
After four working sessions, the constitution committee unveiled its report at a meeting on February 18 at The Arlington attended by almost 300 Buckeyes. Justice Day announced that he had offered the position of honorary President to President Taft. However, the President declined, saying he would rather be an active member and that he would attend meetings whenever it was possible.
The completed constitution and bylaws were adopted at the first formal meeting of the Ohio Society of Washington, D.C. on March 31, 1910, at The Arlington. President Taft was the principal speaker. He was joined by Senator Dick, Justice Day, former House Speaker General J. Warren Keifer from Springfield, Ohio, and others. A slate of officers was unanimously elected, including Justice Day as president. Also elected were three vice presidents and the positions of secretary, recording secretary treasurer, chaplain, and historian. Governing, membership, entertainment, and library committees were appointed. The Madrigal Quartet entertained the audience between the numerous speeches. In his address, President Taft said:
I am glad to be here and I congratulate you on such an auspicious beginning of this society. There seems to be a bond between Ohio people wherever they are that brings them together into societies like this. The Ohio Society in New York is one of the strongest societies of that great city, and when you go there—if you are lucky enough to be a guest—and look about, it strikes you that all the strong men of New York are Ohio men. The same thing is true in Philadelphia, where I have had the honor of being the guest of the Ohio Society; and there I wondered how it was that Philadelphia had been built up by reputed Philadelphians, when everbody of importance seemed to be present at that meeting. I hope that this society will become as strong as those societies.
The President went on to say:
Now, I am glad to know that this is not a political society. I am sometimes—only sometimes—glad to be in an atmosphere that is nonpolitical, and, of course, we are able to have such a society in Washington, because we do get views in Washington of politics that attract us to something else.
After expressing his desire to avoid politics, President Taft waded into a political discussion to urge Ohioans to reelect incumbents in the House and Senate to build up Ohio’s seniority in Congress, which is the way the Eastern states retain dominance. His comments created a mild sensation and newspapers around the country picked up the story. Senator Dick, who had failed in his reelection bid the previous November, heartily endorsed the recommendation.
With a roster of nearly 325 charter members, the Ohio Society began its first century of serving the Buckeye State.
Ohio Society of Washington, D.C.
On the occasion of the 100th birthday party of the Society