"The Pennsylvania Bar Association: A Brief History"

(Article by Ted Stellwag, late PBA executive director emeritus; The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine; January/February 2010; Vol. 32, No. 1)

"The Diamond Anniversary History of the Pennsylvania Bar Association"
(Article by Henry Thomas Dolan; PBA Quarterly; January 1971; Vol. XLII, No. 2)

General PBA History
In 1895, the possibility of legislative regulation of the practice of law in Pennsylvania was the catalyst for the establishment of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. In January of 1895 lawyers from across Pennsylvania met in Harrisburg to discuss the possible creation of a statewide organized bar. At that time, there were 39 local bar associations, and the individual counties did not have the resources to combat statewide legislative issues.

Following meetings designed to frame plans for the new association, the Dauphin County Court issued the charter for the Pennsylvania Bar Association on July 1, 1895. The first meeting of the new association was held on July 10-11 in Bedford Springs. John Simonton of Dauphin County served as the first president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

The first office of the association was located at 1612 Market Street in Philadelphia. The PBA was headquartered in Philadelphia until 1934, when the office moved to Harrisburg and Barbara Lutz was hired as the full-time executive secretary. In 1950, the PBA purchased the Maclay Mansion, which became the permanent headquarters of the association. The Bar Center continued to grow with the purchase of the Fleming Building and the Barco Building on South Street in Harrisburg and the Chancery Building on State Street, located directly behind the association’s headquarters.

The bar association has seen many organizational changes throughout its history. The original governing structure provided for an Executive Committee made up of regional directors and three representatives from each of the eight established zones. The Junior Bar Conference, now known as the Young Lawyers Division, was organized in 1935, and sections and committees were set up in 1940. By 1959 the PBA was ready for organizational restructuring and created the Board of Governors to replace the Executive Committee. In 1966 the PBA House of Delegates was created, with David F. Maxwell serving as the first chair. A year later, Frederick H. Bolton, the first full-time executive director, was hired. Executive directors since Bolton included Peter Roper, Theodore Stellwag and Barry Simpson. The PBA Board of Governors has been expanded to include representatives of women and minority lawyers and county bar associations.

Throughout its history, the PBA has played an active role in legislative affairs and legal reform. The PBA supports, among numerous other issues, judicial reform measures, funding for legal services and pro bono participation. Public image has been of concern to members of the association for many years, and recent bar presidents have played an important role in enhancing the image of the profession. Women and minority lawyer participation has grown in recent years, due in large part to increased awareness of bar leadership to the expanding number of women and minorities in the profession.

From the original 592 charter members, the association has grown to more than 27,000 members. As the Pennsylvania Bar Association continues its tradition of service to the profession and public, members are being confronted with new legal reform measures, debates over whether law is a profession or a business, quality of life issues and advancing technological changes. Although society and the day-to-day pressures of practicing law have changed over the years, the cooperative effort that was the basis for the establishment of the Pennsylvania Bar Association is as relevant today as it was in 1895.


Over the past century, the Pennsylvania Bar Association has been successful in gaining the support of lawyers from across the state to recommend many significant pieces of legislation and court improvements resulting in substantial changes in the practice of law. The first suggested measure, a proposal for the creation of a board of legislative commissioners, eventually evolved into the creation of the Legislative Reference Bureau in 1913.

By 1905, the PBA was instrumental in the adoption of 16 major proposals sent to the Legislature. Additionally, after years of urging from the PBA, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that admission to practice before the court was identical in every court in the state. The PBA also presented to the Supreme Court a draft of uniform rules which were eventually adopted in 1937.

Even though the PBA was at the forefront of supporting a means of reporting complaints of misconduct by attorneys since 1928, it was not until 1972 that the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court was created. Another early position supported by the PBA was merit selection of judges. Today, the PBA continues to advocate merit selection of appellate judges and other means of judicial reform.

The PBA was a principal player in the 1970 creation of the Commonwealth Court. This new court resulted from a 1967 constitutional convention, which had been recommended earlier by the PBA. Other legal reform measures coming out of this convention included a mandatory retirement age for judges and merit-retention elections for appellate judges.

Since the late 1950's, the PBA has been actively involved in continuing legal education. As a result of successful seminars held by the PBA's Committee on Continuing Legal Education, the Pennsylvania Bar Institute was formed in 1965. Twenty-seven years later, the PBA had a major role in the Supreme Court's adoption of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education.

In recent years, the PBA has continued its support of legislative initiatives brought on by the changing needs of society. The PBA has been instrumental in the passage of many pieces of new legislation, including the AIDS Confidentiality Act and Living Will legislation. Both of these initiatives resulted from the work of PBA committees.

The PBA continues to review and draft measures designed to bring about modifications to the present legal system that address ever-changing areas of the law. However, this work could not have been done without the dedicated attorneys who volunteer their time in service to the profession.