The Honorable John Edgar Reyburn was born at New Carlisle, Clark County, Ohio, February 7, 1845, the son of William Stuart Reyburn (originally of Philadelphia) and father of notable U.S. Representative William Stuart Reyburn II, his successor in Congress John returned to Philadelphia in 1858 with his parents, where he received private tutoring at Saunders’ Institute, West Philadelphia in preparation for legal training. He subsequently read law and joined the Philadelphia bar in 1870. Reyburn represented the city in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1871, returning from 1874 through 1876; then served as a 16-year member of the Pennsylvania Senate, 1876-1892, the upper house electing Reyburn president pro tempore for the 1883 session.
Reyburn’s resume appeared similar to many Cameron-Quay pro tems. He supported the two chiefs, however departed from partisan Republican support on numerous occasions, especially when issues concerned the commercial growth of Pittsburgh. John faithfully backed women’s rights, advocating stiff penalties for spousal abuse, and legislation allowing female participation in boardrooms and before the bench. He promoted legislation that granted wives the right to sell real estate gained through divorce settlement. Reyburn opposed the Quay line on the Molly Maguires property damage bill and the 1877 medical malpractice vote. He, nevertheless, supported the Stalwart position on corporate tax equalization, mine safety, the “workman’s pay bill,” and opposition to local income taxes. He authored the 1877 Pittsburgh Railroad Riot Report, exonerating the PRR, Matt Quay, Simon Cameron, and the action of the state militia for forcefully quelling the disruption.
John chaired the Municipal Affairs, Judiciary Local, and Library Committees and served on Constitutional Reform and Accounts. In 1883, he supported the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act and appointed a committee “to investigate the affairs of the Standard Oil Company. Reyburn, allied with caucus leader Tom Cooper, Amos Mylin, and John C. Grady, engaged in a three-year battle with Democrats (Gov.) Pattison, William Wallace, and Eckley Coxe, staving off the governor’s attempt to pass an 1883 pro-Democratic reapportionment plan. During the process, the governor refused to sign the General Assembly’s special session funding bill (pay) unless lawmakers passed the new apportionment. The Republican Senate defeated the plan, receiving pay on the last day of the session.
Reyburn voted for increased taxes, supported the prohibitive Morrill and 1890 McKinley tariffs, backed the 1879 workers fair pay law, and the 1887 six-month-term public school measure. He opposed the Brooks High License (liquor) Bill, supported an 1879 measure protecting the public from “coal and petroleum oils pollution,” and backed the 1887 free access Civil Rights Act.
Senator Reyburn married Margretta Crozier of Leavenworth, Kansas in 1881, the daughter of district judge Robert Crozier, John’s family attorney He later replaced William Darrah Kelley as Philadelphia’s U.S. Representative in the Fifty-first Congress. Delivering Pennsylvania’s electoral vote for Roosevelt in 1904, he became a fixture in the U.S. House through 1907, resigning March 31st to become the Mayor of Philadelphia. He held that post through December 1911
During the highly charged 1910 Philadelphia street railway strike, Mayor Reyburn refused to participate in, or influence any attempt at arbitration, even though he also directed the city’s Board of Rapid Transit and possessed considerable authority over the situation. He left the door open, however, promising not to stand in the way of others who might want to mediate the dispute He represented a major force behind the development of the Philadelphia Navy Yard and served as a member of the Philadelphia Union League, the Reyburn Club, and the Fifteenth Ward Republican Club. In the nation’s capital, he belonged to the distinguished Metropolitan and Chevy Chase Clubs. While less a reformer than a line Republican, as Mayor, he represented a dominant force in the city’s progressive 1909 plan to revitalize and modernize Philadelphia. Although Senator Reyburn operated a manufacturing business in Philadelphia, John maintained a residence in Washington DC. He died there on January 4, 1914, interred in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. At his passing, Mayor Rudolf Blankenburg ordered Philadelphia flags to half-staff.