John F. Cox
Born: October 6, 1852, Mifflin Township, Allegheny County, PA. Died: November 6, 1911, Homestead, Allegheny County, PA. Member of the House: Allegheny County, 6th District, 1885-1888, 1909-November 6, 1911. Affiliation: Republican.
John Freemont Cox was raised on his father’s Pennsylvania farm and attended Westminster College. In 1875 he graduated from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, studying law. He married the former Elvira V. Ackard and together, they had 2 children, Robert P. and Anna L. (Dittman). Cox worked as a schoolteacher in Homestead, Pennsylvania, for 3 years before continuing his law studies at the office of Major W.C. Moreland and John H. Kerr of Pittsburgh. Cox was elected the burgess of Homestead and held that position for 2 years. He was admitted to the Allegheny County Bar in January of 1880 and engaged in the practice of law for the remainder of his life. In November of 1884, Cox was elected to the 6th District of Allegheny County in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He was re-elected the following term, 1887-1888, and following a 20-year gap, returned to serve in the House for 2 additional terms, 1909-1910 and 1911-1912.
Cox was a member of the Judiciary Committee and of the General Election Committee. He was appointed chairman of the Retrenchments and Reform Committee during the 1887-1888 term. He withdrew his nomination to the House in 1888 with the intent of running for District Attorney of Allegheny County; however, he retired from the election early on. Later he considered running for Governor, but instead turned his attention once again to the State House. Cox was re-elected to the House in November of 1908, and on January 5, 1909, he was elected the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
While Speaker, Cox oversaw several significant legislative measures. Act 143 of 1909 created the Legislative Reference Bureau. Another success of the 1909-1910 session was Act 210 of 1909, one of the state’s first laws regulating child labor in the mining industry. The law prohibited minors under the age of 14 from working in mines, and limited the number of hours, to 58 in a week, that a minor between the ages of 14-16 could work. The law also required employers to verify the age of workers and the minors working would have to obtain a certificate from their local school district before they were authorized to work in the mines. Also enacted in 1909 was Act 174, which regulated the use of automobiles in the state. It required owners to have their car registered with the state and it mandated that vehicle operators obtain a driver’s license. The law also set the state speed limit at 24 miles per hour on rural roads and 12 miles per hour in towns and cities.
As Speaker, Cox welcomed the first African-American to the House of Representatives, Harry W. Bass. Representative Bass, a Republican from Philadelphia, served 2 consecutive terms in the House. Also during his time as Speaker, in 1909, the House increased from 204 to 207 members for a period of 16 years. Cox was again elected to the Speakership for the 1911-1912 session, but he was unable to serve for most of this time due to declining health.
John F. Cox died on November 6, 1911, from renal failure at his home in Homestead, Allegheny County. He is interred at Homestead Cemetery, Munhall, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
To view this Speaker's House Historical Biography, click here.