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House Speaker Biographies

Photo credit:

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Senate

Photo credit:

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Senate


William Elliott

Born: March 2, 1816, Ireland. Died: October 29, 1880, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA. Member of the House: Philadelphia County, 4th District, 1870-1873.  Affiliation: Republican.

William Elliott emigrated from Ireland with his parents in 1820.  After settling in Philadelphia, he attended Goodfellow’s Private School.  In 1832, at the age of 16, he received an apprenticeship with Edwin Greble, who owned the largest marble-cutting establishment in Philadelphia.  He rose to the position of foreman, and then in 1846 he created his own business.  William Elliott married the former Mary Gilkey in 1844 and the couple had 6 children: Catherine, Elizabeth, Sarah, Emily, William, and Ida. 

Elliott was appointed prison inspector of Philadelphia by Mayor Charles Gilpin in 1852 and served in that position until 1854.  In 1860 he was elected as a delegate for the Republican Party’s Convention in Chicago, which nominated President Abraham Lincoln.  In 1866 Elliott was elected to the Common Council in the City of Philadelphia.  In 1869 he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to represent the 4th District and served for a total of 4 terms, from 1870-1873.

Although he did not introduce much legislation during his tenure, one of Elliott’s most significant bills incorporated the trustees of the Fire Association of Philadelphia through Act 497 of 1871.  In 1871 Elliott was elected as chairman of the Committee on Railroads.

On January 2, 1872, Elliott was elected the 91st Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  During his first term as Speaker, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Agriculture was created with Act 46.  The duty of this office was to collect and classify statistics pertaining to the mineral, manufacturing, agriculture, and commercial production in the Commonwealth.

On January 7, 1873, Elliott was re-elected as Speaker of the House for another session.  During his second tenure as Speaker, the “Panic of 1873” occurred.  The national economic downturn included the New York Stock Exchange closing for 10 days, foreclosures and bank failures, factory closings, and masses of destitute people. In an effort to address the economic depression which would last a decade, the Pennsylvania legislature created the State Insurance Department through Act 3 on April 4, 1873.

Upon the completion of his tenure as Speaker in 1873, Elliott was elected sheriff of Philadelphia County and served one term in that position.  In 1878 he was elected as a Pennsylvania State Senator for the 6th District, a position he held until his death.

Elliott passed away at his home in Philadelphia on October 29, 1880.   He is interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery in the city of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.

Historical Member Biography

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