John R. Farr
Born: July 18, 1857, Scranton, Lackawanna County, PA. Died: December 11, 1933, Scranton, Lackawanna County, PA. Member of the House: Lackawanna County, 1st District, 1891-1900. Affiliation: Republican.
John Richard Farr was educated in the public schools of Scranton, the School of the Lackawanna in Scranton, and in 1882 graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. After completing an apprenticeship in typesetting, he attended Lafayette College. Farr married the former Justine Levy in 1884 and together they had 5 children: Hilda, Helen, Robert, Elizabeth and Maharin. Farr pursued a career in journalism and worked as a newsboy, a printer, and a publisher. He later became city editor of the Scranton Republican. He then became editor and proprietor of the Scranton newspaper, the Courier-Progress. Farr served for 4 years on the Scranton School Board, including 1-year as secretary and 2 years as assistant secretary. In November of 1890 Farr was elected to represent the 1st District of Lackawanna County in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He was re-elected for 4 more consecutive terms.
As Representative, Farr made great contributions to the improvement of education in the Commonwealth. Among the legislation he authored and sponsored was Act 51, which passed in 1893, which called for free textbooks for all schoolchildren. He also authored a bill, which became Act 53 of 1895, which would require mandatory education for all children in the Commonwealth. Another piece of legislation he sponsored ultimately resulted in the labor law that established the traditional 8-hour workday, or Act 379 of 1897. Farr sponsored legislation that would make insulting the American flag punishable by law, which became Act 27 of 1897, and due to his insistence, this measure was finally adopted by the Pennsylvania State Government. The United States Congress was inspired by Farr’s legislation, and adopted a bill similar to his (USC Title 18 Part I, Ch. 33 § 700).
During his first term as Representative, Farr served on the Education Committee. He was elected its chairman for the sessions of 1893-1894 and 1895-1896. On January 3, 1899, John Farr was elected the 102nd Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
During the first year of his Speakership, Pennsylvania passed legislation, which became Act 41 of 1899, which gave women more rights against her husband in court cases. It was during this time when voters began to demand better working conditions within the state. These calls for action lead the Pennsylvania Legislature to enact new legislation which would give more protection to workers. One bill that was introduced proposed increased protections for engineers who worked around steam engines, which became Act 50 of 1899. Another bill authored during this time, which became Act 58, improved the safety standards for coal miners. The House also drafted new legislation that would improve conditions for workers in the clothing, cigarette, and cigar industries, which became Act 64 of 1899.
After retiring from the House, Farr unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1908. However, in the following election of 1910, he was elected to the 62nd Congress on the Republican ticket. Farr was re-elected to 3 succeeding terms and served from March 4, 1911 to March 3, 1919. Farr returned to Congressional service in 1921 after successfully contesting the election of his Democratic opponent during the election of 1920. Upon the completion of his final term in Congress, Farr engaged in the real estate business in his hometown. On December 11, 1933, while taking a walk on the streets of Scranton, John Farr suffered a heart attack. He passed away later that day at a nearby hospital. He is interred at Shady Lane Cemetery, Chinchilla, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania.
To view this Speaker's House Historical Biography, click here.