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House Speaker Biographies

Photo credit:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Brady-Handy Collection, LC-DIG-cwpbh-00150


Photo credit:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Brady-Handy Collection, LC-DIG-cwpbh-00150

 

James L. Getz

Born: September 14, 1821, Reading, Berks County, PA.  Died: December 25, 1891, Reading, Berks County, PA. Member of the House: Berks County, 1856-1857.  Affiliation: Democrat.

James Lawrence Getz was born September 14, 1821, in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania.  In 1840, at the age of just 19, James Lawrence Getz cofounded the Reading Gazette with Jacob Knabb.  He purchased the Jefferson Democrat and merged the 2 publications to form the Reading Gazette and Democrat, a paper of which he was the sole proprietor.  In addition to his journalistic efforts, Getz studied law in the office of William Strong, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice.  He was admitted to the bar on August 6, 1846, but never formally practiced law, choosing instead to continue in the newspaper business.  He assumed the role of editor of the Reading Gazette and Democrat in 1846.  He continued editing and publishing the Reading Gazette and Democrat until 1868.  Getz married Anna Umstead Morgan in October of 1847, and the couple had two children, George H. and Sarah (Sadie) M.

Getz was elected to represent Berks County in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Democrat for the 1856 and 1957 sessions.  In his first term, he served as chairman of the Committee on Education and secretary for the Committee of Ways and Means.  Getz was elected the 79th Speaker on January 6, 1857. During his Speakership, the Pennsylvania State Normal School system, for the training of teachers, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education were established with Act 619.  Additionally, the legislature amended the state Constitution, establishing new ratios for members of the Assembly, with a maximum of 33 Senators and 100 Representatives.

In 1866 Getz returned to politics and was elected to the 40th United States Congress as a Democrat.  He was re-elected to serve in the 41st and 42nd Congresses, serving from 1867-1873.  During his time in Congressional office, he opposed the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.  Following his tenure in Congress, Getz returned to journalism, editing the Spirit of Berks and contributing to other publications in Reading. Following the death of Reading’s city controller in 1887, Getz was elected by the Reading council to finish the term, and was formally re-elected to continue to serve in that position in 1889.  He held the positon until his death.  

James L. Getz died on December 25, 1891.  He is interred at Charles Evans Cemetery, Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania.