Portrait: Senate of Pa
An “influential force” in local and state politics, Fred Gelder was born June 4, 1874, the son of Pontefract, Yorkshire, England native Frederick T. and Katherine Blake Gelder. The senator’s father served in the Civil War, later establishing himself as proprietor of Carbondale’s Union Foundry. He married Edith L. Brown in 1903. Gelder’s 34-year public service career included two terms as Carbondale’s justice of the peace and an assignment as postmaster during the Theodore Roosevelt and Taft administrations. A Roosevelt “Bullmooser,” Republican Gelder represented Susquehanna County in the lower house for two terms, later ascending as the Bradford, Wyoming, and Susquehanna counties’ 23rd District senator for 16 years, 1924-1940. In January 1939, he won a heated president pro tempore election. “Known to speak above a mild tone only once or twice,” Senator Gelder evolved as a diligent committee worker, taking his place as the first of the Republican four horsemen – opposed to Roosevelt-Earle era taxation programs. Fred grew as a valued member of the Republican caucus, representing Forest City as a local party committee member, and a two-term county and state Republican Convention delegate. He retired from the state legislature for a 1941, James administration appointment as chair of the Liquor Control Board. Gelder served through 1955 until he was dismissed by Governor George Leader. The senator chaired Public Printing 1927-1928, Forestry, 1929-1930; Public Roads and Highways, 1931-1936; and represents the first pro tem (1939-1940) to chair a Rules Committee. Gelder’s early interests included support for legislation providing open-bids for public printing, Pinchot’s (1925) state purchase of forest reserves, the governor’s 1927-$150 million Highway Bond, under-18 child labor legislation, general and primary election reform, and the abolishment of Pennsylvania’s poll tax qualification. During the Great Depression, Senator Gelder typically voted the Republican anti-tax line, advocating regulated Work Relief programs, maintaining a cautious approach toward passage of Direct Relief legislation. During the 1937 regular and 1938 special sessions however, Fred led Republican opposition to the administration’s supposed financial indiscretions during Governor Earle’s Little New Deal and repeal of the Governor’s controversial 1938 Grand Jury Laws. As pro tem, Gelder served as point man for the GOP’s 1939, final assault on deactivating Earle’s programs. Among his confederates were chairs of Appropriations, Judiciary General, and Labor and Industry: respectively, Charles Ealy, Charles Mallery, and Weldon Heyburn, forming the “Four Horsemen,” who, with Senate floor leader and Pa. Manufacturers Association vice president Mason Owlet, dismantled the General State Authority. Gelder served as a member of the Fairview State Hospital Board of Trustees, eventually serving as president. He was his county’s chair of the World War I, Four Minute Men; local food and fuel administrator; served on the State Committee of Public Safety during World War II; ran unsuccessfully for the state auditor general’s post in 1941; served as a State Highway Commission appointee, and gained notoriety for his introduction of legislation creating the state Supervisor’s Association and the Township Reward Plan, a program that led to the Farm-to-Market system, obligating the state to build and improve bridges within the Commonwealth’s highway system. Gelder was director and vice president of the board of the First National Bank of Forest City, a member of Enterprise Hose Company No. 1, a Mason, and president of Kiwanis. As journalist, was editor of the Carbondale Leader, purchased the Forest City News in 1898, returned as publisher of the Carbondale Leader in 1929, sold the latter in 1941, and devoted full-time as editor and publisher of the News thereafter. Fred was a member of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association and numerous civic organizations. He passed away on April 29, 1955 in Carbondale, survived by his wife Edith L. Brown Gelder. His pallbearers included governors Edward Martin, James Duff, John Fine, and Arthur James.