Born in East Lampeter Township, Lancaster County on July 1, 1859, the Honorable John Homsher was the son of Jacob and Rachel Groff Homsher. While a child, his parents moved to Strasburg, Lancaster County in 1865, where John attended public schools and worked on a neighbor’s farm. The senator became a traveling salesman for A.W. Wright of Philadelphia, a painting and medical supplies company, eventually graduating from Millersville State Normal School. He taught public schools in Eden and Salisbury for a period, studied law, became a surveyor-conveyancer, and a publisher of legal blanks. John married Harriet Viola Eager of Strasburg in 1884. The senator embarked on a printing career in 1892, emerging as publisher of the Strasburg News in 1898. He also printed the Justice of the Peace, a companion paper targeted to local members of the judiciary. Homsher served as a member of the Lancaster General Hospital board of directors and occupied a seat on the Millersville State Teachers College board.
John served a 16-year stint as a Lancaster County magistrate, 1883-1899, before embarking on a legislative career. He participated as a delegate to the 1897 and 1898 state Republican conventions prior to his first term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1900). After service in the House, Homsher embarked on a 30-year Senate career, continuing through 1938. He succeeded William Sproul as GOP caucus leader and secured the president’s pro tempore post from 1924 through 1926, returning to the Senate’s head office from 1934 to 1936. Homsher chaired Canals and Inland Navigation, 1909-1910; Congressional Apportionment, 1911-1914; City Passenger Railways, 1915-1920, 1931-1934; Agriculture, 1921-1922; Elections, 1923-1924; Corporations, 1927-1930; and Banks, 1933-1934. Similar to the records of Grady, Smith, and Buckman, Homsher’s legislative accomplishments are extensive. During his early years, the senator supported Boies Penrose in joint-caucus U.S. Senate elections, backing bills establishing the Legislative Reference Bureau, the Pittsburgh-Allegheny City consolidation, the 1909 and 1911 public school system bills, the Anthracite and Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Acts, and the Sproul highway bills. He championed the 1923 State Highway Act, the (amended) Motor Vehicle Act of 1911, its 1923 successor – the Motor Vehicle Title Act, and the 1917 Snyder Free Library Act. While he opposed much of Gifford Pinchot’s progressive agenda (both terms), particularly legislation abolishing the tax payment stipulation as a voter qualification, he promoted voting, ballot, election, and uniform primary reform. He advocated free court-appointed legal representation for those incapable of paying an attorney and voted pro-labor on the Full Crew Repealer Act of 1921. Homsher supported the women’s suffrage and prohibition amendments to the U.S. Constitution, voted for the creation of the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, sponsored the banking and Insurance Department Acts (pursuant to the 1913 Federal Reserve Act), the 1915 Title Insurance Bill, and the Tompkins Bill, providing the Public Teachers and Employees Retirement Act. Homsher led passage of Governor Earle’s depression era (1935) bill creating the State General and Municipal Authorities, a centerpiece of controversy for over a decade. As well, the senator objected to the Earle administration’s proposed 1936, $203 million emergency tax program, appointing Charles Ealy to lead a committee to investigate “reported abuses” concerning relief disbursements and the Earle administration’s “failure to produce (New Deal) cash.” Throughout the Earle “Little New Deal,” Homsher opposed the state and federal government’s increasing dependence on direct relief, favoring with the GOP caucus, work relief and the revitalization of the Keystone State’s devastated manufacturing industry.
The Honorable John Homsher died of a heart attack at his Strasburg home, September 13, 1938, while a seated senator. At the time of his death, Homsher was the oldest member to have ever served in the state legislature, at age 79. A special session called at the time of his passing, he missed the only opening gavel of his 38-year career. The Senate adjourned on the news of his death. His son Fred L. Homsher succeeded John in the Senate.
Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster), September 14, 1938; Senate Journal, April 11, 1935; Pennsylvania Manual, 1931.