Portrait: Senate of Pennsylvania
“Known as one of the Senate’s most vigorously individualistic and outspoken members,” Sam Salus was born in Philadelphia on August 31, 1872, the son of St. John’s Street butcher, Bohemian (Southwestern Czechoslovakian) immigrant Abraham Salus and the former Barbara Weider. He married Ada Rosenthal, the daughter of his father’s friend during the Civil War, Solomon Rosenthal. An 1891 graduate of Central High School, Senator Salus matriculated from the University of Pennsylvania law school in 1895, became a member of the Philadelphia bar, and developed and early passion for civil rights issues, especially concerning African Americans and Jews. Salus was elected a member of the Philadelphia Common Council, 1902-03, assistant Philadelphia County district attorney, 1904-1907; member of the state House of Representatives in 1903-04, 1909-10, 1943-45; the state Senate, 1911-1938; and served as President pro tempore, 1925-1927. In the Senate he promoted bills to end the Philadelphia police department’s protection of dope dealers, prostitution rings, gambling houses and speak-easies. A frequent legislative advocate of equal rights laws, in association with the Philadelphia Tribune’s E. Washington Rhodes, Salus presented various forms of the state’s first “fair employment practices and equal accommodation acts.” Through all, the Honorable Samuel Salus remained problematic to organization Republicans. While he acquiesced to unit-rule vote on procedural and major legislative questions, Salus exhibited no hesitation in “picking his own hill” on any number of progressive measures. That luxury extended from incredibly strong organizational support at home, a commodity that posed Salus as an indispensable member of a not-so-predictable Philadelphia delegation. Additionally, to the chagrin of many Republican leaders during the Penrose-Grundy-Vare years, the often hated (by organization Republicans) Gifford Pinchot admired the Philadelphia Senator. Indeed, Salus’s grandson recalls, “Gifford Pinchot loved my grandfather a lot.” The Judge recounts that during a visit to the Poconos, the Progressive Pinchot asked his grandfather (Samuel) “to succeed him as Governor of Pennsylvania.” Salus demurred: “Why would I want to give up the power of a Senator, just to become governor?” The senator’s quest for social reform practically disappeared from public view, ironically overshadowed by his law firm’s violation of bar association standards during Philadelphia Mayor John Kelley’s administration – coincidently at a time when the Mayor, “a power in the city’s Democratic Party, had prevailed upon” rising star Anthony J. DiSilvestro to run for a Senate seat. The Philadelphia Bar conducted a 1935, city-wide corruption investigation, targeting many of its practicing members. As a result, chairman Brewster Rhoades proffered charges against Senator Salus’s practice for operating a “drunk-driving racket” and misconduct during a divorce proceeding. His brother, Herb Salus, received the more serious conviction, retaining “numbers racket higher–ups” as company clients. Exonerated for complicity regarding his brother’s charge, the court nevertheless found Samuel guilty of sending “runners” to local jails to distribute “Salus and Salus” business cards to recently pinched drunk drivers. The alleged intent directed all drunk-driving legal fees to the Salus brothers, with the cooperation of wayward local magistrates and police officers. He was also charged with client misrepresentation in a divorce case. Both men received guilty verdicts and were disbarred. In Sam’s case, his guilty verdict stemmed from the secondary crime of ignoring the conduct of his law partners while serving in Harrisburg. Salus embarked on a five-year appeals process through the state Supreme Court, the mission frustrated temporarily by Attorney General Charles Margiotti’s influence on court justices during the Earle administration. He attempted to run for another Senate term in 1938 but met defeat by 47 votes. The election overturned in Salus’s favor by one vote, the Senate decided to seat neither candidate, based on a protracted investigation revealing polling violations. The Senate eventually seated moderate Republican A. Evans “Keppie” Kephart. In 1941, Salus and his brother were readmitted to the bar, and Salus continued his legislative career, successfully running for a 1942 seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The Honorable Samuel W. Salus died of a heart attack while in office, December 28, 1945, after dedicating four decades of legislative service to the Commonwealth.