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David L. Lawrence

This article is about the governor of Pennsylvania, and long-time Pittsburgh mayor. For other people named David Lawrence see David Lawrence.
David L. Lawrence
Lawrence in 1961
37th Governor of Pennsylvania
In office
January 20, 1959 – January 15, 1963
Lieutenant John Morgan Davis
Preceded by George Leader
Succeeded by Bill Scranton
51st Mayor of Pittsburgh
In office
January 7, 1946[1] – January 15, 1959[2]
Preceded by Cornelius Scully
Succeeded by Thomas Gallagher
Member of the
Democratic National Committee
from Pennsylvania
In office
May 22, 1940 – November 21, 1966
Preceded by George Earle
Succeeded by Joe Barr
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
In office
January 15, 1935 – January 17, 1939
Governor George Earle
Preceded by Richard Beamish
Succeeded by Sophia O'Hara[3]
Chairman of the
Pennsylvania Democratic Party
In office
June 8, 1934[4] – May 22, 1940[5]
Preceded by Warren Van Dyke
Succeeded by Meredith Meyers
Personal details
Born (1889-06-18)June 18, 1889
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
United States
Died November 21, 1966(1966-11-21) (aged 77)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Alyce Lawrence
Profession Party delegate, Civil servant, Politician
Religion Roman Catholic

David Leo Lawrence (June 18, 1889 – November 21, 1966) was an American politician who served as the 37th Governor of Pennsylvania from 1959 to 1963. He is to date the only mayor of Pittsburgh to be elected Governor of Pennsylvania. Previously, he had been the mayor of Pittsburgh from 1946 through 1959. He was Pennsylvania's first Catholic Governor.


  • Early life 1
  • Pittsburgh politics 2
  • Pennsylvania politics 3
  • National politics 4
  • Later life 5
  • Death 6
  • Family 7
  • Honors 8
  • Electoral history 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Early life

Lawrence was born into a working-class Irish-Catholic family in the Golden Triangle neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Too poor to attend college, Lawrence instead took a job as a clerk for Pittsburgh attorney William Brennan, the chairman of the local Democratic party and a labor movement pioneer. Brennan became a personal friend and mentor to the teenage Lawrence.

Lawrence entered the insurance business in 1916. In 1918 he enlisted in the United States Army to aid the United States effort in World War I, serving as an officer in the adjutant general’s office in Washington, D.C.

Pittsburgh politics

When he returned home from his army service in 1919, Lawrence was elected chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic Party. At the time, Pittsburgh was a Republican bastion, with Democrats holding wide support only in the lower class and among recent immigrants. With the help of future Pennsylvania Senator Joe Guffey, Lawrence led the rising Pennsylvania Democratic party that would soon dominate local and state-wide politics. In the 1928 presidential election, David Lawrence worked hard for another Irish Roman Catholic politician who, like himself, had risen from the slums without the benefit of a formal education—Alfred E. Smith. The vicious anti-Catholic campaign that defeated Alfred Smith that year had a profound effect on Lawrence and convinced him that Roman Catholism was an insurmountable handicap in United States presidential politics.[6] Consequently, at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Lawrence deserted Al Smith's presidential campaign and delivered the Pennsylvania delegation to Franklin D. Roosevelt solely because of his fear of the religious issue.

Meanwhile in 1931, Lawrence had run for Allegheny County Commissioner but lost. It was one of his last losses, as the effects of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. That same year, he became state chairman of the Democratic Party.

In 1945, Lawrence was elected mayor of Pittsburgh by a narrow margin. At the time, Pittsburgh was considered one of the most Richard Mellon, chairman of one of the largest banks in America and a staunch Republican. Despite their political differences, Mellon and Lawrence were both interested in the revival of Pittsburgh and both were early environmentalists. This partnership drove what came to be called the “Renaissance” (later Renaissance I) of Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania politics

After an unprecedented four terms as mayor of Pittsburgh, Democrats drafted him to run for governor in 1958. He was initially reluctant, citing his age (nearing 70) as a potential drawback. He eventually accepted his party’s nomination and narrowly defeated Reading businessman Arthur McGonigle to become Pennsylvania's 37th governor.

During his four-year term as governor, Lawrence passed anti-discrimination legislation, environmental protection laws, expanded Pennsylvania's library system, passed Pennsylvania's fair housing law, and advocated historic preservation. He also passed vigorous highway safety legislation, a move some attribute to the fact that two of his sons were killed in an automobile accident. His expansion of state bureaucracies came at the price of budget deficits and tax increases, a move that angered many fiscal conservatives.

In 1960, Lawrence was among a group of political leaders who created the Finnegan Foundation, which provide practical training in government and politics for outstanding undergraduate students by offering ten-week paid internships in the state government in Harrisburg each summer.

National politics

Lawrence had attended his first Democratic National Convention as a page in 1912 and would attend every subsequent convention until his death. He was instrumental in the nominations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and John F. Kennedy in 1960, and became known as the “maker of presidents”. In the weeks leading up to the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Lawrence was one of the few urban bosses to support Harry S Truman's attempts to win the Presidential nomination.

At the 1948 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia where Harry Truman sought the Democratic presidential nomination with Lawrence's support, however, Lawrence would surprise liberals and conservatives alike by shifting the Pennsylvania delegation away from the more tepid civil rights plank that the Administration preferred to a more aggressively liberal one.[7] Lawrence is often credited with convincing John F. Kennedy to choose Lyndon Johnson as his running mate to balance the ticket and mend a rift between northern and southern Democrats.[8][9]

In 1958 (during the heat of the Governor's race) then Mayor Lawrence was eventually exonerated of influencing the WTAE-TV between its ownership group and that of WPXI. The U.S. House hearings with Lawrence present were high drama.[10]

Later life

Limited to one term under existing state law, Lawrence retired from elected office in 1963, but continued to stay active in Democratic politics and served the Kennedy and Johnson administrations as Chairman of the President's Committee on Equal Opportunities in Housing.[11]


Lawrence fell ill and collapsed at a campaign rally held at Pittsburgh's Syria Mosque for gubernatorial candidate Milton Shapp on November 4, 1966, and was rushed to a local hospital. He died 17 days later having never regained consciousness. He was 77 years old. His death brought eulogies from both President Johnson and Truman.[12][13] Funeral services were held at St. Mary of Mercy Church in downtown Pittsburgh on November 25, 1966 as 2,000 attended including Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Mayors Joseph Barr of Pittsburgh, Jerome Cavanaugh of Detroit, James Tate and Richardson Dilworth of Philadelphia, Govs. William Scranton, James Duff, Ray Shafer and John Fine along with President Lyndon Johnson staff members Robert Kintner and Marvin Watson, Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. After the services all guests and family joined a 250 car motorcade following the hearse down the Blvd. of the Allies, Grant Street and I-376 for the burial.[13][14][14][15][16][17][18]

He is buried in Pittsburgh's Calvary Cemetery, right behind the plot of his longtime friend Harry Greb and beside the plots of his 2 eldest sons who died years prior.[15]


Lawrence's two eldest sons both died as passengers in a youthful joyriding car accident on April 19, 1942 in the northern suburb of Zelienople along U.S. Route 19.[19]

Another son, Gerald Lawrence was the long-time Vice President and General Manager of Churchill Downs.[20]

His grandson Tom Donahoe served as General Manager for the hometown Pittsburgh Steelers from 1991 until 1999, helping take the team to Super Bowl XXX, and later served as GM for the Buffalo Bills from 2001 until 2005, as well as a contributor to[21]


Buildings named in honor of Lawrence include The David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, the David Lawrence Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, Lawrence Hall in the Governor's Quad at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Lawrence Hall of Point Park University. Lawrence is also honored at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, as it named two dormitories the Lawrence Towers. The David L. Lawrence Library, later the David L. Lawrence Administration Center, at La Salle University was dedicated by Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Electoral history


  1. ^ Kirk, Rachel (January 7, 1946). "Wives Sit In Background As City Officials Take Oath".  
  2. ^ Allan, William (January 15, 1959). "Gallagher 'Crowned' as Mayor". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 1. 
  3. ^ "James Picks Miss S.M.R. O'Hara To Be Secretary of Pennsylvania".  
  4. ^ Townley, John B. (June 8, 1934). "Martin Gives Up Chairman Post, Recommends Taylor". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved January 9, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Meyers Gets Party Post".  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ "Oral History Interview with David L. Lawrence".  
  8. ^ Matthews, Frank (February 8, 1988). "Don't Call Me Boss".  
  9. ^ caro 2012, pp. 131.
  10. ^ "Smathers Exonerated in Pittsburgh TV Case".  
  11. ^ "John F. Kennedy". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Lawrence's Two Sons Die as Car Swerves Into Tree". The Pittsburgh Press. April 20, 1942. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  20. ^ Halvonik, Steve (August 26, 2988). "Steelers Mourn Rooney's Death". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. pp. 15–22. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  21. ^  


  • Weber, Michael P. (1988). Don't Call Me Boss: David L. Lawrence: Pittsburgh's Renaissance Mayor. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.  

External links

  • November 22, 1966 Obituary from the Pittsburgh Press
  • Finding aid to the David Leo Lawrence Papers at the Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh
  • Michael P. Weber Papers, 1963-1984, AIS.1988.15, Archives Service Center, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on "Don't Call me Boss"
  • President Johnson's statement on the passing of David Lawrence
Political offices
Preceded by
George Leader
Governor of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Bill Scranton
Preceded by
Cornelius Scully
Mayor of Pittsburgh
Succeeded by
Thomas Gallagher
Preceded by
Richard Beamish
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Sophia O'Hara
Party political offices
Preceded by
George Leader
Democratic nominee for Governor of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Richardson Dilworth
Preceded by
George Earle
Member of the Democratic National Committee
from Pennsylvania

Succeeded by
Joe Barr
Preceded by
Warren Van Dyke
Chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Meredith Meyers
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