William Scott Vare

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William Scott Vare
United States Senator-elect[a]
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1927 – December 6, 1929
Preceded by George Pepper
Succeeded by Joe Grundy
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate
from the 1st district
In office
November 7, 1922 – November 30, 1923[1]
Preceded by Edwin Vare
Succeeded by Flora Vare
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 1st district
In office
May 24, 1912 – March 3, 1927
Preceded by Henry Bingham
Succeeded by James Hazlett
Personal details
Born (1867-12-24)December 24, 1867
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Died August 7, 1934(1934-08-07) (aged 66)
Political party Republican
a.^ Vare was not permitted to qualify for the seat to which he was elected in 1926, and the election results never received gubernatorial certification. He was never sworn-in, and his term was thus in dispute until he was formally unseated by the Senate.

William Scott Vare (December 24, 1867 – August 7, 1934) was an American construction contractor and Republican Party politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House and won a contested election to the United States Senate.

Early life[edit]

Bill Vare was the youngest of three brothers, all of whom were contractors and politicians. George (1859–1908), Edwin (1862–1922) and William were all born in the area of South Philadelphia known locally as "The Neck". It is the area of South Philadelphia that includes the Wachovia Center, Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park.[citation needed]

At age six, he witnessed the death of his father, Augustus Vare, who was killed in an accident. With the exception of his two older brothers he witnessed the deaths of all his brothers and sisters. The renowned merchant of Philadelphia, John Wanamaker, took young Bill under his wing, by paying for his tuition at Philadelphia's famous Central High School. Later, he worked at Wanamaker's.[citation needed]

Early career[edit]

His political career began in 1884 when he observed the Mummers parade on New Years Day and realized that such marches could be employed in political campaigns. In 1890 he started construction contracting with his two older brothers. By 1909, this firm known simply as "Vare Brothers," had contracts with the City of Philadelphia whose aggregate worth was over $100,000,000.

Bill Vare was elected to City Council in 1898. Four years later, he was elected as Recorder of Deeds. In 1911, he decided to try a run for mayor as a moderate Republican. The primary was won by George Earle, Jr., but it split the Republican organization in Philadelphia three different ways, and it was these splits that accounted for Independent Rudolph Blankenburg's election in 1911.

He was elected to the State Senate in November 1922, winning a special election to fill the South Philadelphia-based first district seat left vacant by his brother Edwin's death that October.[2] Vare resigned the seat a year later. His sister-in-law Flora, won the ensuing special election, becoming the first woman to serve in the chamber.[3]

United States House of Representatives[edit]

In 1912, Vare was elected to the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives.[4] While in the House, his voting record took a much more pronounced turn to the left. He supported the abolition of child labor, the federal income tax, the rights of unions to bargain collectively, and voting rights for women and the ending of segregation on passenger rail cars. In 1921 Vare's rival, Senator Boies Penrose, died. The following year his older brother Ed also died. This left Bill Vare as the undisputed leader of Philadelphia, with broad influence over the burgeoning industrial and economic region of the middle Atlantic seaboard.

Vare's voting record in the United States House of Representatives was classically Pennsylvania Republican, or more liberal on social issues and then more conservative on issues of pure business. Vare repeatedly pursued the repeal of Prohibition because of the cruel police state it imposed, and was actually able to show, statistically, that alcohol-related crimes increased threefold in Philadelphia during the first years of Prohibition. It was a testament to his moral character that he argued this way, as it has been inferred that the Philadelphia Republican Party machine relied on alcohol-related revenues to fund its core activities, and Vare thus stood to lose much of his financial backing by pursuing Prohibition's repeal.

The Republican organization in Philadelphia received many offers to do business from the likes of Waxey Gordon and "Lucky" Luciano. But this was no ordinary arrangement, as Vare forced both Gordon and Luciano to agree that Vare would hold a veto power over any racket operating in Philadelphia. In a further bid to gird the fiscal foundation of the Party, Vare decided to extract "loyalty oaths" from the entire Philadelphia Republican organization.[citation needed] Vare was also able to exert tremendous influence over Philadelphia's legal business. This was a strong form of politics, because Vare had lots of influence with the unions.

Senate scandal and end of career[edit]

In 1926 Vare announced his candidacy for the United States Senate.[4] Both the primaries and general election were mired in scandal. After Vare apparently won the election, Governor Gifford Pinchot, who had been drubbed by Vare in the primary, refused to certify the election. In January 1927, Pinchot testified before the Senate, producing several thousand illegal paper ballots. Nevertheless, the Senate informed Vare that they would contact him. In the interim Vare began smoking, drinking and eating to excess. This led in August 1928 to a stroke that nearly killed him.

In December 1929, Vare was summoned before the Senate where he was informed that while he won the election, the Senate could not agree to his being seated. However, Vare took it to mean that he was being denied the seat because of Pinchot's charges. As a result, in the 1930 gubernatorial primary, Vare supported Democratic nominee John Hemphill, who lost to Pinchot. At this point a palace coup emerged at the Republican City Committee, where he was ousted and replaced by Secretary of Labor James Davis.

Four years later, Vare attempted a comeback as a Democrat. However, the symptoms of the 1928 stroke had become worse in the ensuing six years, and he died on the sixth anniversary of the stroke. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cox, Harold (2004). "Pennsylvania Senate - 1923-1924" (PDF). Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University. 
  2. ^ Cox, Harold (2004). "Pennsylvania Senate - 1921-1922" (PDF). Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University. 
  3. ^ Cox, Harold (2004). "Pennsylvania Senate - 1925-1926" (PDF). Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University. 
  4. ^ a b "William Scott Vare | exhibits.hsp.org". digitalhistory.hsp.org. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  • Paul B. Beers, Pennsylvania Politics Today and Yesterday: The Tolerable Accommodation 1980
  • Peter McCaffery's When Bosses Ruled Philadelphia, Penn State University Press 1993.
  • Andrew T. Vare Stories about Uncle Bill as told by Lucille Townsend Vare, Bryn Mawr 1983

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
George Pepper
United States Senator-elect1 (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: David Reed

Succeeded by
Joe Grundy
Pennsylvania State Senate
Preceded by
Edwin Vare
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate for the 1st District
Succeeded by
Flora Vare
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Henry Bingham
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
James Hazlett
Party political offices
Preceded by
George Pepper
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
James Davis
Notes and references
1. Never sworn-in or seated.