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Rufus Edmonds Shapley

Rufus Edmonds Shapley was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on August 4, 1840, the son of Rufus and Susan Shapley. He was educated locally and entered his hometown's Dickinson College with the class of 1860. Following graduation he studied law in the office of William Penrose in Cumberland County. He was admitted to the Philadelphia bar in 1866 and became a successful corporate attorney in that city.

The legal case that made Shapley's career was Brady versus the American Steamship Company in 1874. The locally built and owned vessel Pennsylvania, only three years old, had almost foundered in a storm and lost its top officers overboard. A passenger named Brady took command, brought the ship home, and, with Shapley's help, won the only salvage claim awarded to a passenger up to that time. The company's defense, that the Fourth Officer was capable and Brady had usurped his authority, Shapley demolished under skillful cross-examination. Shapley's evidence included the Fourth Officer's log, which showed that his estimation of latitude and longitude for the ship's position called for the Pennsylvania to be sailing somewhere in the hills of upstate New York!

Shapley went on to become a wealthy corporate and tax lawyer, well connected with the Republican Party then controlling the city. He was counsel for the Police Department, represented the streetcar company, and was often called upon to represent Republican Party interests in Pennsylvania. In 1882, he built a mansion - "Hildawold" - in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and he also maintained a summer home in Bar Harbor, Maine. He published several books on tax law, a subject on which he became an expert.

Though prominent as a Philadelphia lawyer, Shapley was known more widely for his political humor, notably his Solid For Mulhooly: A Sketch of Municipal Politics under the Leaders, the Ring, and the Boss published in 1881, and then again in 1889. The book was very well known at the time; one Philadelphia reviewer went so far as to say that it did for municipal corruption what Uncle Tom's Cabin had done for slavery. Shapley's own Philadelphia career did not intrude into the satire, which was largely an anti-immigrant commentary on Democratic Party methods of urban "boss" control. He also published five volumes, edited in collaboration with Librarian of Congress Ainsworth R. Spofford, titled A Library of Wit and Humor in 1884.

Rufus Edmonds Shapley married Annie McCord of Pittsburgh in 1877, and the couple had a daughter. Shapely died at his Philadelphia town home on February 11, 1906.

Please visit the following link for materials authored by Rufus Edmonds Shapley maintained in the Their Own Words database:

Shapley, Rufus Edmonds, 1840-1906.

Researched, authored, and edited by John Osborne, Ph. D., and James Gerencser.

Page created: July 2, 2003                                            close window