“After former congressman William Scranton was inaugurated as governor in 1963 and had a chance to settle into his office, he was asked at a press conference what was the most significant difference he defined between the Washington press corps and the Pennsylvania press corps.
‘Well,’ he responded, ‘you fellas have the reputation for being really tough to deal with. I think I’m about to find out for myself.'”
- excerpt from “A Capitol Journey: Reflections on the Press, Politics, and the Making of Public Policy in Pennsylvania,” by former journalist and political aide Vince Carocci.
Since the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association (PLCA) was formed in 1895, the reporters who comprise it have documented decades of change in Harrisburg – beginning with the fire that consumed the state Capitol (and their founding bylaws) two years later.
Several accounts have reconstructed portions of the PLCA’s ensuing 116 years of history: Carocci’s book, published in 2005, gives a glimpse of the Harrisburg press corps circa 1960. And in a publication focused solely on the correspondents themselves, former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Gary Tuma put together a comprehensive look at the organization through 1996.
He writes that one of the first tasks for the organization once it returned to a rebuilt Capitol in 1903 was to rewrite its bylaws, which stated this as their mission:
“This Association is hereby established and shall be maintained for the purpose of promoting social intercourse among members and obtaining from the Senate and the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania such recognition as best will assist such members in the prosecution of their legitimate duties in reporting the proceedings of the Pennsylvania Legislature, and for no other purpose or purposes.”
The organization since has seen its ranks grow and shrink, eventually adding its first female members during World War II. The Gridiron dinner began as a biennial tradition, and a male-only event until 1970.
That dinner was suspended in 1943, though returned in 1945 for the association’s 50th anniversary following a House of Representatives resolution encouraging them to bring back the event.
A similar resolution was passed after that 1945 show, stating: “The newsmen who were with us during this session have performed a wonderful job. They not only reported the news fairly, but as the active part of the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association, they put on a celebration of their golden anniversary that was a delight to appetite and an inspiration to patriotism.”
The Gridiron dinner continues through today, now an annual show to raise funds for our summer internship program.
Check back for updates with more anecdotes from the association’s history.