Even in 1876 amateur journalism was no new hobby. It had, since
the 1840's, spread over the entire country. There were dozens of
more or less enduring local organizations devoted to its purpose.
The first group which claimed a national scope was brought together
by J. Blair Scribner, William Terhune and others at Scribner's home
in Newark. Although not at first so named, it was later known as
the National Amateur Press Association. The club held several
annual conventions, but after a few years failed. However, it had
served as an initial effort toward an all-embracing association
and the idea did not die with it.
Philadelphia, in 1876, was host to the world. All America was
celebrating the centenary of the Declaration of Independence.
Everyone, who could, went to see the Exposition delineating the
progress of the world to that date.
There is no doubt that many amateur journalists gazed toward
Philadelphia, longing to see the show and, perchance, meet others
interested in the same pastime. Of all the group, only three
persons appear to have done anything about it: C. E. Williams,
Evan Reed Riale and James M. Beck.
Credit has been generously given to Charles E. Williams' Gazette
for first suggesting the convention. Shortly after the meeting had
concluded the Pacific Amateur Journal published:
"To the now defunct Gazette of Portland, Maine, belongs the honor
of suggesting this assemblage of amateurs."
This version was presented by William Terhune, later, as the true
story of the birth of the convention. In the light of later data
this does not appear to be the case. In an address Evan Reed
Riale declared the Williams' story to be a complete falsehood.
He stated that Williams "did not directly or indirectly remotely
inspire" the Philadelphia activity.
While Williams did print the suggestion, he did so after Beck had,
and after Riale had begun the campaign in Philadelphia which
actually resulted in the first convention. Thus, although not
first, Williams was one of those who early made the suggestion.
Riale, feeling that a national organization within amateurdom was
desirable, resolved, early in 1875, to promote the establishment
of such a group. It seemed to Riale, as to others, that the
exposition the following year was an ideal opportunity to convoke
the amateur journalists of the country. He carried on considerable
correspondence in regard to the project. One of the first results
was the founding of the Amateur Scribbler's Club in New York. In
July of that same year the New York amateurs began to lay plans
for the following summer.
When Frank Vondersmith visited Riale on August 5, 1875, the host
revealed his idea for a meeting and suggested July 4 for the date.
It was decided that a local group should be formed and called the
National Amateur Press Association in order to cinch the right to
use that name. The two boys went calling that very afternoon to
promote the plan.
The first printed notice by an individual seems to have been a
call issued in the winter of 1875-1876 by James M. Beck, later to
be solicitor-general of the United States, who also lived in
Philadelphia. He was news editor of William Grissinger's
Philadelphia Literary Times and in that magazine he wrote:
"Reader, what do you think of holding a grand convention of the
amateurs of the world in this city on July 3rd? The plan can and
will be pushed through."
Out of Riale's efforts a local Philadelphia club was formed on
February 19, 1876. There were ten boys present. In accordance
with the plans the organization was named the National Amateur
Press Association. George W. Bertron was elected president. Among
other officers Riale was elected corresponding secretary. The
group held regular meetings and began to plan for the convention.
In response to Beck's suggestion amateurs from Pennsylvania, New
Jersey and Delaware met and formed the Amateur Union. It, too,
proposed to hold a convention but aimed more at the social side
than to found any national organization.
The Philadelphia amateurs were thus split. The "up-towners" of
the Amateur Union were generally boys of wealthier parents than
the "down-towners" who had formed the NAPA. Beck and the others
who realized the value of union, made overtures during May to the
local NAPA regarding amalgamation of the two organizations.
Committees from the two clubs met at Vondersmith's home. They
were unable to reach an agreement. The Union had selected July 5
as the meeting date while the others had chosen the 4th. Neither
would yield and nothing came of the discussion.
At a subsequent meeting of the Philadelphia NAPA, James Beck
appeared to urge, eloquently, the July 5th date. The club voted
the proposal down, however. Beck, on finding the group could not
be swayed, joined it, and was promptly elected to the
vice-presidency. His eloquence was sufficient to cause his
appointment to deliver the address of welcome to the convention.
Thus the "up-towners" split and a minority went over to the
down-town group. The majority actually held a convention on July 5,
but it was a failure.
The group continued to meet and perfect the preparations. Weekly
meetings were held and Beck tells us that they gathered their
pennies to defray the expenses.
It was necessary to select some amateur to serve as chairman of
the proposed meeting. Richard Gerner visited Riale on May 10 when
the exposition opened. Three days later at a meeting of the local
club, Riale moved that Gemer be requested to serveas president
pro tem. It was passed and the invitation was dispatched.
At the May 27, 1876, meeting of the local NAPA the final
arrangements were made. David Hunter reported that the City
Institute Hall had been hired. Gerner accepted the chairmanship.
One hundred printed invitations had been sent out and it was moved
to mail another hundred. All eagerly awaited the arrival of
Many of the boys who attended the convention arrived early to enjoy
the Centennial Exposition. Or, perhaps it might be said many boys
who visited the fair arrived to be at the convention also.
John Winslow Snyder arrived a day early- His experience was
typical. He met a few of the other amateurs who were there also.
He slept that night on a cot in a crowded hotel. On the morning
of the 4th he got up early to see the parade and catch a glimpse
of Dom Petro, the emperor of Brazil. He heard Patrick Henry's
grandson read the Declaration of Independence; the presentation of
the "Centennial Ode," especially written by Bayard Taylor; and the
speech of the celebrated orator, William Evarts. Yet through all
this Snyder tells us his mind was on the meeting of the amateurs.
No one can doubt this, for all the amateur journalists were eagerly
looking forward to meeting personally boys whom they knew only
through their journals.
In going to the meeting room in the City Institute Hall one first
climbed a long flight of stairs. At the top there was a little
ante-room. Here, about noon on July 4, one would have seen perhaps
twenty boys crowding about, exchanging greetings and becoming
acquainted. A register lay on the table and, as each newcomer
signed, someone would read his name to the group. We are told
that the first eight names on the list were: John Hosey, John J.
Farrell, W. T. Hall, J. F. DuHamel, Correl Kendall, F. 0. McCleary,
J. J. Richardson and J. A. Fynes.
The original register of attendees has been lost somewhere in the
years that have elapsed, but Evan Riale managed to reconstruct an
accurate list of the 65 boys present on that occasion-there were
no girls. Philadelphia, naturally, led the list with 19 present
and five more were from Pennsylvania. In all, eleven states and
the District of Columbia were represented as follows: Pennsylvania
24, New York 13, District of Columbia 10, Maryland, Massachusetts
and Illinois 3 each, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia 2 each, Delaware,
New Jersey and Wisconsin 1 each.
Thus it may be seen that the meeting and its resulting association
was truly national in character.
At 1:35 the buzz of conversation died down under the rap of the
chairman's gavel. Richard Gerner, greeted with considerable
applause, gave the opening address. Speaking at length from a
previously prepared manuscript the chairman pro tem
praised advances already accomplished in amateur journalism and
forecast an even greater future. He then proceeded to introduce
James Beck who was to deliver the "Address of Welcome."
James Beck, so short he had to mount a stool to be seen, wearing
the spectacles which won him the nickname of "Goggles," rose to
deliver his oration. He issued a hearty welcome to all present and
then went on to eulogize Richard Gerner. "There has been," he
said, "some little dispute as to our selection of Mr. Gerner for
temporary chairman I raised by some of our amateurs." As he spoke,
Beck's gaze turned toward the corner where sat the powerful
Bostonians, Correl Kendall and James Austin Fynes. And, growing
excited, he declaimed, "Mr. Gerner is a prominent amateur! His
words here today, speak for themselves. Mr. Gerner is one of the
smartest amateurs in the country! Mr. Gerner is one of the most
genial amateurs!" And he sat down.
Whether he was aware of it or not, Beck brought into the open the
struggle between the two main leaders of the convention-Gerner, of
Hoboken, N.J., and John W. Snyder, of Richmond, Va. Oddly enough
neither was famed for printing or editing but as authors. Gerner
was well known as a short story writer and novelist. Snyder
was particularly esteemed as an essayist of great merit. Both
contributed much material to the amateur press. Both were leaders
and, as James A. Fynes remarked, "They measured blades at the very
Gerner, technical and aggressive, was in the better position, but
he had enemies from his own section of the country. They thought
they saw a cut and dried plan to put Gerner into office,
"wherefore they resolved that no one should take the crown without
scratching awhile through the thorns." There is considerable
question whether the Philadelphians had any political purpose in
mind in making Gerner chairman. It is true that they must appoint
someone. Riale affirms, "No names had been previously mentioned
as nominees for officers...there were absolutely no expectations
of obtaining office on the part of the faithful eleven boys who
made all...arrangements for the convention and defrayed all
expenses." On the other hand Beck admits, "Those of us who had
called. the convention and paid all the expensives felt--somewhat
foolishly--that we had the right to dictate to the convention its
choice of permanent chairman and we had selected Richard Gerner.
The opposition put forward Snyder and the association commenced
its long career of quarreling with a bitter contest."
Almost before Beck could conclude his remarks, members sprang to
their feet to move the choice of permanent chairman. In rapid
order Richard Gerner, Correl Kendall, Clarence G. Allen of
Washington, D. C., Edgar R. Hoadley of Philadelphia,
J. Guilford White of Virginia, and John W. Snyder were nominated.
White then asked to withdraw his name. Frank Vondersmith, George
W. Bertron and Leland Williamson, all of Philadelphia, were
Before turning to the actual balloting a resolution was proposed
by Messrs. Fynes, White and Hosey: "Resolved, that the only
authorized voters in the National Amateur Press Association are
those who are, or have been, actively engaged in amateur affairs."
The measure was adopted.
Mr. Gerner stated that the person receiving the largest number of
votes would be declared elected. With his copy of "Cushing's
Manual" at hand, Mr. Kendall rose and reminded the chairman that
a majority of the total vote cast was required to elect. The
chair admitted he had forgotten and stood corrected.
The nominations having been completed, the convention proceeded
to the election. The first ballot gave: Richard Gerner, 22; John
W. Snyder, 18; E. R. Hoadley, 7; Correl Kendall, 6; Clarence G.
Allen, 3. Thus there was no choice.
Before the second ballot was taken the opponents of Gerner were
able to unite with the result: John W. Snyder, 33; Richard Gerner,
27. John Winslow Snyder was declared permanent chairman of the
About his election Snyder was to say twenty years later: "It is
needless to say that I was flattered by my election to the highest
office in the gift of those whose opinion I most highly valued."
As the newly elected chairman mounted the platform he was welcomed
by Gerner and turned to face an audience much of which was sullen
and angry at his election. The way was open for a breach in the
National Amateur Press Association before the club was even
organized. The curly-haired Virginian began a calm, conciliatory
speech, though in clear, incisive tones. Such was his ability as
an orator that when he had finished all thought of animosity had
Richard Gerner moved that the "NAPA of Philadelphia now be
dissolved, and that with other amateurs from all parts of the
United States a National Amateur Press Association be formed.
"The motion was seconded and passed without discussion."
One might suppose that the convention would consider this their
most important accomplishment but such does not appear to be so.
There was no general realization that they were creating an
institution that would outlive all of them. Riale continually
assures us that his sole motivation in working to bring about
the convention was the formation of a permanent nation-wide
organization. We believe him to be unique in this aim. Beck
states, and we feel most amateurs were of his mind, "...It
was...spirit of hospitality which impelled the amateurs of
Philadelphia to invite their brothers of other states to come.
The formation of a permanent national organization was only
incidental to the main purpose. "Indeed, even afterwards, the
meeting was not called the First NAPA Convention but was known as
the Centennial Amateur Convention.
With an organization officially established it now became necessary
to define the officers. Beck moved that there be a president,
five vice-presidents, a recording secretary, a corresponding
secretary, a treasurer and an official organ. The motion was
passed without discussion.
The officers having been defined, J. Guilford White moved that the
permanent chairman and the permanent secretary of the convention
become president and recording secretary of the new NAPA.
Considerable argument ensued, but the motion was passed. Thus
Snyder became president and Hall first recording secretary. The
convention then proceeded to the election of the other officers,
with the result: 1st vice-president, Richard Gerner, N. J.;
2nd vice-president, William E. Leaning, N. Y.; 3rd vice-president,
George W. Bertron, Pa.; 4th vice-president, Charles C. Heuman,
N. Y.; 5th vice-president, William W. Winslow, Pa.;
corresponding secretary, Evan Reed Riale, Pa.; and treasurer,
James A. Fynes, Mass. The New England Star was named the official
organ for the period 1876-1877.
It was decided to have a constitution prepared and presented at the
next convention. Richard Gerner, Charles C. Heuman and Franklin
Barritt were appointed a committee to draft the constitution and
There was a lively discussion as to the seat of the next year's
convention. It was agreed to hold it during July but the exact date
was to be left to the committee on arrangements. The voting gave:
Long Branch, N. J., 16; Chicago, 5; Niagara Falls, 2; New York City,
8; Washington, 12.
Of the literary-dramatic program which had been planned, most was
not presented. However, before the meeting closed, a Philadelphia
boy recited an original poem and Richard Gerner presented, in a
highly approved manner, the poem "On the Brink."
Some attendees had departed early and, after these two numbers, the
Burton J. Smith
The above account of the founding convention
originally appeared in The National Amateur,