Matthew Quay's House: Matthew Quay — Pennsylvania Political Boss

Matthew S Quay (1833-1904), who lived briefly at 1035 Spruce Street, was a political boss for the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, best known for engineering the presidency of Benjamin Harrison. He also made a huge impact on politics in Philadelphia, though he notoriously did not get along with local politicians.

He was born in Beaver, PA to Anderson Beaton Quay and Catherine McCain. He gained prominence by answering Governor Curtain’s letters from soldiers during the Civil War. He eventually became a Colonel with the 134th regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers in 1862, but he quickly resigned due to typhoid. He had not seen any fighting. A few days after his resignation was accepted, Matthew Quay worked his way back into the army in order to fight in the charge against Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He received a Congressional medal of honor for bravely leading soldiers during the battle. After the war, he returned to work for Curtain as a military secretary, which was the beginning of his political career.

His relationship with Philadelphia started when he was supposed to help Donald Cameron be reelected to Senate in 1878. In order to do so, Quay became recorder, a position to manage records in Philly. The Republicans had specifically recreated the position for him. The people of Philadelphia were upset that a politician from a different area was appointed for solely political reasons. He resigned after a year since the position did not do much to strengthen the party. Matthew Quay walked away with a deep respect for the Independents in Philadelphia, but many Independents did not like him.

Merchant and politician, John Wanamaker was one of the Philadelphia Independents who hated Quay the most. After getting President Harrison elected, Quay was hoping for a position in his cabinet. He, after all, had made sure the votes were divided enough between candidates that Harrison would be nominated. Harrison, however, was closer with John Wanamaker, who helped raise money for his campaign. The group that Wanamaker headed demanded a spot in Harrison’s cabinet. Quay had no choice but to support Wanamaker since it looked like Wanamaker would get a position of power. Quay was right; Harrison appointed Wanamaker postmaster general of the country while Quay got nothing. A few hours before inauguration, Harrison made sure this was okay with Quay. Even though Quay said he approved, he would later be bitter about his lack of a position. Also, Wanamaker did not accept Quay’s choice for postmaster in Philadelphia. President Harrison’s approval of this action and rejection of Quay’s candidate drove a wedge between him and Quay. Wanamaker attempted to heal things with Quay when he wanted to become senator. For no known reason, the attempted reconciliation did not last more than six weeks.

Philadelphia boss James McManes also strongly disliked Quay. McManes refused to back Quay’s presidential candidate in 1888 leading Quay to want to remove McManes from power. Matthew Quay declared David Martin, a former henchman of McManes’s, the political boss of Philadelphia instead. While Martin did not stay in the position long, he did help Quay keep control of Philly away from someone who disagreed with him.

In 1904 Matthew S Quay died. He had been ill since his 1902-1903 congressional session, which he spent away from home, in Washington. His funeral was held in Beaver, PA, in the same church where his dad was once preacher. Many senators and politicians were in attendance. Quay had greatly influenced the politics of City, Commonwealth, and country.


  • Blair, William Alan. A Practical Politician: The Boss Tactics of Matthew Stanley Quay. Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. Vol. 56, No. 2 (April 1989), pp. 77-92.
  • Ershkowitz, Herbert. John Wanamaker : Philadelphia merchant. Conshohocren, PA : Combined Pub., 1999.
  • Kehl, James A. Boss rule in the gilded age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania. University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh, Pa. 1981.




1035 Spruce Street

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