90 Years of Lawyers’ Club History

Founding the Club and Early Luncheon Meetings

The history of the Lawyers’ Club of Cincinnati is documented in event fliers, meeting minutes, newspaper articles, and in a chapter of The Law in Southwestern Ohio, published by the Cincinnati Bar Association celebrating its centennial in 1972. That chapter was written by the late Al Fingerman, a former president of both the Lawyers’ Club and the Cincinnati Bar Association. Much of this chapter is drawn from that chapter.

The Lawyers’ Club of Cincinnati was founded in 1920 as an alter ego to the Cincinnati Bar Association. Since then, the two organizations have been close friends. The Lawyers’ Club actually was an outgrowth of an organization formed to lobby the Cincinnati Bar Association about fee schedules. (This was in an era when antitrust principles weren’t viewed as applicable to practicing lawyers!) The earliest documentation of that lobbying organization was in the Cincinnati Court Index.

Fee Schedules
In 1919, the Court Index contained announcements of lawyers reopening their law offices after returning from military service in World War I and about the dedication of the new Hamilton County Courthouse. Then this notice appeared in the December 22, 1919 Court Index:

“The undersigned Members of the Bar invite all attorneys interested in the examination of land titles to a meeting at the Court House on Tuesday, December 23, 1919, at 2:00 P.M. We suggest each member come prepared with a schedule of fees. We propose to form an organization with a view to having the Cincinnati Bar Association take up the matter as the Kentucky County and Kentucky Bars have done. We urge your attendance.”

The undersigned authors were “Wm. C. Lambert, C.A. Heilker and Jno. O. Eckert.”

First Meetings
The first mention of the Lawyers’ Club per se was in this notice in the February 27, 1920 Court Index:

“Lawyers Club. Younger members of the Bar believe the interest of the profession can be promised a closer organization and in furtherance of that idea have formed a Lawyers Club which will meet at the Chamber of Commerce on Thursday of each week. There will be lunch together and while so doing plan better for the Bar as a whole. So far the Club has 25 members. Any member of the Bar in good standing may become a member. It is not the intention to displace or in anyway interfere with the work of the Bar Association, but rather to promote that work by carrying out measures before the Association which have been thoroughly threshed out and upon which action may be taken of benefit to the entire Bar . . . . [M]embers will be expected to pay for their luncheon.”

Early meetings over lunch consisted of discussions on “bread and butter” legal issues led by lawyers such as Anthony Dunlap,1 Herb Shaffer,2 John Acomb, Fred Weiland, Louis Weiland, Carl Werner, Judge John O’Connell, Froome Morris,3 Charles Tatgenhorst, Regina Closs, and Murray Seasongood.4 Evidence scholar Dean John Henry Wigmore also addressed the Club.

Continuing Traditions
Sometime after 1946, the Lawyers’ Club got out of the business of actively advocating for legal reform. But after ninety years, the Lawyers’ Club of Cincinnati does continue three long traditions: organizing occasional social events, furnishing gifts for all the children at the heart-warming December program at a West End elementary school, and holding luncheon meetings.

The Lawyers’ Club is still meeting for lunch on Thursdays. But instead of every Thursday, the Club meets the third Thursday of every month. And instead of meeting at the Chamber of Commerce, the Club has met over the last thirty years at the Cincinnati Club, the Bankers Club, the Phoenix, and now the Montgomery Inn Boathouse. Instead of an informal address for a few minutes, the presentation is a full hour for CLE credit. Members are still expected to pay for their luncheon. But instead of a few cents, it’s now $20!

Early Years of Picnics with Golf, Baseball, and Gambling

The Lawyers’ Club quickly established a tradition of holding popular summer social events. According to former CBA and Lawyers’ Club president Al Fingerman,5 the first of the famous “Summer Frolics” was held on June 16, 1921.

Picnic Activities
The headline of the June 28, 1934 picnic flier—full of hand-drawn cartoons—cautions: “FOR MEN ONLY!” The flier requests remittance of $1.25 to Chase M. Davies (probate judge from 1947 to 1973). The flier for the July 11, 1935 annual outing promises baseball, horseshoes, cards, archery, volleyball, boxing, wrestling, music by Edwin Becker and His Lawyer Troubadours, and it displays a cartoon of kneeling dice players.

The June 25, 1945 Cincinnati Times-Star announces “the twenty-fifth annual Lawyers’ Club outing . . . at Summit Hills County Club.” Organizers, including Bert H. Long,6 Burton Robinson,7 George Metzger,8 and Robert F. Dreidame,9 promise “a golf tournament and a baseball game between the lawyers and the Courthouse employees.”

Lawyers’ Club member Harvey Immerman recalls that the stakes were too high for him at summer outings in the 1950s. Indeed, when he was still in law school, a gambling scandal hit both the Cincinnati Post and the Cincinnati Enquirer on July 3, 1948.

Apparently, a rumor had spread that a “widely-known Cincinnati lawyer” had lost $2,000 to strangers who had crashed the July 1, 1948 Lawyers’ Club picnic at Summit Hills Country Club in Ft. Mitchell. The Enquirer headline shouted, “Gypped Of $2,000? No! Lawyer Says.”

“’It wasn’t $2,000; it was only $1,000,’ he said. ‘And it wasn’t a stranger. He was a businessman I am very friendly with. As a matter of fact, after the game I lent him another $1,000 in case he might need a little capital before the day was over. After all, what’s a couple of grand between friends.’ [sic]

The lawyer refused to let his name be used because certain lawyers have criticized the sporting proclivities of some of the members at the annual club outings.”

The Post story was slightly different, with the lawyer losing money to more than one person. “I lost the $1,000,” he said, “but I knew both the men who won it, and they were not ‘slickers’ who had crashed the gate [and] who knew how to make dice behave.”

Continuing Traditions
Recent summer outings include Reds games, River Downs, theaters, riverboats, wine tastings, golf course hacking, and plain old picnics. (But no illegal gambling scandals!) The Club also keeps traditions of giving much-appreciated gifts to every child in a heart-warming December program at Porter-Hays Elementary School in Cincinnati’s West End, and holding luncheons with free CLE at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse on the third Thursday of every month.

Early Years of Gridirons Roasting Lawyers and Judges

Besides luncheon meetings and summer outings, the Lawyers’ Club established early-on a tradition of organizing comedy roast gridiron dinners. According to former CBA and Lawyers’ Club president Al Fingerman,10 the first “Annual Gridiron Dinner” was held on December 21, 1921.

“Best Ever” Gridiron
The December 17, 1926 Cincinnati Times-Star published a story that 600 lawyers and judges had four hours of feasting and fun at the “annual Gridiron dinner of the Lawyers’ Club Thursday night at the Gibson Roof Garden. It was the best ever given. That was the unanimous verdict. Judges and lawyers were impersonated in burlesque. Their characteristics, their mannerisms, foibles and hobbies were satired [sic]. But it was all in a friendly vein.” The article continued:

“They let me off easy,” smiled Mayor Seasongood,11 whose high silk hat worn on ceremonial occasions was one of the targets of the hundreds of shafts of wit that were hurled.

The merriment started unexpectedly when the preliminary chatting of the guests had subsided into watchful waiting for the first course. Suddenly the stillness was broken by a chorus of shouts by scores of newsboys who burst into the banquet hall. “Extra! Extra! Extra! Here’s the Court Insex! The Court Insex! Scandal About Judges’ ‘Court Sensations.’ Lawyers Questioned.”

Each guest was handed one of the papers. The sheet was a mock edition of the Court Index and was replete with farcical items about jurists.

Next, humorous pictures of lawyers taken at the picnic of the Lawyers’ Club were flashed on a screen, supplemented with caustic comments by Attorney George C. Mills.12 Reproductions of unusual advertisements by several lawyers also were displayed.

One of the cartoons was a picture of Judge Walter A. Ryan,13 founder . . . of the Lawyers’ Club and author of most of the gridiron stunts. He was shown standing on large volumes of law on a chair behind the judge’s bench so that his head would appear above it. This picture was described by Mills as follows:

‘He can paint, dance and sing, and he leads the lawyer chorus,
To cheer us when the program of the bar meetings bore us.
You have all heard the phrase, ‘He’s a busy cup of tea,’
But without Walter Ryan, just what would the Gridiron be?’

A picture that evoked laughter showed Mayor Seasongood and former Vice Mayor Froome Morris,14 former political rivals, as Damon and Pythias.15 . . . . A picture of City Solicitor John D. Ellis and his first assistant, Edward F. Alexander, was accompanied by this statement:

‘Our work for the Charter Party
Was only a labor of love.
We always regard
The hope of reward
As a matter which we are above.’

. . . . Following the pictures came the main event of the night, called “The Organization Meeting of the Amalgamated Bars,” a fictitious rival of the American Bar Association. All the lawyers who took part scored hits as clever actors and comedians and evoked almost continuous laughter by their impersonations of other lawyers and judges, and their humorous references to political events in Cincinnati in the last year.

. . . . The guests of honor were Nathaniel T. Guernsey, New York, vice president and general counsel of the American Telephone & Telegraph company, Dean Merton Ferson16 of the University Law School, and President Alfred Cassatt of the Cincinnati Bar Association.”

Continuing Traditions
We don’t know how long the annual gridiron dinner tradition continued. But after ninety years, the Lawyers’ Club of Cincinnati does carry on three long traditions: organizing occasional social events, furnishing gifts for all the children at the heart-warming December program at Porter-Hays Elementary School, and holding luncheon meetings with free CLE at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse on the third Thursday of every month.

Early Years Lobbying for Legal Reform

Before it became famous for social events, the Lawyers’ Club actually sprang from the purposeful seeds of lobbying organizations and governments to improve our system of justice. Indeed, the first gatherings which eventually became the Lawyers’ Club were organized to lobby the Cincinnati Bar Association about fee schedules. And according to former CBA and Lawyers’ Club president Al Fingerman,17 notices in the Cincinnati Court Index mentioned the Club petitioning the legislature for changes in the law.

Taking No Stand on Prohibition and Photocopying Legislation

The January 14, 1927 Cincinnati Enquirer reported that at the previous day’s Lawyers’ Club meeting, Mayor Murray Seasongood18 spoke out against the Club taking a stand on two pieces of legislation.

One bill before the legislature would have restricted the jurisdiction of mayors and justices of the peace to the localities in which they were elected. While in favor of parts of the bill, Mayor Seasongood objected to a statement within the report on the bill by the Ohio State Bar Association’s Committee on Judiciary and Legal Reform. The objectionable statement was that “everybody agrees the prohibition law has been effective or good.”19

“Mayor Seasongood was on his feet at once to object to that statement. ‘I am not prepared to say that the prohibition law is a good thing.’ . . . . He also objected to a part of the report dealing with the right of judicial candidates to run in partisan primaries.”

A second bill before the legislature would have provided for “making photostatic copies of records instead of copying them in longhand or on the typewriter, as at present.” Judge Walter A. Ryan spoke in opposition to the bill. “Those favoring the photostatic process are in one of two classes,” said Judge Ryan, “those who are not familiar with Recorders’ offices or those who are financially interested in companies which make photostatic machines.”

“Mayor Seasongood again objected. ‘I do not come within either classification mentioned by Judge Ryan,’ he said. ‘But I do believe that we should at least investigate the matter before voting on a resolution condemning it. The photostatic system is used successfully in both New York and Chicago.’”

The Lawyers’ Club referred both resolutions to committee for further report.

Joining with CBA to Request More Judges

The April 11, 1929 Cincinnati Enquirer reported on a joint session of the Cincinnati Bar Association and the Lawyers’ Club of Cincinnati held at the Hotel Gibson the day before. The two groups unanimously resolved to urge Governor Myers Y. Cooper to sign bills passed by the legislature providing them with two extra Common Pleas Court judges and two extra Municipal Court judges. One of the bills would also increase Municipal Court judges’ salaries to $7,000 and the presiding judge’s salary to $7,500. Apparently the governor was leaning the other way, because representatives of rural counties found it difficult to recruit judicial candidates for their courts, unless the candidates could be promised additional compensation from serving in the larger counties as visiting judges.

Petitioning Governor for Better Juror Qualification

The December 29, 1933 Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Lawyers’ Club of Cincinnati executive board appointed a committee to try to convince Governor George White to request legislation to amend and strengthen the present method of choosing and qualifying jurors. “The purpose of the Lawyers’ Club proposal is to write into the state laws a more or less definite system for raising the level of jury intelligence.”

“Chairman of the committee is former Mayor Murray Seasongood. Other members of the committee include Judge Nelson Schwab, former Judge George E. Mills,20 Councilman Anthony B. Dunlap,21 Assistant District Attorney Harry A. Abrams, and August Rendigs, Jr.”

Petitioning Court for Settlement Procedures

The May 5, 1938 Cincinnati Times-Star reported:
“A special committee of the Lawyers’ Club planned, Thursday, to urge the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to consider restoration of the former conciliation division. The division provided machinery for settlement of cases out of court, with judgments entered on the basis of the agreements reached.

Action of the club followed a discussion of conciliation by Judge Stanley Struble before the group meeting in the Masonic Temple last Wednesday.

‘We all know,’ the judge said, ‘how important it is to perpetuate a free judiciary and the [sic] keep it alert to the needs of the people. If the court becomes too expensive and the delay too great, the people suffer injustice rather than resort to the courts or effect poor settlements as best they can.’”

Joining with CBA to Recommend Judicial Candidates

The January 26, 1946 Cincinnati Enquirer reported:
“Five names were sent to Governor Lausche last night by the Joint Committee on Judicial Candidates of the Cincinnati Bar Association and the Cincinnati Lawyers Club to aid him in selecting a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge.

Murray Seasongood, President of the Bar Association and Chairman of the Joint Committee, to whom the Governor had sent a request for five names, said the nine members of the committee agreed unanimously on the five names recommended to the Governor.”

Continuing Traditions
Sometime after 1946, the Lawyers’ Club of Cincinnati got out of the business of actively advocating for legal reform. But after ninety years, the Club continues three long traditions: organizing occasional social events, furnishing gifts for all the children at the heart-warming December program at a West End elementary school, and holding luncheon meetings with free CLE at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse on the third Thursday of every month.

Racial Integration

It’s shameful, but when the Lawyers’ Club was founded, there were no African-American members.

Admitting the First African-American to a 27-Year-Old Club
The January 17, 1947 Cincinnati Enquirer reported:

“The Lawyers Club admitted its first Negro member, William A. McClain, Assistant City Solicitor, yesterday after a stormy session at the Masonic Temple.

The vote was 25 for McClain’s admission, 20 against and three not voting. Several members left during the discussion that preceded the voting.

Clifford Adams, who spoke against McClain’s admission, handed his resignation to Conrad Magrish, new President, at the close of the meeting. The club’s membership is “about 325,” Robert F. Dreidame, Secretary, said.

Carl W. Rich, County Prosecutor, installed officers, who include Charles K. Pulse, Stanley Murphy, and Gordon Iliff, Vice Presidents; August A. Knapp, Treasurer, Magrish and Dreidame.”

Judge McClain
William A. McClain was born in 1913 in North Carolina. Throughout his childhood, he was a severe stutterer, a challenge that he conquered when he won first place in a national intercollegiate oratorical competition in 1934, the same year he graduated from Wittenberg University. He earned his J.D. degree from the University of Michigan in 1937 and received L.L.D. degrees from Wilberforce University and the University of Cincinnati in 1963 and 1971, respectively. Judge McClain is best known as Cincinnati’s City Solicitor from 1963-1972 when he became the first African-American in the United States to achieve such a high municipal legal post. He also served as acting Cincinnati City Manager and as a judge in the Hamilton County Municipal and Common Pleas Courts. He’s now of counsel to Manley Burke LPA.

A World in Flux
On April 15, 1947, 89 days after Judge McClain was admitted into the Lawyers’ Club, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball on opening day at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Judge McClain was twice rejected for membership in the Cincinnati Bar Association before he was admitted as the CBA’s first black member in 1950.

Honoring Judge McClain
On the occasion of the Lawyers’ Club’s 75th Founders’ Day celebration, Judge McClain was the guest of honor. About 250 people attended the joint luncheon meeting of the Lawyers’ Club and the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati on September 22, 1994 in the Grand Ballroom of the Phoenix. Judge McClain shared anecdotes of struggles as a minority attorney over his long, distinguished career. The Lawyers’ Club presented him with a framed copy of the January 17, 1947 Cincinnati Enquirer article announcing his club admission and with an authentic Louisville Slugger Jackie Robinson autograph baseball bat with a brass commemoration plate.

Continuing Traditions
Through 90 years of many changes in the world and in the practice of law, Lawyers’ Club traditions live on: organizing occasional social events, furnishing gifts for all the children at Porter-Hays Elementary school, and holding luncheon meetings with free CLE at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse on the third Thursday of every month.

End Notes

1 CBA president 1924
2 CBA president 1948-49
3 CBA president 1934-35
4 CBA president 1945-46
5 See the chapter on the Lawyers’ Club in The Law in Southwestern Ohio, published by the Cincinnati Bar Association in 1972.
6 CBA president 1943-44
7 CBA president 1947-48
8 CBA president 1950-51
9 CBA president 1957-58
10 See the chapter on the Lawyers’ Club in The Law in Southwestern Ohio, published by the Cincinnati Bar Association in 1972.

11 CBA president 1945-46
12 CBA president 1929-30
13 CBA president 1927-28
14 CBA president 1934-35
15 Greek mythological figures symbolizing loyalty and trust in friendship
16 CBA president 1944-45
17 See the chapter on the Lawyers’ Club in The Law in Southwestern Ohio, published by the Cincinnati Bar Association in 1972.
18 CBA president 1945-46
19 The 18th Amendment enabled national prohibition a year after ratification in 1919. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment in 1933.
20 CBA president 1929-30
21 CBA president 1924