Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Anning Smith Prall (1870-1937)

Portrait courtesy of the Library of Congress.

  Six-term U.S. Representative Anning Smith Prall received brief mention in April 8th's profile on Esli Lyle Sutton, the man whom Prall defeated for a seat in Congress in 1926. A lifelong New Yorker, Prall was a past member of the New York City Board of Education and city tax commissioner prior to his years in Congress. Further political honors came his way following his leaving the house, as he was appointed by then-President Franklin Roosevelt to the Federal Communications Commission.
  The son of William and Josephine Rebecca Prall, Anning S. Prall was born at Port Richmond, Staten Island on September 17, 1870. His early education occurred in Staten Island and in the early 1890s enrolled at New York University. He would later enter into the employ of the New York World newspaper, where he worked as a reporter. In 1896 he left that paper and entered the Richmond County clerk's office, where he served as chief clerk for several years. Prall married in January 1892 to Jane Beaver and had two sons, Anning Mortimer and Bryan.
   In 1907 Anning Prall began a decade-long affiliation with the Staten Island Savings Bank's Mortgage and Loan Department, being the director of its real estate division. Twelve years later he was elected as President of the New York City Board of Education, defeating incumbent president Arthur S. Somers. Despite having no previous experience in state educational matters, Prall took to the job with vigor, outlining an extensive plan to increase teacher's salaries and hire only "aggressively loyal Americans" to teach in New York City schools. Promising to try and curb the influence of radicalism in the city schools, Prall remarked that:
"We should not retain in our classrooms for one moment minds so corrupted by radical doctrines that they cannot be aggressively loyal Americans, who are reverent and sympathetic expounders of a democracy which is the most effective government the world has ever devised to ensure all men life, liberty and pursuit of happiness."
Anning Prall as he appeared in the New York Tribune, May 14, 1919.

   Prall's tenure as school board president extended until 1921 when he resigned to join the City Board of Taxes and Assessment. Regarded as "a real estate expert" during his time on the board, Prall served there until 1923,  and in that year entered into national politics for the first time, due to the death of ten-term Congressman Daniel Riordan (1870-1953). 
   A representative from Long Island since 1905, Riordan died in office on April 23, 1923, and following his death, a special election was held to fill his vacant seat in Congress. As the Democratic nominee to fill the vacancy, Prall's opponent in that election was Republican Guy O. Walser, a lawyer based in Staten Island. On election day that year, it was Prall who won by a wide margin, besting Walser by a vote of 28,215 to 9,972. Taking his seat at the start of the January 1924 session, Prall won a second term in November 1924 and two years later triumphed over Richmond County lawyer Esli L. Sutton to win a third term. 
  Prall would serve a further three terms in Congress and would serve on the committee on Banking and Currency during his twelve years in the house. Towards the end of time in Congress Prall was involved in a serious automobile accident that also injured U.S. Senator Robert F. Wagner. In a Schenectady Gazette write-up on the incident, Prall and Wagner had been on their way to Canada on a fishing trip when Wagner swerved his car to avoid hitting an oncoming truck. Their vehicle ended up driving over a twenty-foot embankment before finally coming to rest "on its side in an Adirondack mountain brook". Both politicians were injured in the accident, with Prall himself sustaining a "compound fracture of one leg."

Prall taking the oath of office shortly before his FCC service.

   Following a hospital stay recuperating from his injuries, Prall resumed work in Congress. During his years on Capitol Hill Prall had gained a firm friend in President Franklin Roosevelt, who in January 1935 appointed him to the Federal Communications Commission. Prall would advance to the post of Chairman of that commission and during his two-year tenure was acknowledged as a staunch defender of "freedom of speech over the airwaves." Utilizing his previous service on the NYC Board of Education, Prall also saw radio as a powerful educational tool, one that if used wisely could spread positive "democratic propaganda" throughout the country, if not the world. As Prall himself stated at an FCC conference in 1936, radio could:
"Spread the ideas and ideals of America, can 'sell' America to Americans, and thus forge a weapon of national unity that no other agency can create."
 Anning Smith Prall died while still chairman of the FCC on July 23, 1937, having succumbed to a heart attack at his summer home in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. He was survived by his wife and two sons and was later interred in the Prall family plot at the Moravian Cemetery at New Dorp, Staten Island. Far from a forgotten political figure, Prall was later honored by having Intermediate School 27 on Staten Island named after him, being known as the Anning S. Prall Intermediate School.

From the Ogdensburgh Journal, July 23, 1937.

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