Charles Francis McKenna (1904-1906)

Charles Francis McKenna  (1904-1906)Charles Francis McKenna, soldier, writer, lawyer, judge and progressive citizen, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 1, 1844. His family had been in Pittsburgh for three generations - his grandfather, Hugh McKenna, a tenant farmer on the Earl of Caledon Estate in County Tyrone, Ireland, emigrated to the United States in 1832, soon after his wife's death. He settled in Pittsburgh with his ten children, six sons and four daughters. Judge McKenna was the son of one of Hugh McKenna's sons, James McKenna (1800-1846), and his wife, Anna Mullen (1801- 1884). Mr. James McKenna was elected in 1839 to be the city and county overseer of the poor, an office of importance in those times. Judge McKenna's brother Bernard was a judge of the Pittsburgh City Police District Court for twelve years, and Mayor of Pittsburgh from 1893 to 1896. Judge McKenna also had a twin brother, Edward.

Judge McKenna was educated in public and private schools in Pittsburgh, attending night school at times. He was apprenticed in the lithographers trade when he was fourteen years old and was a successful engraver and artist.

At eighteen, responding to President Abraham Lincoln's call for 300,000 additional Union soldiers in July, 1862, he left his employment and enlisted as a private in Company E, 155th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. This regiment saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War as part of the 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac. Judge McKenna fought at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness Campaign, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Five Forks, and was at Appomattox when General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.

At the end of the Civil War, Judge McKenna returned to Pittsburgh and studied law at the law firm of Mitchell & Palmer. In 1868, he was admitted to the Allegheny County Bar. He was one of the earliest members of the Allegheny County Bar Association, an organizer and charter member of the Pennsylvania State Bar Association, and a member of the American Bar Association.

His practice in Pittsburgh was lucrative and successful, and his reputation in Western Pennsylvania was that of an able and reliable counsel and advocate. He was dignified yet sympathetic in manner, and young and old alike sought his counsel to have their differences adjusted. He had many friends. He was counsel for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and other charitable organizations under three different bishops until 1892, when he was forced to resign due to the increasing demands of his general practice. As a Civil War veteran, he was invited to speak during Memorial Day activities and at campfires and reunions.

In 1872, he married the tall and graceful Virginia White. They had no children and were known as a very happy couple.

In June 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt requested that Attorney General Philander C. Knox (who was from Pittsburgh) and John Dalzell, the Republican Congressman from the Twenty second District of Pennsylvania (which included Pittsburgh), provide him with recommendations for the federal judgeship in Puerto Rico. They recommended Judge McKenna. The members of the Pittsburgh Bar also recommended Judge McKenna, unanimously. At first, Judge McKenna declined to be nominated, but later reconsidered his decision and accepted the nomination.

The two Senators from Pennsylvania, Boies Pennrose and Matthew Stanley Quay (who was jealous of Congressman Dalzell's prominence), opposed the nomination, because they felt insulted in not being consulted about Judge McKenna's nomination. Eventually, however, the Senators relented and Judge McKenna was appointed on June 9, 1904.

Having been a member of Lodge 11 of the Pittsburgh Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks (and of the Civil Club and the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce), Judge McKenna was commissioned to organize an Elks lodge in Puerto Rico. He became the Exalted Ruler of the San Juan Lodge for two terms.

Judge McKenna resigned his judge's commission in 1906 and returned to Pittsburgh because the climate in Puerto Rico did not agree with him. On his resignation, President Roosevelt, in a signed letter to the Department of Justice, paid complimentary tribute to Judge McKenna's tenure as the federal judge in Puerto Rico.

When he returned to Pittsburgh, Judge McKenna resumed the practice of law with his nephews, E.J. and J. Frank McKenna. On June 6, 1911, Governor John K. Tener (who, like Judge McKenna's grandfather, had been born in County Tyrone in Ireland, and settled in Pittsburgh with his family) appointed Judge McKenna as judge of the newly created County Court of Allegheny County, which had jurisdiction over civil, trespass, and domestic relations cases. On November 8, 1921, Judge McKenna was elected for a second term as County Judge, and served until his death on December 3, 1922.