A scanned article about Judge Moschzisker [Arrow Picture]

MOSCHZISKER, ROBERT VON (March 8, 1870 -- Nov. 21, 1939)

Jurist. Robert von Moschzisker, who was chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was one of six children of Dr. Franz Adolph von Moschzisker and Clara Town, daughter of a Philadelphia printer. His father, a native of Lwow, Poland, graduated from the military academy in Vienna and served as an officer in the Austrian army until he joined the Hungarian people who tried to gain their independence from the Hungarian monarchy in 1848. The Habsburg dynasty, with the help of Russian troops, crushed the revolution and sent von Moschzisker to prison.

After winning his freedom, he became a professor of the German language and literature, first at the University of Leipzig, one of the most important in Germany, and then King's College, London, where in 1850 J. J. Guillaume published his guide to German authors. Moschzisker sent a hot copy to Thomas Carlyle, famous British man of letters, and on June 25, 1850, Carlyle wrote to him, "Your book seems, so far as I yet examine it, to be an excellent one in its kind; lucid, concise, correct, full of needful information, to the exclusion of the needless; an authentic Guide to German Literature in several very essential respects -- far surpassing at least anything we had before, and likely, I imagine, to be extensively useful now when so many people, little adapted to extensive studies, are learning to read German among us."

In the early 1850s, when he came to America, he did not lecture on German literature but specialized in diseases of the eye and ear. No one is exactly sure where he started his practice, whether in New Orleans, Baltimore, or Philadelphia, where he was married, and raised his children. Throughout his life he lived in different places. According to the 1880 census of Philadelphia (ED 595, p. 18), his wife and their children lived with her brother at 2200 North 17th Street, Philadelphia. Of the children, Frank, Bertha, Harry, and Robert were born in Philadelphia, respectively, in 1857, 1862, 1867, and 1870; Clara was born in Rochester, New York, in 1872 and Eliza H, was born there, too, in 1876. Robert said his father died when he was 11 years old and his mother little more than a year later.

Judging from these dates and other records, the jotting in Polish American Studies, Jan.-June 1954, that Dr. Moschzisker served during the Civil War as an oculist and aurist at U. S, Army hospitals in Washington, D. C., with his wife as nurse, is baseless. For example, in The National Republican, a Washington, D. C., newspaper, January 8, 1862, Dr. Moschzisker "advertised that he just came from New York and opened an office at 8 Missouri Avenue to treat patients who have diseases of the eye and ear.

The Philadelphia Inquirer said that Robert von Moschzisker was born in the old Fifth Ward of Philadelphia and received his early education in the Philadelphia public schools. At the time, the Fifth Ward extended from the Delaware River to 7th Street, and from Chestnut Street to South Street, and contained more black families than any other ward in Philadelphia. The office and home of Dr. Moschzisker was at 404 South 5th St. One found Negro loafers -- young, able-bodied men and women -- at almost every corner of the Fifth Ward, night and day, until the influx of Russian Jews slowly pushed the black people out of the ward. In 1896, the Fifth Ward had 2,335 Negroes and 14,619 Whites. When his mother died, Robert von Moschzisker began to study law with Edward Shippen, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, and lived with a sister, Bertha, who died when she was 19 years old. The following year, when he was admitted to the bar, he still couldn't forget his sister's death.

He heeded the advice of Horace Greeley, who said, "Go west, young man!" and set off for California. On the way he visited Panama -- ten years before the canal was built -- several Central American countries and Mexico. When he ran out of money, he worked on ranches to support himself. Upon reaching the West Coast, he received an invitation from Shippen to become his law partner. His rise in Philadelphia was phenomenal. In 1902, he was appointed an assistant district attorney and elected president of the Young Republicans. He was successful in prosecuting crooked politicians.

Upon the death of a judge in 1903, Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker refused to appoint Robert von Moschzisker to fill the vacancy. The reason the governor gave was that the assistant district attorney was too young and lacked experience. Despite these objections, Moschzisker ran for the judgeship and was elected when he was 33 years old. During his term he rendered more than 400 decisions and was reversed by the higher courts only five times. He was never reversed in a criminal case.

He became a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by appointment and election in 1910 and chief justice in 1921. Under the law, owing to his age, he could not be re-elected to the Supreme Court. He resigned and plunged into private practice. Literally he established the position of public defender in the Philadelphia court system. In two books he authored while he was on the Supreme Court -- A Judicial Review of Legislation and Trial by Jury, -- he dealt mostly with his legal opinions. As a result of his decisions, Pennsylvania was usually in advance of other states and England in the movement to simplify legal procedures.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, which often mentioned him for appointment to the U. S. Supreme Court, U. S. Senate, Mayor of Philadelphia, and Governor of Pennsylvania, stated that he was "indefatigable in his pursuit of justice," but sometimes made enemies. On December 31, 1919, the family, including his wife Anne (Macbeth), whom he married June 10, 1912, and three young children, survived an explosion of an anarchist bomb in the vestibule of their home, 2102 Delancey Street, in an affluent section of Philadelphia. The explosion shattered nearly every window in the mansions around the Moschziskers.

Unlike the Polish judge and his wife, their children did not show much interest in the activities of the Polish community. Once upon a time, Edward Bonin of Hazleton, who became the first Polish congressmen in the history of Pennsylvania, told me that when he sat alone in the chambers of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, waiting for the judges to hear his petition for admission as a lawyer in front of the August body, someone tapped him on the shoulder. It was Judge von Moschzisker. "Do you want me to back you up?" the judge asked. Bonin was pleased that he made his acquaintance.

Throughout his life Robert von Moschzisker never hesitated to use his influence to help a Polish cause. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a small collection of his papers. Peter J. Obst, whom I sent to examine them, wrote, "There are many letters to Mrs. Robert Moschzisker concerning assistance to the Polish armed forces and later relief efforts, including acknowledgments of sizable donations. Some of the thank-you letters are signed by Madame Paderewski, I. J. Paderewski, and Prince Lubomirski, the Polish Ambassador. A very poignant letter is from Lt. W. J. Albright (in Polish) asking for woolen clothing for the troops."

Fortunately, The Polish Review in 1995 published the letters of Henryk Sienkiewicz, world famous author of "Quo Vadis" and head of the Polish Relief Committee, to Judge Robert von Moschzisker and his wife, who chaired the Polish Relief Committee in Philadelphia. Both husband and wife, although of mixed origin, set a noble example for other communities to follow when it held Polish Flag Day in 1915, two years before the United States entered the First World war, to raise money for Polish relief efforts. For this the President of Poland in 1920 awarded a Polonia Restituta Cross to Judge von Moschzisker. For an interesting sidelight to these letters, see what I have written about in the article on Leon Kolankiewicz in the Pinkowski Files.

Last but not least, the number of families who use "von" to begin their family name is as scarce as snow in Miami. Actually, it means "from" in German. Over the years, Robert von Moschzisker never dropped the German preposition. His mother did. Her children didn't. When I was looking for the family in old records, I found it usually under Moschzisker. Without proof, Professor Jerzy R. Krzyzanowski, who edited the Sienkiewicz letters in The Polish Review, said the origin of the name was Moszczynski. Whatever is the case, Moscinski and Mosciszko bear the same cachet as Moszczynski. The root of these names with a Polish suffix is Moses.

Robert von Moschzisker was laid to rest at Bryn Athyn Cathedral Graveyard in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.

Edward Pinkowski (2011) EdPink@AOL.com -- with the assistance of Peter J. Obst

Moschzisker (Moscicki), Robert

Jurist, writer. Chief justice of Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Son of Francis Moscicki; born March 6,1870 in Philadelphia, Pa. Went to work at an early age in the office of Edward Shippen, a Philadelphia attorney, who immediately was impressed by the earnestness of the boy. Read law at night and in 1896 was admitted to the bar. Shippen made young Moschzisker his associate immediately after his admittance to the bar. In 1902 began career as a public officer when he was appointed third assistant district attorney. Within a year, promoted to second assistant, and then to first assistant. Made an impression on his associates by his prosecution, of the then notorious school board case. In Nov. 1904 elected to the position of judge of common pleas court in Philadelphia, at the age of 33. In 400 legal opinions as a member of the bench, reversed by higher courts only five times. Never was reversed in a criminal case. Chosen for the Supreme Court bench as an associate judge of Pennsylvania Supreme Court and on January 3, 1910, not yet 40 years old, he began his term. On Jan. 3, 1921, became Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In 1938 refused nomination for United States Senate. During the World War I helped the Polish White Cross founded by Mme. Paderewska. In 1929 on the occasion of 150th anniversary of the death of Casimir Pulaski, was a principal speaker in Pittsburgh, Pa. For his services rendered to Polish cause, Poland decorated him with "Polonia Restituta.'' Some of his writings are: "Trial of Jury," "Judicial Review of Legislation and Legal Essays." Died November 21, 1939.

From: "Who's Who in Polish America" by Rev. Francis Bolek, Editor-in-Chief; Harbinger House, New York, 1943