Robert Emory Pattison (December 8, 1850 – August 1, 1904) was the 19th Governor of Pennsylvania from 1883 to 1887 and 1891 to 1895.
Born at Quantico in Somerset County, Maryland, Pattison's family moved to Philadelphia when he was five. He practiced law from 1872 to 1877 and was elected Controller of the city of Philadelphia in 1880. He was the Democratic candidate for governor at the young age of 32, and, with little experience in public office, took the governor's office back from a succession of Republican administrations. Under the constitution of 1874, Pennsylvania governors, now serving a 4-year term, were prevented from seeking two consecutive terms. Pattison's opponent in the 1882 election, James Addams Beaver, held the post for a term before Pattison sought the office once again in 1890. During his second term, he ordered state militia to halt the Homestead Strike.
A key to Pattison's success was his close relationship with the Democratic leader of Philadelphia, retired General Lewis Cassidy. He studied law under Cassidy, and was admitted to the bar at the age of 21. Although he campaigned as an anti- political machine reformer, he appointed Cassidy as Attorney General of Pennsylvania. He did constant battle with machine interests, and in his second term enacted legislation providing for a secret ballot for voters in all elections.
Pattison's feat of being elected to a state governorship at the age of 31 was matched in the 20th and 21st Centuries only by Harold Stassen, elected Governor of Minnesota in 1938. Bill Clinton would be elected Governor of Arkansas at the age of 32. Ironically, Stassen would move to Pennsylvania and be defeated as the Republican nominee for Mayor of Philadelphia in 1959, and as a candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor in 1958 and 1966.
Pattison's success at a young age led him to be promoted for other offices. He was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for Mayor of Philadelphia in 1893, an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 1896, and an unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial nominee for a third term as Governor in 1902. The New York Times obituary of Pattison credited the stress of his final gubernatorial campaign against Samuel W. Pennypacker with leading to his death at the age of 53.
Pattison Avenue in South Philadelphia is named after him. In the late 1970s, an award to a graduating senior in his honor was established at Central High School of Philadelphia, his alma mater, where he served as class valedictorian by Mark B. Cohen.