Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Over the years more than one hundred temporary special commissions have been created by acts of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania to function as independent administrative bodies for limited periods of time under the jurisdiction of the governor. They were independent in that they were not established as a dependent commission under the purview of an existing state agency or department. Their life spans were determined by the amount of time required for them to fulfill their purposes. As reflected by their names, commissions were formed to serve primarily as investi­gatory or planning bodies, as well as vehicles to erect public monuments and memorials and to promote the official commemoration of historic events. A typical commission consisted of some combination of citizens appointed by the governor, members from either (or both) the House and Senate, the Speaker of the House, the president pro-tempore of the senate, and heads of state agencies whose functions related to the purpose for which the commission was created. Special com­missions generally met upon the call of their chairmen or presidents and operated under a set of prescribed rules and regulations. Some commissions possessed the power to subpoena witnesses, books, and papers. Special commissions generally submitted final written reports on their activities to the governor and the state legislature.

The records of these temporary independent commissions have been placed in the Pennsylvania State Archives as Record Group 25: Records of the Special Commis­sions. The earliest of these commissions was the Mexican War Monument Commission (1858-1869) and the most recently accessioned by the Archives was the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (1964-1976). Other commissions range from the Pennsylvania Abortion Law Commission (1972), to the Capitol Investigation Commission (1897-1911), to celebrations of Pennsylvania’s settlement, to Civil War monuments at Gettysburg, to Pennsylvania’s Post War Planning, to the Pennsylvania Commission on Three Mile Island (1979-1980). Overall, they provide an insight into the issues and events of more than one hundred and fifty years that have warranted special handling by the general assembly.

Information on records generated by special com­missions may be found in Guide to the Records of Special Commissions in the Pennsylvania State Archives, compiled by Henry E. Bown and edited by Roland M. Bauman, published by the PHMC in 1979.