The Society of the Silurians was founded in 1924 by a group of maverick Park Row newspaper veterans at the old Hotel Lafayette on Ninth Street and University Place in Greenwich Village during the heyday of New York City newspapers. Charles Edward Russell, a muckraker, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, prolific author, and co-founder of the NAACP, was the Society’s moving force and became its first president.
The original qualification for membership was 30 years of New York newspaper work and, not surprisingly, it was a sacrosanct men’s club. Members have included Herbert Bayard Swope, Arthur Brisbane, William Randolph Hearst, Lincoln Steffens and John Steinbeck, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
But the actual name “Silurians” refers to the Paleozoic Era of The Silurian Age, when scorpions first began emerging from water. In time, the name “Silurian” was used to describe an ancient warlike tribe that lived in South Wales, where extensive coral rock formations from the Paleozoic Era were first discovered. The Welsh “Silures” fought Roman invaders to the death in AD 48 when they invaded and tried to conquer their land.
In deference to this ancient tribe of gutsy “Silures,” the founding newsmen named their new society “The Silurians” and dubbed themselves “a bunch of old geezers.” The first members included Society president Charles Edward Russell, William O. Inglis, Perry Walton, David G. Baillie and 47 other distinguished newpapermen.
And so began The Society’s life of journalistic distinction. Many famous journalists and outstanding political figurfes have attended its events over the years, including Governor Nelson Rockefeller and President Gerald Ford. But, not surprisingly, it was not until 1971 that women were permitted to join the Society; the first female member was the early feminist Helen M. Staunton.
Now, of course, there are an equal number of men and women journalists in the Society, which holds two celebratory dinners a year and monthly luncheons, where outstanding authors and journalists are guest speakers. In 1969 the Society offered its first Lifetime Achievement Award to Walter Cronkite. Since then this award has been awarded to many other outstanding men and women for in-depth news coverage, investigative work, photography and opinion in all areas of journalistic endeavor: newspapers, magazines, radio, television and, recently, the internet. It also honors journalists with the prestigious Peter Kihss Award.
In 1947, The Society began publishing the prestigiousSilurian News featuring articles by distinguished Silurian members and read by many public figures, including Bill Clinton, George Bush [Sr.], Norman Mailer, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Ted Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Muhammad Ali, Kofi Annan and Jack Nicholson
The Society also supports The Silurian Contingency Fund, which makes generous, confidential financial grants to newsmen and women facing dire emergencies, particularly illness. In the early 1990’s the Fund donated close to $50,000 to rescue New York Post reporters from summarily losing their health insurance benefits.
Finally, The Society of the Silurians sponsors the Dennis Duggan Memorial Scholarship Award, a $1,000 stipend named after the late veteran journalist, Dennis Duggan. The award is given to promising students enrolled in CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism.