The William Penn Association was founded on February 21, 1886 in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, by thirteen Hungarian coal miners. It was chartered by the State of Pennsylvania in December of that same year under the name “Verhovay Aid Association.” The goal of the founders was to extend a helping hand to each other and to the many Hungarian immigrants who worked and suffered in the mines and industrial centers of America at a period in its history when insurance of any sort was still in the faraway future. With no sick benefits, no unemployment compensation, and no death benefits for their families, and with the immigrants being maimed and killed by the thousands in the ever-recurring industrial accidents, they had no other recourse but to turn to each other for help. This is how fraternalism was born in America, and these are the same conditions that prompted the thirteen founders to establish the Verhovay Aid Association.
After nearly four decades of growth, and with well over three hundred chapters throughout the northeastern states, in 1926 the Home Office was moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By this time the Verhovay had grown into the largest, wealthiest and most successful of all the Hungarian American fraternal organizations. This growth was also speeded up by mergers with a number of other smaller fraternal societies. The most significant of these mergers included the Workingmen's Sick Benefit Federation (Munkás Betegsegélyzo Egyesület) of East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Hungarian Budapest Society (Magyar Baptista Egylet) of Cleveland, Ohio; and the Rákóczi Aid Association (Rákóczi Segélyzö Egyesület) of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The merger with the Rákóczi Aid Association in 1955 was most significant, for here two of the largest Hungarian-American fraternals came together to form the William Penn Fraternal Association to preserve and to perpetuate the Hungarian culture in America. In 1972 the name of the joint organization was changed to “William Penn Association,” which is regarded to be identical with the original Verhovay Aid Association, but also a direct descendent of the Rákóczi Aid Association founded in 1888.
Although by now the dominant and unrivaled Hungarian-American fraternal society, during the past decade it continued to grow by additional mergers. These included the merger with the American Life Insurance Association (Bridgeporti Szövetség) in 1979; the merger with the American Hungarian Catholic Society of Cleveland, Ohio in 1980; the merger with the Catholic Knights of St. George of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1983. The last of these mergers was again very significant because it brought a major local fraternal society, founded nearly a hundred years earlier in 1881, into the fold of the William Penn Association.
Today the William Penn Association stands as the unrivaled major Hungarian fraternal society in America. Its goals are to provide benefits to its members and their beneficiaries; to provide housing for its elderly and disabled members; to render other fraternal services to these members and their families (including scholarships for their children); and to aid in the preservation of Hungarian culture and Hungarian ideals in this great land of America, and to do so in accordance with the goals of the Founding Fathers of both the Association and of the United States.
While the Society exists to promote and support the study of Hungarian culture, to unite American Hungarians and to perpetuate the language of the homeland, one does not have to be of Hungarian descent to join the society.