Philadelphia is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the history and culture of America. The city gained status as the first UNESCO World Heritage City in the United States and will soon earn status as a “National Treasure” from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. All this is no surprise given the city’s, and the region’s, rich architectural, historic, and cultural resources. And with easy access to New York City, Washington, DC, the Pocono Mountains, and the Jersey shore, Philadelphia is well-positioned for anyone to enjoy even more varied and diverse experiences.
Most people in thinking about Philadelphia associate it with the colonial and Revolutionary eras when it was the most important city in British North America and then the early republic. One can get a very good sense of Philadelphia’s, and the region’s centrality to the developing American colonies, the Revolution, and the early years of the new nation by visiting historic sites, museums, and physical places. Philadelphia was a planned city as part of William Penn’s “Holy Experiment,” and throughout its history has remained a place of “experiment” in all manner of fields, from science and technology to social engineering. This was so in laying out the city and trying to govern it. Penn sought order in the grid-pattern he mapped out for the city, but people’s interests subverted his design from the beginning as people crowded along the water for access to goods and information. Still, even as Philadelphia physically spread out over time, thanks to such factors as improved transportation and cheap housing (the rowhouse being a Philadelphia hallmark), it retained the basic grid design envisioned by Penn. To see that design and appreciate the city’s expanse go to City Hall, in Center City, and take the elevator to the viewing station in the tower and look out from all angles, but also walk around to discover the city and its history at the street level.
To get to know Philadelphia as an incubator of invention and experiment, start with a visit to the Benjamin Franklin Historic Site, at Franklin Court between Market and Chestnut Streets and 3rd and 4th Streets, to see Franklin’s print shop at work, the post office, and the exhibit of many things Franklin, from his writings, archeological remains from his properties, and inventions and possessions. Franklin was the quintessential “American,” and seeing his world opens up much about the world(s) of Americans as they experimented in science, technology, natural history, and making governments. From Franklin’s place it is a short stroll to sample much of 18th through early 19th-century Philadelphia and America. Go up to Elfreth’s Alley, off 2nd Street between Arch and Race Streets, to walk the oldest continuously occupied street in America, with houses that were once occupied by artisans wanting to be close to the water, the lifeblood of Philadelphia and early America in connecting the Atlantic world. The city markets from those early days are gone, though the market building at New Market at 3rd Street between Pine and South Streets recalls that earlier age (and vendors still use the market stalls), but one can get a sense of life by walking about Old City and Society Hill to see probably the largest stock of 18th-century to early 19th-century housing still standing in America. Not surprisingly, only the grander buildings remain, but visits to such places as the Bishop White House at 309 Walnut Street and the Powel House at 244 S. 3rd Street reveal not only the lifestyle of the social elite but give clues to the lives of those who served them. The Visitors Center of Independence National Historical Park, at 6th and Market Streets, has an excellent map of the area that will guide you to many of the cemeteries, gardens, churches, and buildings relevant to Revolutionary era history.
To appreciate the decorative arts from the colonial through the Civil War era periods, visit Winterthur, on Delaware route 52 in Wilmington, which has large collections of American-made silverware, furniture, textiles, glass, and paintings and objects from the China trade. So too does the world-famous Philadelphia Museum of Art, on the Parkway, which also houses significant collections of American art and sculpture that reveal American culture from the colonial period to today. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at 118-128 Broad Street, founded in 1805 as the nation’s first art museum and school of fine arts, has major works, many of them iconic, depicting prominent Americans and historic scenes from the Revolutionary era and after; its strengths in 18th- and 19th-century American art reveal Americans developing their own style, experimenting in new techniques, and asserting an American independence in doing so.
Philadelphia was a touchstone in Americans efforts to discover their “new world” and thus themselves. In doing so they sought to understand nature as essential to creating an orderly and harmonious society. During the 18th through the early 19th century at least, the clearing house for American scientific inquiry was the American Philosophical Society at 5th and Chestnut Streets. Go there to see the collections on American science and natural history, from the specimens of flora and fauna gathered by colonial and Revolutionary men and women to document and understand, and thus make useful, the new land, to items sent back by Lewis and Clark to record their “discoveries” heading west, to more recent collections, such as those of the Eugenics Society of the early twentieth century showing its efforts to perfect man. Following the trail of science as Americans of the 18th through the early nineteenth centuries sought to know nature in order to master it, go to Bartram’s Garden, one of America’s first botanical gardens, at 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard, to see the Bartrams’ experiments in transplanting and improving American plants, a process still underway at such world-famous places as Longwood Gardens, on U.S. 1, in Chester County. The practice and process of collecting specimens as the basis for science was continued at the Academy of Natural Sciences at 19th Street and the Parkway, the oldest natural history institution in the Western Hemisphere, which includes the first examples of dinosaur, mastodon, and other early biota discovered in the nineteenth century that led to a re-ordering of understandings about the origins and evolution of all life; it also has collections of James Audubon, Lewis and Clark, and other natural scientists and numerous exhibits on natural history. The Wagner Free Institute of Science, at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue, has a large collection of minerals, fossils, insects, birds, and mammals arranged in the 1880s and largely untouched since then, thus providing a rare view of scientific thinking during the late nineteenth century.
Working and living in the city required making it habitable. From the colonial era, through the Progressive era, to today, Philadelphians have used science and technology to master nature and improve the health and livability of the city. Many institutions in Philadelphia reflect that interest. Among the vast holdings of the Library Company of Philadelphia, at 1314 Locust Street, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin and friends as a repository for printed works intended for “useful knowledge,” are collections of broadsides, pamphlets, books, organizational records, lithographs, photographs, and other materials that both record the city’s interests and development and attest to its long-standing practice of applying science and technology to solving social and physical problems. Also relevant is the early nineteenth-century experiment in water treatment in Philadelphia, with the installation of the Fairmount Water Works on the Schuylkill River, on Aquarium Drive below the art museum. One can see the engineering there and in the museum also learn about the importance of technology in shaping urban life. A trip to the Franklin Institute at 20th Street and the Parkway will add to understanding about the centrality of technology and science in creating modern living and Philadelphia’s place in that process. Philadelphia has long been a major source of invention and production in chemicals. The Chemical Heritage Foundation, at 315 Chestnut Street, tracks that history, but see also the old DuPont gunpowder mills along the Brandywine at the Hagley Museum, on Delaware route 141 at Delaware route 100 in Wilmington for demonstrations of machinery and a recognition of how the many waterways in the region provided water power that made possible all manner of milling for centuries. Historic Rittenhouse Town, at 208 Lincoln Drive along the Wissahickon Creek, provides working examples of early paper-milling, an important activity making Philadelphia the printing and publishing capital of America for some time. For a wide range of material culture, artwork, artifacts, scientific instruments, and more made and used in Philadelphia spanning three centuries of Philadelphia’s social, cultural, industrial, and scientific past, one should spend time at the Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent, 15 South 7th Street. For a more quixotic, but vast, collection of American tools and instruments used in agriculture, crafts, and manufacturing, and demonstrations on printing, blacksmithing, wood-working, and other crafts go to the Mercer Museum in nearby Doylestown, Bucks County,
From the colonial period onward, Philadelphia and the region were, and have remained, diverse in population. Philadelphia as a major port was not only connected to the world by way of commerce and ideas but also by people, most coming voluntarily as immigrants and others captured, enslaved, and transported to work on the docks, in homes, in various trades or to be sold for labor on plantations. Not everyone was welcome, as the Lazaretto, the oldest quarantine station in America, at Wanamaker Avenue at 2nd Street, in Essington, Pa., reminds us; it was the quarantine station to isolate and refuse immigrants supposedly carrying contagious diseases. Such concerns amplified during the great yellow fever epidemic of 1793, which killed one-tenth of the population and then in the nineteenth century with cholera, yellow fever, and other plagues wracking the city. The need to respond to a host of maladies afflicting urban people led to Philadelphia becoming a leader in medicine with the founding of medical schools and societies, several of which continue today. The establishment of a medical profession and training in America was evident in the creation of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia at 19 South 22nd Street, which has a major library for research in medical history and houses the remarkable Mutter Museum, which displays anatomical models, pathological specimens, medical instruments, and many wonders including President Grover Cleveland’s cancerous jaw bone. Philadelphia also led the way in trying for cures to social ills. This was most spectacularly evident in the grand experiment of Eastern State Penitentiary, at 22nd and Fairmount, which was an attempt by Quaker-influenced reformers to remove criminals to an isolated but symmetrically arranged physical environment, where they would contemplate and correct their evil ways and re-arrange their minds to be able to be returned to society. The experiment failed, and the penitentiary became a prison (later even having Al Capone held there for a time), but it stands as a reminder of the hope in using architecture to shape behavior, which was a common effort in the city, and the nation. Today the penitentiary functions as a historic site, but it also hosts popular “ghost tours” during the Halloween season and on Bastille Day is the site of a festival, with Tastycakes thrown from the “battlement” to recall Marie Antoinette’s supposed disdain to the Paris mobs of “let them eat cake.”
One way to appreciate the variety and diversity of the incoming people as they adapted to a new world setting is to see what they built and valued. They surely valued their religions and built churches, synagogues, and other sacred places to express their beliefs and shape their communities. To find examples of such diversity for the 17th through the mid-19th centuries, follow the markers tracking the religious sites in Old City and Society Hill. Note the diversity of religions even from the city’s earliest day. Especially noteworthy is Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church on Columbus Boulevard at Christina Street, the oldest church in Pennsylvania and a survivor from the time the Swedes “ruled” the area before William Penn claimed it; you might see more of the Swedish history at the American Swedish Historical Museum, at 1900 Pattison Avenue in Roosevelt Park, which also has significant artifacts from native peoples during the time of New Sweden in the 17th century.
Philadelphia started as a Quaker city, and there are many examples of Quaker influence in the meetinghouses and cemeteries across the region. Visit the Arch Street Meeting House on 4th and Arch to see the spare Quaker religious architecture and interior layout, which spoke volumes on Quaker faith and practice, and compare that with the imposing architecture and interior design of Christ Church at 2nd and Church Streets, with its spire at one time making it the tallest building in the colonies and asserting Anglican authority to counter Quaker claims to dominance. Amble over to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at 3rd and Pine Streets to see the second church of the Anglican faith, where Bishop William White would later give the first reading of the new American Book of Common Prayer asserting an American independence in faith as in polity. The cemeteries at both churches have the remains of famous Americans, and the St. Peter’s cemetery includes the burying place of several Indian chiefs who died while visiting Philadelphia on a diplomatic mission, when the city was the capital of the United States.
Visit Old St. Joseph’s Church in Willings Alley between 3rd and 4th Streets to understand how Catholics hid their public presence in an anti-Catholic world, even as they had permission to worship in Pennsylvania, the most liberal of all colonial places regarding religious toleration. Saint Joseph’s University traces its origins to the Jesuits who ministered to the faithful there. Then go to Old St. Mary’s on 4th Street between Locust and Spruce Streets to see the second Catholic church built in the city, with its bolder assertion and confidence of place in the new nation. It was the site of internal struggles defining the character of an “American” Catholic Church. Numerous other Catholic churches bespoke the vigor and variety of Catholic immigrants, each group wanting priests of their own language. St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, at 712 Montrose Street, was founded in 1852 as the first Italian Catholic parish in the country. Other nationality parishes followed, located in concentrations of a particular Catholic ethnic group. Today, Vietnamese and other Asian Catholics and Spanish-speaking Catholics from Mexico, Central America, and South America worship in some of these churches originally founded to serve Irish, German, Polish, and other European Catholics and have made such churches their own in language and ministry. As Catholics gained in numbers during the nineteenth century, the Church built an institutional framework of parish churches, schools, orphanages, and societies to reinforce the faith, which effort at once strengthened Catholics’ place in the region but also seemingly threatened Protestant control. The persistent and sometimes violent anti-Catholicism of the 18th and 19th centuries was most evident in the bloody anti-Catholic riots of 1844, which left churches, an orphanage, and homes sacked and burned. St. Augustine’s Church on 4th Street was a special target of such violence. Catholics’ growing importance and confidence survived the attacks and was magnificently expressed in the basilica Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, at 20th Street and the Parkway, which became the center of the archdiocese’s power in the region and a statement that Catholics were here to stay.
All the while, Protestants were building their own churches, with much denominational variety and contestation, as evinced in the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, and other churches across the city. The map showing the religious places in Old City and Society Hill provides a route to see examples of such variety. In following the route, note how some churches were converted to new uses or even claimed by new faiths as the neighborhoods changed as immigrants and black migrants moved in. African Americans founded their own churches as a means to control their faith and build their communities. One should visit Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 6th Street between Pine and Lombard Streets to appreciate its importance as the mother church for a new African-American created denomination and the font for a host of institutions, such as schools, to sustain both faith and community and to push for social reforms such as abolition and civil rights. The museum at the church provides an excellent introduction to the church and its seminal role in African American life. But see also the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, originally founded in 1792 as the first black Episcopal church, now located at 6361 Lancaster Avenue, to appreciate the variety of African American religious life and expression from the early days, and more recent important congregations such as Bright Hope Baptist Church, at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, and Zion Baptist Church, at 3600 Broad Street, for two examples of the ways African American churches were staging areas for civil rights and the ways religion ordered people’s social as well as spiritual lives and communities.
Religious variety has continued over time. Jews early on laid down religious roots in Philadelphia, first with the congregation at Mikveh Israel at 44 North 4th Street and then with religious publishing houses and other synagogues. One can learn much about the experiences and contributions of Jews to Philadelphia and American life by visiting the National Museum of American Jewish History at 5th and Market Streets. Similarly, other faiths have established their presence and purpose by building places of worship and institutions such as schools and training their own clergy. Walks in the so-called river wards of the city reveal the variety of churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious sites marking the city’s religious and ethnic diversity. Such variety includes places of worship built by Slovak Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Muslim, Buddhist, and other of the many and diverse people of faith across the city. Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) built a magnificent temple and educational complex at 1739 Vine Street, suggesting its growing importance in the region.
Philadelphia also served as the font of American independence, and buildings from the Revolutionary era are now patriotic shrines. Indeed, the Independence Mall area is among the National Park Service’s most visited places in the country. Visiting key historic sites in the area reveals much about American ideas, interests, and ambitions. For the story of the Revolution, you might start at Carpenter’s Hall, at 320 Chestnut Street, which was a staging area for anti-British protests and then served as the meeting place for the First Continental Congress in 1774. The Congress returned to Philadelphia in 1775 and stayed much of the next years during war and after. Meeting in the Pennsylvania Assembly building, later named Independence Hall, delegates to the Continental Congress raised a Continental Army and began the functions of an independent government in 1775 and in 1776 adopted its Declaration of Independence, then wrote and accepted the Articles of Confederation, and ratified the peace treaty recognizing American independence. Later in 1787, delegates from twelve states met in Independence Hall, and admittedly in local taverns, and drafted the Constitution of the United States, and from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia was the new nation’s capital, Congress met in the building to get the new experiment in representative government working. The story of the Revolution is well told by the Park Service in Independence Hall, as are the contradictions in that story, especially the central role of slavery in defining the new nation and even the use of the building to return fugitive slaves to bondage. The fundamental paradoxes of Americans’ quest for liberty are now much evident in the interpretation at the Independence National Historic Park. In that regard, one can gain insights into the early presidency, and the place of slavery in the new nation, by visiting the President’s House at 6th and Market Streets. The Liberty Bell Pavilion there houses the Liberty Bell and includes an exhibit showing the bell’s emergence as a national symbol, claimed by abolitionists in the nineteenth century and by all Americans in the twentieth, though with varying readings of what “liberty” means. For exhibits and programs on the development and interpretations of the Constitution over time to our day, the private National Constitution Center (there is an admission charge), across the mall at 5th and Arch Streets, deserves a visit. But the creation of a new nation required physical demonstrations of what it represented and what it intended to be. Walking in the Old City area to see the first Treasury building on 3rd Street between Chestnut and Market Streets and to see the Second Bank of the United States building, on Chestnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, both with their columned facades suggesting ties to ancient Greece and Rome, reveals the new nation’s public effort to claim a republican lineage and assert a stability, in stone, necessary to gain support from the people. The bankers’ row on that same Chestnut Street stretch further points to the time Philadelphia was the financial capital of the new nation.
American independence required more than words on parchment; it demanded military success to win independence and then to keep it. On Christmas day each year, at Washington Crossing State Park, on Pa. route 32 between Yardley and New Hope, historic reenactors cross the Delaware River in boats to replay Washington’s surprise attack on the British at Princeton and Trenton in 1776 that saved the war effort after many disappointments and growing desertion threatened to end the American rebellion. The Philadelphia area was the site of two major battles – Brandywine and Germantown – and the famous encampment at Valley Forge, and Philadelphia was a major supplier of men and materiel for the war effort. One can visit the battle of Brandywine historic site on US route 1 in Chester County and go to Cliveden, at 6401 Germantown Avenue, the site of the battle of Germantown, to visit one of America’s finest Georgian mansions and get modern interpretations of 18th-century country life and slavery in the region and also on Battle Day in October to see historic reenactors replay the battle with much gusto. Defeats in those battles and the occupation of the city by the British forced the American army under George Washington to set up winter quarters at Valley Forge, where the army suffered a hard winter but also learned new military techniques and skills that made it an effective fighting force. Visiting the park at Valley Forge, on Pa. route 23 in Montgomery County, which has reconstructed soldiers’ huts, several original buildings (including one that is open that served as Washington’s headquarters), and various redoubts, provides a good sense of what the soldiers experienced. The new private Museum of the American Revolution on 3rd Street between Chestnut and Walnut Streets (there is an admission charge) offers a wide-scope reading of the Revolution and has important objects, including George Washington’s tent.
War remained important to the Philadelphia, and American, experience, and various monuments, memorials, and war-related historic sites remind one of that fact. The Civil War especially affected Philadelphia, which was a major supplier of arms and men to the Union cause, a training ground, a refreshment center for soldiers going to or coming back to the front, a hospital center for wounded and sick soldiers, a transportation hub, and a publishing center reporting war news and propaganda. Major library and research centers, especially the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at 1300 Locust Street and the Library Company of Philadelphia have important collections of Civil War documents, including recruiting posters, propaganda, photographs, correspondence and diaries, military reports, and ephemera (e.g., cigar wrappers as propaganda), and several have significant collections of war-related weapons, uniforms, materiel, and soldiers’ gear and mementos from war. The Union League of Philadelphia on Broad and Sansom Streets, which began as an institution to support the Union war effort with recruitment, money, and publishing, maintains a heritage center and has in its collections important artwork depicting and remembering the war effort. The building itself is a testament to cultural and social assertions of the new class of businessmen who prospered in the postwar economy of manufacturing, commerce, and finance, with some fortunes literally made during and because of the war. Soldiers and civilians during the war eagerly gathered up and saved all manner of materials from the war, and veterans gave some of their mementos and personal items to soldiers’ organizations as a way to remember the war. None was more important in that regard than the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest Union veterans organization and a major lobbying force after the war for pensions and memorials for soldiers. The Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Library and Museum, at 4278 Griscom Street, houses a large collection of soldiers’ documents, memorabilia, weapons, uniforms, soldiers’ gear, and “sacred relics,” including General George Meade’s campaign hat, his Bible, and the mounted head of his horse Old Baldy. Numerous statues of generals and prominent men, such as Abraham Lincoln, stand at and near City Hall, in Fairmount Park, and along Kelly Drive. The Laurel Hill Cemetery, at 3822 Ridge Avenue but also accessible off Kelly Drive, has the graves of many famous men and women, including Civil War officers and politicians, and is the site of various burial remembrances for such men during the year. The later wars are less well represented in museum exhibits, but memorials, such as the All Soldiers Memorial on the Parkway recall wartime sacrifice in World War I. Memorials for veterans of the Korean War and the Vietnam War are sites for memorial services on Veterans Day. At the same time, Philadelphia has been a center for conscientious objection to war and peace rallies against war. The Peace Collection at Swarthmore College has many materials focusing on that history.
Philadelphia’s very existence was tied to the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, which gave it access to the ocean and into the hinterlands and made it a major port from its first days to today. For much of its history Philadelphia was a major shipbuilding center. A visit to the Independence Seaport Museum, at 112 South Columbus Boulevard, on the Delaware River waterfront, will reveal the region’s long history in building and maintaining many kinds of boats and ships and provide demonstrations on maritime and riverine crafts. A walk south along the river will take you to the battleship USS Olympia, Admiral Thomas Dewey’s flagship in the Spanish American War, and to the USS Becuna, a World War II submarine. Both vessels are open for tour. A trip across the river will take you to the battleship USS New Jersey, which sailed and fought in several wars in the twentieth century; it also is open for tours. The naval yard no longer builds warships, but it does have several Navy ships anchored there. Philadelphia not only built and refitted ships, it also had to guard its military and other assets from naval assault. Forts along the river did so. To see what early fort life was like, visit Fort Mifflin, at Fort Mifflin and Hog Island Roads, near the airport, which served as a military fort guarding access up the Delaware River through the War of 1812, housed Confederate prisoners during the Civil War, and continues as a historic site, with historical reenactors instructing on soldiering during the 18th and 19th centuries. Farther south on the river, Fort Delaware served as a line of defense and housed Confederate prisoners during the Civil War.
There are many fantastic ways to explore women’s history in the Philadelphia area. The region, for instance, was home to revolutionary women like Esther de Bertdt Reed, who said women were “born for liberty” and started the Ladies Association of Philadelphia in 1780 to raise money for the Continental Army of George Washington, with the assistance of Sarah Franklin Bache, daughter of Benjamin Franklin and Deborah Read; it was also the home of Quaker activists like Lucretia Mott, who established the Philadelphia Female Antislavery Society in 1833. Papers that tell the story of these women may be found at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the Philadelphia Historical Society (PHS), all in Center City. The PHS, as well, has a number of diaries related to historic Philadelphia women, including Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker, who kept a diary for almost a half century, from 1758 to 1807, encompassing the Revolution and its impacts as well as medicinal treatments of the era, and Mary Edith Powel, daughter of a prominent merchant family, whose journals relate both her personal life and her reaction to the Spanish American war. Later, Carrie Chapman Catt, a suffrage activist in the early 20th century, left her 800-image collection of suffrage photographs at Bryn Mawr College, in Bryn Mawr, which is also the location of large collection on the history of women’s education in the United States. Another Quaker College in the area, Swarthmore College, has a Peace Collection with the papers of women activists, including Jane Addams and Philadelphia-based organizations like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, as well as a collection on activism related to World War I.
The Philadelphia region was also home for suffragists like Alice Paul—Paulsgrove in Mount Laurel, N.J.—famous for her hunger strike in Washington, D.C. in 1917, Paul followed in the pattern of a neighbor from nearby Vineland, Portia Gage, who decided to vote just after the Civil War in 1868, bringing more than 170 women, both white and African American, to join her. Other Philadelphia women also tried to cast their ballots at the time, leading to a Supreme Court decision to declare that voting was not a right of citizenship (Minor v. Happersett, 1874), a sentiment which Paul was still fighting fifty years later.
The city also harbored artists like Cecelia Beaux, Mary Cassatt, Violet Oakley, and Jessie Willcox Smith. These women trained, taught, and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art on Broad Street, where manuscript collections and their art work still resides. The Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876, indeed, featured a Women’s Pavilion where women displayed their art, inventions, and work in academic pursuits. While the pavilion, like most of the Exhibition, is long destroyed, the legacy of women’s pioneering work on so many fronts in Philadelphia lives on.
In this area, many women found lasting employment as illustrators, and Willcox Smith was one of those. So too was Helen Farr Sloan, who married Ashcan School artist John Sloan and, as both an artist and a philanthropist in our area, bequeathed many of his works to the Delaware Art Museum. Philadelphia was a center for drawing because of the large publishing industry here during a time known as the Golden Age of Illustration. Willcox Smith and Oakley, too, were part of a circle called the Red Rose Girls, many of whom were trained by Howard Pyle, an illustrator best known for mentoring N. C. Wyeth, scion of the artist Wyeth family of Chadds Ford, where the Brandywine Museum remains the center of Wyeth work to this day. Meanwhile women like Mary Louise Baker did scientific drawings at the University of Pennsylvania’s University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, thus connecting Philadelphia women with the world of science.
Women’s entry into industrial history is reflected at the door way to an impressive building at 24th and Locust, the historic American Monotype Factory. Long defunct, this factory provided early opportunities for women typecasters (a form of printing) to take over men’s jobs during wartime. While the union representing the men would not offer them full time employment, nevertheless their efforts were key during times of crisis. Philadelphia’s women workers, moreover, were visible in the many industries in the area, and their employment as a whole is well documented at the Hagley Library in nearby Wilmington, Delaware where one can find images of Du Pont textile workers, or commercials highlighting Avon’s cosmetic campaigns. The Temple Urban Archives has images of women working in war industry as well, including at Philadelphia’s Budd Company on Hunting Park Avenue. Known for its locomotives, Budd also made fragmentation bombs, as well aircraft, during World War II. Mary Harris “Mother” Jones even came to Philadelphia to lead the March of the Mill Children in 1903; resources on this march are at the Library of Congress, but the excellent Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia has more on it and many other examples of the city’s history.
Today, Philadelphia is known as the home of many fine hospitals, and women were first trained as doctors here at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP), the first in the world to train women; graduate Anna Preston became the first dean of a medical college in the United States in 1861 and also set up the Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which operated until 1964; its records are at Drexel University in West Philadelphia. In 1869, Preston took her students to Pennsylvania Hospital’s renowned operating theatre, where the women were openly jeered in an infamous encounter. The road forward for women in medicine would continue to be challenging; Jefferson Medical College would not allow female students until 1961. Meanwhile, the attitude of prominent Philadelphia physicians like Silas Weir Mitchell that women’s intellectual work was unhealthy to themselves and even society, made famous in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), underlines some of this long struggle; it may be further explored in Mitchell’s papers at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, the oldest private medical society in the nation. Much other material on women and medicine is in the archives of the College.
Civil Rights History
Some African-American women first came to Philadelphia as slaves, including Oney Judge, who worked for George Washington at the former “President’s House,” now part of Independence National Historical Park; she later escaped, much to Martha Washington’s dismay. The National Park Service in Philadelphia itself is richly endowed with archaeological evidence, too, of other early African American citizens, including some who once lived where the National Constitution Center stands today. A multitude of stories from later African-American women’s experiences may be found in collections including those of local branches of the Young Women’s Christian Association, housed at Temple University’s Urban Archives. Also at the Urban Archives are the papers of the Octavia Hill Association, which rented housing to African-Americans and immigrants in poorer areas of Philadelphia up until the 1920s, along with promoting Progressive reform for its tenants in the areas of education, childcare, and sanitation.
The Jack T. Franklin Civil Rights Era collection of photographs at the African-American Museum of Philadelphia (701 Arch Street), documents much of Philadelphia history and the civil rights movement in the 20th century, including the roles of women; Franklin worked for the Philadelphia Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a number of other newspapers. The Museum, the oldest urban African-American museum in the nation, also has rotating exhibits on history and culture.
Long before the civil rights movement, Jarena Lee preached at Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1819; it was unprecedented for a woman to speak to a mixed audience in this way. Lee traveled throughout the surrounding areas—and far beyond—on foot, spreading her message to freed and enslaved men and women alike. Less than twenty years later, Quaker Angelina Grimke’s speech on the evils of slavery to a similarly mixed audience would result in the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, a building which had been constructed by the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society and opened just three days before. While the papers of Angelina Grimke and her sister Sarah are at the University of Michigan, Haverford College has the papers of Abbey Kelley Foster, another Quaker antislavery activist and contemporary of the Grimkes. While activists like Lee, the Grimkes, and Foster were unusual in their passion for justice, Sister Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia native and heiress, also devoted her time and money to assist Native Americans as well as African Americans in education and other charitable causes in the first half of the twentieth century; her papers are at the Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Roosevelt Boulevard. The work of other Catholic religious of various ethnicities in Philadelphia may be accessed at the Philadelphia Archdiocese Historical Research Center at the St. Charles Seminary in Wynnewood, which has itself a large collection of Philadelphia Catholic history. Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Historical Society on Lombard Street includes a number of collections of women’s missionary organizations, including the Female Domestic Missionary Society of Philadelphia. Temple’s Urban Archives also have the papers of a Holocaust survivor and Strawberry Mansion community activist Hanna Silver, who helped build the Holocaust Oral History Archive at Gratz College in Cheltenham; the city’s National Museum of American Jewish History covers additional aspects of this story, and is centrally located across the street from Independence Mall. That iconic site itself was the scene of a pioneering gay rights protest, on July 5, 1965, four years before the famous Stonewall uprising in New York City. Pamphlets and artifacts from the 1965 march and successive “Reminder Marches” which continued until 1969 are at the William Way LGBT Community Center at 1315 Spruce Street in Philadelphia; at the PHS a few blocks away are the papers of pioneering gay activist and Temple School of Medicine professor John Fryer, who spoke up at the American Psychological Association in 1972 to successfully call for the removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.