The University is a private, Catholic liberal arts institution for men and women, founded in 1851 by members of the Society of Jesus in Philadelphia. From 1851 to 1856, the college held classes at Old Saint Joseph's Church located on Willing's alley near Independence Hall. As enrollment expanded, classes were moved to a more spacious building at Filbert and Juniper Streets, and later to a site on Stiles Street between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets where a preparatory school ( Saint Joseph's Prep) and a church ( Church of the Gesu) would also be built. In 1927, the College moved to its present location on City Avenue near the Overbrook Farms area of Philadelphia.
Saint Joseph's University is an institution whose history has been inextricably intertwined with the religious, educational, and social history of the city of Philadelphia. It was during the research and publication of David R. Contosta's book - Saint Joseph's, Philadelphia's Jesuit University: 150 years (Saint Joseph's University Press, 2000) - that several thousand photographs were gathered for possible inclusion. These photographs date from approximately 1890 to 1999 and represent a valuable collection for researchers as well as for those interested in area's Catholic heritage.In 2002 Drexel Library of Saint Joseph's University received funding from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to rehouse, arrange, describe, and digitize these photographs as a Special Collection.