Friday, July 29, 2016

PoliticalFest at LCP

PoliticalFest, the weeklong celebration of American political and presidential history, ended with great fanfare at the Library Company. On July 27, the last day of PoliticalFest, 442 people visited our main building on Locust Street. That is surely a single-day attendance record! Just as impressive, over 1500 people visited us during the six days of PoliticalFest. "This was a truly awesome event and I think it shows what the Library Company can do for the public," Facilities and Operations Manager Fran Dolan, who helped plan the event, observed.





PoliticalFest was in the works for several months. Planned in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention, it was the brainchild of former Governor Ed Rendell and his staff, who wanted to get convention delegates and their families out into the City of Brotherly Love during their Philadelphia stay. In 2000 for the Republican National Committee convention, Rendell said that a similar and very popular event took place at the Convention Center proper. But this time around, PoliticalFest pushed people into the city itself. PoliticalFest eventually centered on seven places—museums, libraries, and historic sites—where members of the public, as well as delegates, could see special installations on aspects of American political history. Besides the Library Company, other sites included the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the National Liberty Museum, the Philadelphia History Museum, Pennsylvania Convention Center, the National Constitution Center and the Union League. Each day, thousands of people made the rounds to these wonderful sites. The non-partisan event proved to be a rousing success.

At LCP, the Logan Room was turned into the main exhibit space. On one side of the room, a display case featured the life masks of both Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. "Cool!!" some young visitors exclaimed when they saw the casts of these famous men. In the middle of the room several display cases created a circle in the round which allowed visitors to see, on one side, documents relating to women's suffrage struggles in the 19th and early 20th centuries and, on the other side, classic founding documents from the 1780s and 90s (including John Dickinson's annotated copy of the U.S. Constitution and an original edition of Thomas Paine's "Common Sense"). Other display cases featured documents from the African Americana Collection and images from previous political conventions gathering in Philadelphia.

The Scheide Reading Room was temporarily converted into an open space allowing visitors to learn a bit more about the Library Company's status as an internationally-renowned research library (scholarly researchers were re-located to the Cassatt House seminar room). The reading room had one winning display: a glass case featuring the Library Company's "Articles of Association" from 1731. "Wow—it's like an IPO—an Initial Public Offering!" one woman said looking over our founding document. In many ways, she was right: this document, which has been posted online, told Philadelphia and the world that the Library Company was open for business as America's first subscription library (and, of course, a joint stock company).


The stories people told about visiting the Library Company were nearly as impressive as the number of overall visitors. "What a collection!" "I didn't know you had so many terrific things from the past." "I wish I had known about this place sooner so I could bring friends and family back." Over and over again, people told us that the Library Company was a special place. "I went to Penn, and so did my daughter," one woman said as she moved through the galleries, ending up at the Articles of Association. "But I never knew this was just on the other side of town. I really wish I had known about it. But I'm glad I know now." Clearly moved, she returned the next day for a second visit!

Tour guide, Noah Corbett, with guests and volunteers
For those concerned that the Library Company's collections might have been overwhelmed by the large numbers of people, there were no major problems. A throng of volunteers assigned by PoliticalFest monitored visitors in every room. A security guard was always on staff and we limited the number of people who could go through the exhibits at any one time. We also hired a professional educator, Noah Corbett, who took visitors through the exhibits in the Logan room, fielding questions and telling stories about the Library Company. A history teacher at Maritime Academy Charter School in Philadelphia, Noah previously worked as a tour guide at Eastern State Penitentiary. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about the Library Company. "I like the city and I like telling visitors about Philadelphia's history," he told us. Like others, he knew a little bit about Ben Franklin but not much about the Library Company. But, he continued, "it's a great place. We're only showing visitors a very small part of the collection but it's great to see so many people get excited about the Library Company's treasures. This is a great resource for the city." In fact, he thought it would be a great resource for his students too.


Our volunteers were equally impressed with the Library Company. Linda Cooper chose to work at the Library Company for perhaps an obvious reason: she lives in the neighborhood and has been to many of our events. Originally from Washington, D.C. area, she too is an educator (though she worked as an admissions administrator at a school in Maryland). "Of the seven places in PoliticalFest, I felt very comfortable coming to the Library Company," she said. "And I'm glad I did. The exhibits are great - they're very well done - and there's a nice variety of topics." She plans to return to the Library Company for lectures and other events in the future.

Heidi Schiavone, who also volunteered at the Library, said that Ben Franklin's historic connection to libraries in America drew her to the venerable institution at 1314 Locust Street As a librarian herself (in the South Lehigh School District), she was certainly interested in our role as the first subscription library in America. But she was so excited by the documents and exhibits that she even tweeted about how fun it was to volunteer at the Library Company. "I said that I learned a lot here, especially things about women's suffrage in the main display cases."



It is gratifying to know that so many people were inspired by Ben Franklin's humble library. But it is not surprising. We've been doing that for nearly 300 years!

Dr. Richard S.Newman

Cataloger’s Amusements: Pope Joan


Louis the Pious
In December 2002, William Hires, a long time shareholder and supporter of the Library Company, gave us Leaf CLXIX of the Latin edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle. It was acknowledged in the Annual Report for that year and trotted out for the occasional class visit, but it somehow missed its full-out cataloging description for WolfPAC. It wound up on my desk in 2013.

The Nuremberg Chronicle, more properly Liber Chronicarum, was commissioned by two Nuremberg merchants, Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister. It’s a biblical paraphrase and history of the world written by Hartmann Schedel, who worked from his extensive personal library of manuscripts and printed books. The Latin edition appeared in July 1493, followed by a German translation at Christmas the same year. The woodcut illustrations  were designed and executed in the workshop of Michael Wolgemut, the same workshop where Albrecht Dürer apprenticed, and I find them particularly appealing to my 21st-century eye.


The front of the leaf recounts 9th-century European history and is illustrated by portraits of some important figures. At the top of the page, there’s Louis the Pious, King of Aquitaine, son of Charlemagne and Hildegard, also known as Louis the Debonaire. Notice his turned-out foot. In the lower left corner we find Rabannus, a Benedictine monk and Archbishop of Mainz, an important writer and teacher of the Carolingian era, looking properly clerical. In the lower right we have Walahfrid Strabo, “Walahfrid the Squinter,” theologian, writer, and tutor to the son of Louis the Pious.

Rabannus and Walahfrid Strabo
On the back we find the papal history accompanied by portraits of 9th-century popes: Sergius Secundus (Pope Sergius II, who ruled 844-847); Leo Quartus (St. Leo IV, 847-855); and Joannes Septimus? Never mind that Pope John VII (705-707) is from the previous century and we should be up to John VIII by then, or that Pope Benedict III (855-858) follows St. Leo IV in the modern papal lineage. Ignoring for the moment the papal tiara, “Joannes Septimus” sure looks like a Madonna cradling a child. Oh my goodness, we’ve got Pope Joan!

Pope Joan
Joan, a scholarly woman who disguised herself as a man, is said to have risen through the ranks of the church to be elected Pope and rule from 855 to 857. She could hide a lot of things under her voluminous robes including a pregnancy, but when her water broke during a papal procession she was found out. She died shortly after giving birth, either by natural causes or by the hand of man. So goes the story.


Sergius Secundus,
Leo Quartus, and
Joannes Septimus (Pope Joan)
The account of Pope Joan first arose in the 13th century and spread across Europe in oral and written form. It appears in at least two 13th-century chronicles, one by Jean de Mailly and another by Martin of Opava. Hartmann Schedel must have been aware of those works, and it’s important to remember that he was researching a scholarly history and not writing fiction.

The legend of the female pope was declared untrue in 1601 by Pope Clement VIII. In many copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle, Pope Joan’s image is crossed out or excised entirely, and the page is annotated denying the legend. And yet our leaf survived, separated from its original binding but otherwise mostly unharmed. Who rescued our Joan? We know where she’s been for the past dozen years or so, but where did she hide for the 400 years before that?

Rest easy, Joan, you’re safe with us.

Holly Phelps
Chief of Cataloging

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Scholar's Corner

As an early modernist, I sought to pull back my eighteenth-century topic as early as possible. I’m studying motherhood and wet-nursing in Philadelphia and London during the colonial and revolutionary periods. As I cast my research net, I tended to stop around 1800 whenever possible, fearful of being pulled kicking and screaming into the modern world. When I arrived at the Library Company, Connie King gave me many helpful suggestions and mentioned, as an aside, that William Buchan would be an obvious choice. I blushed, thinking, how could someone so obvious not even have been on my radar?


As it turns out, physician William Buchan was a major player in maternal medicine in the 18th century, but his major work on motherhood and infancy had not been published in Philadelphia until 1804. I read this volume obsessively, shocked to find themes I hadn’t noticed in earlier publications. I’d written blog posts about how authors of prescriptive literature in my period were exceedingly harsh toward poor women. Physicians recommended that mothers breastfeed their own children and cast malicious suspicion on women who did not, mounting challenges to their virtue and personal responsibility. It turned out that working-class mothers were often unable to nurse their own babies, their time being consumed almost entirely by a struggle for survival. But the privileged position of their audiences went unacknowledged by most maternal physicians... except William Buchan.

Buchan also recommends that mothers breastfeed their own children but qualifies his recommendation, “...it gives me pain to think, that there are great numbers of poor women, who do not want so much to be taught as to be enabled to discharge their duty.”[1] He goes on to acknowledge the privileged position of a bourgeois mother who was able to breastfeed her own children, suggesting alternative solutions for poor and working-class mothers who were not so lucky. This might surprise very few of you who are familiar with antebellum America, its burgeoning class-consciousness, and its love affairs with democracy and social mobility. But for me, a historian of the genteel, bourgeois century of fashion, it was news to me. I hadn’t considered that my end date of 1800 had been masking a latent transformation in attitudes toward poor mothers.

This changes everything.

All the more because Buchan was a Scot living in London. The cornerstone of my dissertation is the argument that republican motherhood was not an American phenomenon tied to the American Revolution, but rather that it was part of a much larger transformation in motherhood around the Atlantic rim. Likewise, Buchan’s work suggests that men’s new sympathy for poor mothers cannot be explained only by the rise of Jacksonian politics in the U.S. but that it was part of a much larger transatlantic movement. It is unclear how this small discovery sits with the Victorian doctrine of separate spheres or whether it translated into any positive changes for poor mothers. But I so look forward to finding out.

Marissa Rhodes, PhD Candidate in History, State University of New York at Buffalo
Historical Society of Pennsylvania's 2016 Robert L. McNeil Jr. Fellow


[1] William Buchan, Advice to Mothers, on the Subject of Their Own Health And on the Means of Promoting the Health, Strength, and Beauty, of Their Offspring (Philadelphia: Printed and sold by John Bioren, 1804), 266.