Monday, July 20, 2015

Fashioning Philadelphia – The Style of the City, 1720-1940

The Library Company of Philadelphia presents over 200 years of fashion history in its newest exhibition, which opened July 20. Fashioning Philadelphia – The Style of the City, 1720-1940 tells the largely unheralded story of Philadelphia’s contributions to the early fashion industry. Curated by Wendy Woloson (Assistant Professor of History, Rutgers University), Fashioning Philadelphia features prints, photographs, books, ephemera, and artifacts from the Library Company's premier collection of historical materials. The exhibition is on view through March 4, 2016.

The exhibition highlights Philadelphia's many important contributions to making clothing and shaping style over two centuries, which have largely been forgotten today. Home to modest Quakers, prosperous free blacks, well-heeled international transplants, and working classes of all sorts, Philadelphia was America's most cosmopolitan city from the late 18th through the 19th century. Chestnut Street in particular enjoyed a reputation for being as fashionable as the grand thoroughfares of Paris and London. In addition, Philadelphia was a manufacturing powerhouse that supported industries producing textiles, leather goods, and accessories. The city was also a major publishing center – women's magazines such as Godey's Lady's Book helped shape popular fashions and then disseminate them throughout the country. Philadelphia retailers, including Wanamaker and Strawbridge & Clothier, erected lavish department stores – dream palaces of consumption – in the heart of the city.

To tell this particular story, Fashioning Philadelphia draws on the Library Company's rich collections of historical materials. Among many other items, it includes several portraits of Benjamin Franklin ("Philadelphia's first fashionista"), hand-colored fashion plates showing men and women wearing the latest styles, tailoring patterns, contemporary views of Chestnut Street, interior views of the Stetson hat factory, architectural renderings of major department stores, and small artifacts such as 19th-century sunglasses and ladies' boots.

By showing depictions of Philadelphians from all walks of life, from prosperous free African Americans to the laboring poor, gang members to Quakers, the exhibition also presents a social history of the city, and of urban America in general, as it changed over two centuries.

Fashioning Philadelphia – The Style of the City, 1720-1940 is free and open to the public, July 20, 2015 – March 4, 2016, Monday - Friday, 9 am to 4:45 pm. The exhibition and its accompanying programming are supported by funds from the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation.  For the latest events associated with this exhibition, visit

2015 Juneteenth Freedom Symposium with Dr. Danielle Allen

The Program in African American History (PAAH) welcomed political theorist Dr. Danielle Allen for our annual Juneteenth Freedom Symposium on June 18. PAAH hosts an annual symposium to recognize Juneteenth, one of the oldest known celebrations commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. This year’s theme focused on the enduring importance of democratic ideals to confront the social justice challenges of our time.

Allen, who recently joined Harvard University as the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and a professor in the Department of Government, spoke about her award-winning book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (Norton, 2014). The book was inspired by close readings and discussions of the Declaration of Independence in courses that she taught separately to working-class adult students and University of Chicago undergraduates.

Allen reminded the audience of the novel and subversive concepts enshrined in the Declaration, including the less studied sentiment: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e. safeguarding unalienable rights], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government … to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Thus, Allen argued that the Declaration empowers Americans to create a government and political system that will address civil rights issues. Prime among these in the present day is the mass incarceration of African Americans. Allen also presented troubling statistics which demonstrated that African American children begin facing disproportionate rates of suspension in pre-school. These numbers reveal how “destructive” the current form of government is by denying black children their unalienable rights and setting them on a disenfranchised path to prison. Allen posited that the radical spirit of the Declaration provides the basis for altering our discriminatory criminal justice system through revolutionary measures. Allen offered one further thought for consideration: decriminalizing non-violent drug offenses. 

Mellon Scholars Summer Programs

Kimberly Jones, Jalyn Gordon, Shayne McGregor, Ariel Greenaway, Joshua Johnson, Dominique Washington, Hannah Wallace

In June, the Program in African American History (PAAH) held its second annual Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop under the direction of Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, PAAH Director, and Krystal Appiah, Curator of African American History. These summer programs foster and support students from underrepresented backgrounds and others with interests in pursuing graduate study in African American history prior to 1900. Michael Dickinson, an advanced history doctoral student at the University of Delaware, served as Graduate Research Advisor, providing guidance on research methodologies and writing skills.

Four students—Jalyn Gordon (University of Houston), Joshua Johnson (Francis Marion University), Hannah Wallace (Temple University), and Dominique Washington (University of Houston)—were selected to participate in a month-long research internship. Using items from the Library Company’s African Americana Collection, interns created a small exhibit based on themes from Dr. Danielle Allen’s book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality for our Juneteenth event.

Interns also immersed themselves in the African Americana Collection to develop individual research projects leading to a 20-page paper and colloquium presentation of their conclusions. Research topics included activism in Philadelphia's early black churches, an examination of the rhetoric used by African American activists to argue for liberty and equality, Northern African American perceptions of Haiti during its first few decades of independence, and debates surrounding black emigration and colonization.

Dr. Kimberly Saunders leading a professional development session

During their third week in residence, the interns were joined by three more students—Ariel Greenaway (Kennesaw State University), Kimberly Jones (Eastern Illinois University) Shayne McGregor (City University of New York)—for an intensive weeklong professional development workshop. The students attended sessions on graduate school selection, personal statement writing, and curriculum vitae development led by Dr. Kimberly Saunders, director of the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Delaware, while the Library Company’s James Green shed light on the fellowship application process. The workshop week also featured a number of presentations on African American history by notable scholars, including Dr. Dunbar, Library Company Director Dr. Richard Newman, and George Washington University history professor Dr. Maurice Jackson. Rounding out the workshop week were educational trips to the historical resources at Temple University's Blockson Afro-American Collection, Mother Bethel AME Church, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 

Jalyn Gordon at the Blockson Collection

New Collections Uploaded to Our Digital Collections Catalog

A page of tipped-in content from William Maitland’s History of London:  “A New & correct plan of all the houses destroy'd and damaged by the fire which began in Exchange Alley, Cornhill, on Friday, March 25th, 1748” with manuscript notes by Peter Collinson

Several collections were recently uploaded to ImPAC, the Library Company’s digital collections catalog. Peter Collinson’s annotated first edition of William Maitland’s 1739 History of London, Frederick Gutekunt’s Scenery on the Pennsylvania Railroad photograph album, and a mixed media scrapbook album showcased in Remnants of Everyday Life, our 2013 exhibition about historical ephemera, are just some of the recently added materials.

The Library Company of Philadelphia recently acquired this first edition of Maitland’s History of London that belonged to the London merchant and naturalist Peter Collinson (1694-1768) who heavily annotated the pages.  Not only did Collinson “discover” Benjamin Franklin, he also served as the first book purchasing agent for the Library Company.  Over his years of ownership, Collinson tipped in numerous additional plates, plans, notes, documents, and clippings, with the last note dated just two years before his death.  The hundreds of annotations and notes in Collinson’s hand deal with both the changing physical fabric of the city of London and events of daily life.

Select tipped-in content and entries were cataloged and the entire book was recently digitized.  Thanks to the assistance of intern Kayla Hohenstein, a senior at Earlham College enrolled in the Philadelphia Center internship program, the uploaded catalog records and digitized content from Collinson’s edition of Maitland’s History of London are now available in ImPAC and illustrated content is in Flickr Commons. The Library Company is also coordinating with the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and the University of Pennsylvania in order to make all the contents of this book available in their upcoming Digital Diaries Project.

Frederick Gutekunt’s Scenery on the Pennsylvania Railroad photograph album was  added to ImPAC and shared on the website , a website compiling photographs and information documenting the history of photography.   A recent gift from the Greer family, this magnificent album, dating from ca. 1875, documents the Philadelphia, Middle, and Pittsburgh divisions of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Library Company also contributed a late 19th-century scrapbook album containing periodical illustrations, comic valentines, and patent medicine advertisements compiled by an unknown scrapbook enthusiast.  The eccentric arrangement of the contents calls to question what the overall theme or motive of the scrapbook may be.  If anyone has any ideas, please do let us know!

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