Fondly, Pennsylvania

Processing the Richardson Dilworth papers

Friday, 10/29/10

Last September, I began processing the Richardson Dilworth papers as part of the NHPRC Civic Engagement project. This is a wonderful collection of documents reflecting the social and political life of Philadelphia, particularly during the 1950s, as seen through the eyes of former Philadelphia mayor Richardson Dilworth.

Dilworth was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 29 August 1898, and after finishing a stint in WWI he worked as a lawyer in Philadelphia and became an expert on libel cases after performing counsel for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Working with the firm Evans Bayard and Frick, Dilworth represented several insurance companies, the Philadelphia Transit Company, the Triangle Corporation, Curtis Publishing, Time, Inc., and did trial work in numerous accident cases. During this time Dilworth became one of the most respected trial lawyers in Philadelphia.  He also gained first-hand knowledge about the city and the extent of corruption in public agencies. Dilworth was elected Philadelphia city treasurer in 1949 running on a bill that included Joseph S. Clark, Jr. for mayor. Dilworth was elected district attorney in 1952 and later became the 116th mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He served as the city’s mayor from 2 January 1956 until resigning in 1962 to run for Governor of Pennsylvania, a race in which he was defeated by William Scranton. After his tenure as mayor, Dilworth served as partner in the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP; and, in 1967, he became president of the Philadelphia Board of Education.

Heavily involved in the social and urban development of Philadelphia, Dilworth is known as one of the architects of the social reform movement that, among many other things, put a halt to the decline of Center City, developed extensive public housing for low-income families, and contributed to the draft of a new city charter that consolidated county and city offices. This new charter called for official examinations of potential civic service employees, which contributed to the end of a de facto patronage system (begun by the Republican-dominated administration 67 years previous to Clark becoming mayor) by then pervasive in all city offices and services. The papers I am processing at HSP document the career of Richardson Dilworth, primarily in the form of office records generated in the years before and after he served as Mayor of Philadelphia. The collection has been arranged using, whenever possible, Dilworth’s own filing system, and overall processing is based on the Green-Meissner “more product, less processing” approach. This collection provides an extraordinary behind-the-scenes view of Philadelphia from the perspective of one of the city's most influential public officials, and is of special interest to researchers on Philadelphia politics, education, urban development, city planning, and United States political history during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Documents in the collection consist of correspondence, reports, political campaign materials, brochures, pamphlets, and scrapbooks. Additionally the collection contains Dilworth’s office files related to his law work (including files from his years as Philadelphia’s District Attorney), Board of Education activities, city planning, housing, civic organizations and projects, the Reading Railroad receivership, and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Committee on Transportation. There is also a sizeable amount of Dilworth’s personal correspondence, as well as clippings he collected on various politicians, campaigns, and political, cultural, and social issues related to Philadelphia. Other material includes numerous photographs, check stubs, typescripts of speeches, and papers related to the naming and dedication of the Richardson Dilworth International terminal at Philadelphia International Airport. The collection also features personal documents from Dilworth numerous trips abroad, including files related to his trip on the ill-fated SS Andrea Doria. Records generated by Dilworth during his administration as mayor of Philadelphia can be found in the City Archives.

For more information on this collection you can contact me at wechevarria@hsp.org, or call 215-732-6200 Ext. 207. Also, a finding aid with the contents of the collection indexed by subject will be available online shortly on the Research and Collections section of our webpage. In the meantime, if you would like to read more about Richardson Dilworth, please point your browser to this article.

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