Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog. Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection. Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!
Philadelphia is a city of firsts, including both the first brick house and pianoforte built in the United States, as well as the first published treatise against slavery. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Philadelphia was also home to the first chartered, national bank. The Bank of North America was initially founded by the Second Continental Congress in 1781 to help fund the expensive Revolutionary War, which was badly in need of money and supplies. The BNA's records are on deposit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and part of a massive conservation project which includes years of careful cleaning, mending, rebinding, and rehousing. These records span from 1723 through the 1920s and contain both what you'd expect from bank records (ledgers, cash books, day books, etc.) and a few surprises (wait until you see the poetry, the horse, and the hanged man, all coming in a later blog post).
The items in this collection came to HSP in 1939, deposited by the Pennsylvania Company, which at that point in time was the operating descendant of the Bank of North America. The collection has had varying levels of accessibility since then, with the condition of both the materials and the inventory limiting access for researchers. The first limiting factor is being addressed by the 3-year conservation project, which you can see photos of on HSP's revitalized Flickr page. (This page will be updated throughout the project so check back often or add it to your RSS reader.) As the project archivist, my job is to address the second factor that limited access -- the poor condition of the inventory -- by creating a new intellectual and physical arrangement so that researchers will have a better idea of what's in the collection.
Improving access by creating a new physical arrangement means that all of the unbound materials (loose documents and artwork) in the collection need to come out of their old housing and into new folders and boxes. This is especially important because those green boxes aren't just old and unfashionable, they're...problematic for everyone who wants to access this collection. (But they were probably the height of archival science in the 30s, so we'll give past archivists a pass on this one.)
If you're researching in this collection, then a few different scenarios could greet you when you open one of those green boxes. The best case scenario for you and the collection materials is shown above: materials that are (believe it or not) in labeled folders, more or less kept flat by the folders and the way they're stored in the box. But you can't read the folder titles without removing the folders from the box, and you can't do that without turning the box on its side and dumping (well, carefully sliding) everything out onto the table.
Your second best case scenario: sturdy, folded documents, not in folders, but not damaged either. The only way to get at these materials is by (again) dumping everything out and searching through a big pile of folded stuff that really doesn't want to be unfolded, one document at a time.
Here's your worst case scenario: unfoldered materials including very fragile newspaper, just rattling around in the box with no way to retrieve them without dumping everything out and pawing through it or shoving your hand in there and likely further damaging the materials. [Ok, actually I think a worst case scenario would involve organic materials, some bugs, and a humid storage environment, but thankfully this collection is free of most of those things.]
Underneath the crumbling newsprint was this:
It's a rolled mass of documents that can't, in their present state, be identified, dated, or read because a) the documents are too fragile to pry apart and b) they've been rolled for probably 70 years and would like to stay that way. But thanks to a little conservation lab magic, these documents have now been safely flattened and foldered and will soon be accessible for the first time.
The unbound portion of the collection is now comfortably resting in labeled, dated, acid free folders, inside acid-free document and photograph boxes. Each folder has a title and the contents are arranged in a way that will make it easier for researchers to find what they're looking for. As archival processing progresses, I'll be able to digitize a few items to show off on the blog and in our Digital Library, including Revolutionary War figures who banked at BNA, portraits of bank presidents, and of course the poetry, the horse, and the hanged man.
The Balch Ethnic Images in Advertising collection is intriguing if not problematic. It raises questions of definition, the transient nature of advertisements, and the nature of advertising in general. Much like Scarlet O’Hara— seen at right in what is perhaps the classiest Schlitz advertisement known to man— its existence depends on the kindness of strangers. First someone--in this case The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies--made the conscious decision to artificially create the collection. The Ethnic Images in Advertising collection is artificial in that it is not the culmination of documents from an individual’s or organization’s daily activities but an amalgamation of mostly unconnected objects.
After making that initial decision, they defined the parameters of the collection, mainly in regards to topics and time period. This collection brings together ethnic images from the late 1890s through 1999, encompassing a variety of groups including Arab, Anglo, Latino/Hispanic, Pennsylvania Dutch, Scottish, German, Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Greek. The bulk of the collection however consists of African American, Asian/ Asian American, and American Indian images. There are curious files on “Rural Dwellers,” “Immigrants,” and “Miscellaneous” demonstrating that images were collected but not always assigned to a specific group and unsurprisingly perhaps, that it is not always easy to determine what ethnicity someone is based on appearance alone. Not every advertisement includes such obvious cues as the River Maid crate label seen below. The girl’s bonnet, wooden shoes and the windmill still epitomize “Dutch" to many of us.
Finding and then preserving a copy of every advertisement conceived and created over approximately one hundred years represents a challenge. It is estimated that by the end of the 19th century Americans could choose from nearly 100,000 magazines. While the sheer volume of print advertisements contributes to the potential survival of content, the ephemeral nature of magazines almost guarantees gaps in the historical record. Unlike family photos or business records magazines were consumable goods, generally meant to be purchased, perused and pitched. For example, there are approximately ten Aunt Jemima ads in the collection--the highest number for any single product--but even the most cursory internet search uncovers hundreds of different advertisements beginning in the 1890s with Nancy Green, the first woman to portray the fictitious Aunt Jemima all the way through the familiar smiling illustration used today. It is safe to assume that the Balch Institute never intended to collect a copy of each advertisement ever made but rather to select iconic images like Aunt Jemima or Uncle Rastus as well as examples of specific stereotypes such as the Irish police officer, the Italian fruit cart vendor, or the Chinese laundry worker.
It would be easy to say that the advertisements are snapshots of American cultural beliefs and the public’s dedication to stereotyping the “other.” Even that poses a challenge, because of course advertisements do not necessarily represent reality, but an advertising agency’s assessment of reality. Historian Roland Marchand makes the persuasive argument that through their work ad men defined the American dream while informing the public on how to attain said dream; they sold the dream along with the products. Though his book, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity 1920-1940 only deals with a portion of the years represented in the Ethnic Images in Advertising collection, it is important to be aware of intent when looking at the ads. A professional ad agent determined how best to sell goods by exploiting and magnifying consumer desires and fears, even if it meant defining those desires and fears for the consumer first.
The Balch Ethnic Images in Advertising is problematic for another much more visceral reason. A number of the advertisements rely on negative stereotypes to sell everything from breakfast food and alcohol to interstate travel. It is hard to look at negative images and write descriptions of what is now understood to be racist, derogatory, or at the very least demeaning. Complicating matters are the so-called positive stereotypes such as the scholarly Asian, the happy African American domestic or noble American Indian. Take for example the Container Corporation of America ad seen at left. Here we see Ts’ai Lun (or Cai Lun) a Chinese eunuch during the Han Dynasty who is credited with improving the process of papermaking. Existing stylistically somewhere between a woodblock print and an ink wash, the ad exclaims “Darned clever...these Chinese!” On the surface the ad is complimentary maybe even flattering. Reading on however, we learn Ts’ai Lun had to endow his paper with "'mystic powers to raise the dead' to get it into use,” while America’s magic is "low-cost, light-weight packages of paperboard." According to the ad, improved technology was not sufficient to convince “darned clever” Chinese people to take up Ts’ai Lun’s invention; it was only through superstition that people were convinced. The presumably American viewers of the ad are assured they need no such superstitious contrivances. With a wink ad men tell consumers who is really clever.
One image for Hiram Walker High Ten Whiskey was a source of much consternation for this author. Formatted to resemble a comic strip, the first image shows a white man Ezra, talking to a wild-haired African man Zeke, who wears an animal print loincloth, horns and a ring through his nose. We come to learn that the men are cousins and that Zeke has recently landed a role in his first Hollywood film. In the last panel Zeke has removed the wild hair, horns and nose ring and is in the process of removing the dark make-up from his face revealing a white complexion and a shock of blonde hair. Clearly intended to elicit a laugh, the punchline now struggles under the heavy weight of over 150 years of blackface and the stereotypical image of Africans--if not African Americans--as savage and frightening.
Still, the Balch Ethnic Images in Advertising is intriguing survey of American advertisements in a variety of formats. There are a number of labels, primarily from crates and boxes, but also from canned fruits and vegetables. Maps, menus, placemats and even a few playbills help to round out the collection. The third box of the collection which constitutes additions taken in 2005 included two hand fans picturing African American children and women in various intellectual pursuits. Some of the imagery may prove an intellectual or ethical challenges, but they are worth undertaking as they help reveal a more nuanced understanding of American advertising.
Check out the link to the full collection below and tell us what you think.
Welcome to the second installment of transcripts from the George F. Parry Civil War diaries (Parry family volumes, Collection 3694). In the event that you're just joining in, or have perhaps forgotten what this is about, HSP recently acquired the diaries of Bucks County resident and Civil War veterinary surgeon George F. Parry. In that collection are three diaries he kept during the Civil War, 1863-1865, when he served with the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry. In celebration of Parry's work and the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I'm providing monthly posts on Fondly, PA of a few transcripts from his diaries.
To see other posts in the series, check out the links over on the right-hand side of this page. Clicking on the diary images will take you to our Digital Library where you can exmaine the volumes page by page, along with other digitized items from the Parry collection.
This month we move onto February 1863. When we last left Parry, he was enjoying crisp winter evenings, outings with friends, and plenty of general merriment. Not so surprisingly, this trend continued into February. Let's take a glimpse into his daily whereabouts.
Notes about the transcriptions: I've kept the pattern of Parry's writings as close as formatting here will allow, including his line breaks and spacing. My own additional or clarifying notes will be in brackets . Any grammatical hiccups that aren’t noted as such are Parry's own.
Thursday, February 5
Paxsons Store dancing
Chas. Leedoms drinking
Business very dull
snowy and rainy
Tuesday, February 10
M. Scott a milk tube
attended a Party in Newtown
Hall. Managers John Linton
Geo. C. Worstal kept it
up till half past two
very nice time
John Linton a very nice young
man, his home is Sacramento, Calif.
Thursday, February 19
Party at Major Buckman's
spent the evening at Rose's
playing chicquards with
David Leedom Esq. Blaker
Ordered some medicine
Monday, February 23
Medicine arrived from
Took a number of Newtown
Ladies out to Barnsleys.
had a good time. Eliza Buckman
Dr. Smith letter from Holland
I'm posting this entry on behalf of my intern, Ethan Fried, who performed extensive amounts of research and writing for the Preserving American Freedom digital history project, funded by Bank of America. For this project, Ethan described and annotated 50 documents that help trace the evolution of American liberties and composed biographies of related people and organizations. Ethan is a recent graduate of Pennsylvania State University and holds degrees in History and Secondary Education. His previous work as an undergraduate writing tutoring and high school teacher has left him determined to relate the intrigue of history to young people.
Pictured: Barbara Gittings in 1994
Coming into work on the SEPTA rail line offers a unique perspective on Philadelphia. Sprawling and large, the cityscape proves a sharp relief from my own hometown of Langhorne. Each day as I commute, while the rails squeak and the murmur of passengers fills the car, I often feel like I'm traversing worlds. In truth, I’m not yet comfortable walking around the city, save for my own route to the Historical Society. But the city, a modern incarnation of the place countless documents I've studied described, becomes more and more familiar by the day.
One such experience came just a few weeks ago on my way to work. Taking my usual 11th street exit from Market East Station, turning rightward towards City Hall and making a left onto 13th street, I noticed the name Barbara Gittings above the street corner of 13th and Locust. While not explicitly described by name, Gittings, famous for her progressive stances and tactics promoting gay rights, was a direct inspiration (and indeed, architect) of the "Dr. Anonymous" speech in the Preserving American Freedom exhibit. Countless times, I have walked through that intersection and looked upon that faceless name with an unknown history. But now that I know who she is, I can't help but pause, if only for a moment, at the foot of her namesake's sign. Just as I was exploring the old Philadelphia through manuscripts, letters, and maps, so was I encountering modern Philadelphia for the first time.
Speech of "Dr. Henry Anonymous" [John Fryer] at the American Psychiatric Association 125th Annual Meeting [May 2, 1972], one of 50 documents featured in the Preserving American Freedom project
This may be the most important effect of what I do here at HSP: to make history too important not to pass signs like Gittings's without a pause of understanding. The results of her efforts, and the efforts of the gay rights community, are clear. The Philadelphia "Gayborhood" is lined with rainbow signs and bars with names that drip with clear and public double entendre. Across the nation, gay rights supporters march ahead with the legalization of gay marriage, most recently in Maryland and Washington. All of this is a far cry from the reality of someone like Barbara Gittings. In her adolescence, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. It took the courage of John Fryer, a gay psychiatrist that masked himself as he told his medical association that he could be both a productive psychiatrist and a homosexual to prompt the AMA to remove homosexuality from their list of disorders in 1973.
And although it's sometimes hard to dissociate the great movements of history from the people that sparked their creation and continued their sustenance, the past remains made by individuals like Barbara Gittings and John Fryer. The fact is, history can be so hard to connect with because it presents a place and time removed from our own. But when history is seen as a million intimate narratives, with a million voices, opinions, lives, and destinies, it becomes something else entirely. It becomes relatable. It becomes traceable. It becomes pause-worthy.
So the next time anyone asks why history can move and change us, and why it fills us with both wisdom and courage, I suggest bringing them to the corner of 13th and Locust and tell them the story of a man and woman who fought too hard for history to forget them. My guess is, they won't need to ask you that question anymore.
In November the Conservation Department at HSP started its latest grant project; conserving the Bank of North America Collection.Generously funded by Wells Fargo, this project will focus on repairing approximately 650 volumes, 400 graphics, and several boxes of loose manuscripts. Over the next three years conservation staff will be reparing and stabilizing ledgers, minute books, account books, stock certificates, and currency of the first bank in the United States. The collection is also being processed and we look forward to a new finding aid to help research within the collection.
We are excited to be working on such an important collection. Conservation technicians, Alina Josan, Leah Mackin and Sun Young Kang spent the first week assessing and assigning a priority number to each volume.
A book ranking a 5 needs the most work, while a 1 is in excellent condition and will mostly likely only be vacuumed.
The bank records have been on deposit with HSP since the 1920’s. Since then, many researchers have used the collection, but to us, the Conservation staff, much of this is new. We have the opportunity to work quite intimately with the materials and are looking forward to the exciting little discoveries. We will share some of the finds we think are most interesting. For example:
*Here is the request by the bank to Benjamin Franklin Bache (Ben Franklin's grandson) to print pennies.
*Clerks of the 18th and 19th centuries spent just as much time doodling on the covers of their notebooks as we did in school.
*There are quirky things we find amusing, such as interesting typo’s...
How do you spell ledger?
*The copper printing plates for currency and stock certificates
*and my personal favorite so far, a typed note next to Mordecai Lewis’ account, informing us that this account was continuously open for the entire existence of the bank.
We will also write posts about how we are actually doing the conservation work. It will not be without its challenges. For one thing, most of the ledgers are approximately 20 inches tall and some as thick as 6 inches. These are very big books! So big that they don’t fit into our standard book binding equipment and we have had to be very inventive.
Check in with us during the next three years; we will be blogging about our challenges and discoveries. Be sure to check out our flickr stream as well. You can find that here.
I joined the Historical Society of Pennsylvania as an intern in September 2012 to work on the Preserving American Freedom project. The project aims to transcribe, digitize, and annotate fifty notable documents from HSP’s collections and turn them into an online exhibit. In my short time here, I have researched and written about more than twenty of these items along with Ethan Fried, another intern. At this point in the project, we are finished with annotations and descriptions of every document, as well as most of the biographies of people and organizations who appear in the documents.
I have worked on items which include everything from an early draft of the United States Constitution to an eyewitness account of the tense negotiations leading up to the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek. Even though I have a degree in history, the eclectic nature of this project has forced me to learn an incredible amount of new information about events and people of which I previously knew very little.
Although most of my research has involved secondary sources, such as books and journal articles, I have also been granted access to the (often fragile) original documents. For anyone with enthusiasm for history, the experience of handling the actual paper that has been written on by the person you are researching feels like time travel. Articles and books can provide a compelling background, but holding an authentic document will metaphorically transport you into the shoes of the writer. While interning at HSP, I get to experience this every day.
One example of this sort of time travel occurred while I was conducting research on the Drayton family. The related document for the project was a letter sent from Thomas Drayton to his brother, Percival.
The siblings were on opposing sides of the Civil War and desperately tried to convince each other to change positions. In the course of my research, I wanted to find out who the rest of the Draytons were. I started my search by digging through a box of Drayton family correspondence. I found many letters along with a number of envelopes that had broken wax seals. Incredibly, the imprints in the wax were still visible. I picked out a translucent letter and held it in my hands; it looked so frail that I was surprised when it did not disintegrate. The ink had become brown with age, but the elegant handwriting was still beautiful to behold. The letter was from Anna Drayton and addressed to her grandmother, Maria Heyward Drayton. As I later found out, Maria was actually Anna’s step-grandmother, but Anna spoke of her as if she were her biological grandparent. Anna and Maria were on different sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, but their familial bond was clearly powerful enough to transcend the divide of the Civil War. By the time I had carefully replaced the letter in its folder, 1861 didn’t seem so far away.
Although we have accomplished a lot while working on the Preserving American Freedom project, there is still much left to be done. Our current task is translating all of our written content into an XML file and uploading it onto the website. In any case, I know that more research will involve more time travel, and I look forward to reporting on those experiences in future updates.
With over 1,000 photographs, there was a wealth of topics that interested me as I digitized the Leonard Covello collection over the course of my internship. Leonard Covello (1887-1982) was an Italian immigrant who established and served as principal of the Benjamin Franklin High School in New York City. He is well known for his community centered school philosophy and his activism among the East Harlem neighborhood, especially with Italian and Puerto Rican immigrant groups. The Covello Photo Group serves as a portal to mid-century New York City architecture, street scenes of East Harlem, glimpses into the education system of the 1940’s and 1950’s, images relating to race and ethnicity just before the Civil Rights movement, and more. What struck me the most, however, was the way I grew to form a relationship with the collection and how digitizing photos of strangers became not unlike my own hobby of digitizing family photos.
When I was given the task of digitizing this large collection this fall, I knew nothing of Leonard Covello or East Harlem. In fact what I knew of mid-century New York came entirely from the television program Mad Men. At the onset, I expected that this project would teach me about Covello. But as I worked, many faces became familiar to me and I grew to learn a great deal about figures from Covello’s world. Here are my favorites:
Fiorello La Guardia (1882-1947)
La Guardia is a great example of the Covello collection’s domino effect. Midway through the project as I was browsing Wikipedia and reading entries related to East Harlem, I came across a face I was sure I had seen before within the collection. After comparing Covello’s images to images on web, I was sure that La Guardia’s was the face I had seen in photos of Benjamin Franklin High School’s opening, graduation ceremonies, and parades! La Guardia (namesake of the airport) is primarily known for serving as New York’s mayor from 1934-1945 and was the first Italian-American to hold that office. La Guardia had early connections to East Harlem; the community elected him to Congress in 1922 and he served in that office until 1933.
Frank Sinatra (1915-1988)
One of the more controversial moments during Covello’s tenure as principal of Benjamin Franklin High School was a racial incident between students in 1945. The incident sparked sensationalized press reports, calling the event a “riot.” Covello began a campaign to ease fears and reaffirm the school’s commitment to integration. The finale of this campaign was a morning address and performance by Frank Sinatra, the most popular singer of the time, who sang “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?” to the students in attendance.
Mae West (1893-1980)
A double take was the only reaction I could think of when I came across an autographed photo of Mae West with a priest within the collection. An inscription on the back identifies the man as Reverend Andre Penachio and an image search of Ms. West’s signature verified that it was indeed the legendary film and vaudeville actress. A New York Times article explained that West and Penachio had been good friends. He officiated her burial and campaigned for West to be commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp. Fun trivia fact: Penachio himself appeared the 1972 film The Godfather.
Felisa Rincón de Gautier (1897-1994)
A name I did not recognize appeared as a signature and on the back of several of Covello’s photographs. With some digging, I found that the woman was Felisa Rincón de Gautier, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico from 1946-69. She was the first woman to be elected as mayor of an American nation and worked with Covello on the Goodwill Ambassador program, sending New York City high school students to Puerto Rico for Christmas in 1959 and 1960.
Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954)
The Covello collection contains an entire section of photographs of Vito Marcantonio, from an infant at 49 days old to his later years as an American Labor Party politician and New York Representative of the East Harlem district. He was one of the community leaders who helped Covello sort out the controversial racial incident that led Frank Sinatra to perform at Benjamin Franklin High School.
Anna C. Ruddy (b.1861)
The Covello Collection contains beautiful portraits of Anna C. Ruddy throughout her life. A Canadian missionary, Ruddy worked in East Harlem for eight years when she decided to establish a settlement house in 1898, offering children’s programs, a nursery, Bible and citizenship classes, and classes in sewing, cooking, and carpentry. During Covello’s lifetime, the settlement house was known as the Home Garden and later the La Guardia Memorial House. The collection contains photographs pertaining to the house, photos of Ruddy, and even a program and menu from a reunion dinner.
Joseph Monserrat (1921-2005)
Joseph Monserrat began as a student at Benjamin Franklin High School and mentee of Covello. He went on to direct the Migration Division of the Puerto Rican government where he collaborated with Covello on Migration Division projects. He also served as president of the Board of Education of New York from 1969-1970.
These faces became familiar to me throughout working on the collection, and it was a delight to see their names and faces pop up every now and again in different aspects of Covello’s world. And just like personal family photos, sometimes one comes across a face that seems familiar but can’t be found in memory. I found this photograph in the Portraits group just after the photo of Reverend Andre Penachio with Mae West. Do you recognize this couple? The Digital Collections team is dying to know!
Please leave your suggestions in the comment section below.
If you've been keeping up with recent HSP news, you've probably seen a press release documenting records of the Parry family that we recently acquired. These two wonderful collections, one the George F. Parry family volumes (Collection 3694) and the other of Susan Parry volumes (Collection 3695), contain interesting and in-depths glimpses into the history of medicine and veterinarian medicine in Pennsylvania during the 1800s.
The Parrys were born into a Quaker family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. George F. Parry (1838-1886) became one of the first veterinarians (and probably the first from Pennsylvania) to receive professional veterinary training in the United States. He graduated from the Boston Veterinary Institute in 1859, served as a veterinary surgeon with the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War, and conducted a private practice in Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, from shortly after the war until his death at age 48.
The Parry siblings are surely interesting enough to warrant their own blog post, but it is George F. Parry in whom I am currently interested. For you see, among Parry's diaries are three he kept during the Civil War, from 1863, 1864, and 1865. HSP and many other historical institutions around the nation are currently in the midst of remembering the 150th anniversary of the Civil War through exhibitions, programs, and writings. To kick off this year, I will be doing monthly postings of a few transcriptions from the corresponding month in Parry's diaries. So this month, January 2013, we'll take a look at couple of Parry's entries from January 1863. Throughout the year, we'll be tracking Parry's movements from his pre-war life in Bucks County, to his mustering (in June) in the army, to his travels beyond the state's borders and his wartime activities. It's sure to be an interesting journey, so please read along and leave comments!
To see other posts in the series, check out the links over on the right-hand side of this page. Clicking on the diary images will take you to our Digital Library where you can exmaine the volumes page by page, along with other digitized items from the Parry collection.
At the beginning of 1863, Parry was living in Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He had received his degree a few years prior, though it's a little unclear if he was practicing at this point. Parry often remarked about people he had visited, and here are a few of his January highlights.
A few notes about the transcriptions: I will keep the pattern of Parry's writings as close as formatting here will allow. My own additional or clarifying notes will be in brackets . Any grammatical hiccups that aren’t noted as such are Parry's own.
Saturday, January 3
Called to see Dr. J. C.
Smith New Hope ------
Thompson " [ditto]
--- --- --- --- ---
Arrived at home at 4 pm
Wm. Connard -----
Sunday, January 11
Spent afternoon and Eve.
at Franklin Cadwallader
had a very pleasant time
accompanied by Julia V. [Taylor?]
arrived at home 11 O'clock
Call Chas. Roberts ---- morning
Sunday, January 18
Quaker meeting and
Episcopal Church ----
Evening went to Capt.
Eyre with Miss Thompson
very cold and clear
Saturday, January 31
Spent the evening at David
Waston's had a splendid
Dinner. [A]ccompanied by
Tom Linton. Guests
Miss Thompson Taylor
had a very gay time
Home at 1 o'clock
January 1, 2013, marked the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln's final Emancipation Proclamation, and a special issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, of which I am proud to be the Assistant Editor, commemorates this transformative moment in American history. Yet it is not just because I've spent the last few months editing the latest scholarship on emancipation that freedom has been on my mind. I am also the Project Director for an exciting digital history project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania entitled Preserving American Freedom. For this project, made possible by a generous grant from Bank of America, 50 documents from HSP's collections that explore American freedom over more than 300 years will soon be presented online. Users will be able to explore facsimiles of the original documents, read their transcriptions, and learn more about the people, organizations, and events associated with them through scholarly essays, document descriptions, annotations, biographies, a timeline, and related media, including images and links to other documents in HSP's digital library. For this project, Eric Foner, the foremost historian of American freedom, has contributed a brilliant contextual essay on this topic's contested legacy, which is also reprinted with his permission in PMHB's January 2013 issue.
Freedom is complicated. The Emancipation issue of PMHB makes this clear—over 100 pages of scholarship grapple with the context and legacy of one document from one defining era of American history. A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation is one of the documents from HSP's collections that users will be able to explore when the Preserving American Freedom project goes live. There are 49 other documents featured in the project, each with a legacy as difficult to encapsulate.
How do we at the HSP take on such an expansive task as "Preserving American Freedom" when freedom is difficult to define, so fraught with conflict? This question has no definitive answer, but I have some thoughts. First, we preserve the written and physical heritage of American history—a history that has been constantly shaped by the idea of and struggle for freedom—literally: by performing top-notch conservation work, by housing these items safely and securely, and by digitizing these objects so their contents might live on even after they have physically crumbled away. Crucially, we also preserve American freedom by sharing these documents with the public. By providing and encouraging access to these historic works, the ideas and stories they tell live on in people's minds and hearts—to be commemorated and celebrated, yes, but also to be played with, wrestled with, and used to view the past, present, and future in new lights. In so doing, we not only tell and re-tell stories about American freedom, we participate in freedom's legacy of struggle, striving, and innovation.
The Preserving American Freedom project will not tell a simple narrative of American freedom—no such story exists. But it will provide the opportunity not just for the HSP but for all the project's visitors to continue Preserving American Freedom by continuing to engage with its complicated legacy.
This Saturday, January 12th, a new Miss America will be crowned amidst the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip, a far cry from the pageant's humble origins on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Thankfully, for those who yearn for the days when bathing beauties roamed the Jersey shore, you can travel back in time with these historic images recently added to HSP's Digital Library.
The Miss America pageant was the brainchild of the Businessmen's League of Atlantic City, who, in an effort to attract tourists to the shore destination after Labor Day, organized a so-called Fall Frolic in September 1920. The most popular event at the Frolic was a parade of maidens who were wheeled down the boardwalk in wicker chairs to the cheers of an adoring crowd. The success of the parade, as well as the current popularity of newspaper-sponsored beauty contests in which winners were selected based on photo submissions, planted the seed for an "Inter-City Beauty Contest" the following year.
Billed as a beachfront "bather's reveue" of "thousands of the most beautiful girls in the land," the first Miss America pageant in September 1921 attracted only a handful of participants from a number of East Coast cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Camden. The contest commenced with the arrival of "King Neptune" at the Atlantic City Yacht Club and consisted of popularity and beauty contests judged according to both the crowd's applause and points awarded by a panel of judges. The winner was 16-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., who received $100 and a "Gold Mermaid" trophy. Gorman notably resembled Mary Pickford, one of the most popular film stars of the era, and even garnered praise from admirers like American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers. Speaking of Gorman to The New York Times, Gompers reportedly remarked "she represents the type of womanhood America needs--strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests."
Within a few years time, the Miss America contest quickly grew into a popular annual spectacle, attracting more than 70 participants by 1923. Until 1944, when a $5000 scholarship was awarded for the first time, winners primarily earned fees for appearances and endorsements. These fees often proved quite lucrative; during her reign, Miss America 1926, Norma Smallwood, grossed $100,000, exceeding the yearly income of both Babe Ruth and the President of the United States. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, contestants represented a range of sponsors at the pageant, appearing on behalf of cities, resorts, and theaters. A rule requiring participants to represent states went into effect in 1938, though every state was not represented at the pageant until 1959. By that time, the Miss America pageant took place at the Atlantic City Convention Center, the first of many changes that progessively moved the contest away from its beachy beginnings. Another similar change occured in 1948 when, for the first time, Miss America was crowned in an evening gown rather than the traditional bathing suit.
While the popularity and allure of the Miss America pageant has faded over time, the contest earned an enduring legacy as part of the history of Atlantic City and the wider mid-Atlantic region in the 20th Century. For a taste of Miss America's Philadelphia connections, check out this photograph of contestants from the 1942 pageant posing with City Hall as a backdrop. Throughout the 1940s, contestants routinely toured Philadelphia before departing for Atlantic City on the "Shore Queen" out of Broad Street Station. Smile, ladies, William Penn is watching!