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Tramps, Unfit Mothers, and Neglected Children: Negotiating Family Life in Late Nineteenth Century Philadelphia

Sherri Broder’s study of family life among Philadelphia’s Victorian era poor, Tramps, Unfit Mothers, and Neglected Children: Negotiating Family Life in Late Nineteenth Century Philadelphia, provides an insightful exploration into the meaning of family, the definition of family roles, and the variety of narratives used to define family life. For visitors to HSP’s Encounters digital archive, Broder’s work provides rich social context for the client records of charities created to relieve suffering among the poor while rehabilitating the sufferers. 

Drawing on records of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC), Broder illuminates language that first situates a client (or family) morally, then builds a condemnatory narrative to undergird charitable intervention. Depictions of the fallen single mother, the absent father, and the working or neglected child are considered from the view points of social and religious reformers such as SPCC, labor leaders, the press, and the poor themselves. Broder asserts that whoever determines the meaning of family, and how social policy is shaped by that meaning, is as vibrant an issue today as in the Gilded Age. An example is the paradox of the working child: in one view a wretched indictment of parental neglect, while in another an heroic contributor to the economy of his or her family.

Broder’s analysis teases apart the language of case workers, clients, and influential others, including the poor themselves, used to articulate the experience of poverty. In revealing the multiple perspectives informing attitudes and actions, it suggests not that we marvel at why the poor carry their burdens, but how they manage to carry them at all. Historians, genealogists, and other users of HSP’s Encounters will find Tramps, Unfit Mothers, and Neglected Children useful in creating context: by complementing, elaborating, and explaining accounts of the characters and experiences of women, men, and children found in the records of charities created for their care.

HSP, LCP Welcome August 2016 Fellows

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) and The Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) jointly award approximately 25 one-month fellowships for research in residence in either or both collections during each academic year. Fellows hail from across the country and around the world, utilizing both institutions' collections in contemporary scholarship. 

HSP and LCP proudly welcome the August 2016 fellows:

HSP Hosts Birmingham’s “Behind the Ballot” Civil Rights Exhibit During PoliticalFest

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The City of Birmingham will be a part of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia later this month with an exhibit titled, “Behind the Ballot: Fighting for the Right to Vote.” The exhibit will be hosted at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) as part of PoliticalFest.

Historic Library and Archive Now Hosts Boutique Weddings, Parties

PHILADELPHIA, PA – For the first time in over 20 years, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is making its world-renowned Reading Room available to the public for rental for special occasions such as weddings and Bat Mitzvahs.

Home to several of the nation’s founding documents, HSP has expanded its event rental offerings to better share its historic, easily-accessible 90,000 square foot Center City library with those desiring a unique setting for their next wedding, private party, or reception.

HSP Launches Two New Databases for Genealogists, Scholars

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is pleased to announce the addition of two new databases to its HSP Encounters system: The Tavern and Liquor License Records (1746-1863), and the Huguenot Society Applications (Arrivals 1517-1885).

To genealogists, family historians, and scholars, these new databases are a boon for historical research into business practices governing bars and taverns in Philadelphia, as well as into the experiences of Huguenots in the United States.

Mormonism: Early History and Connections to Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley

In conjunction with the opening of Philadelphia's Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, this display will explore the local history of Mormonism in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

Pennsylvania in general continues to be a tremendously important part of the LDS church. It was at Harmony, Pa., where 15 sections of the Doctrine and Covenant book of scripture were written (now Oakland Township, Susquehanna County). Additionally, the priesthood restoration site where Joseph Smith and his wife resided continues to be a sacred place to members of the church. 

PoliticalFest Only Two Weeks Away!

In celebration of the Democratic National Convention, join HSP for PoliticalFest, a one-of-a-kind festival celebrating political history, government and the road to the White House.

The experience will consist of exhibits at seven participating locations (including HSP!), each centered around a specific theme related to American politics, government, and history.


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