High Society: A Teacher’s Look at the Best of Philadelphia’s Historical Societies and Institutes

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High Society: A Teacher’s Look at the Best of Philadelphia’s Historical Societies and Institutes

2012-07-30 09:39

While the term “historical society” may not conjure up mental images of people have a rip-roarin’ good time, as a teacher, I find that historical societies are invaluable sources of information and inspiration. Philadelphia boasts a surprising number of them.  Even if you don’t become a member, sign up for the emails and attend an event this summer or take your students on an educational tour this fall. You won’t regret it!

While the institutions listed here are all in Philadelphia, there are similar organizations in other parts of the state – and country – too.  Check out your local city or Convention and Visitors Bureau website for ideas.

Germantown Historical Society

I first fell in love with the Germantown Historical Society last fall when they offered a Civil War-themed murder mystery event. Since then, I’ve regularly perused the society’s emails for educator’s events and for quirky, fun things to do.  I find that attending an event can lead to some refreshing ideas in the classroom.

The society also has a museum and an online collection available for browsing.

The Wagner Free Institute of Science

The Wagner Institute has the wackiest events by far,and they seem to be the perfect marriage of science and history, which means I can drag my science teacher friends along while my inner history nerd delights. Created in the mid-1800s, this Victorian-era museum has not changed much over the years, making it home to a number of historical and scientific treasures. 

My favorite event is the “Science on Tap” series held at National Mechanics.  These monthly events are a great opportunity to brush up on your historical science knowledge while mingling with like-minded people. Joining the Wagner Institute’s email list is a must; especially during the school year, they have a busy schedule of interesting events for all ages. 

American Philosophical Society

The APS is a revered institution; as the “country’s first learned society,” it was created by Benjamin Franklin and friends for the study of the natural world. The APS focuses on science and the humanities (two areas of study united under “natural philosophy” in the 1700s). A quick look at the society’s past events will quickly persuade you to sign up for the email list. Last summer, the APS offered a 2-day teacher workshop in conjunction with Bartram’s Garden that focused on the art and science of French natural history and on botany.

The APS also manages a library and a museum.

Bartram’s Garden

While you may think of Bartram’s Garden purely as a botanical garden, in fact, its roots go way back to APS and natural history.  John Bartram was actually one of the co-founders of the APS, along with Ben Franklin.  The gardens are one way to connect to the fascinating history of APS and the study of the natural world. According to the website, “The John Bartram Association’s mission is to protect and enhance the landmark Bartram’s Garden and House, advance the Bartram legacy of discovery, gardening and art, and inspire audiences of all ages to care for the natural world.   The Garden is a 45-acre National Historic Landmark is operated by the Association in cooperation with the City of Philadelphia.” Bartram’s Garden offers educator’s events soaked in history and in science. (Can you tell I love natural history yet?).

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum

Be forewarned: the Mutter Museum is not for the faint of heart.  But if you are into medical curiosities and the history of medicine, this is the place for you. Visit the museum this summer (and get free admission into the Penn Museum!) and get those wheels turning up in that teacher brain of yours. The museum and its events (the calendar will be updated in the fall), might lend the breath of fresh air your science or history class needs. 

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

HSP has some pretty amazing credentials itself.  As one of the oldest historical societies in the US, HSP has expansive collections that total 21 million manuscripts and graphic items and 600,000 printed items. HSP also offers educator’s workshops, with topics ranging from the Pendleton Civil Service Act to this summer’s institute on thrift. The non-educators events are also high-interest (maps of Early America viewing, anyone?). Check out more at www.hsp.org and definitely sign up for the emails!


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Submitted by Kelli Dolan (not verified) on


I would like to donate a yearbook that was my mother's (BERYL WHITE) from back in the 40's and was wondering if you could tell me where to send it?

Look forward to hearing from you.

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