Answer: The Philadelphia City Institute.
The Philadelphia City Institute (PCI) was founded March 15, 1852 to promote the intellectual development of young Philadelphians through a library, lectures, and evening classes. Initially, PCI focused its services for young men, but quickly extended availability to women.
The first constitution offered membership for $1 a year, but it also provided for non-members to use the reading room and borrow books. Later, PCI described itself as a “free library,” pre-dating the Free Library of Philadelphia, which was chartered in 1891.
One of PCI’s librarians, Mary A. Fell, started as an assistant librarian in 1871 and retired as head librarian forty-nine years later in 1919, at age 84.
The first library building was at 18th and Chestnut Streets. Later, PCI moved to South 19th Street on Rittenhouse Square. In 1944, PCI joined the Free Library system, although the institute still provides substantial funding for its branch, which is located at 1905 Locust Street.
HSP holds records of the Philadelphia City Institute (#3023). The records include meeting minutes, financial records, administrative and annual reports, correspondence, and some photographs. The records date from the founding of PCI to 1999.