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The Village Improvement Association of Doylestown

In 1895, a group of fourteen women in Bucks County, Pennsylvania joined together to improve the quality of life in their community, forming the Village Improvement Association (VIA). Twenty-eight years later in 1923, the same group founded the Doylestown Hospital. Today, the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown is over 120 years old, has over three hundred and fifty members, host annual fundraisers, oversees a retirement community in addition to Doylestown Hospital, and continues to support projects improving the quality of life in Bucks County.

The VIA is an extraordinary group of women and is the only women’s club in the nation to own and operate a hospital. In addition to all that they do to improve the community of Bucks County, the VIA owns and maintains the James-Lorah Memorial Home, which also serves as their headquarters.

The James-Lorah Memorial Home is a 17-room Federal style building located on North Main Street in Doylestown, PA. The building was the home to Miss Sarah M. James, a charter member of the Village Improvement Association in 1895, and was bequeathed to the VIA in 1954 upon her death, including the home’s contents and a trust fund for its maintenance.

The house itself has a fascinating history. The north wing of the home was originally a saddler’s shop, built in the early 1800s. In 1824, the building was purchased by Abraham Chapman and gifted to his grandson, Henry, who used the property as his law office. In 1884, Henry expanded the building by adding the main section of the house. Noted historian and archaeologist Henry Chapman Mercer was born in one of the bedrooms in 1856.

In 1869, the home was purchased by Dr. Oliver P. James, a physician. Dr. James resided there with his wife, Sara Gordon James, son Oliver, and two daughters, Martha and Sarah. In 1896, Martha married the Reverend Dr. George H. Lorah, a Methodist minister. The house became the summer home of Sarah James and the Lorahs following the deaths of Dr. and Mrs. James and their son Oliver. When Martha Lorah passed unexpectedly in 1918, Sarah James and Dr. George Lorah received a special dispensation from the Methodist church to continue living together as brother and sister-in-law.

The James-Lorah Home provides a unique glimpse into the lives of the James and Lorah families. The home contents bequeathed to the VIA included not only the furnishings, but also books, papers, memorabilia, and ephemera amassed over the years by the James and Lorahs.

Dr. George Lorah, in addition to being a Methodist Minister, was an avid poet. The collections at the James-Lorah Home include many of his handwritten poems, as well as clippings of poems from his church’s publication, “The Green Street Banner.”

The Bogie Man, written by Dr. George Lorah

One of a few albums in the collection, From Over the Sea, consists of pressed flowers and fauna from travels abroad by Sarah, Martha, and Dr. George. In addition to this album, there are pressed flowers that can be found elsewhere in the collections.


A rather unexpected find during our survey visit was the following note, tucked into a Bible in one of the bedrooms of the home.

The collection also contains materials from Sarah and Martha’s youth, including several dance cards. Popular in the 19th century, dance cards were distributed to ladies attending formal dances and balls. Gentleman would choose the evening’s dance they wished to share with the lady, and sign his name next to it. The dance card below belonged to either Sarah or Martha, from the United States Military Academy (West Point) Graduation Hop in 1883.


The James-Lorah Memorial Home contains many more details of the lives of the James and Lorah families, as well as the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown.  If you’re interested in learning more about the VIA or the James and Lorah families, contact the Village Improvement Association!

A Pinch of History: They Ate What?

Olivia D'Aiutolo, HSP's summer 2015 Communications Intern, explores the library's cookbook collections as part of her new blog series, A Pinch of History: Culinary Commotion at HSP. 

In my blog series, I will be profiling several recipes from colonial cookbooks in HSP’s collections. However, I’d like to begin with one of the largest obstacles I’ve encountered so far on my journey outside of the kitchen: the strangeness and scarcity of many recipes’ ingredients.

When asked, my friends predicted that these older dishes would be extremely simple to prepare. They would be surprised to learn that most of the dishes these women made regularly featured an extensive list of ingredients, some of which are no longer available. Other ingredients required a significant amount of additional work. Instead of a “teaspoon of nutmeg”, many of these recipes call for “one nutmeg” which would have to be ground into a powder.

Other ingredients I had never heard of before. Here’s my running list of the obscurities so far, which I’m keeping to further understand these older culinary practices.

• Marrow- flexible tissue inside bones (I looked this up because I didn’t believe anyone would cook with marrow… I soon learned it’s common practice today for bone broth)
• Fricassee- when meat is cut, sautéed, braised, served in sauce it was cooked in
• Sweetmeat- candy covered in sugar; “meat” just meant food, something to eat
• Mace- covering of nutmeg shell
• Collop- slice of meat
• Pippin- red/yellow dessert apple
• Lamprey- jawless fish with tunnel-like sucking mouth (looks unappetizing… take my word for it)
• Sack- fortified wine
• Florentine- usually when spinach is included in a recipe
• Syllabub- dairy dessert made from cream & wine; served cold
• Posset- frothy custard made from cream, wine, eggs; served hot
• Treacle- uncrystallized syrup made during sugar refinement
• Suet- raw beef or mutton fat
• Tansy- flowering herbaceous plant (several books had recipes featuring flowers)
• Indian meal- cornmeal
• Pearl ash- first chemical leavening used in baking
• Emptins- yeast from the remnants of the beer brewing process
• Quinces- fruit in the apple & pear family
• Musk- aromatic substance from animal glands like deer
• Rusk- hard and dry biscuit or twice-baked bread
• Rosewater- rose petals steeped in water, used to flavor food

Have any of you come across these ingredients in your culinary adventures, past or present?
I am going to do my best to obtain mace and rosewater, as a lot of the baking and dessert recipes I’ve selected call for them. I’m trying my hardest not to compromise the integrity of the recipe, hoping to convey utmost authenticity of colonial cuisine through my blog.

Most of the dishes consumed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in America had a European taste, with the majority brought over from the Old World. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains recipes dating back to Elizabethan England. As time went on, recipes began evolving, incorporating the different materials and foodstuffs available in the New World that Europeans did not previously have access to.

Many items now considered staples would have looked unfamiliar to the Old World’s emigrants. Europe didn’t have corn, potatoes, squash, tomatoes or turkey.

I would also like to comment on the cookbooks themselves, as physical objects. Martha Washington’s and Mary Plumstead’s recipe books are handwritten; they seem more like personal family artifacts meant to be passed down through generations than something stuffed away in a kitchen. In the case of Martha’s cookbook, it was in fact an heirloom passed down to her by the mother-in-law of her first husband (George was her second husband). While reading through these cookbooks, I had the feeling of being a part of their family.

Hannah Glasse’s and Amelia Simmons’s books, on the other hand, are printed books with forwards and introductions. Glasse said she wrote the book to simplify the cooking process for the servile class while Simmons is known for the first cookbook published in America featuring exclusively American ingredients in several of the recipes. These were easier to read but were still written in a style entirely different from any common cookbook. Glasse and Simmons both devoted a significant amount of time explaining how to choose the best ingredients and cook with respect for seasonality.

I couldn’t help but feel connected to these women as I paged through their work. I know how difficult it can be to run a kitchen, as I normally cook every night in my house. I also began, over the last few months, developing my own recipes rather than using ones I have found. It is difficult to get recipes right the first time. I wasn’t concerned with the lack of specific measurements of most ingredients, as that is how I would cook. It is so much more enjoyable when you are not concerned with measuring this or that, but rather just working through the process and experiencing it. Throw in however much is needed to make the food taste good!

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, it is because he hears a different drummer."

HSP's Tyler Antoine explores one of the earliest gay magazines in the US, Drum, as part of a new blog series: "Beats of the Drum." Published here in Philadelphia in 1964, Drum represented a radical break from the past through its stark portrayals of homosexuals in mid-century America. For his inaugural post, Tyler discusses the immediate cultural milieu into which Drum emerged.

One of the more colorful items to be found in HSP’s Digital Library is the first issue of Drum, an early gay pride magazine first published by Clark Polak in Philadelphia in 1964. In this series, entitled “Beats of the Drum,” we aim to explore some of the more fascinating facets of this important document of LGBT history.

If you haven’t heard of Drum, you might be surprised at how much of a landmark magazine it was within mid-century gay American culture. First published in 1964, the climate in which the magazine appeared was hardly hospitable to homosexuals. Only six years had passed since the striking down of the Comstock laws forbidding the postage of homosexual materials.

In the early 1960s, homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder. The American Psychology Association listed homosexuality as a form of psychosis, recommended electric shock therapy, lobotomy, and other “treatments.” Far from the Equal Opportunity Employers of today, federal agencies were firing any employees suspected of being homosexual. Public LGBT demonstrations were few and far between, with the first Christopher Street Pride Parade still years away.

Put plainly, it was very dangerous to be gay at the time Drum appeared.  There was a serious lack of visibility due to the threat of being outed. In this time of ubiquitous gay pride events – everything from parades to dance parties – it’s easy to forget how these traditions are steeped in a longtime struggle from near invisibility to visibility and an appreciation for the public figures and unsung heroes who paved the way for these traditions to become so accepted.

The cover of Drum's inaugural issue in October, 1964


This is why Drum magazine represents such a revolutionary break. Unlike preceding LGBT publications – such as lesbian publication The Ladder, which relied on innocuous covers without any visual hint as to what could be found inside – the cover for the first issue of Drum displays the back-end of a man wearing only his swim trunks. Despite its frank appearance, Drum boasted a monthly circulation of about 10,000 at its peak – the largest circulation number for any magazine of its kind at that time.

More salacious photos and spreads would follow in subsequent issues. In 1965, it became the first American magazine to feature a full-frontal male pictorial. Polak's fearless approach to sexuality would ultimately be his downfall, however. The magazine ended in 1969 after a raid of Clark Polak's offices, resulting in Polak being brought up on 18 counts of publishing and distributing obscene material via his Trojan Book Service -- particularly obscene films. His business destroyed, Clark Polak would leave Philadelphia the following year.

A note from editor Clark Polak & Thoreau's quote that inspired the magazine's title. 

A seriously unsung hero, Polak was the founder of the Janus Society, an early homophile organization. After relocating to Los Angeles following his conviction, Polak continued a life of activism, founding a gay chapter at his local ACLU before ultimately taking his life in 1980.  The alienation he and his homosexual brethren felt can be observed from the Thoreau quote from which Drum takes its namesake – “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears the beat of a different drummer.”


Signature Image: 

“The name of the Confederacy shall be the United States of America.” And with this polite introduction began the draft of America’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation.

Ratified on this day in 1781, the Articles are remembered as a complete failure (when they are remebered at all) – a misstep along the path towards the US Constitution.

This past week marked the birthday of Philadelphia's Henry Ossawa Tanner - Who was he?

Answer: Henry Ossawa Tanner was an artist, and he was among the first African American artists to gain national attention for his art.

Henry O. Tanner was born into a middle class family in 1859 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His family moved to Philadelphia when Tanner was still a child, and he was educated at the Roberts Vaux School, a predominantly African American school. He decision to become an artist came when he was a young teenager, but his pursuit of art as a career was frowned upon by his father. He was a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and he wanted his son to enter the ministry. Despite this, Tanner applied to and was accepted by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1879. There he was taught by Thomas Eakins, who encouraged him the direction of landscape painting.

Tanner didn’t complete his studies at the academy, and he left early to teach art and open a gallery in Atlanta, Georgia. He stayed there for two years and then moved to Paris, France, in the early 1890s. He died there in 1937. His time in Paris was Tanner's most prolific, and it was there that he developed his realist style. He became known for his life studies, such as The Banjo Player (1893), and religious works, such as Daniel in the Lions' Den (1895) and Return of the Holy Women (1904).

In HSP's library are a number of books recounting Tanner's artistic career, including Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit (call number N 6537 .T35 A4 2012 FOLIO) and Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist (call number Gt .045 M424). HSP also has a number of collections that highlight the history of art and artists in Philadelphia, such as those of Benjamin West (#3149), John Neagle (#2112), the Sartain family (#1650), and Violet Oakley (#3336).

A Pinch of History: Culinary Commotion at HSP

Olivia D'Aiutolo, HSP's summer 2015 Communications Intern, explores the library's cookbook collections as part of her new blog series, A Pinch of History: Culinary Commotion at HSP. 

As a brand-new communications intern at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I was immediately faced with the challenge of choosing an historical topic to profile in a series of blog posts. How was I to select just one?; With over 21 million items covering 350 years of history here at HSP, there  are just too many amazing options!

During my interview for this position, I was shown Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and I quickly became emotional holding it in my hands. In this one item, two of my interests coalesced: my focus on colonial America in my studies at Temple and my most prominent hobby: cooking. So I decided to channel my love of cooking to help myself learn more about the lifestyles of those living in colonial America and the early United States.

For this blog series, I have selected recipes from four different cookbooks in use during the 18th century. 

• Martha Washington’s, of course (although it does contain a few recipes dating from the Elizabethan era)),
• Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy; Which far exceeds any Thing of the Kind Yet Published,
• Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery
• The cookery books of Mrs. Mary Plumstead

My own cooking experiences from these colonial-era cookbooks will be featured in addition to research I’ve done along the way at HSP and in my studies at Temple. As a devoted foodie, I am eager to compare the things that I like to do with those of the foodies of eighteenth-century Philadelphia.

I’m especially interested in Philadelphia’s marketplaces and taverns.

To say that preparing this blog was easy would be a lie. Going “behind the scenes” into HSP’s closed stacks and collection vaults, I paged these fragile sources from among the 21 million items here at HSP, while having to learn the archive’s organization system at the same time. Then came the hard-to-decipher cursive handwriting, obscure ingredients, and strange names for common dishes.

The importance of food in history is often overlooked, but is important to remember that in the past – as now - a majority of our social experiences are based around food or feature food in some way. This was especially true in Colonial Philadelphia, where tavern-going was a common practice among men of all social classes. It was to a tavern that the Founders most likely retired to following the First & Second Continental Congress meetings and the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

I know what my Italian family likes to eat together, so I was interested to learn what Philadelphians of the colonial era chose to gather around. It would be impossible to compare, as Italian-American cuisine is very different from the Western European cuisines that were prominent in the city in the eighteenth century. However, the foods themselves are important in their own unique respect.

Hidden Collections Initiative Project Featured in Archival Outlook

"Where should a researcher go to find photographs of the world’s first solarpower plant, built in Egypt in the 1910s by a Philadelphia-based inventor? Or the scrapbooks of renowned actress, singer, and special representative to the United Nations Pearl Bailey?
Or the records of the oldest continuously existing troop in the US National Guard? These important collections are not held at well-known, professionally run archival institutions, but at small repositories without professional archivists on staff."

Before Stonewall: The Gay Pride Movement in Philadelphia



“Without our demonstrations starting in ’65, Stonewall would not have happened.”


On July 4, 1965, 7 women and 33 men picketed in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.  On the very spot where Americans first asserted their rights and liberties, this small group of activists demanded equality for gays and lesbians. From these humble beginnings would emerge the Annual Reminder picket, one of the first gay rights demonstrations in the country.


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