City of Brotherly Love
When naming a newborn, you feel the weight of the decision, the fond hope that the right name might provide a push along a hoped-for path.
Even as names seek to nudge destiny, sometimes they merely set up irony: Faith, the fiery atheist; Victor, the embittered failure.
We can’t know all the thoughts that coursed through William Penn’s mind when he chose Philadelphia as the name for his new city, tucked onto the peninsula between the Delaware River and the Schuylkill. What we do know is that he chose boldly, aiming for the vault of heaven, daring irony to strike. The name he gave his city combined the Greek words for love (phileo) and brother (adelphos), setting up the enduring civic nickname: the City of Brotherly Love. Then Penn gave his city a street grid, a charter and a diplomatic first act that he hoped would enable it to live up to that name.
So how did it turn out, this Holy Experiment?Read More
In modern popular culture, the verdict is often rendered with a sneer. “City of Brotherly Love” has turned into a phrase invoked more often in sarcasm than admiration.
In 1994, a Gallup Poll named Philadelphia America’s most hostile place. The most durable stereotypes about the city cluster around its fans’ penchant for booing and the colorfulness of its crime and corruption.
So William Penn’s choice can sometimes seem less destiny than irony.
But that judgment is neither complete nor fair. It ignores so much evidence.
Thanks to its founder’s impetus, and to the furthering energy of citizens from Benjamin Franklin to Richard Allen, from Lucretia Mott to John Wanamaker, from Richardson Dilworth to Mary Scullion, Philadelphia has remained one of America’s most inventive laboratories for exploring the civic potential of brotherly love and sisterly affection.
Destiny vs. Irony
Its history can be read as a long duel between destiny and irony, each vying to seize the upper hand in interpreting City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia hosts a continuing dialogue about what brotherly love looks like in the civic sphere.
Be clear on this: It won’t do to reduce the notion of brotherly love to saccharine sentiment, to feelings only tender and soft.
Brotherly love does not imply the absence of conflict. Have you ever seen young brothers together? Their bond, strong as cement though it might be, gets expressed often as not through competing, jousting, gibes, and dares.
Anger is also a way to express caring, and in Philadelphia’s long history, a common one. Even today, some of Philadelphia’s best rowhouse citizens, who work doggedly to keep blocks decent and children safe, regard their hometown with what can only be called an angry love. It is loyal, it endures – but it has spikes and edges.
Like the nation that chose this city (and not by accident) as the spot to declare, then define, itself, Philadelphia has struggled to define brother. Who is inside the circle, who not?
The city’s story follows a cycle: high aspiration thwarted by weakness, strife, and division, then redeemed by a new round of noble struggle, which broadens understanding and widens the circle.
Penn himself, while nobly distinguished among colonizers for his fair and respectful relations with the native Lenape, had a blind spot about blacks. He owned slaves, and excluded blacks from many of the protections of Pennsylvania’s charter. While he founded his city upon a writ of religious tolerance that made it a rare and fruitful haven, he still excluded Catholics, Jews, and Muslims from the franchise.
Some Quakers later on repaired the lapses of Penn and other forebears, becoming leaders of the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones helped advance Penn’s vision of religious freedom by insisting that it extended to the black person as well.
Abolitionist Lucretia Mott also sounded the clarion call that women, too, deserved a full role in America’s civic drama – that in fact, they were vital to bringing phileo to the polis.
As Philadelphia thrived, thanks in no small part to Penn’s legacy of openness, immigrants poured in. The inevitable backlash flared, especially in the nineteenth century. The Nativist riots of 1844 in Kensington were anti-Catholic bias at its ugliest. But in the long run the disorder helped make the case for the consolidation of the city into a larger, more governable but also more diverse whole.
Back and forth through the decades the dialogue flows around the city’s public squares, noisily and sometimes violently: Will the City of Brotherly Love embrace the destiny of its name, or reject it with cruel irony?
Along with dark moments – riots and beatings and tribal corruptions – Philly has birthed great testaments to shared civic bonds, from Fairmount Park to the settlement houses to the Free Library to the Mural Arts Program.
Its National League ball team once taunted Jackie Robinson most shamefully, but the Phillies now boast two beloved African American MVPs, whose jerseys are proudly worn on backs white as well as black.
Penn’s Legacy Persists
Through it all, the legacy of William Penn, his dreams, wisdom and example, still hums in the city’s blood – despite our cantankerous failings, our ritual suspicions about the latest bidders to join the circle of brothers and sisters.
Philadelphia, by its very name, is an unfinished dream of civic feeling and common purpose, an audacious wager upon the better angels of our nature.
We, the heirs and inhabitants of a city named for love, remain quick to anger, prickly and prideful, wary of the new.
It is our way, and God knows we have some reason for it.
But we are also stubborn in love, fierce in loyalty, and our embrace of those we let inside the circle is warm, protective and unfailing.
We need to let more in, and more easily, with fewer tests.
But we Philadelphians are young, still, in this Holy Experiment, and still learning.
May the Spirit that inspired civic heroes such as William Penn, Absalom Jones, Barnard Gratz and St. Katharine Drexel to the heights of brotherly love and sisterly affection continue to guide us.
Chris Satullo is Executive Director of News and Civic Dialogue at WHYY.
Topics: Tolerance, Intolerance, and Cooperation
Few regions in the United States can claim an abolitionist heritage as rich as Philadelphia. By the time Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (1805-79) launched The Liberator in 1831, the Philadelphia area’s confrontation with human bondage was nearly 150 years old. Still, Philadelphia abolitionism is often treated as a distant cousin of the epic nineteenth-century ⇒ Read More
People of African descent have migrated to Philadelphia since the seventeenth century. First arriving in bondage, either directly from Africa or by way of the Caribbean, they soon developed a small but robust community that grew throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although African Americans faced employment discrimination, disfranchisement, and periodic race riots in the ⇒ Read More
A culmination of political battles between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists while Philadelphia served as capital of the United States, the federal Alien and Sedition Acts imposed stringent new rules governing political speech and writings, immigration rights, and non-naturalized immigrants. They also had an immediate impact on the political life of Philadelphia as they inflamed passions in ⇒ Read More
From the late seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, almshouses offered food, shelter, clothing, and medical care to the poorest and most vulnerable, often in exchange for hard labor and forfeiture of freedom. Those who entered the Philadelphia region’s almshouses, willingly or unwillingly, rarely accepted this exchange and often protested their treatment or blatantly ⇒ Read More
Moral doubt over the cruel usage of animals has a long history in Philadelphia. Public disapproval of such treatment surfaced by the late eighteenth century, but even with comprehensive laws designed to protect animals, and organizations devoted to enforcing those laws, the region has struggled to extend adequate protection to its nonhuman animals. Benjamin Franklin ⇒ Read More
The Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens, Threatened with Disfranchisement, to the People of Philadelphia attempted to persuade Philadelphians to vote against the ratification of a new constitution for Pennsylvania in 1838 because the word “white” had been inserted prior to “freemen” as a qualification for voting. Written by African American leader Robert Purvis (1810-98), the ⇒ Read More
The Armstrong Association of Philadelphia was a social-service organization established early in the twentieth century to assess and address the needs of the African American community. Through its efforts to improve education, housing, and health, the organization addressed social and economic issues facing African Americans. Founded in 1908, the association formed as a branch of ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia’s Fifth Ward, south of Chestnut Street near the Delaware River, became infamous in the late nineteenth century for election-day riots among the Irish, blacks, and the police, with ward boss William “Bull” McMullen (1824-1901) at the center of the violence. By the early twentieth century, the area had become known as the “Bloody Fifth,” ⇒ Read More
Distinguished by its ubiquitous row houses and high rates of home ownership, Philadelphia has been long been known as a “city of homes.” But for much of its history, it also has been a city of boardinghouses. “Boarding” and “lodging” houses did not enter the local lexicon until the late eighteenth century, but the practice ⇒ Read More
From the arrival of its first patients in 1911 to 1990, when the Commonwealth formally closed it down, the Philadelphia State Hospital, popularly known as Byberry, was the home for thousands of mental patients. In its early decades Byberry was controlled by the city, and from 1938 onward it was one of the several hundred ⇒ Read More
The Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania was founded in 1882 by a group of predominantly women volunteers to address social issues plaguing the city of Philadelphia, such as drunkenness, child homelessness, and rampant crime. Child welfare advocate Helen W. Hinckley led the charge, assisted by Cornelia Hancock (1840–1928), who had volunteered as a nurse in ⇒ Read More
During the 1850s, Northern abolitionism developed, Southern defense of slavery hardened, and debates over the expansion of slavery gripped the nation. When pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions met at Christiana, Pennsylvania, a mere 20 miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the events that followed and the subsequent trial in Philadelphia became flashpoints that deepened the sectional ⇒ Read More
The novel The City Merchant; or, The Mysterious Failure, written by John Beauchamp Jones (1810-66), captures the height of Philadelphia’s anti-abolitionist movement and its emotional force and toll on the city, while at the same time transcending its locale to comment on the dynamics of market capitalism in early nineteenth-century America. The City Merchant chronicles the ⇒ Read More
Because of Greater Philadelphia’s position as a political, cultural, and economic hub, the region’s residents have often found their daily lives deeply affected by times of national crisis. Civil defense, generally defined as local voluntary programs designed to protect civilian life and property during times of conflict, has taken many forms: militia, home defense, civilian defense, ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia’s Civil War sanitary fairs represented the spirit of patriotic volunteerism that pervaded the city during the Civil War. These grassroots efforts, climaxed by the Great Central Fair of 1864 in Logan Square, provided a creative and communal means for ordinary citizens to promote the welfare of Union soldiers and dedicate themselves to the survival ⇒ Read More
In the 2000s and 2010s, nearly thirty co-working spaces opened in the Philadelphia area. Co-working offered flexible, shared office facilities to freelancers, technology start-ups, entrepreneurs, and nascent businesses that did not require or could not afford private workplaces. These spaces were designed to foster a collaborative atmosphere, where clients could share innovations and resources. A ⇒ Read More
On Friday, August 28, 1964, a scuffle with police at the busy intersection of Twenty-Second Street and Columbia Avenue sparked a three-day riot involving hundreds of North Philadelphians hurling bottles and bricks at police and looting stores. With the Columbia Avenue Riot, Philadelphia joined six other cities, including Jersey City, Paterson, and Elizabeth, New Jersey, ⇒ Read More
Country clubs originated in the 1890s as elite, family-oriented havens usually emphasizing golf, but they have never been just about golf or even sports. Clubs fostered sportsmanship, appropriate deportment, and social development while also providing opportunities for exercise. A “golden age” of country clubs lasted until the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the number ⇒ Read More
Crime is inextricably linked to Philadelphia’s shifting economic fortunes. Its history reflects the region’s status as a port and point of entry for goods, immigrants, and migrants, where concentrations of both wealth and poverty developed in a center of American commerce and industry. As a type of economic activity, forms of crime changed dramatically as ⇒ Read More
Delaware Avenue, the north-south thoroughfare closest to the Delaware River in Philadelphia, owes its existence to the richest man in America, who wanted a grand avenue along the central waterfront. The street, including a portion renamed Columbus Boulevard in the 1990s, played a significant role in the development of Philadelphia’s maritime activity, particularly food distribution ⇒ Read More
At Duffy’s Cut, a railroad construction site in Chester County, Pennsylvania, fifty-seven Irish immigrant railroad workers died amid a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1832 and were buried in a mass grave. The Irishmen from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry were hired to dig a railroad cut and construct an earthen fill in lieu of ⇒ Read More
In the twentieth century, many urban school districts, which had been among the finest in the nation, became some of the most challenged. The Greater Philadelphia region reflected this trend. In 1900 the region’s school systems consisted of largely uncoordinated public, parochial, and private schools. Between 1900 and 1965 politicians, educational administrators, and civic leaders ⇒ Read More
Since the early nineteenth century, several reform efforts have aimed to improve Philadelphia-area public schools. While the historical context and the individual actors changed over time, a firm belief that basic education for all could foster social equality animated reform in every era. Of course, race- and class-based inequality did not disappear, but educational reform ⇒ Read More
On October 4, 1779, the home of noted Pennsylvania lawyer and statesman James Wilson (1742-98) on the southwest corner of Third and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia became a flash point for Philadelphians divided by politics and class. The militia attack on “Fort Wilson” occurred in the wake of conflict over the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, ⇒ Read More
Headed by black founding fathers Richard Allen (1760-1831) and Absalom Jones (1746-1818), the Free African Society was founded on April 12, 1787, as a nondenominational mutual aid society and the first dedicated to serving Philadelphia’s burgeoning free black community. Members contributed one shilling per month to fund programs to support their social and economic needs. ⇒ Read More
In the nineteenth century, Philadelphia and the region surrounding it came to contain free black communities that by most measures were the most vibrant, dynamic, and influential in the United States. Free African Americans relied on each other to confront the persistent power of slavery and white supremacy in Philadelphia and the region. At the ⇒ Read More
Freemasonry, one of the oldest fraternal societies in the world, arrived in America with migrants from England to Philadelphia, Boston, and other places in the British colonies. The fraternity in the Philadelphia area became one of the strongest of all American grand lodges and created one of the finest examples of Masonic architecture in the ⇒ Read More
Friends Neighborhood Guild, a Quaker-founded settlement house and neighborhood center in North Philadelphia, for more than a century has helped residents confront urban issues by offering services, participating in neighborhood redevelopment, and acting as a broker for interactions across ethnic and class lines. Established in 1879 as Friends Mission No. 1 at Beach Street and ⇒ Read More
Immediately after passing the nation’s first gradual abolition law in 1780, Pennsylvania became a haven for fugitive slaves from neighboring states, putting the state at odds with slaveholders throughout the South and causing tension with Maryland in particular. Though New Jersey also attracted escaping slaves, and whites in both states had mixed reactions to the ⇒ Read More
Published in London in 1857, Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends is among the earliest novels written by an African American. Although it is not strictly a historical novel, The Garies reflects the deteriorating conditions of the free black community in Philadelphia during Webb’s childhood and early adulthood, in particular, the 1838 disenfranchisement ⇒ Read More
In the second half of the twentieth century, the Center City neighborhood that became known as the Gayborhood formed in the vicinity of Locust and Thirteenth Streets. The community and the geographical spaces it occupied played a vital role in the social and political struggles of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people locally and ⇒ Read More
On March 5, 1910, between 60,000 and 75,000 workers complied with the Central Federated Union’s call for a general strike in solidarity with the striking streetcar workers employed by Philadelphia’s Rapid Transit Company (RTC). Business and political elites feared that the strike would spread to other parts of Pennsylvania and to cities where workers had ⇒ Read More
On December 26, 1831, the richest man in the United States died and gave the city of Philadelphia the great majority of his fortune. Committed to philanthropy for much of his life, Stephen Girard (1750-1831) had wealth at the time of his death estimated at more than $6 million, earned during his life as a ⇒ Read More
From the early nineteenth century onward, Philadelphia spawned an abundance of mysterious tales starring shadowy strangers, fantastic happenings, and deadly conspiracies. Prominent genre writers including Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810), George Lippard (1822-54), and Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) made the City of Brotherly Love the birthplace of American gothic literature. Although the gothic arguably reached its ⇒ Read More
The reform wave that swept through City Hall in the mid-twentieth century owed much of its power to the Greater Philadelphia Movement (GPM), a volunteer group of corporate leaders who believed the city’s scandalous political corruption threatened its economic future. Formed in 1948, they called themselves “practical men” who wanted Philadelphia to work more effectively ⇒ Read More
During the Greek War for Independence (1821-28), when the Greeks of the Morea (Peloponessus) rose in rebellion after almost four centuries of Ottoman rule, Philadelphians helped to arouse public sentiment and sympathy in favor of the Greeks, raised money and provisions to aid the cause, and lobbied their representatives to recognize Hellenic independence. In Philadelphia ⇒ Read More
Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Americans started establishing historical societies to collect and preserve historical materials. In 1815, Philadelphia became the fourth U.S. city to host a historical society, the American Philosophical Society’s Historical and Literary Committee. The city’s religious tolerance and central location made it a natural location for religious and ethnic societies. ⇒ Read More
Established on February 7, 1826, the Philadelphia House of Refuge provided an alternative to prisons for incarcerating juvenile delinquents and child vagrants. Although the House of Refuge purported to aid poor and delinquent children, in practice it became a paternalist organization that strove to implement social control over the city’s lower classes. A project of ⇒ Read More
The revival of immigration to Philadelphia and its surrounding region in the early nineteenth century provided one of the most powerful elements in reshaping the city’s society. After a decline in immigration during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, the growing industrialization of the Philadelphia region began to attract streams of ⇒ Read More
For most of the decades since the United States’ immigration restriction acts of the 1920s, Philadelphia was not a major destination for immigrants, but at the end of the twentieth century the region re-emerged as a significant gateway. Beginning with changes in U.S. law in 1965 and accelerating by the 1990s, immigration added large, diverse ⇒ Read More
European settlement of the region on both sides of the Delaware River dates to the early seventeenth century. The population grew rapidly after 1682, when Pennsylvania’s policy of religious tolerance and its reputation as the “best poor man’s country” attracted people from all walks of life. By the time of the American Revolution, Philadelphia was ⇒ Read More
The Women’s National Indian Association and the Indian Rights Association, both founded in Philadelphia in the late nineteenth century, led the way in setting a national agenda concerning the plight of Native Americans. They continued a local tradition of reform movements promoting rights and freedom. Founded in 1879, the Women’s National Indian Association organized by ⇒ Read More
“Do you love truth for truth’s sake?” If the answer is yes, you are one-fourth of the way through the initiation ceremony of the Junto, which Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) founded in 1727 in Philadelphia. The 21-year-old Franklin, according to his autobiography, established the Junto as a club for “mutual improvement,” inviting acquaintances to meet weekly ⇒ Read More
The Killers is a sensational urban gothic tale written by the journalist, novelist, and labor activist George Lippard (1822-54) in 1849. It exposes Philadelphia’s class and racial conflicts and its gang warfare, criticizes corruption in government and finance, and lambasts the city’s new experiment in incarceration, the solitary confinement system of Eastern State Penitentiary. Illustrated ⇒ Read More
Although a few Koreans came to Greater Philadelphia in the early twentieth century to study in universities, Koreans became one of the top ten new immigrant groups in the region by 1970. The new U.S.-Korea relationship formed during the Korean War led to increased exchanges between the two countries, and the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization ⇒ Read More
Because of its large African American population and the presence and influence of prominent Black Nationalist individuals and organizations, the Philadelphia area has been especially active in celebrating Kwanzaa, an African cultural holiday that emerged out of the Black Nationalist Movement of the 1960s. Kwanzaa emphasizes remembering and reconstructing African identity, which was forcibly erased ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia was a center of patriotic fervor and activity during the American Revolution. Many of its residents, including women, participated in the war for independence by providing material and moral support for the “patriot” cause. On June 12, 1780, one such Philadelphian, Esther De Berdt Reed (1746-80), penned a broadside entitled “Sentiments of an American ⇒ Read More
From its earliest days as an English colony, Pennsylvania needed lawyers to run the government, settle disputes, and keep the peace. As Philadelphia became a large city and important commercial, insurance, banking, and shipping center on the eve of the American Revolution, its lawyers were crucial to every civic endeavor, including the making of a ⇒ Read More
Liberia; Or, Mr. Peyton’s Experiments (1853) is a hybrid work containing fiction, history, and biography along with transcriptions of documents on Liberia. The work argued that free blacks could not prosper in North America but had opportunities for advancement and self-determination in Liberia, a black Christian republic. The Americo-Liberian settlers would not only rise themselves ⇒ Read More
Greater Philadelphia has had close links to Liberia historically. Free blacks and abolitionists from the region helped colonize and underwrite the nation of Liberia’s founding in the early nineteenth century. Yet Philadelphia and Liberia had little connection between the mid-nineteenth and late twentieth century. Most Liberian settlement in the region resulted from the Liberian civil ⇒ Read More
During the American Revolution, Loyalists, or “Tories” as Patriots called them, included prominent Pennsylvania political and religious leaders as well as many less affluent individuals from the state’s Quaker and German pacifist communities. A large number of “neutrals” also struggled with increasing difficulty to remain uninvolved in the conflict. Religion, ethnicity, economic status, and local ⇒ Read More
Lynching, the extralegal killing of a victim by individuals or a mob, notably by hanging or burning, was commonplace in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Though accounts vary, in the heyday of lynching following the Civil War, at least 3,500 incidents were recorded; more than 80 percent occurred in the ⇒ Read More
Founded in 1800, the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia was the first institution in the United States concerned with caring for and reforming “fallen women.” A good many women in nineteenth-century Philadelphia apparently preferred prostitution for a variety of reasons, notably as a means of support in order to achieve economic independence from an oppressive family ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia has had a greater influence on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday traditions than any city other than King’s birthplace, Atlanta. Observed on the third Monday in January since 1986, the federal holiday commemorates King (1929-68) and his civil rights activism. Ceremonies at the Liberty Bell and a focus on community service are among Philadelphia’s ⇒ Read More
Greater Philadelphia’s economic ties to Mexico date to the era of European colonization. However, substantial Mexican immigration to the region started only in the 1970s, in Chester County’s mushroom growing towns, and in the 1990s in Philadelphia. Still, Mexicans became the region’s second-largest immigrant group in the early twenty-first century and were the largest immigrant ⇒ Read More
Modern Chivalry is a rich American novel, penned by the army chaplain, editor, Pennsylvania lawyer and judge, state legislator, and writer Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816), published in installments from 1792 to 1815. A social and political satire, it features two main characters, Captain John Farrago and his Irish servant, Teague O’Regan, who engage in humorous, ⇒ Read More
Despite eras of suspicion and the relocation of many its members to the West during the nineteenth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the LDS Church or Mormon Church) not only persisted in the Philadelphia region but also grew and spread, especially in the early twenty-first century. Strong evidence ⇒ Read More
For more than sixty years, West Mount Airy, nestled in the northwest corner of Philadelphia, has earned a reputation as a national model of racial integration. In the years following World War II, when many American neighborhoods were experiencing rapid racial transition, homeowners in West Mount Airy worked to understand and put into practice the ⇒ Read More
MOVE, a controversial Philadelphia-based organization often associated with the Black Power movement, combined philosophies of black nationalism and anarcho-primitivism to advocate a return to a hunter-gatherer society and avoidance of modern medicine and technology. The group’s very loud and public quest for racial justice, as well as its strong views on animal rights, led to ⇒ Read More
The Mummers Parade, an institution in Philadelphia since 1901, brought together many of the loosely organized groups of folk performers who roamed the streets each year between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Known variously as mummers, shooters, belsnickles, fantasticals, and callithumpians, these masqueraders traced their roots to immigrants from England, Sweden, and Germany who ⇒ Read More
A tumultuous, racially polarized Election Day in Philadelphia set the stage for the October 10, 1871, murder and martyrdom of Octavius V. Catto (b. 1839), an African American leader who struggled against segregation and discrimination in transportation, sports, politics, and society. Election Day in 1871, just one year after the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. ⇒ Read More
Indian-brokered alliances more than Quaker pacifism anchored the “long peace” in the decades that followed Pennsylvania’s founding in 1681. The Iroquois Covenant Chain and the Lenapes’ treaties with William Penn (1644-1718) established the diplomatic parameters that made the long peace possible and allowed Pennsylvania to avoid the kind of destructive frontier warfare that engulfed the ⇒ Read More
During the colonial period, the diversity of the region that became southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware made trade and diplomacy difficult. The many cultural, especially linguistic, barriers between various Native American and European groups required go-betweens, or intermediaries. The intermediaries who were called upon to interpret across cultures and help maintain the ⇒ Read More
In May and July 1844, Philadelphia suffered some of the bloodiest rioting of the antebellum period, as anti-immigrant mobs attacked Irish-American homes and Roman Catholic churches before being suppressed by the militia. The violence was part of a wave of riots that convulsed American cities starting in the 1830s. Yet even amid this tumult, they ⇒ Read More
New Year’s celebrations in the Philadelphia region have often included parties, formal wear, fireworks, and parades as part of a two-day, secular celebration from December 31 to January 1. The changing of a calendar year from one to the next has long been cause for commemoration and reflection, and the city’s diverse communities have shaped ⇒ Read More
The history of nursing in the Philadelphia area is one of long and storied traditions. Men and women have often nursed their sick families and friends at home, which for millennia represented the best, safest, and most comforting site for treatment and care. Bringing a stranger into that home to provide nursing care was a ⇒ Read More
The Octavia Hill Association of Philadelphia was founded in 1896 to provide clean dwellings at reasonable rents to some of the city’s poorest residents, who were often exploited by profit-hungry landlords. Still active as a real estate management company, the Octavia Hill Association has a history of responding to changing economic conditions and housing needs. ⇒ Read More
The ODUNDE Festival, held in South Philadelphia each year on the second Sunday in June, celebrates the history and heritage of African people around the globe and serves to instill and encourage cultural pride. Taking its name from the word meaning “Happy New Year” in the Yoruba language (placed in all capital letters by the ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia’s earliest orphanages grew out of social projects intended to help impoverished families. As early the first decades of the eighteenth century, city officials created organizations such as the Overseers of the Poor (later the Guardians of the Poor) to provide relief to those, such as the elderly, widows with children, and orphans, who faced ⇒ Read More
Popes use their visits to encourage faith, emphasize their priorities, and fulfill their role as pastors. The places visited use these trips to highlight their successes, history, and culture on an international stage. Prior to the visit of Pope Francis (b. 1936) to Philadelphia on September 26 and 27, 2015, only one other pope had ⇒ Read More
During eight decades of continuous operation (1908-87), Pennhurst evolved from a model facility into the subject of tremendous public scandal and controversy before the federal courts ordered it closed and the remaining residents moved elsewhere. Twenty years after its closure, the Pennhurst campus was recognized as an International Site of Conscience and its history became ⇒ Read More
Held in 1913 in South Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Emancipation Exposition marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with events and exhibits celebrating African American progress. At a time when the African American population in Philadelphia was growing and gaining in political influence, the event’s organizers also experienced a backlash of criticism as they secured ⇒ Read More
Pennsylvania gained a reputation as the birthplace of American abolition soon after the American Revolution, but that status caused unrest as debates over slavery grew contentious in the antebellum years. The tension led to a number of riots, one of the most notable being the 1838 destruction of Pennsylvania Hall, a meeting place for antislavery ⇒ Read More
Founded in 1787 as the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, the Pennsylvania Prison Society quickly became a leading advocate for the humane and salutary treatment of the incarcerated. From the restructuring of the Walnut Street Jail in the eighteenth century, to the construction and oversight of the Eastern State Penitentiary in ⇒ Read More
Founded in 1921, each year the Philadelphia Award honors one or more Philadelphians for service “to advance the best and largest interests of Philadelphia.” Awardees have included scientists, educators, university administrators, directors of nonprofits, philanthropists, ministers, lawyers, politicians, artists, writers, and sports figures. Established by Edward Bok (1863–1930), retired editor of the Ladies Home Journal, ⇒ Read More
Even as it underwent a painful process of economic restructuring in the years after World War II, Philadelphia garnered national attention from efforts to integrate historically white building trades. Dubbed the “Philadelphia Plan,” the program requiring federal contractors to practice nondiscrimination in hiring tested the liberal coalition formed in the aftermath of the New Deal ⇒ Read More
What does it mean if a place loves you back? That was the question posed by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) when it chose the slogan “The Place That Loves You Back” to promote the Philadelphia region as a tourist destination in its 1997 advertising campaign. This was of course not the city’s ⇒ Read More
Beginning in the late nineteenth century, children’s play became an important concern of urban reformers, who regarded playgrounds—outdoor environments designed, equipped, and sometimes staffed, to facilitate children’s play—as essential components in shaping behavior and ordering urban space. Many public and semipublic playgrounds established as a result of their efforts became permanent features of the Philadelphia ⇒ Read More
Created by state law in 1854 to maintain public order, prevent riots, and apprehend criminals, the Philadelphia Police Department operated for its first hundred years under direct control of politicians and served the reigning party’s interests by collecting graft as well as apprehending vagrants and solving crimes. During the twentieth century, especially in the latter ⇒ Read More
Public bathing became a civil and social imperative in the Philadelphia region and elsewhere in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Following the cholera epidemic of 1849, which devastated the American population, leaving hundreds of thousands of deaths in its wake, including that of President James K. Polk, it became ⇒ Read More
Puerto Ricans migrated to the Philadelphia area in search of better economic opportunities. A small stream of migration prior to the twentieth century grew during the two world wars, with many more migrants arriving from the 1950s onward. Many families settled permanently in the region, where their lives intertwined with black and white residents and ⇒ Read More
The centuries-long relationship between the Philadelphia region and Puerto Rico unfolded in four interrelated areas: economic links, political channels, personal networks, and cultural exchange. Several dynamics shaped those connections over time. Colonialism, first under Spain and later the United States, set the broad context for trade relations and government policies. Individual reactions to those policies ⇒ Read More
William Penn (1644-1718), the founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania, had high hopes for Philadelphia. He wanted the city to become the economic and moral hub and showpiece of the nearly 50,000 square miles that he had been granted as Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods). Penn outlined his radical notion when he advertised the city for settlement in ⇒ Read More
George Lippard (1822-54) published The Quaker City; Or, the Monks of Monk Hall in 1844-45 in serial installments, which were then collated as a novel. A gothic tale, set in Philadelphia and inspired by a linked pair of real-life urban crimes, the novel juxtaposes a plot centered on greed, amorality, and debauchery against the then-popular ⇒ Read More
Much as New England was shaped by its Puritan heritage, the history of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley intertwined heavily with the Religious Society of Friends. Philadelphia gained one of its nicknames, “The Quaker City,” from its founding and settlement by the Friends, colloquially known as Quakers, a historically Christian religious sect that emerged during ⇒ Read More
On July 4, 1965, thirty-nine individuals gathered outside Independence Hall to picket for homosexual rights. This event, one of the earliest organized homosexual rights demonstrations in the United States, sought to remind the public that basic rights of citizenship were being denied to homosexual individuals. Reprised each year through 1969, the year of the Stonewall ⇒ Read More
In the 1830s and 1840s, as social and economic tensions arose from early industrialization and from a population that was at once growing rapidly and becoming more racially and religiously diverse, Philadelphia experienced a sharp increase in disorder that it was unprepared to handle. The fragmentation of Philadelphia County into numerous municipalities and the absence ⇒ Read More
Parishes stand at the center of Roman Catholic religious life. Since the arrival of Catholicism in the Philadelphia region in the early eighteenth century, parishes have shaped Catholics’ sense of communal identity by functioning as both the administrative unit of a diocese and the primary site of Catholic worship. Developing into expansive complexes that often ⇒ Read More
In March, Philadelphians of many backgrounds join together to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, the city’s Irish citizens, and their heritage. Celebrated in Philadelphia since 1771, the holiday began as a Catholic holy day and evolved into a rambunctious affair marked throughout the region by parades, music, dancing, drinking, and wearing kelly-green clothing to symbolize the ⇒ Read More
The settlement house movement, a phenomenon of the Progressive era with origins in London, spread to Philadelphia in the 1890s as a large influx of needy immigrants and unsanitary conditions in the city attracted the attention of middle-class, college-educated reformers. Living among the poor in South Philadelphia, Kensington, and other neighborhoods, settlement house residents sought ⇒ Read More
Dancing has been popular in Philadelphia since the city was founded, in spite of religious opposition, especially from Quakers. Far from succumbing to religious criticism, social dancing gained in importance as a way for socially ambitious Philadelphians to demonstrate their gentility. For most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, well-to-do families gathered for formal balls ⇒ Read More
In the sports world, Philadelphia fans gained a reputation for enthusiasm as they passionately supported winners and losers, publicly booed, and privately cheered. Many sports fans across the country gained their only understanding of residents of Greater Philadelphia from the region’s sports fans, and out-of-town sportswriters often pointed to select incidents as evidence that Philadelphia ⇒ Read More
As industrialization began changing the nature of work and society in the United States during the 1820s and 1830s, workers concerned with their low wages, long hours, and the growing power of employers organized to fight for what they believed to be the true ideals of the republic. During this period, Philadelphia workers organized trade ⇒ Read More
From the arrival of Europeans in the seventeenth century through the era of the early republic, treaties were an important tool in diplomacy between native nations and colonial Pennsylvania and later the nascent federal government. Treaties followed indigenous modes of diplomacy, into which colonists introduced, and imposed, the signing of treaty documents. However, treaty councils ⇒ Read More
The Treaty of Shackamaxon, otherwise known as William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians or “Great Treaty,” is Pennsylvania’s most longstanding historical tradition, a counterpart to the foundation stories of Virginia (John Smith and Pocahontas) and New England (the first Thanksgiving). According to the tradition, soon after William Penn (1644-1718) arrived in Pennsylvania in late October ⇒ Read More
In spring 1974, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” became a hit song for Philadelphia International Records, the local record label renowned for its “Philly Soul” sound of the 1970s. Written by Philadelphia International’s owners and chief songwriter/producers, Kenny Gamble (b. 1943) and Leon Huff (b. 1942), and recorded in late 1973 by MFSB with the ⇒ Read More
“The Twist,” an early 1960s dance hit by Philadelphia singer Chubby Checker (real name Ernest Evans, b. 1941), ushered in a new way of dancing and solidified Philadelphia’s role as a major trendsetter in popular music in this period. Released in the summer of 1960 by Philadelphia-based Cameo Parkway Records, “The Twist” reached number one ⇒ Read More
The Union League of Philadelphia, organized in 1862 as a political club for the support of the Union cause during the Civil War, developed into the premier urban social club of Philadelphia. Over time, it also became an important supporter of Republican political candidates and policies locally and nationally, acquired a significant collection of art ⇒ Read More
During the American Civil War (1861-65), Philadelphians raised eleven regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). This division of the United States Army, consisting of black soldiers led by white officers, provided much-needed manpower for federal forces in the final two years of the war. When the Civil War began, many African Americans across ⇒ Read More
Vagrancy, generally defined as the act of continuous geographical movement by the poor, often has been interpreted to signify idleness, unemployment, and homelessness. Since the colonial era, it has been a driving social concern in the Mid-Atlantic region, where urban centers, including Philadelphia, attracted poor migrants seeking new economic prospects. Laws created to aid them ⇒ Read More
Military veterans began organizing in the Philadelphia area during the waning days of the Revolutionary War. As the Continental Army disbanded, its veterans often met at City Tavern and the first general meeting of America’s first veterans’ organization, the General Society of the Cincinnati, occurred there on May 4, 1784. Just as regularly, however, veterans ⇒ Read More
As Pennsylvania and other northern states became havens for enslaved people who sought to escape bondage, free blacks and sympathetic whites organized Vigilance Associations, which operated Vigilance Committees (sometimes called Vigilant Committees) to protect fugitives and potential kidnap victims. After black abolitionist David Ruggles (1810-49) formed the first such organization in New York City in ⇒ Read More
With the Walking Purchase of 1737, Pennsylvania officials defrauded the Delaware Indians out of a vast amount of land, perhaps over one million acres, in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys. John Penn (1700-46) and Thomas Penn (1702-75), the sons of William Penn (1644-1718), with James Logan (1674-1751), the provincial secretary of Pennsylvania, devised the land ⇒ Read More
The woman’s club movement began throughout the United States in the late nineteenth century. Although initially focused on self-improvement, women’s clubs in the Philadelphia region as in the nation quickly extended their goals to include community activism. Drawing upon contemporary assumptions about the inherent differences between men and women, leaders of the club movement argued ⇒ Read More
The Working Men’s Party of Philadelphia emerged in 1828 out of discontent with societal and workplace changes since the turn of the century. It formed out of the workingmen’s movement of the late 1820s and sought broad reforms. Although short-lived, the effort contributed significantly to injecting politics with working-class issues, many of which became prominent ⇒ Read More