Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

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Redlining, the practice of basing access to capital and financial services on neighborhood characteristics such as race and ethnicity, had destructive effects on older, nonwhite areas of Philadelphia. Especially in areas of South, West, and Lower North Philadelphia that form a ring around downtown, banks and other lending institutions issued proportionally fewer mortgages than in other parts of the city. In doing so, lenders perpetuated a cycle of disinvestment that damaged individual property owners and entire neighborhoods.

[caption id="attachment_25438" align="alignright" width="235"]The Home Owners Loan Corporation redlining map from 1937 Maps from the 1930s, like this Home Owners' Loan Corporation map from 1937, used red to identify neighborhoods where investment and lending were discouraged. (National Archives and Records Administration via UrbanOasis.org)[/caption]

The term “redlining” arose in the 1960s, although the practice of redlining dates back to the 1930s and two federal housing agencies – the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). HOLC employed local real estate and finance experts to conduct systematic neighborhood appraisals in the 1930s and used the survey data to create Residential Security maps representing the perceived neighborhood risk. The riskiest neighborhoods received a grade “D” and were colored red. The nature of Philadelphia as an industrial city, and the close proximity between factories and residential areas, led to many neighborhoods receiving the lowest grade as high-risk areas.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Mortgage Insurance Program based its underwriting guidelines on maps that coded as “red” those geographic areas considered too risky to warrant mortgage lending. According to FHA underwriting manuals, the main characteristics elevating that risk were the age of housing and the race or ethnicity of residents. Those manuals, which included language that discouraged lending to homebuyers who would upset the racial character of a neighborhood, broadly influenced the underwriting standards adopted across the entire mortgage industry. Almost immediately, these practices reduced access to mortgages in older and non-white neighborhoods, particularly in North, South, and West Philadelphia.

Redlining made it difficult for individuals to purchase homes and to borrow against the value of homes they owned. It affected whole neighborhoods, reducing owner occupancy, lowering property values, decreasing housing quality, and increasing racial segregation. Difficulty accessing credit also limited the ability of homeowners to finance home repairs, which decreased their buildings’ quality and market value. The lack of access to mortgage capital often led to houses being converted into commercial properties and apartments.

Redlining affected not only the inner ring of working-class neighborhoods but also the streetcar suburbs of West and North Philadelphia, which had been built along transit lines to house families who could afford to escape from the gritty industrial core. Solidly middle class by the 1920s, after World War II the streetcar suburbs experienced a mass exodus to automobile suburbs.

Strawberry Mansion, for example, had developed in the late 1800s at the edge of Fairmount Park in North Philadelphia. Easy access by streetcar to downtown, along with amenities like Fairmount Park and Shibe Park baseball stadium, had drawn many families in the early twentieth century, most notably a burgeoning Jewish community. From the 1940s to the 1960s, after many white residents took advantage of FHA mortgage insurance for buyers of new suburban homes, Strawberry Mansion’s population changed from 89 percent white and 11 percent black, to 5 percent white and 95 percent black. Because Strawberry Mansion was redlined, sellers had fewer and less-generous offers from buyers, triggering a decline that continued for decades.

A similar exodus occurred in the Mill Creek section of West Philadelphia, on the north side of Market Street between Forty-Fourth and Fifty-Second Streets. Named for a creek that was buried in the nineteenth century, Mill Creek had been developed after 1880 as a streetcar suburb served by two commercial thoroughfares, Lancaster and Haverford Avenues. As Dick Clark (1929-2012) was broadcasting American Bandstand from a studio in this neighborhood at Forty-Sixth and Market Streets, redlining was undermining the housing stock and fueling outmigration to the suburbs, mainly by whites. In 1950, the population of Mill Creek was about one-quarter white and three-quarters black. By 1970 white residents made up only 4 percent of the population.

Regional housing activists fought back against the damaging effects of discrimination in access to housing and credit. In Delaware County as early as 1956, civil rights activist Margaret Collins (1908-2006) established Friends Suburban Housing Inc. in response to unequal access to homeownership. That organization subsequently merged with other groups and changed its name to the Housing Equality Center, while expanding its geographic focus to encompass all the Pennsylvania counties of greater Philadelphia and targeting housing discrimination based on race, disability, and age.

By the mid-1970s, the mutually reinforcing trends of population loss and disinvestment had created levels of vacancy and abandonment that the city had never witnessed before. A trio of Philadelphia bank executives, in cooperation with the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, saw the need to do more than prohibit discrimination in lending. In 1975 First Pennsylvania Bank, Philadelphia Savings Fund Society, and Philadelphia National Bank established the Philadelphia Mortgage Plan, which became a national model of how banks could act affirmatively to stabilize housing values and increase homeownership opportunities. In contrast to banks’ traditional practice of denying mortgages based on conditions prevailing across a neighborhood, the new plan looked only at the single block on which the house was located and took into account its community assets, such as the positive influence of a strong neighborhood organization or a nonprofit developer. Unlike other lenders, the plan treated welfare payments as reliable income sources for purposes of granting a mortgage. The plan’s success drew additional banks to join and triggered a name change to the Delaware Valley Mortgage Plan as it expanded to the suburbs. By the mid-1990s, the DVMP was making about one quarter of its loans to suburban borrowers. Using flexible underwriting standards, participating banks made thousands of mortgage loans at below-market rates.

A Nationwide Problem

Not just a Philadelphia problem, redlining continued to be widespread across the United States after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it illegal. Congress acted in the mid-1970s to pass the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). These laws provided significant help to housing activists by assigning banks an affirmative obligation to provide mortgage credit to borrowers in communities where they were doing business and decreeing that federal bank regulators could grant permission for banks to shift their branch locations or merge with other banks only when those banks demonstrated a record of providing fair credit throughout their business area. That gave housing advocates a vehicle to launch public protests against discriminatory lenders who applied for regulatory approvals.

[caption id="attachment_24709" align="alignright" width="300"]Members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) were instrumental in combating redlining in the 1980's In the 1980s, members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) voiced disdain for the discriminatory redlining practices that had a negative impact on Philadelphia neighborhoods. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

During a wave of bank mergers in the 1980s, coalitions of community, church, and research and advocacy groups seized the opportunity to gain greater access to mortgages for distressed areas. They forced banks to increase their lending in underserved neighborhoods if they wished to avoid lengthy delays and bad publicity. For example, in 1986 Community Legal Services spearheaded a complaint brought by the Eastern North Philadelphia Initiative, a coalition of thirty-seven church, community, and advocacy groups protesting Fidelity Bank's acquisition of Industrial Valley Bank. They charged that Fidelity had failed to meet Community Reinvestment Act requirements. The protesters forced Fidelity to pledge its "best efforts" to provide financing at below-market rates for purchasing and renovating homes and small apartment buildings in distressed areas.

Also in 1986, the Philadelphia office of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) threatened to oppose Continental Bank’s merger with Midlantic Bank. That threat, later withdrawn, was enough to motivate senior Continental officials to visit ACORN’s office in North Philadelphia and promise millions in loans to distressed neighborhoods. In 1989 ACORN challenged Provident National Bank's proposal to buy the Bank of Delaware, seeking an agreement similar to the one reached with Continental Bank. ACORN staged a protest outside a downtown bank branch, complaining that from 1983 to 1987 Provident’s lending in majority-black areas had declined from 40 percent to only 27 percent of its loan portfolio. While Provident did not sign a joint agreement, it did volunteer to make $25 million in new loans.

Subprime Lending

A different, yet also damaging, form of discrimination emerged in the mid-1990s. Rather than denying credit, some lenders targeted inner city neighborhoods to offer mortgages to low-income and minority borrowers at far less favorable terms than were applied to conventional loans. Marketed intensively in inner-city neighborhoods, these “subprime” loans hid in fine print the dramatic escalation in monthly payments after the first two or three years of the loan period. Many lenders sold such loans to the same kinds of low-income and minority homebuyers they had previously shunned. The ballooning payments built into these loans drove thousands of borrowers into default and foreclosure on their homes. Since lenders had sold a disproportionate share of subprime loans in minority communities, those neighborhoods suffered unusually high foreclosures and multiplying vacancies.

Philadelphia City Council took action in 2008 to create Philadelphia’s Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, one of the nation’s first programs to forestall foreclosures. Before lenders could foreclose on homeowners in default, the city mandated that the parties engage in a face-to-face meeting to negotiate a workable repayment agreement. Every homeowner facing a default filing was offered counseling and sometimes legal representation. The program, which helped a majority of participants to stay in their homes, became a national model.

Despite such strides, unequal lending practices continued. Some lenders continued to discourage applications from minority neighborhoods by refusing to locate branch offices near them. In 2015 the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice charged that Hudson City Savings Bank operated so few branches in minority neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Camden, and Wilmington that few black or Hispanic borrowers ever applied for mortgage loans. In Camden County, for example, Hudson Bank relied on forty-seven brokers to originate mortgages, but not a single broker was based in a minority neighborhood. Hudson City agreed to a settlement that required the bank to improve access to responsible and affordable credit to qualified borrowers in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

In a society where homeownership often served as the most common route to building wealth, the denial of mortgage loans and the predatory use of subprime credit inflicted substantial damage on families, especially in minority communities. They contributed to widening wealth gaps in the second half of the twentieth century that profoundly influenced many Philadelphians’ life chances.

Kristen B. Crossney is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Administration at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Vietnam War

[caption id="attachment_23507" align="alignright" width="258"]A young African American man wearing glasses, a turtleneck and jacket holds his burning draft card up above a crowd of onlookers.  The draft card is held in front of City Hall (as it is framed), making a symbolic image.  (City Hall and other buildings can be seen in the background.)  Another African American man to the left claps  with a look of satisfaction on his face as he looks upward at (likely) his friend's burning draft card. For some draft-age men, publicly burning a government-issued draft card was one of the most expressive ways to oppose the mandatory lottery drafting system. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The Vietnam War, like the Great War, World War II, and Korean War before it, had a significant impact on the Philadelphia region. During the height of open American involvement in the war from 1965 to 1968, thousands from the area were drafted or volunteered for the armed forces, and hundreds lost their lives. Other citizens participated in antiwar or peace protests. While the war created employment in defense industries, it limited economic opportunity in other ways, especially in the postwar period. Among the most lasting of the war’s impacts, the region gained a more diverse population from an influx of political and economic migrants from war-torn countries in Southeast Asia.

In the early 1960s, few people were fully informed about the events that had transpired in Vietnam since the end of World War II. The United States had been involved in the region for decades, initially supporting France with billions of dollars of aid against anticolonial Vietnamese nationals. After the departure of the French in the mid-1950s, the United States remained in the region and supported anti-communist forces there as part of the larger Cold War against the Soviet Union, lending support to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) while opposing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam).

[caption id="attachment_23506" align="alignright" width="262"]Side-by-side photographs of young Tioga resident Frank Marshall. On the left, he wears a military cap and dress, while on the right he is pictured in his high school graduation cap and dress. Young Philadelphians like Frank Marshall of the Tioga neighborhood were drawn into the Vietnam conflict as American involvement escalated. Click here to view his oral history page. (Photographs courtesy of Frank Marshall)[/caption]

Young men from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware became drawn into the Vietnam War in large numbers between 1962 and 1968 as American troop levels in South Vietnam escalated from 10,000 to nearly 550,000, the vast majority added after the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. By the end of the war in 1975, when the North Vietnamese captured Saigon and the United States withdrew its last contingent of regular military forces, more than 3,100 Pennsylvanians had been killed as a result of the conflict. Of these, 646 (20 percent of all the Keystone State’s war dead) came from the city of Philadelphia alone. Philadelphia’s Edison High School lost sixty-six alumni, more than any other high school in the United States. The city of Camden and Camden County accounted for nearly 6 percent of New Jersey’s nearly 1,500 killed, while Wilmington and New Castle County accounted for 68 percent of 122 men from Delaware who perished.

Anti-War Activism

[caption id="attachment_23502" align="alignright" width="285"]A image of protesters marching from left to right under a bridge arch which holds signal lights for lanes of traffic as well as the speed limit.  The bridge extends into the distance to the right of the frame, fading in the atmosphere.  Protesters can be seen occupying the walkway as far as can be seen.  The suspension towers of the bridge are visible, but very distant. These organized protesters marched across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from their New Jersey schools and residences to protest the war in Vietnam on May 8, 1970. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The enormous manpower needs and the increased "credibility gap" between the federal government’s rationale for the war versus the realities conveyed through television and soldiers’ accounts led to the development of what one scholar has called the “largest and most effective antiwar movement in American history.” While not limited to college students, anti-war activism in the Philadelphia region drew strength from increased enrollments on many of the region’s campuses, due in part to the awarding of educational deferments for the draft. In 1966, students and faculty at the Quaker-founded colleges of Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore Colleges went on an extended hunger strike to protest American involvement in the conflict, an action eventually joined by students at Friends Select High School. By 1967, mass demonstrations, teach-ins, petitions, and civil disobedience spread beyond locations and groups traditionally associated with pacifism, extending to Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and other campuses. As a result of nearly two years of campus protests and debates, Penn’s Board of Trustees overwhelmingly decided to cancel its chemical and biological warfare contracts with the Pentagon.

[caption id="attachment_23505" align="aligncenter" width="480"]A couple walks arm in arm toward the photographer along the sidewalk at the bottom of the frame.  A line of barricades (of wooden saw-horses) stands behind them as marching protesters hold signs in the street near parked cars.  Their signs read, Students, faculty, and local residents protest the University of Pennsylvania’s biological and chemical warfare research in front of the school's Irvine Auditorium in January 1966. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

As in other metropolitan areas across the country, most people were not directly involved in fighting the war, but they experienced its impact and divisiveness nonetheless. Debates about the Vietnam War and American involvement took many forms on college campuses, at federal facilities, and in public spaces. Philadelphians demonstrated in support of the war as well as against it. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, symbols of American democracy, became contested sites for demonstrations by those who supported the war as a crucial element of the Cold War against Communism as well as those who believed the war immoral or simply a waste of taxpayer money. In this heated political climate, acts of open defiance toward the American government occurred, such as the “Camden 28” raid of one of the city’s draft boards and the theft of classified documents from an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania.

[caption id="attachment_23510" align="alignright" width="255"]A group of well-dressed men stand in front of boxes of supplies to be donated to South Vietnam.  The boxes have a variety of markings, although most indicate canned goods such as soup (although one is marked with Schmidt's of Philadelphia Brewery).  A sign behind them indicates the Pier Office, and a sign above that reads "ACTT: FROM THE PEOPLE OF PHILADELPHIA TO THE PEOPLE OF VIETNAM."  A few men help load a truck just out of frame to the left. An aid organization prepares to ship donations of supplies and food to the people of South Vietnam (1965). (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

When young men were drafted or enlisted, their absence from the workforce opened opportunities for others. Philadelphians benefited by working in defense industries such as local shipyards, arsenals, and private companies that supplied material and weapons to the military. In 1968, economists estimated that without the Vietnam War, local employment in federal government agencies related to the war effort would have dropped 10.2 percent, amounting to thousands of people, and total federal expenditures in the Philadelphia region would have dropped 42.3 percent, amounting to nearly $2.5 billion.

After the war, the region and the nation as a whole experienced starkly negative economic impacts. Because the Vietnam War and the Great Society domestic programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-73) had been financed simultaneously without any significant increases in taxes, the ensuing effects of runaway double-digit inflation and mounting federal debt ravaged the economy. Although veterans had opportunities for education through the G.I. Bill, the poor state of the American economy compounded with declining industry in the region meant that many would not have the same economic opportunities as previous generations of veterans.

Postwar Impact

In addition to the challenges of a deindustrializing economy, the smooth reintegration of Vietnam veterans was further complicated by postwar health and addiction issues. These included the debilitating effects of exposure to the toxic herbicide “Agent Orange” (the Veterans Administration presumes that anyone who served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, was exposed and therefore eligible for benefits), drug abuse, homelessness, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

[caption id="attachment_23508" align="alignright" width="300"]A group of Vietnam Veterans marches by from  right to left, Independence Hall is behind them.  The first one carries an American flag, positioned upside-down on its pole, while two behind him carry a tattered banner that reads Members of the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War march near Independence Hall in protest of the U.S. involvement. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

America’s longest war in the twentieth century also led to one of the most dramatic and visible demographic changes in the region’s history. Although not always welcomed—a study by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations revealed that the new arrivals were disproportionately victims of interracial violence in the late 1980s—a surge in refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War led significant numbers of Southeast Asian migrants to resettle in the region. This influx, combined with post-1965 American immigration policy that emphasized family reunification and encouraged chain migration, made Philadelphia home to one of the largest Vietnamese communities and the second-largest Cambodian community in the United States.

[caption id="attachment_23509" align="alignright" width="300"]A group of Vietnamese children are gathered around the Liberty Bell while a woman speaks to them.  One reaches up to touch the bell.  They all have white tour tags hung on lanyards around their necks. The aftermath of the Vietnam War led significant numbers of Southeast Asian migrants to resettle in the Philadelphia region. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

By the arrival of the twenty-first century, the Vietnamese were the largest foreign-born population in Philadelphia, numbering nearly 12,000. South Philadelphia and Elmwood, neighborhoods known for migrants from European countries in previous times, became spaces where these newcomers resided and congregated. Vietnamese refugees, especially those who could speak Chinese, initially frequented Chinatown and proved a boon to shop owners there, but by the twenty-first century they had carved out a neighborhood that became colloquially known as “Little Saigon” in South Philadelphia. By 2015, the combined Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 34,507 Vietnamese, with the outskirts of the city of Philadelphia and nearby towns like Pennsauken, Egg Harbor, and Atlantic City home to their highest concentrations; Camden County had become home to 4,260 Vietnamese, the largest number in any county of New Jersey. The influx of these new Americans from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos introduced a polyglot of cultures, foodways, and traditions into the already diverse region, reinvigorating the region just as previous generations of immigrants before them.

[caption id="attachment_24688" align="alignright" width="300"]memorialday-023 The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Penn’s Landing became the largest tribute to Philadelphia’s war dead, with about 650 names etched on the Wall of Names. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

For decades afterward, the impact of the Vietnam War could be seen, and remembered, across the region. Penn’s Landing became home to the largest memorial for Philadelphia’s war dead, but equally poignant plaques and spaces honored individuals who served and perished. The statewide New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial was erected in Holmdel, New Jersey, for the same purposes. Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Dover, Delaware, added several Vietnam memorials in addition to those for servicemen lost in other conflicts. Edison High School built a memorial to its alumni, just as many other smaller organizations did after direct American military involvement ceased. Nearly a half century after the end of the Vietnam War, the legacy of the conflict could also be seen in the faces of the Southeast Asian migrants and their children who made the city of Philadelphia and its environs their home.

Nicholas Trajano Molnar is Assistant Professor of History at the Community College of Philadelphia and author of American Mestizos, the Philippines, and the Malleability of Race, 1898-1961 (University of Missouri Press, 2017). Previously, he served as Assistant Director of the Rutgers Oral History Archives. Trajano Molnar serves as the Digital Humanities Officer of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and coordinates the “Philly Stories” Student Oral History Archive.

Kristen B. Crossney

Kristen B. Crossney is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Administration at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Radio DJs

[caption id="attachment_23148" align="alignright" width="229"]Hy Lit (left) with his hand raised and mouth open, laughing, wearing a denim vest over a white, pocketed, collared shirt with a headset on. Joe Niagara is to his right (center) holding a stack of 45rpm records and wearing large glasses and a jumping-horse-patterned collared shirt. A microphone on a boom arm is on the right. “Hy” Lit and Joe “The Rockin’ Bird” Niagara take to the airwaves for WIBG’s Nostalgia Kick show in 1977. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Disc jockeys—“DJs” who play music on the radio—have had a key role in shaping Philadelphia musical tastes since the 1950s. They reflected national and local musical trends, exposed audiences to new music, and in some cases produced records and managed artists. Many Philadelphia DJs became celebrities, actively engaged and influential in the local music scene.

DJs came into being as a result of changes in the radio industry after the advent of television in the 1950s. In the earlier years of radio broadcasting, which began in Philadelphia in 1922, programming featured mainly live entertainment such as dramas, comedy acts, and studio orchestras and singers. When television came into widespread use, the audience for this type of programming largely abandoned radio for the new medium. In response, radio stations began offering a new type of entertainment by having their announcers play records on the air. Thus was born the “disc jockey” or “DJ.”

DJs first achieved popularity on AM radio, which predominated in the 1950s and 1960s. Four AM stations ruled the Philadelphia airwaves in the all-important youth radio market in this period: white stations WIBG and WFIL and black stations WDAS and WHAT. WIBG adopted an all rock and roll format in the late 1950s with DJs Joe “the Rockin’ Bird” Niagara (real name Joseph Nigro, 1927–2004), Hy “Hyski” Lit (Hyman Lit, 1934–2007), and others. WFIL switched to rock and roll in 1966 with “Boss Jocks” such as Jay Cook (c. 1938–99), Jim Nettleton (1940–2009), and George Michael (1939–2009).

[caption id="attachment_23149" align="alignright" width="261"]George Woods sits facing left, but toward the camera. He holds a sheet of paper up with the top near the camera, likely reading something on air into the large microphone that sits in front of him on a short stand. A rotary phone is near the front of the frame and a small clock is in the background. Two 45rpm records lay in front of him next to a small two-position switchboard. He has short hair, sideburns and a mustache, and wears a stripes, light-colored or white shirt with a patterned dark tie. Georgie “the Guy with the Goods” Woods takes a turn behind the microphone, most likely for WDAS, in 1970. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s African American DJs were heard on the far right end of the dial, where the city’s two major black stations, WDAS and WHAT, were located. WDAS was the powerhouse of the two, with legendary DJs Georgie Woods, “the Guy with the Goods” (1927–2005); Doug “Jocko” Henderson, the “Ace from Outer Space” (1918–2000), and Jimmy Bishop. These DJs did more than just spin records. Woods was a noted civil rights activist, Henderson had daily radio shows in both Philadelphia and New York, and Bishop owned a record label and served at times as program director at WDAS and vice president for CBS Records. All three also produced and hosted live music shows at local venues. WHAT never achieved the ratings of WDAS, but it did have a very popular, high-energy DJ in Sonny “the Mighty Burner” Hopson (b. 1937).

WDAS also had popular white DJs who played black music, including Joe “Butterball” Tamburro (1942–2012) and Harvey Holiday (Harvey William Levy). Holiday was still on the air in the early decades of the twenty-first century, as was another white DJ who regularly featured black music and whose career was still going strong after over fifty years in Philadelphia radio: Jerry Blavat, “the Geator with the Heater” (b. 1940). Blavat occupied a unique place among Philadelphia disc jockeys. While he never worked at a major commercial radio station—he got his start at WCAM, a small Camden, New Jersey, station in 1960—he built a loyal following hosting dances and live shows and remained one of the best-known figures on the local music scene in the early twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_23154" align="aligncenter" width="575"]six men sit around a coffee table (with coffee cups and a chromed kettle atop it), all leaning forward in discussion, presumably, about music. the backdrop of the set is decorated with standing wooden slats, like vertical fences and modernist circles. The men all wear suits and ties, most smirking, looking toward Jerry Blavat (far right), who has his arms outstretched and is sticking out his tongue. Jerry Blavat (right) captures the attention of other radio DJs and personalities during Sid Mark's Mark of Jazz television show, aired on WPHL and WHYY. (Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Archives)[/caption]

Other longtime DJs who carved out unique niches in local radio included Gene Shay (Ivan Shaner, 1935-2020), who hosted folk music shows on a number of different Philadelphia radio stations from 1962 to 2015 (and who helped found the Philadelphia Folksong Society and Philadelphia Folk Festival); Sid Mark (Sidney Mark Fliegelman, b. 1933?), who featured the music of Frank Sinatra on various local stations since the 1950s; and David Dye, a veteran of Philadelphia rock radio who since 1991 hosted WXPN’s World Café, a daily alternative music show syndicated to over 250 stations nationwide.

[caption id="attachment_23152" align="alignright" width="300"]Della Lazarus sits reading a thin booklet facing right, with a microphone in front of her face and controls just behind her. A soundproof window is behind the audio controls and two men sit on the other side, one sitting (likely Bill Sinrich), reading the contents of a paper into a mic of his own. WXPN disc jockey Della Lazarus, station manager Jamie Garner, and AM program director Bill Sinrich work on their programs in the Spruce Street studio. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

In the late 1960s a new kind of DJ emerged with the rise of FM radio. “Underground” radio eschewed the three-minute pop songs and high-energy DJ patter of AM radio in favor of a less commercial approach, with jocks who spoke in a low-key conversational style and played longer musical selections in the emerging progressive rock style. FM radio had a clearer signal and higher fidelity than AM and was better suited to this new kind of programming. WIFI-FM experimented with the new format briefly in late 1967, but it was in 1968 when WDAS-FM, the sister station of WDAS-AM, and WMMR adopted the style, also known as "album-oriented" radio, that it gained traction in Philadelphia. WMMR became the preeminent Philadelphia rock station for many years, with DJs such as Ed Sciaky (1948–2004), Michael Tearson (b. 1948), and others serving as leading figures in the city’s rock scene. In the 1970s WIOQ and WYSP adopted the progressive rock format and began to challenge WMMR’s supremacy.

[caption id="attachment_23151" align="alignright" width="300"]A bookcase-style shelf-lined wall takes up a majority of the frame, coming closer to the viewer. to the right, facing the wall is DJ Jon Takiff, wearing a sweater or jacket over a white collared shirt (with the collar sticking out and over top). He holds and inspects what appears to be a Looney Tunes soundtrack vinyl record sleeve. the rear wall is also lined with shelving and records. Jonathan Takiff, DJ for WMMR-FM, peruses the station’s record library in 1971. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Over time, AM stations largely abandoned music in favor of news and talk formats, leaving DJs who played music mostly to the FM band. FM radio became more commercial during the 1970s, as the music and radio industries became big business. Stations adopted narrowly focused formats aimed at specific target audiences, with playlists that were tightly controlled and driven by market research and advertising revenue. DJs were less consequential in this new environment, exercising reduced control over what they played and how their programs were structured. As the market became increasingly competitive, stations frequently changed ownership and formats (and sometimes call letters), while DJs jumped from station to station in the constantly changing environment. Federal deregulation of the industry beginning in the 1980s led to concentration of multiple local stations in the hands of a few large media conglomerates, further solidifying the corporate approach to radio.

Traditional broadcast radio remained a popular medium into the early twenty-first century, despite competing outlets such as online music streaming services and internet radio. Disc jockeys continued to offer music to local audiences and play a role in the local music scene, but they were no longer the influential force they once were.

Jack McCarthy is a music historian who regularly writes, lectures, and gives walking tours on Philadelphia music history. A certified archivist, he directs a project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical repositories. He has served as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the 2014 radio documentary Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio and gave several presentations and helped produce the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s 2016 Philadelphia music series “Memories & Melodies.”

Nicholas Trajano Molnar

Nicholas Trajano Molnar is Assistant Professor of History at the Community College of Philadelphia and author of American Mestizos, the Philippines, and the Malleability of Race, 1898-1961 (University of Missouri Press, 2017). Previously, he served as Assistant Director of the Rutgers Oral History Archives. Trajano Molnar serves as the Digital Humanities Officer of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and coordinates the “Philly Stories” Student Oral History Archive.

Peale Family of Painters

[caption id="attachment_22956" align="aligncenter" width="575"]An image depicting Charles Willson Peale's family and children seated around a table, some standing, others seated. A peeled apple sits symbolically on a plate near the front of the table. His brothers work on a drawing of his mother, seated opposite them, several busts are located on a shelf at the top right, and a painting of the three maidens is to the left. This ambitious portrait, The Peale Family, captures the likenesses of many in Charles Willson Peale's family, including ten detailed human figures and the artist's dog. (New-York Historical Society)[/caption]

For over 125 years, the family headed by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) documented Philadelphia’s leading citizens and created paintings to decorate their homes. The Peales’ involvement in the arts enriched the cultural landscape of Philadelphia, and their work as naturalists and museum entrepreneurs advanced the causes of art, science, and science education in the United States.

Charles Willson Peale established a national iconography of artistic, political, and scientific imagery. A leader in the city’s nascent art world, he founded one of the first museums in the young country as well as two of its first art schools. Peale fathered a dynasty of artists and scientists, many of whom flourished in the Philadelphia area.

[caption id="attachment_22596" align="alignright" width="226"]A painting of Charles Willson Peale seated behind an easel, working on a painting of his wife, Rachel Brewer Peale. His daughter stands behind him with her hand on the end of his paintbrush, as the tip of his brush, in hand, touches the paint palette in his other hand, resting on his arm. In Self-Portrait with Angelica and Portrait of Rachel, Charles Willson Peale paints a portrait of his first wife, Rachel Brewer Peale. Their daughter, Angelica Kauffman, mimics her father's gesture, symbolically holding the end of his paintbrush. (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)[/caption]

Born in Chester, Maryland, Charles Willson Peale studied with John Hesselius (1728-78) and John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) before spending almost three years in England, where he trained with the American expatriate Benjamin West (1738-1820). After returning to the United States, Peale settled initially in Annapolis before moving permanently to Philadelphia in 1776.

A decade after his arrival Peale founded the Peale Museum (1786), where he exhibited his own portraits of notable Americans as well as his growing collection of natural history specimens. He was a founding member of the Columbianum (1794-95), a loose association of artists that sponsored the first exhibition of American art. Peale was also one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1805), the oldest surviving American art school.

Peale became known for his portraits of Revolutionary War leaders. He painted close to sixty portraits of the first American president, George Washington, including the well-known George Washington Before the Battle of Princeton (1781). He also depicted such notable citizens as Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), painted in 1789; Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), painted in 1791; and John Adams (1735-1826), painted around 1791-94. Peale’s portraits were exhibited at his Philadelphia museum, making an important statement of national pride. Most later became part of the collection of Independence National Historical Park.

A Family Portrait, 1773-1809

A group portrait, The Peale Family (begun in 1773 and completed in 1809) is an impressive early image of America’s first family of artists and pays tribute to one of Peale’s favorite subjects: his family. The painting also pays homage to the visual arts, including a variety of media (drawing, painting, sculpture) and subjects (portraits, figure painting, still life). Peale signed the painting with his name and with a visual pun: the apple peel spilling off the plate of fruit.

[caption id="attachment_22593" align="alignright" width="200"]A painting which creates the illusion of an ascending staircase set in a door frame, with the first step physically attached to the front of the painting, extending slightly onto the paintings (doorway) frame on each side. In the painting, two boys ascend the staircase, one (at left, ascending the stairs, facing slightly away from the viewer) with a palette and paintbrush, the other merely peering out from behind the frame, higher up the stairs at the left side. In Charles Willson Peale’s The Staircase Group, his sons Raphaelle and Titian Peale climb an illusionary staircase. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Taken as a group, Peale’s most famous paintings illustrate his favorite themes: family, art, and science. The Staircase Group (1795) includes two of Peale’s sons, and Exhuming the First American Mastodon (1806-08) and The Artist in His Museum (1822) attest to the artist’s dual interest in art and science.

Charles Willson Peale, who married three times and fathered eighteen children, named many of his children for famous artists and scientists. He and his first wife, Rachel Brewer Peale (1744-90), had eleven children; seven of them survived childhood, although one son died at the age of eighteen. After Rachel’s death Peale married Elizabeth De Peyster (1765-1804), with whom he had another seven children, five of whom lived to become adults. Peale’s third wife, Hannah More (1755-1821), helped him raise his youngest offspring.

Six of Peale’s sons were named for Renaissance and Baroque painters: Raphaelle (1774-1825), Rembrandt (1778-1860), Rubens (1784-1865), two sons named Titian (1780-98 and 1799-1885), and Vandyke Peale (1792-94). The first three became important painters in their own right, while Titian the second became an artist and naturalist. Three of Peale’s daughters were named for important painters: Angelica Kauffman (1775-1853), Sophonisba Angusciola (1786-1859), and Rosalba Carriera (1788-90), who died in childhood. Two of Peale’s sons were given scientific names: Benjamin Franklin Peale (1795-1870), called Franklin, was named for the artist’s close friend; Charles Linnaeus Peale (1794-1832) was named for the famous Swedish botanist and zoologist.

Peale’s oldest son, Raphaelle, celebrated as the first professional American still life painter, was not as successful as his father or his brother Rembrandt. Raphaelle displayed his work for the first time in the 1795 exhibition at the Columbianum, showing seven still lifes and five portraits. Raphaelle’s most famous canvas may be his 1822 trompe l’oeil close-up of a white cloth with sharp creases titled Venus Rising from the Sea – A Deception (After the Bath). It includes a feminine arm and long blonde hair above the cloth and a dainty bare foot below it, suggesting a female nude hidden just out of sight.

Rembrandt Peale in His Father’s Footsteps

[caption id="attachment_22590" align="alignright" width="250"]A portrait of Raphaelle's brother, Rubens Peale, seated at a wooden table, head angled slightly, with his hand around the clay pot of a large, green geranium plant with thick stalks and small red flowers. Rubens holds a pair of glasses on the table with his other hand, while wearing a pair of smaller diameter spectacles midway up his nose. He wears a reddish-brown coat and white scarf and undershirt. His hair is brown and the background is a slightly amber tannish-brown tone. Rubens Peale with a Geranium (1801) features Rubens Peale, a botanist as well as a painter, sharing the spotlight with a flowering geranium rumored to have been the first specimen of this exotic plant ever grown in the New World. (National Gallery of Art)[/caption]

The portraitist Rembrandt Peale, considered the best painter among Peale’s sons, sketched George Washington while the president sat for his father. His “porthole” portraits of the president, bust-length portraits framed within a painted stone oval, including the iconic Patriae Pater (c. 1824), represented an important addition to America’s national iconography. Rembrandt painted Thomas Jefferson (1800 and 1805), Napoleon Bonaparte (1811), and other wealthy sitters, as well as self portraits and images of family members. His most interesting portrait, Rubens Peale with a Geranium (1801), is a double portrait of man and plant.

Like his father, Rembrandt was a founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He also followed in his father’s footsteps as a museum entrepreneur, establishing Peale's Baltimore Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts in 1814. Its collections of paintings by Rembrandt Peale and other artists were displayed alongside specimens of natural history, including the mastodon skeleton exhumed in 1801.

Although he became known for his still life paintings, Rubens Peale had weak eyesight and poor health in childhood; he was interested in botany and did not originally plan to become a painter. From 1810 to 1821 he served as director of his father’s museum in Philadelphia, moving to Baltimore in 1821 to help his brother Rembrandt manage the museum there. In 1825 Rubens opened his own museum in New York City, which he called the New York Museum of Natural History and Science. The museum failed after the Panic of 1837, and Rubens moved to the Pennsylvania countryside. After living as a gentleman farmer for twenty-some years, he returned to Philadelphia in 1864. There he studied painting with his daughter Mary Jane (1827-1902) and with Edward Moran (1829-1901), a member of another important artistic Philadelphia family. Most of Rubens’ still life paintings were created in the last decade of his life.

[caption id="attachment_22589" align="alignright" width="270"]A still-life painting of apparently soft, fuzzy peaches on a tan table beneath a thin, silk, sheer piece of fabric. A black hornet lays atop the center peach and a shiny, metal knife with a green plastic handle sits angled beside it. The white, sheer fabric contrasts starkly from a dark backdrop. Raphaelle Peale’s still-life paintings often consisted of simple arrangements with only a few modest components, as seen in Fruit piece with Peaches covered by a Handkerchief (1819). (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Titian Ramsay Peale, Charles’ youngest son, was an artist, naturalist, and photographer. Named for an older brother who died the year before he was born, Titian was the only professional naturalist in the family. He documented animals and scenery in watercolors on an 1819 expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Titian’s drawings were published in American Entomology (1824-28) by Thomas Say (1787-1834) and American Ornithology (1825-33) by Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803-1857), a nephew of Napoleon (1769-1821). An interesting watercolor titled The Long Room (1822) depicts his father’s Philadelphia museum, then located on the second floor of Independence Hall.

A Broad Family Dynasty

[caption id="attachment_22587" align="alignright" width="245"]A hollow-cut profile silhouette created using a Physiognotrace, or device that drew an outline of a figure or object. The outline was then cut out and had details added with black ink (with a black piece of paper showing through the cutout for shadow-like contrast). Moses Williams, a slave owned by the Peale family, used a physiognotrace to create this profile portrait of Angelica Peale Robinson and many others. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

The Peale dynasty included siblings, their children, and a slave. Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), Charles Willson Peale’s nephew, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, and lived with his uncle after his parents died. Peale raised him and trained him as a painter. Polk is known for the portraits he made in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., although his career as an artist alternated with jobs in house and sign painting, dry goods, shipping, and a clerkship in the U.S. Treasury Department. Polk’s portraits are less sophisticated than those by his uncle and cousins.

Moses Williams (1777-ca.1825), a slave raised in Peale’s household, was trained in taxidermy and the use of the physiognotrace, a device used to create portrait silhouettes. Even after his manumission at the age of twenty-eight, Williams continued working at Peale’s Philadelphia museum, where he excelled in the art of making silhouettes. A number of Williams’s silhouettes, including those of Charles Willson Peale and some of Peale’s adult children, were acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Library Company of Philadelphia.

[caption id="attachment_22584" align="alignright" width="300"]A painting of James Peale and his family, seemingly walking in a park, or at least, through a wooded area near a river (visible at right, near the horizon). He wears a red coat with brass buttons and a white scarf, and walks arm-in-arm beside his wife, Mary Claypoole, who wears a blue and white dress with a yellow shawl wrapped around her body. Four children are also present in the painting. The oldest girl, in a white dress, faces her mother and holds her hand, while a girl in a pink dress (right) dances, and two children, a boy and a girl, sit on the ground (center). The girl holds an infant and the boy wears a black top hat and is holding an apple. A large, leaning, red-leafed tree is directly behind them, with small plants and foliage in the foreground. A cloudy blue sky can be seen in the distance. Four of James Peale’s daughters, depicted here in his Artist and His Family (1795), continued the Peale painting legacy as they became artists, variously specializing in still life, portraiture, and miniatures. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Charles Willson Peale’s younger brother James (1749-1831), best known for his portrait miniatures that were usually painted in watercolor on ivory, also painted larger portraits, still lifes, and a few landscapes and historical subjects. A portrait by Charles, James Peale Painting a Miniature (c. 1795), shows him at work. Charles painted James again later in life, in a canvas called The Lamplight Portrait (1822); in the later work he is shown studying a portrait miniature of a woman. James was the father of one son and five daughters, most of them shown in his outdoor family portrait The Artist and His Family (1795).  

Considered the first professional American woman artist, Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-85), James’ youngest and most talented daughter, established her reputation for portraits of political leaders including Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), painted in 1842, and the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), painted in 1825 (location unknown). Sarah worked in Baltimore with her cousin Rembrandt Peale in 1818, 1820, and 1822, and moved there in 1825. During her Baltimore years, she created over one hundred commissioned portraits including the noteworthy publisher Fielding Lucas Jr. (1781-1854), painted c. 1835-40, and José Sylvestre Rabello (1807-91), the first Brazilian chargé d’affaires in the United States, painted in 1826. Sarah also made occasional visits to Washington, D.C., for portrait commissions. In 1847, she moved to St. Louis, where she earned her living entirely through her art for thirty years. She returned to Philadelphia in 1878 to spend her later years with her sisters.

[caption id="attachment_22591" align="alignright" width="243"]A double portrait of Anna and Margaretta Peale by James Peale. Anna (left) wears a white dress with a yellow-cream-colored shawl draped over her shoulders. Her younger sister Margaretta (right, about 10 years old) grabs the shawl, reaching across. She wears a red dress. Both are pale with rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and blondish-brown hair, not unlike their father. They are set on a background that is similar in tone to their hair, getting darker toward the right and top areas of the painting. Anna Claypool Peale and Margaretta Angelica Peale, portrayed in this c. 1805 portrait by their father, James, became successful still-life painters. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Four other siblings painted, although their work and professional careers were less impressive. The most talented was Anna Claypool Peale (1791-1878), who painted portrait miniatures and still lifes. Visiting Washington, D.C., several times between 1818 and 1820, she painted such eminent citizens as James Monroe (1758-1831), Henry Clay (1777-1852), and Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), painted in 1819. Margaretta Angelica Peale (1795-1882) and Maria Peale (1787-1866) painted still lifes and an occasional portrait, but very few of Maria’s paintings remain extant. James Peale Jr. (1789-1876) painted still lifes, landscapes, and marine subjects; as with Maria, only a few of his canvases are known today.

The Peale family of painters continued into a third generation with the daughters of Rembrandt and Rubens. Rembrandt’s daughter Rosalba Carriera (1799-1874), named for a Rococo painter from Venice (as well as for an aunt who died young), painted landscapes as well as portraits. She also explored printmaking, a medium popular with nineteenth-century artists. Rembrandt’s daughter Emma Clara (1814-82) was a recognized Philadelphia painter during her lifetime, and her twin brother Michael Angelo (1814-33) intended to become an artist but died young. Rembrandt’s second wife, Harriet Cany Peale (1800-69), was initially his student; she continued to paint portraits and still lifes, and to copy paintings by her husband, after their wedding.

Rubens’ only daughter, Mary Jane Peale (1826-1902), was the last living artist in this notable family. She studied painting with her uncle Rembrandt—who created a beautiful portrait of her as a girl—and with the Philadelphia painters Thomas Sully (1773-1872) and James Reid Lambdin (1807-89). Mary Jane painted still lifes and an occasional portrait. Her most interesting painting may be a small interior scene depicting her elderly father working at his easel.

Mary Jane Peale’s death, announced by the New York Times in 1902, signaled the end of the Peales’ reign as Philadelphia’s first family of painters. For over a century the influence of the Peale family was felt in the city’s art world, its museums and other cultural institutions, and by the wealthy citizens who purchased their work, and left a legacy for the region and the nation.

Kate Nearpass Ogden, Professor of Art History at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey, received her Ph.D. from Columbia University. Her publications have focused on nineteenth-century American painting and photography.

Art of Dox Thrash

[caption id="attachment_23087" align="alignright" width="265"]A dark, rich, carborundum print of Thrash's childhood home: a cabin with a slanted roof, a twisting dirt path approaching it, and three figures on the porch. One stands in a dress, holding a child (likely intended to be Thrash) and another sits in a rocking chair. A light shroud surrounds the house. Cabin Days portrays Thrash’s childhood home, a former slave cabin in Griffin, Georgia, with crooked clapboards, broken shutters, and a tilted porch. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Dox Thrash (1893-1965) was an accomplished draftsman, printmaker, watercolorist, and painter, whose art reflected his experiences as an African American in Philadelphia. He became well known in the 1940s after developing the Carborundum printmaking technique at the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop (311 Broad Street) of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. By rubbing coarse Carborundum crystals onto a metal plate with a heavy flatiron, he created prints with dense blacks, smooth, sculptural forms, and velvety textures. His dignified representations of African Americans in his portraits, genre scenes, nude studies, and landscapes deeply resonated with the black community in Philadelphia and earned him national acclaim.

[caption id="attachment_22842" align="alignright" width="264"]A color, oil self-portrait of the artist in a light blue collared shirt with the top button unbuttoned, and red suspenders.   The background is a dull green, composed of wavy, seaweed-like brushstrokes, not unlike impressionist painter Van Gogh's similarly-styled self-portrait.  He stares sternly off to the right (at a 45 degree angle). His hair is black, with some grey mixed in. Thrash created this bust-length self-portrait around 1938, the year he started to gain national attention for his invention of the Carborundum printmaking process. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Born in Griffin, Georgia, Thrash settled in Philadelphia in 1925 to pursue his lifelong ambition to become an artist. He had first studied art by taking correspondence courses as a teenager. In 1914, he enrolled in evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. His studies were interrupted in 1917 by the U.S. entry into World War I. After serving in the army for fourteen months in an all-black unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers, Thrash resumed his art education in Chicago. Eligible for government funding because of his war service, he registered as a full-time student for the first time in 1920. Over the next three years, he studied painting, drawing, mural design, commercial art posters, lettering, and decorative composition. He also received private tutoring from William Edouard Scott (1884-1964), a distinguished African American painter and muralist. Thrash then worked part-time jobs and drew portraits in Boston, Connecticut, and New York before finding work as a commercial artist in Philadelphia. He designed posters for the American Interracial Peace Committee, which held an annual Negro Music Festival, and the Tra Club, a cultural center founded by African American artists.

Accomplishments in Printmaking

Thrash developed his skills as a printmaker under the guidance Earl Horter (1880-1940) at the Graphic Sketch Club (which in 1944 became the Samuel S. Fleischer Art Memorial, located at 719 Catharine Street). There, he mastered a variety of techniques, including etching, aquatint, drypoint, mezzotint, lithography, and linoleum cut. He enjoyed experimenting, often combining several processes in one print and reworking his plates to create unique impressions.

[caption id="attachment_22837" align="aligncenter" width="575"]A print that captures two working men standing at the freight yard, the clock tower of city hall can be seen at the right edge. A dirt path and shrubs are in the foreground, with the city in the background. Executed for the WPA, Freight Yard is one of Thrash’s many prints that explores the role of workers in an urban-industrial environment. (Free Library of Philadelphia)[/caption]

In 1937, Thrash joined the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop. His investigations of materials and techniques led him to invent the Carborundum printmaking process. With the help of colleagues Hugh Mesibov (b. 1916) and Michael Gallagher (1898-1965), he discovered that roughening the surface of a copper plate with Carborundum, a gritty industrial substance normally used to prepare lithographic stones, produced a wide range of rich tones and smoothly modeled forms. Thrash coined the prints he created “Opheliagraphs” in honor of his mother.

Thrash’s innovations in printmaking brought him widespread acclaim. Over the next two decades, he became a prominent artist in the Philadelphia region, exhibiting his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Print Club of Philadelphia (the Print Center, 1614 Latimer Street), and Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 S. Eighteenth Street). His strongest support came from the Pyramid Club (1517 W. Girard Avenue), a black cultural society that included his work in its annual exhibitions and introduced him to an influential network of artists, curators, critics, and dealers.

African American Community

[caption id="attachment_23089" align="alignright" width="233"]A dramatic portrait (carborundum print) of a man wearing a hat, looking upward and to the left, with light shining on his face from that direction. He wears a collared shirt and the background is pitch black, with light accents around the edges of his hat. Thrash created more than thirty character studies of African American men and women that reveal the dignity and strength of the black community, as seen in Second Thought (My Neighbor). (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Thrash’s reputation quickly grew outside of the Philadelphia region. Beginning in the late 1930s, he participated in landmark exhibitions of African American art across the country. The philosopher, writer, educator, and leader of the Harlem Renaissance Alain Locke (1885-1954) selected his prints for the exhibitions Contemporary Negro Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1939, Art of the American Negro (1851-1940) at the Chicago Coliseum in 1940, and American Negro Art, 19th and 20th Centuries at the Downtown Gallery in New York in 1941. His work was also displayed in Chicago in the 1941 inaugural exhibition at the South Side Community Art Center, a racially diverse workshop run by the Federal Art Project. The following year, he had a solo exhibition of his graphic art at the historically black college Howard University in Washington, D.C.

[caption id="attachment_22840" align="alignright" width="210"]A print of an etching featuring light and dark hatching and cross-hatching. A woman sits on a stool or chair with one leg crossed over the other.  She uses a curling iron to curl her black hair. A chair is in the foreground, facing her, and partially obscuring her, and a table is at the back left.  Several objects sit atop it, including a small clock. This etching features a black woman performing a common yet rarely depicted ritual in American genre scenes: the curling of her coarse hair to prepare for a night out, as hinted by Thrash’s title, Saturday Night. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Thrash earned praise not only for his technical innovations but also his sympathetic representations of African Americans. As art historian Kymberly N. Pinder has noted, his art participated in the shaping of a positive black identity, as put forth by Locke and sociologist, writer, and educator W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963). Challenging negative representations of African Americans as grinning buffoons that had circulated in mass visual culture since the nineteenth century, Thrash created sensitive, compelling portrayals of black individuals in a variety of media. His portraits, character studies, and genre scenes, such as Mary Lou (c. 1939-40), Second Thought (1939), and Saturday Night (c. 1942-45), depict black subjects with a sense of dignity and strength. Thrash also produced rural and urban landscapes that featured black actors. Prints such as Cabin Days (c. 1938-39) allude to his southern upbringing. Others, such as Freight Yard (before 1943), focus on Philadelphia industries, in dialogue with the art of the Social Realists of the 1930s and 1940s.

[caption id="attachment_22843" align="alignright" width="253"]A dark, velvety, charcoal-like carborundum print of a black riveter, perspective from below, garnering a feeling of grandeur and greatness, despite the worker's race and hard-labor job.  A big white cloud is behind him, creating a halo-like shroud around him.  Thrash produced Defense Worker, 1941, using the Carborundum printmaking method. (Free Library of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Thrash began to focus more strongly on black laborers during World War II when African Americans faced widespread discrimination in the rearmament program. Although he was a proud veteran, he was denied employment at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1942 because of his race. Prints such as Defense Worker (c. 1941) feature self-motivated black men productively contributing to the war effort. From his portraits to his genre scenes to his cityscapes, Thrash’s wide-ranging subject matter addressed pertinent issues faced by African Americans.

Thrash remained active in the Philadelphia art scene until his death in 1965. Despite the national attention the Carborundum technique achieved during his lifetime, it failed to be embraced by artists outside the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop. The seminal 2002 exhibition Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art brought renewed attention to Thrash’s inventive approaches to printmaking and the salience of his subject matter to the black community of his era.

Michelle Donnelly is a Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She earned her M.A. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2014 and worked as a Curatorial Assistant at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 2013 to 2014. 

Staircase Group (The)

After Charles Willson Peale’s The Staircase Group emerged from a private collection in the mid-twentieth century, the Philadelphia Museum of Art placed the compelling trompe l’oeil (deceive the eye) double portrait on display and it became widely reproduced in American popular and art historical literature. Its contemporary popularity echoed the popularity it enjoyed at Peale’s Philadelphia Museum (1786-1854) between its creation in 1795 and 1854 when the museum’s financial failure forced the sale of its painting collection.

[caption id="attachment_22108" align="alignright" width="279"]A painting which creates the illusion of an ascending staircase set in a door frame, with the first step physically attached to the front of the painting, extending slightly onto the paintings (doorway) frame on each side.  In the painting, two boys ascend the staircase, one (at left, ascending the stairs, facing slightly away from the viewer) with a palette and paintbrush, the other merely peering out from behind the frame, higher up the stairs at the left side. Charles Willson Peale’s The Staircase Group was acquired by Philadelphia collector Joseph Harrison from the 1854 sale of the Peale Museum’s paintings. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was among the most notable portrait painters of revolutionary and federal Philadelphia and the innovative founder of America’s first museum created to educate and entertain the public through lectures, demonstrations, and carefully presented collections of art and natural science. His Staircase Group shows two of his sons, Raphaelle (1774-1825) and Titian Ramsay (1780-98), in that museum, as indicated by the admission ticket seen on the step near Raphaelle’s foot. Both sons were an integral part of this enterprise and Raphaelle, shown palette in hand, assisted his father while honing his skills in portraiture and the still life painting for which he is now famous. His younger brother, Titian, was admired for his expertise in natural science, developed while working on the museum’s collections. Although Titian died four years after the portrait was painted, his namesake, Titian Ramsay (1799-1885), carried on this tradition as a notable explorer and naturalist.

[caption id="attachment_22181" align="alignright" width="215"]A self-portrait painting by Charles Willson Peale. He stands (depicted bust-up) in front of a red curtain with a hallways behind him to the left. Shelves line the hallway wall, filled with various implied antiques. A delicate chandelier hands about halfway down the hallway above an open door to the left amongst the shelving. Peale is bald on top with brown eyes,wearing a black overcoat over a white-collared shirt. This self-portrait, created by Charles Willson Peale, shows him within his museum on the second floor of the Pennsylvania State House (later known as Independence Hall). (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Visitors recorded seeing it installed in a doorframe with a real stair beneath it to reinforce its illusionism. According to Raphaelle and Titian’s brother, Rembrandt (1778-1860), President George Washington (1732-99), whom Charles painted from life seven times, mistook the highly illusionistic picture for the young men themselves, while visiting the museum to see life-size wax figures of Native Americans in authentic dress. For Charles Willson Peale this picture exhibited his ability as a portraitist and his technical expertise in making pictures calculated to impress and entertain the public.

Trompe l’oeil paintings, drawings, and wax figures enjoyed international popularity at this period. Such works teased viewers perceptions, either delighting them when they were surprised by an illusion or awakening them to greater vigilance about accepting what they saw “at first glance.” As art historian Wendy Bellion observed, the popularity of such illusionistic pieces in Philadelphia at this time may have reminded citizens to maintain a healthy skepticism about the activities of their government, not just its public pronouncements.

[caption id="attachment_22106" align="alignright" width="300"]A print of an etching of the Philadelphia State House (or Independence Hall) from the rear, with a group of Native Americans standing in front on the grass and a group of high-class Philadelphians walking on a path from the State House on the far left.  Trees stand in a park to the right, and near the center of the composition, Peale's Museum can be seen in the background beyond several people lounging on the grass beside the State House. William Birch’s engraved view Back of the State House, Philadelphia shows the Peale Museum, then located in the building of the American Philosophical Society, in the background through the trees. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In 1795 Peale’s Museum was located in Philosophical Hall, the home of the American Philosophical Society, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 “to promote useful knowledge.” Positioned on the east side of the State House, it was at the center of the sophisticated social, political, and cultural life of Philadelphia when it served as the U.S. capital. Prior to its installation in the museum, The Staircase Group was shown at the inaugural exhibition of the Columbianum (May-July 1795), America’s first, short-lived art academy that Charles was instrumental in founding. Here modest and accomplished work by a variety of artists was seen alongside sophisticated large scale portraits by famous American-born artists John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), Joseph Wright (1756-93), and Benjamin West (1738-1820), then the second president of Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts. It was with these artists Peale wished to compete and the picture he identified as Portraits of two of his Sons on a stair case was conceived within the artistic tradition he learned while studying with West in London from 1767-69.

This academic tradition, which Peale followed in his most ambitious portraits, directed artists to improvise on the work of an accomplished artist. This provided a template for a composition and often provided sentimental or intellectual associations relevant to the new picture. These enriching pictorial references impressed educated viewers with an artist’s understanding of the great art of the past and raised his status among his peers. Famous works were available through engravings of which Peale had a large collection.

[caption id="attachment_22191" align="alignright" width="213"]A lithograph (black and white) featuring two lords, the one on the left with a large sash, or cloak, draped across his body and leaning to the right, toward the second figure, who stands facing left (and slightly away) with his left foot placed on a small step. Both lords have curly hair and wear fine dress. This mid-eighteenth-century British mezzotint engraving by James McArdell served as inspiration for Peale’s Staircase Group. (National Portrait Gallery, London)[/caption]

The celebrated picture Peale referenced in his Sons on a Staircase was Lord John Stuart with his brother, Lord Bernard Stuart, painted by Europe’s most admired portraitist, Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), the namesake of Peale’s infant son, who had died in 1794. This reference highlighted the contrast between siblings of the hereditary British aristocracy and those of America’s new democracy. As Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), then president of the Peale Museum’s board, believed, America had a “natural aristocracy” defined by “virtue and talents” rather than privilege and “this was the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.” Engaged, rather than relaxed like Van Dyck’s young noblemen, Peale’s sons, Raphaelle and Titian--Nature’s young noblemen--actively welcome visitors into their family’s museum, an enlightened enterprise their artist-patriot-entrepreneur father, Charles Willson Peale, deeply believed would serve their new nation.

Carol Eaton Soltis is Project Associate Curator, Peale Collection Catalogue, American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Art of Thomas Eakins

[caption id="attachment_20335" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Seven people and a driver sit in a red coach driven by four brown horses.  They're positioned on a path in Fairmount Park, surrounded by grass and trees.  The lady wears a colorful dress and hat; the men all wear hats, the majority of which are top hats. Eakins referenced wax sculptures and Eadweard Muybridge's equine photographic studies in order to accurately depict horses in motion. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

The art of Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) is more deeply entwined with the city of Philadelphia than that of any other artist of the nineteenth century. Born in North Philadelphia in 1844, Eakins spent nearly his entire life in the city. He consistently took local residents as his subjects, portraying friends, family, and individuals he admired engaged in professional activities and leisure pursuits. His oil paintings, watercolors, sculptures, and photographs vividly reflected late-nineteenth-century life in Philadelphia and had a lasting impact upon generations of American artists.

[caption id="attachment_20326" align="alignright" width="230"]A colorful painted portrait of a woman in red and white, from the side.  Expressionist-like brushstrokes capture the folds of her clothing and a plume of feathers traveling backward from her hat.   The background is a warm brown tone of blurred, implied objects. The loose brushwork in Carmelita Requeña reveals the influence of Eakins's teacher, Léon Bonnat, who encouraged his students to emulate the painterly techniques of the Spanish Baroque masters. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)[/caption]

Eakins received his first art lessons from his father, Benjamin Eakins (1818–99). A writing master and teacher, Benjamin imparted to his son the precision of fine penmanship and calligraphy. Eakins employed his deft control of the pen in his drawing classes at Central High School, where he learned to create meticulous mechanical and perspective drawings. His growing interest in art led him to enroll at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA, then located on Chestnut Street between Tenth and Eleventh Streets) in 1862. He initially took antique-cast drawing classes—the main course of study for students—before he registered for life classes in the spring of 1863. Seeking greater insight into the structure of the human form, he supplemented his art courses with anatomy lectures and dissections at Jefferson Medical College (later Thomas Jefferson University).

After four years of instruction at PAFA, Eakins pursued further artistic training abroad. From 1866 to 1869, he attended the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Under the guidance of the leading academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), he gained a strong command of drawing the nude figure. He also learned to sculpt from Augustin-Alexandre Dumont (1801-84), creating small maquettes as aids to painting—a practice he continued throughout his career. Eakins then spent the winter of 1869-70 in Spain, where he became enraptured with the dark colors and bold, gestural brushstrokes of the seventeenth-century paintings of Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) and José de Ribera (1591-1652). Stimulated by his artistic discoveries and emboldened by his academic training, Eakins created his first large-scale oil painting, A Street Scene in Seville (1870).

Early Athletic Scenes

[caption id="attachment_20330" align="alignright" width="304"]A landscape painting of a river, reflecting a close embankment to the left side and a more distant one on the right.  Two bridges run parallel with the horizon line, and the main subject of the painting is Max Schmitt, seating in a single, yellow scull, turned to his right to look at the viewer.  Another sculler is rowing away toward the bridges and horizon behind him. Eakins paid homage to his childhood friend, a champion oarsman, in his painting Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (The Champion Single Sculls). (Metropolitan Museum of Art)[/caption]

Eakins returned to Philadelphia in July 1870. He set up his studio at his childhood home at 1729 Mount Vernon Street, where he lived for the rest of his life. He painted relatives and friends, predominantly women, engaged in everyday activities in domestic interiors. He was also inspired by the outdoor sports he had enjoyed since youth: rowing, fishing, hunting, and sailing. Eakins embarked upon a series of oil paintings and watercolors of male athletes at identifiable locations in the Philadelphia region. As such scholars as Elizabeth Johns and Martin A. Berger have argued, Eakins’s sporting pictures reflected his community’s growing interest in modern leisure and its changing constructions of masculinity. After the Civil War, a rise in economic prosperity and an increasing preoccupation with physical health led Americans to pursue recreational activities outdoors. Although both sexes participated in athletics, physical fitness became associated with manhood; a strong body demonstrated a strong mind. Sculling was a particularly popular sport among middle-class men in Philadelphia, one that required rigorous discipline.

An avid rower since the 1860s, Eakins created approximately fourteen sculling works. The first and best known of these is Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (The Champion Single Sculls) of 1871. Eakins portrayed his longtime friend Max Schmitt (1843-1900) in a boat on the Schuylkill River, which was located near the artist’s home. As with all of his major works of art, Eakins created the painting through a laborious artistic process, which, as scholar Michael Leja has argued, involved the combination and reconciliation of multiple systems of knowledge: linear perspective, anatomical research, and mathematical calculation. Eakins’s methodically crafted composition celebrated a popular Philadelphia activity and paid tribute to the mental and physical dexterities of his friend, a champion oarsman.

Science and Anatomy

In April 1875, Eakins created what would become known as his masterpiece, The Gross Clinic. The monumental painting features Dr. Samuel D. Gross, a pioneering Philadelphia surgeon with whom Eakins had become acquainted at Jefferson Medical College. Gross is shown performing a bone operation with the help of five doctors in Jefferson Medical College’s surgical amphitheater. Through his dignified efforts to the save the limb of an ailing patient, Gross appears as both a healer and a teacher—the hero of a modern history painting. Eakins specifically created The Gross Clinic for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The art committee rejected the painting, however, offended by its bloody subject matter. Eakins displayed it in the exhibition’s medical section, where it drew attention to Philadelphia’s long history as an advanced medical center.

[caption id="attachment_20328" align="alignright" width="274"]Eakins notoriously emphasized the study of the nude during his first year of teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Eakins notoriously emphasized the study of the nude during his tenure at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Eakins began working at PAFA the same year as the Centennial Exhibition. Informing his teaching with his interest in science and anatomy, he shifted PAFA’s emphasis from the study of plaster casts to the study of the nude. He insisted on the use of live models (both human and animal) in drawing and painting classes and added dissection courses to the curriculum. He also gave lectures on anatomy and invited surgeons to speak. Eakins felt that only by gaining a thorough understanding of skeletal and muscular structure could students adequately represent the human form. He exerted such a strong impact upon the institution that within only six years, he was appointed director.

Eakins’s teaching practices were deeply controversial, however. His insistence on the study of the nude in mixed-sex classes and his frequent use of pupils as models led to repeated conflicts with faculty, students, parents, and PAFA’s board. Objection to his teaching methods escalated after an incident in January 1886 in which, during an anatomy lecture on the pelvis, Eakins infamously removed the loincloth from a male model in front of female students. Exasperated by what was perceived to be consistently inappropriate and insubordinate behavior, the board forced Eakins to resign.

Despite his tarnished reputation, Eakins continued teaching after he left PAFA. He ran classes at the short-lived Art Students’ League of Philadelphia (1429 Market Street), an artists’ cooperative formed by loyal male students who seceded from PAFA after his resignation. He also lectured occasionally at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, the National Academy of Design in New York, and Cooper Union in New York, always insisting upon the importance of the study of the nude.


In addition to oil painting, watercolor, and sculpture, Eakins experimented with photography in the 1880s and 1890s. Using a wooden view camera and glass plate negatives, he produced platinum prints of great tonal richness. The majority of his photographs are figure studies and portraits of students, family, and friends; most were created as independent works of art. In the few instances in which Eakins utilized his pictures as preparatory aids to painting, he rarely copied them directly. More typically, he took elements from a variety of photographs and transformed them in the final work.

[caption id="attachment_20338" align="alignright" width="260"]a black and white time-lapse image of a nude male pole-vaulting.  It captures the figure at timed intervals, resulting in about eight apparent semi-transparent overlapping figures going through the singular motion of pole-vaulting. In the mid-1880s, Eakins used the photographic technique of Étienne-Jules Marey to study how the human body moved through space. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

In the 1880s, Eakins produced a series of photographs that engaged with an Arcadian theme. He took pictures of PAFA students posing in classical drapery and in the nude, and he made several excursions with his pupils to photograph them in idyllic outdoor settings. The photographs taken on a trip to Dove Lake near Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, led to Eakins’s painting The Swimming Hole (1885). Relying upon his photographs as general references, he depicted a scene of nude young men on a rocky outcrop. Scholars such as Berger, Lloyd Goodrich, and William Innes Homer have described the painting and its related images as homosocial, or explorations of male companionship. Others, such as Whitney Davis, Jennifer Doyle, and Michael Fried, have argued that the works are homoerotic because of their emphasis on the male physique. Regardless of their reading, Swimming Hole and its related photographs reflect Eakins’s enduring interest in the human body.

Eakins also used photography to study human and animal locomotion. In 1884, he was part of a committee at the University of Pennsylvania that oversaw the work of Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), who had gained international renown in the 1870s for his equine photographs. Seeking to discover whether horses lifted all four hooves off the ground when galloping, Muybridge set up a series of cameras alongside a track and took sequential shots of the animals’ movements. Eakins relied upon Muybridge’s pioneering photographs in his representation of horses pulling a coach in The Fairman Rogers Four-in-Hand (A May Morning in the Park) (1879-80). Eakins also carried out his own photographic studies of motion as part of his ongoing quest to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the human body. He photographed men walking, running, jumping, and pole-vaulting in the nude.

Late Paintings

[caption id="attachment_20336" align="alignright" width="240"]Eakins briefly returned to sporting subjects in 1898 and 1899 after concentrating exclusively on portraiture for a decade. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Eakins briefly returned to sporting subjects in 1898 and 1899 after concentrating exclusively on portraiture for a decade. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Eakins briefly returned to athletic subjects in 1898 and 1899, producing a small number of boxing and wrestling paintings. As with his earlier rowing, hunting, and sailing scenes, the inspiration for these works arose from his enthusiasm for the sports. He attended matches at the Philadelphia Arena (then at Broad Street and Cherry Street, diagonally across from PAFA) and used professional fighters as his models.

Except for these few sporting pictures, Eakins devoted the remainder of his career to portraiture. Since he rarely received commissions, most of his sitters were family, friends, and professionals he admired. He portrayed creative and intellectual individuals, such as musicians, scientists, doctors, teachers, poets, and artists. Rather than idealizing his sitters’ appearances, he painstakingly represented their facial features, aging skin, and bone structures. Depicted in isolated settings with closed mouths, searching eyes, and tilted heads, his subjects appear as though they are in deep introspection. The most well known of these psychologically penetrating portraits is The Thinker (1900), which features Eakins’s brother-in-law, Louis N. Kenton.


[caption id="attachment_20337" align="alignright" width="210"]A self-portrait painting of Thomas Eakins leaning backward at an angle. He wears a black vest, suit jacket, and bow tie.  He has salt-and-pepper grey hair, beard and mustache.  The background is splotchy, somewhat abstract mixture of brown and dark grey tones. Eakins created this self-portrait near the end of his career to fulfill a requirement for associate membership of the National Academy. (National Academy Museum via Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Although Eakins sold fewer than thirty paintings and only had one solo exhibition in his lifetime, having lost prestige when he left PAFA, he exerted an incredible influence upon his students, many of whom became renowned artists. Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) gained an international reputation for his religious paintings. His studio assistant and close friend Samuel Murray (1869-1941) developed a thriving career as a figurative sculptor. Eakins also taught the realist painter Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912), who became the head instructor at PAFA in 1909. Dedicated to the study of anatomy and perspective, Anshutz passed down Eakins’s techniques and devotion to the human figure to those who became the leaders of the next generation. He most notably taught the forerunners of the Ashcan School: Robert Henri (1865-1929), John Sloan (1871-1951), George Luks (1867-1933), Everett Shinn (1876-1953), and William Glackens (1870-1938). Eakins’s teaching methods and subject matter served as a model for students in the Philadelphia region long after he left PAFA.

It was not until after Eakins’s death that scholars and critics began to recognize his role in the history of American art. Goodrich’s 1933 biographical study was instrumental in drawing attention to Eakins’s unwavering, almost scientific devotion to the representation of the human body. By mid-century, Eakins had not only become a source of pride for Philadelphia but also a celebrated figure in the canon of American art history, widely praised for his meticulous working methods, portrayal of everyday life, and influential, though controversial, teaching strategies. Considered one of the greatest American artists, he is represented in the collections of major museums across the country.

Michelle Donnelly is a Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She earned her M.A. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2014 and worked as a Curatorial Assistant at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 2013 to 2014.

Carol Eaton Soltis

Carol Eaton Soltis is Project Associate Curator, Peale Collection Catalogue, American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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