Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

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Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

The Greater Philadelphia area’s position near the Atlantic Ocean has made it vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms, especially along the Delaware and New Jersey shores, and to flooding from storm surges along the Delaware River. The majority of storms to hit the region have been tropical storms, because hurricanes have tended to weaken over the colder waters of the North Atlantic.

Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms, part of the family of rotating storms that also includes cyclones and typhoons, rotate around a central “eye” and create high winds and heavy rains. During the Atlantic hurricane season, primarily from June through November, these storms typically have formed off the western coast of Africa (near Cape Verde) and have moved with the trade winds toward the Caribbean and the eastern United States. Since 1973, meteorologists have classified the storms as tropical depressions, tropical storms, or hurricanes based on sustained wind speeds, with hurricanes ranging from Category 1 (74–95 miles per hour) to Category 5 (157 miles per hour or higher).

The history of hurricanes to hit the region is well documented because of early interest in the sciences. In 1644, the Reverend John Campanius Holm (1601-83) created the first American weather records at Swede’s Fort near Wilmington, Delaware. Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) studied the forward or “progressive” movement of hurricanes during the Eclipse Hurricane of 1743, the first storm to be measured with scientific instruments. Scientists also have found evidence of the strength of storms during this era through geological markers, such as changes in sediment. The Great Storm of 1693 was strong enough to alter the coastline of the Delmarva Peninsula.

Snow Hurricane of 1804

[caption id="attachment_29369" align="alignright" width="360"] A hurricane of August/September 1848, is pictured in The Ocean, Atmosphere and Life, published in 1873. The illustration is one of the earliest storm tracks of a single hurricane showing its northwestwardly path and then curvature back to the northeast. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)[/caption]

The increased professionalization of the sciences in the nineteenth century produced clearer and more consistent records of notable storms. The Snow Hurricane of 1804 made landfall in Atlantic City in October, although the snow did not fall until the storm reached New England. The Norfolk and Long Island Hurricane of 1821 made landfall in Cape May, New Jersey. Equivalent to a Category 4 storm (130 to 156 mph), it affected much of the Philadelphia area with high winds and storm surge. In 1846, the Havana Hurricane caused storm surge throughout the Delaware Valley and caused extensive damage to Philadelphia wharfs.

In 1851 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started keeping hurricane records, which increased knowledge about storms during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Expedition Hurricane of 1861, a late season storm, coincided with the American Civil War. The storm delayed a naval expedition on its way to the Battle of Port Royal and damaged some ships. The storm’s damage to New Jersey rail lines hampered the Union war effort. Another storm of this era, the Gale of 1878, was no longer a full-fledged hurricane by the time it reached the mid-Atlantic region, but it caused extensive flood damage in Delaware and New Jersey (which had not yet fully recovered from damage to river banks from the San Felipe Hurricane two years earlier). High winds injured church steeples in Pennsylvania.

The frequency of storms hitting the Philadelphia area has varied with the position of a ridge of high-pressure centered over the central and western Atlantic. Whenever this ridge has been closest to the United States, it has pulled more storms toward the mid-Atlantic region; when the ridge is farther away, storms have been more likely to strike elsewhere. In the period of 1851 to 2012, the majority of Mid-Atlantic storms (60 percent) approached from the south, following the coast. Others took alternative tracks, either through the Piedmont region of North Carolina (11 percent) or along the Appalachian Mountains (11 percent). Rare storms have approached from the southwest and crossed the Appalachian Mountains.

[caption id="attachment_29366" align="alignright" width="300"] A diagram depicts rainfall amounts during The Great Hurricane of 1938. Areas in New Jersey received up to seven inches of rain. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)[/caption]

During the early years of the twentieth century, the Mid-Atlantic experienced few storms while some of the strongest hurricanes on record struck places like Galveston, Texas, and Miami, Florida. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938, nicknamed “The Long Island Express,” primarily affected Long Island and New England. Before it made landfall, however, it caused flooding and wind damage along the New Jersey coastline, including at Atlantic City, Brigantine, and Wildwood.

Cycles of Twenty to Thirty Years

In addition to the effects of the Atlantic ridge of high-pressure, climate variations known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) have caused storm activity to vary in increased and decreased annual activity over cycles of twenty to thirty years. Following the inactivity of the early twentieth century, hurricane seasons became especially active again during the 1950s. In 1953, the World Meteorological Organization began giving the storms female names, a system aimed to improve communication with the public and standardize storm tracking. The system changed in 1979 to alternate names between male and female. In mid-October 1954, Hurricane Hazel came ashore in North Carolina and affected inland areas of Pennsylvania as a Category 1 storm, causing flooding and uprooting trees before moving into Canada. In August 1955, Hurricanes Connie and Diane struck the area within a week of one another. Connie caused flooding throughout the Greater Philadelphia region, but the drought conditions at the time in Delaware decreased the level of destruction. However, record flooding occurred in the Poconos and along the Delaware River when Diane hit the same areas of the region only five days later.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the mid-Atlantic region experienced a few major storms, primarily tropical storms or depressions. Hurricane Gloria in 1985 produced high winds, including a peak gust of 81 miles per hour in Ocean City, New Jersey, and caused extensive flooding throughout the Delaware Valley. Tropical Storm Floyd (1999) started out as a strong Category 4 hurricane in the Caribbean. Although it weakened as it traveled up the Eastern Seaboard, the storm caused widespread flooding and power outages across New Jersey and much of central and eastern Pennsylvania. Tropical Storm Allison (2001) formed in the Gulf of Mexico, hitting Texas and Louisiana before heading toward the mid-Atlantic region on a rare over-land path. Despite never evolving into a hurricane, Allison was especially destructive. The Philadelphia area saw extensive flooding, including in Bucks County, where the Neshaminy Creek crested at almost seventeen feet. In Montgomery County, flooding caused a gas explosion that killed six.

Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012) struck the Jersey shore unusually hard. On August 28, 2011, Hurricane Irene made landfall on Brigantine Island and caused extensive flooding throughout New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Vermont. It also spawned tornadoes and caused storm surge along the New Jersey coast. Hurricane Sandy hit late in the 2012 season on October 29 and 30, starting out as a fairly weak hurricane that quickly strengthened over the Bahamas. Although no longer at hurricane strength by the time it reached the Jersey Shore and reclassified as a “post-tropical cyclone with hurricane force winds,” Superstorm Sandy made landfall at Brigantine, New Jersey, and exceeded most officials’ expectations in destruction to the shore, New York City, and other coastal areas. Ignoring evacuation orders, many stayed behind and risked the floods, winds, and storm surge. Because the storm occurred late in the season, many people simply had not prepared for a hurricane. The extraordinarily large storm caused 1.2 million power outages in Pennsylvania alone.

Storms such as Sandy and Irene suggested that climate change could be affecting the strength and frequency of strong hurricanes hitting the mid-Atlantic region. During the period from the 1970s through the second decade of the twenty-first century, the number of Category 4 and 5 storms approximately doubled. Although rotating storms strengthened around the world, the North Atlantic appeared to be more affected by the increase in ocean temperatures. Higher sea levels have created an increased risk of destructive storm surge, and as populations have become denser in coastal areas, more people in the greater Philadelphia region have been at risk of being in the path of a hurricane or tropical storm.

Megan C. McGee Yinger earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from Penn State University-Harrisburg. She is working on a project that explores how American media prepare for and cope with natural and man-made disasters.

Cold War

The period of international political and military tension known as the Cold War (1947-91) had military, political, and cultural implications for Greater Philadelphia. The region served as a first line of defense for a conflict that depended more on missiles than forts, and it provided the nation with an arsenal, a shipyard, and a source of manpower. While a direct military confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, the Cold War’s principal adversaries, failed to materialize, the conflict made its mark on the region in other ways, including anti-communist suspicion, civil defense, and the 1967 summit between President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-73) and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin (1904-80) in Glassboro, New Jersey.

The Cold War emerged after World War II when the United States and the Soviet Union—wartime allies against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy—reverted to their prewar ideological rivalry between U.S. promotion of capitalism and Soviet support for Communist revolutions. As early as 1946, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) described the postwar divide in Europe as an Iron Curtain. In 1961 the East German government constructed the Berlin Wall, physically dividing the city and symbolic of Cold War tension. While the Soviet Union and the United States avoided direct military conflict, each became involved in proxy wars around the world, most notably in Korea (1950-53), Vietnam (1950-75), and Afghanistan (1979-89). Each nation worked to expand its international influence in a conflict carried out through propaganda, espionage, domestic surveillance, soft power (economic and cultural), the space race, and the threat of atomic weaponry. While Cold War tensions eased during the 1970s, a period characterized by détente (thawing), they resumed following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

Into the Postwar World

At the end of World War II, Philadelphia stood as America’s third largest city. Optimism ran high amid military demobilization and the lapsing of wartime rationing and restrictions. A building boom took place, and rows of small houses and garden apartments appeared in the city’s sections of East Germantown, West Oak Lane, and the Northeast. Philadelphia’s colleges and universities grew markedly in enrollment due to the educational opportunities made possible for veterans under the G.I. Bill.

[caption id="attachment_28659" align="alignright" width="338"] Members of the WAVES were among the reductions in force at the Navy Yard following World War II. Here, in a 1942 photograph, Ensign May Herrmann talks to two women about enlisting at the officer procurement office in Philadelphia. (Women of World War II)[/caption]

At the same time, however, apprehension grew over the detrimental impact of the sudden peace on local defense operations and industry. These fears quickly became realized at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where fifty-eight ships were deactivated by the middle of 1946. The Navy Yard laid off thousands of civilian workers and cut naval personnel from 345 officers and 639 WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in 1945 to 82 officers and 172 WAVES in 1949. To assist laid-off workers in finding employment, the Navy Yard established a Reduction-in-Force Unit in its Industrial Relations Division.

Postwar cuts generated constant fear of base and shipyard closure. In 1949, the Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) presidential administration laid off more than four thousand government employees at the Frankford Arsenal, Marine Corps Supply Depot, Naval Home, Quartermaster General Depot, and Signal Corps Stock Control Office, reducing the federal payroll in Philadelphia by $13 million. It further closed the Atlantic City Naval Air Station at Pomona, New Jersey, and announced plans to reduce the authorized number of personnel at the Navy Yard from nine thousand to seven thousand.

In addition to the military cutbacks, the spectre of communism provoked anxiety as political leaders, the media, and others warned of domestic threats. The Communist Party already had a strong presence in the region. Its membership of nearly one hundred thousand individuals by the late 1940s owed to both the economic toll of the Great Depression and the U.S.-Soviet alliance during World War II. During the postwar period, Communists built on existing racial tensions to recruit African Americans. The party’s newspaper, The Daily Worker, regularly reported instances of police brutality and frame-ups directed against African Americans in Philadelphia. Thomas Nabried (1900-65), the party’s city chair (1942-45) and then district chair for eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware, worked to organize fellow African Americans in the city and throughout Bucks County. By the 1950s, African Americans came to constitute more than one-sixth of the party’s membership. The party’s strength, however, proved short lived, as it failed to withstand the anti-communist mood of the 1950s and ceased to operate as an effective political force.

Veterans organizations emerged early as forceful proponents of anticommunism. The Catholic War Veterans, for example, organized mass demonstrations in Philadelphia in December 1946 to protest the repression of the Catholic Church in communist Eastern Europe. The Pennsylvania American Legion expressed support for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the McCarran Act, a 1950 federal law that called for the registration of “subversives.” Veterans groups sponsored patriotic celebrations such as Loyalty Day, designated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) in 1958 and held annually on or near May 1.

Patriotic activities to celebrate the United States, including the role Philadelphia played in its founding, accompanied anticommunist initiatives throughout the Cold War. Religious leaders played an important role. Vito Mazzone (1903-85), pastor of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi at 712 Montrose Street in South Philadelphia, encouraged active patriotism among his parishioners. “Christian patriotism” was the message of evangelist Billy Graham (b. 1918), who attracted a crowd of nearly seven hundred thousand to his Philadelphia crusade in 1961. Philadelphia served as the point of departure for the Freedom Train, which carried an exhibit of the nation’s founding documents around the country between 1947 and 1949. The era’s heightened patriotism also brought increasing numbers of tourists to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which became the centerpieces of Independence National Historical Park, authorized by Congress in 1948.

Military Revitalization and Nuclear Threats

The Cold War suddenly turned hot in June 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. This followed the Soviet Union’s first explosion of an atomic bomb and the creation of the Communist Peoples Republic of China. The Philadelphia region felt the impact as jobs returned to the Naval Yard. At the height of the American-led United Nations “police action” in Korea at the end of 1951, 14,750 went to work for the Navy in the shipyard. A new Radiological Decontamination Training Facility opened in Building 681 and distributed manuals for ship decontamination in the event of an air burst of atomic bombs.

[caption id="attachment_29178" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph showing a class room with children crouching under the desks during a Schoolchildren in Philadelphia learned to "duck and cover" in the event of a nuclear strike during the Cold War. Many local schools were also designated as fallout shelters. Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries[/caption]

The fear of nuclear attack remained paramount. In 1952, Pennsylvania’s Civil Air Patrol dropped leaflets in Bucks and Chester Counties that warned of potential bombs. By the 1950s, the Philadelphia District of the Corps of Engineers supervised construction of twelve NIKE/AJAX surface-to-air missile sites averaging twenty-five miles from Center City. Regular Army and Pennsylvania National Guard manned the batteries with command and control functions located at a facility in Pedricktown, Salem County, New Jersey. Missile sites in New Jersey protected the New York area in the north and the Philadelphia area in the south.

[caption id="attachment_28668" align="alignright" width="234"] South Philadelphia High School and Drexel Institute graduate Harry Gold confessed to espionage with the Soviets in 1950. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)[/caption]

As nuclear espionage dominated national news, in May 1950 authorities arrested a South Philadelphia man, Harry Gold (1910-72), on espionage charges. A South Philadelphia High School graduate, Gold had studied chemical engineering at Drexel Institute and by the 1930s had begun to provide the Soviets with documents about industrial solvents and manufacturing processes from the Pennsylvania Sugar Company, the Fishtown refinery where he worked. At that time one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, Pennsylvania Sugar had subsidiaries that produced everything from Quaker brand antifreeze to solvents, lacquers, and rum.

Following his arrest, Gold confessed to acting as a courier to pass information for the Soviets about the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb, to atomic spy Klaus Fuchs (1911-88). This led to the arrest of David Greenglass (1922-2014), a Manhattan Project machinist whose testimony resulted in the espionage arrest, trial and execution of Greenglass’s sister Ethel Rosenberg (1915-53) and her husband, Julius (1918-53). Gold served fifteen years of the thirty-year sentence he received before his parole from the Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in May 1966.  

Reflecting continuing anxiety about Communist activity within the United States, organizers of Pennsylvania Week activities in 1951 chose “Defense” as their theme. Philadelphia’s Civil Defense Council, citing a shipment of purported sabotage manuals allegedly unloaded from a ship at the Philadelphia docks, warned of the need to detect subversive threats. The region’s desire to expose potential communist subversives manifested in the adoption of statewide loyalty oaths in Pennsylvania (1951) and New Jersey (1949). Delaware remained one of only seven states to resist adopting such legislation. Locally, meanwhile, in 1955 the Philadelphia School District dismissed twenty-six teachers for refusing to answer questions about Communist affiliations on the basis of their rights under the Fifth Amendment. In the suburbs, the Bucks County Bar rejected an applicant based on his association with a Marxist fellow student at the Pennsylvania State University. An appeal eventually overturned the decision.

The Cold War elevated the importance of universities to national security. As centers of scientific production, the federal government provided campuses with unprecedented funding. Philadelphia’s campuses benefited from the Section 112 program, a 1959 revision to the Housing Act that responded to the Soviet Union’s launch of its satellite Sputnik two years before. This enabled urban universities in selected cities, including Philadelphia, to undertake massive expansion projects at little or no cost to the universities.

Because of their perceived importance and the federal dollars they received, universities came under the scrutiny of authorities early and often. Barrows Dunham (1905-95), professor of philosophy and department head at Temple University, attracted interest from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) because of his former membership in the Communist Party. Subpoenaed to appear before the U.S. House Un-American Affairs Committee in October 1952, Dunham ultimately sought protection under the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions. Cited for standing in contempt of Congress in May 1954, Dunham secured an acquittal a year later. Temple officials dismissed Dunham and continued to cooperate with the FBI. In July 1981 Temple’s trustees acknowledged Dunham’s dismissal as an error and reinstated him as professor emeritus entitled to a lifetime pension.  

[caption id="attachment_28657" align="alignright" width="300"] Activity at the Navy Yard, pictured here in 1968, rebounded during the Vietnam War era. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The Cold War further revitalized the Philadelphia Naval Yard during the Vietnam War, when the facility entered its most active period of operations and highest level of employment since World War II. Its annual payroll reached nearly $90 million. Activity diminished after Vietnam, but the Naval Base remained vital to national defense throughout the Cold War. Most notably, the Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) presidential administration awarded Philadelphia $500 million to fulfill the first Carrier Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) contract for the 60,000-ton attack carrier Saratoga. Continued SLEP contracts employed thousands of Delaware Valley residents and brought hundreds of millions of dollars to the region over the next twenty years.

The Cold War’s costs included the men and women overseas to serve in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Draftees and volunteers from across the northeastern United States reported to Fort Dix in New Jersey for basic training. Many did not return. The Korean War exacted a human toll of over six hundred dead from Philadelphia and its surrounding counties. Forty-three from Delaware died in Korea while nearly eight hundred from New Jersey lost their lives. The war in Vietnam proved even more costly, as 646 Philadelphians, 122 service people from Delaware, and 1,500 from New Jersey never returned from Vietnam.

These costs rendered the Vietnam War increasingly divisive at home. The conflict shattered the Cold War consensus as supporters and protestors demonstrated on college campuses and sought claim to Philadelphia’s symbols of America’s democracy, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Following two years of acrimony on its campus, the University of Pennsylvania terminated its chemical and biological warfare contracts with the Pentagon.      

Crossing the Divide

The accelerated globalization that accompanied the Cold War brought issues of national security to doorsteps across the nation. For those in the Philadelphia region, as for others across the United States, this rendered a renewed focus on home and family life that increasingly transpired in the suburbs. At the same time, Philadelphia became more connected to the world. In 1945, the United States Air Force returned Philadelphia Municipal Airport to civil control after using it as an airfield during World War II. It became Philadelphia International Airport later that year when American Overseas Airlines began direct flights to Europe. This coincided with the city proposing that Philadelphia become the permanent home for the newly established United Nations, offering a ten-square-mile site on Belmont Plateau but losing the bid to New York.

While often engulfed in Cold War tensions, Philadelphians also sought ways to alleviate them. In 1958, the Philadelphia Orchestra departed for its first tour of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In 1973, the orchestra embarked on another first, a trip to the Peoples Republic of China that preceded the existence of an American embassy in Beijing. This type of exchange also extended to sport. In July 1959, Philadelphia hosted the first in a series of track meets between American and Soviet athletes at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field. While Soviet athletes largely prevailed over their American counterparts, almost twenty years later the defending Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers scored a convincing 4-1 victory over Moscow’s Central Hockey Club at the Spectrum on January 11, 1976.

[caption id="attachment_28652" align="alignright" width="344"] Kosygin's interpreter, Premier Kosygin, interpreter William Krimer, and President Johnson (left to right) at a luncheon for diplomats inside Hollybush Mansion. (LBJ Presidential Library)[/caption]

The region also offered the site for the 1967 summit meeting between President Johnson and Soviet Premier Kosygin. The two met June 23-24 at Hollybush Mansion, the residence of Glassboro State College (Rowan University) President Thomas E. Robinson (1905-92). The choice of site, with only two day’s notice, derived from a disagreement about whether the meeting should take place in Washington or in New York, where Kosygin was attending an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the recently concluded Six Day War.

Both sides agreed on Glassboro, located exactly at the midpoint between New York and Washington. Johnson considered the site ideal for its relatively rural location, removed from the growing protests on Philadelphia’s campuses against the Vietnam War. The summit failed to produce any agreements, notably on the limitation of anti-ballistic missile systems. Limited headway made by the two leaders on the terms of a nonproliferation treaty failed to result in the issuing of any communique, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 delayed further serious discussion between American and Soviet officials until 1972. However, the Glassboro meeting’s spontaneity and its spirit of cooperation resonated widely at the time. This helped pave the way for a period of thawed relations between the Cold War adversaries referred to as détente.

Philadelphia continued to serve as an important site for the nation’s expression of patriotism. As the Cold War varied in intensity, the city hosted America’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976 and the bicentennial anniversary of the Constitution in 1987. It also rewarded the pursuit of freedom globally, awarding the inaugural Liberty Medal in 1989 to Lech Walesa (b. 1943) of Poland, the leader of Solidarity, the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union.

The Cold War concluded in 1991 with the internal collapse of the Soviet Union. The tensions of the era served to revitalize the military establishment in Greater Philadelphia, injecting the economy with money and jobs. The cost, however, included an anticommunist hysteria that occurred throughout the nation. Thousands of area residents lost their lives in Cold War-era military conflicts. While the region contributed markedly to the nation’s defense, through its missile defense initiative and operations at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, its sacrifices proved more substantial.

Robert J. Kodosky is an Associate Professor of History at West Chester University. He is the author of Psychological Operations American Style: The Joint United States Public Affairs Office, Vietnam and Beyond.

Dutch (The) and The Netherlands

From seventeenth-century Dutch settlements in the Delaware Valley to twenty-first century business connections, the greater Philadelphia area has had longstanding and meaningful ties with the Netherlands. Not to be confused with the more numerous Pennsylvania Dutch—who are in fact German, or Deutsch, speakers—Nederlanders helped shape Philadelphia through migration and cultural, social, and economic exchange.

[caption id="attachment_28172" align="alignright" width="300"] This seventeenth-century Dutch relief map shows the region of the Delaware Bay and river, other natural features, and the presence of Lenape Indians. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The Dutch played an important, though little recognized, role in the early European colonization of the region. From 1614 until the English seized the province in 1664 the Dutch colony of Nieuw Nederland (New Netherland) included parts of the future states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. Settlement and trade along New Netherland’s Zuyd (South) River—the Delaware River—was limited compared to activity around the seaport city of Nieuw Amsterdam (later New York), but nevertheless significant to the region’s development.

The first director of New Netherland, Cornelius Mey (c.1580–?), originally envisioned the Delaware Bay as the ideal location for the colony’s capital. As a sea captain, Mey was one of the first Europeans to explore the New Jersey coast, and in 1624 he oversaw an initial settlement of two families and eight men on an island in the Delaware River. Known as Mattennecunk by the original Lenni Lenape inhabitants and Hooghe Eylandt (High Island) by the Dutch, the capital that Mey envisioned was short-lived. In 1626, then-director Peter Minuit (c.1580–1638) decided that the Noort (North) River (Hudson River) would provide a better hub for Dutch trade, and he relocated the capital to Manhattan Island. Hooghe Eylandt—later renamed Burlington Island— has sat uninhabited since the mid-twentieth century. The legacy of Cornelius Mey continued in place names: Cape May, Cape May County, and the city of Cape May, New Jersey, were all named in Mey’s honor.

In 1626, the Dutch built a factorij (trading post) on the eastern shore of the Delaware, near the future site of Gloucester City, New Jersey. Since the most productive Lenape fur traps were located on the other side of the river, the success of Fort Nassau—named in honor of the Dutch noble family of Orange-Nassau—was limited from the outset. These problems were exacerbated after 1638 by the arrival of the Swedes, who primarily settled on the Delaware’s western banks (later the site of Wilmington, Delaware). In 1651, intent on reasserting Dutch control of the Delaware Valley, Petrus “Peter” Stuyvesant (1612–72) dismantled Fort Nassau and built a new factorij, Fort Casimir, immediately downriver from New Sweden. Captured briefly by the Swedes in 1654, Casimir—and indeed the entirety of Swedish North America—was recaptured by Stuyvesant and his troops in September 1655.

Seeking to reinforce the Dutch position in the Delaware Valley, Stuyvesant also established the village of New Amstel near Fort Casimir. While this settlement was more successful than earlier efforts in the region—the ill-fated 1631 patroonship of Swaanendael (Swan’s Valley, later Lewes, Delaware) lasted just one year—Stuyvesant’s efforts to fortify the region for the Dutch ultimately proved unsuccessful. In 1664, New Amstel—thereafter known as New Castle—changed hands once again with the surrender of New Netherland to the English.

Colonial Philadelphia

The legacy of early Dutch settlement remained apparent by the time William Penn (1644–1718) received a charter for the Province of Pennsylvania in 1681, even though the English had controlled the region for almost two decades. Penn arrived in North America in October 1682 through New Castle (formerly New Amstel) and the city, with its Dutch urban planning and mixed Dutch, Swedish, and English population, served as Penn’s capital until the founding of Philadelphia. Penn located his new city between the Delaware River and the Schuylkill, a Dutch name meaning “hidden creek.” Penn also had personal connections to the Dutch and the Netherlands. While scholars disagree as to whether Penn’s mother Margaret Jasper (?–1682) came from a Dutch family or if her Irish-Protestant father was merely a merchant based in Rotterdam, her first husband, Nicasius van der Schure (?–before 1643) was a Dutchman. Penn also traveled to the Netherlands twice between 1671 and 1677 to spread Quaker teachings and recruit migrants to his new colony.

Penn’s recruiting proved successful, drawing several hundred Dutch Quakers to Pennsylvania in the 1680s and 1690s despite otherwise minimal emigration from the Netherlands to British colonial America. In 1683, approximately two hundred of these migrants founded the borough of Germantown. Understandably thought of as a German settlement, Germantown was in fact predominantly Dutch through the early eighteenth century.

As Philadelphia developed into a major Atlantic seaport, the Dutch emerged as an important—if illicit—trading partner. While British mercantilist policies officially limited most trade to within the empire, colonial American merchants regularly subverted these protectionist rules and widely participated in Atlantic smuggling networks. As committed free traders, Dutch merchants played a prominent role in facilitating this unsanctioned trade. Philadelphia-based merchants and their Dutch colleagues exchanged a variety of goods in the colonial period, from molasses to gunpowder. The lead-up to the American Revolution was a particularly lucrative period for American-Dutch illicit trade; in response to colonists’ boycotts of British goods, thousands of chests of Dutch tea were smuggled through Philadelphia and sold throughout North America.

During and after the Revolutionary War, the relationship between Philadelphia—the capital of the nascent United States until 1800—and the Netherlands continued to strengthen. Despite pressure from Britain and an official Dutch position of neutrality, thousands of barrels of gunpowder were shipped to the revolutionaries through the Dutch-Caribbean island of St. Eustatius. After independence, the Netherlands became the first nation to recognize and salute the American flag and was the second foreign power to establish diplomatic relations with the United States.

Netherlands Society of Philadelphia

The next major wave of Dutch migration to the United States began in the 1840s, spurred by a sluggish economy and tightening agricultural market in the Netherlands. Although Philadelphia served as an important port of arrival for these immigrants, few remained on the East Coast, opting instead to settle in the Midwest and Dutch enclaves such as Holland, Michigan. Nevertheless, an appreciation for the historical and contemporary ties between the Netherlands and the greater Philadelphia region remained strong. In 1892, Dr. Peter Dirck Keyser (1835–97), a Civil War veteran and prominent ophthalmologist, founded the Netherlands Society of Philadelphia. With full membership open to any man with Dutch ancestors who arrived in America before 1776, the Society sponsored talks on Dutch history, culture, and politics.

In addition to highlighting the historical role of the Dutch in shaping U.S. institutions, the Philadelphia Society also endeavored to foster friendly ties between Philadelphia and the Netherlands. Dutch-Philadelphians raised thousands of dollars on behalf of Dutch refugees during World War II, contributed to the Holland Flood Relief Fund following the devastating North Sea flood of 1953, and helped sponsor the Drexel Glee Club’s 1963 tour of Europe. The Society also played an active role in facilitating and planning two visits from the Dutch Queen Juliana (1909–2004) to Philadelphia in 1952 and 1982.

U.S.-Netherlands Relations and Philadelphia

Dutch investors and corporations have long been drawn to the economic opportunities of the greater Philadelphia region. In the nineteenth century, Dutch capital was one of the largest sources of international investment in American banking and infrastructure projects, which included several loans made to the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. With the globalization and the growth of multinational corporations in the twentieth century, a number of Dutch-owned businesses have also established their North American headquarters in the Philadelphia area. While not limited to any one industry, Dutch companies have been particularly active in banking, chemical, and technological industries. The Amsterdam-based chemical company Akzo Nobel, whose coatings are used on buildings, ships, cars, and other consumer goods, established a location in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Another major Dutch chemical company, DSM—which began in 1902 as a government-sponsored coal-mining venture in the Southern Netherlands province of Limburg—located a branch of its biomedical-manufacturing arm nearby in Exton. The Dutch also found a market for their expertise in flood control and environmental engineering. The design and consultancy company Arcadis, which began as the land reclamation company Nederlandsche Heidemaatschappij in 1888, established offices in Center City Philadelphia and Newtown, Pennsylvania. Overall, the Embassy of the Netherlands estimated that in the second decade of the twenty-first century Dutch-U.S. investment and trade supported almost one hundred thousand jobs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

[caption id="attachment_28504" align="alignright" width="300"] The 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show celebrated the Dutch floral industry. (Photograph for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia by Donald D. Groff)[/caption]

While membership in the Netherlands Society of Philadelphia dwindled at the end of the twentieth century, groups such as the Netherlands-America Association of the Delaware Valley (NAADV) continued to preserve and promote Dutch and Dutch-American culture in the region. Founded in 1957 by Dutch immigrants living in the area, the NAADV sponsored educational events, hosted language groups, and celebrated holidays like Koninginnedag (King’s Day) and Sinterklaas. In 2017, the Philadelphia Flower Show celebrated the world-renowned Dutch floral industry, working with floriculturists, designers, and sustainability experts from the Netherlands for the exhibition “Holland: Flowering the World.”

Through both permanent settlement and ongoing international connections, the greater Philadelphia region and the Netherlands have enjoyed close connections since the seventeenth century. Although the colony of Nieuw Nederland was short-lived, the legacy of early Dutch settlement in the Delaware Valley remained evident in place names and the efforts of groups such as the Netherlands Society of Philadelphia. With the Dutch as steady diplomatic and economic partners, Philadelphia has benefited from economic and cultural exchange with the Netherlands for more than four centuries.

Laura Michel is a Ph.D. student in History at Rutgers University—New Brunswick. She studies issues surrounding crime, poverty, and philanthropy in the early modern Atlantic World. (Information current at date of publication.)

Woman Suffrage

While the Philadelphia region often led the way on progressive reforms, by the twentieth century, woman suffrage was not among them. The region boasted a number of early woman suffrage advocates, and women in New Jersey had the right to vote during the early years of the republic, but by the late nineteenth century, Pennsylvania in particular lagged behind other states in granting women even limited voting rights. Twentieth-century efforts to pass referenda in support of equal suffrage in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware all failed. Throughout, divisions over strategy and among women across racial, economic, and social lines complicated the struggle. After Congress finally sent a federal amendment to the states in 1919, Pennsylvania ratified quickly, but Delaware’s vote against the amendment allowed Tennessee to become the final state needed to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920.

Earlier history had been more promising. In the years after independence, New Jersey alone granted women the right to vote, under the terms of the 1776 state constitution and confirmed by legislation passed in the 1790s. The provision, the result of partisan jockeying for voter advantage, applied only to women (and men) of sufficient property. Since few owned property in their own right, few actually voted. As a result, when the legislature rescinded that right in 1807 and limited suffrage to white males—an act of questionable legality since it overturned a constitutional provision with a legislative act—women did not fight disenfranchisement. In New Jersey and elsewhere, the gradual expansion of suffrage to all white men in the early nineteenth century was accompanied by the curtailing of voting rights for women and African Americans.

[caption id="attachment_27927" align="alignright" width="197"] Lucretia Coffin Mott was a leading figure in Philadelphia’s abolition and early woman’s rights movements. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The early woman’s rights movement was closely tied to the abolition movement, with Quakers taking a leading role in the Philadelphia region. Formal agitation for the vote began when several men in Burlington County, New Jersey, unsuccessfully petitioned the state constitutional convention in 1844 to reinstate women’s right to vote. In 1852, Quaker women organized Pennsylvania’s first woman’s rights convention, at Horticultural Hall in West Chester, presided over by abolitionists Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) and Mary Ann White Johnson (1808–72). Mott and Sarah Pugh (1800–84) founded the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and organized the fifth national woman’s rights convention, held in Philadelphia’s Sansom Street Hall in October 1854. These conventions advocated not only for woman suffrage, but for woman’s rights.

[caption id="attachment_28032" align="alignright" width="197"] Robert Purvis, a leader in Philadelphia’s free black community and the abolition movement, supported suffrage for women. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Embracing Other Issues

During and following the Civil War, suffrage advocates turned their attention to emancipation and African American rights. In 1866, woman’s rights activists organized the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) to “secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color or sex.” Lucretia Mott served as president. Philadelphia abolitionists and woman’s rights supporters formed the affiliated Pennsylvania Equal Rights Association in January 1867. Its president, Robert Purvis (1810–98), who had been the first African American member of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and a former president of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, was the only black male abolitionist to support the idea that black men should not be granted the vote until all women were also enfranchised. In December 1866, suffragists in the reform-minded community of Vineland, in Cumberland County, New Jersey, organized the Vineland Equal Rights Association and sent a petition to the Republican state convention for “Impartial Suffrage, irrespective of Sex or Color.”

In 1869, the AERA splintered over support of the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted African American men, but not women, the right to vote. Those who believed that black men should not receive the vote until women did as well formed the new National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). Those who believed that this was the “Negro’s hour” formed the American Woman Suffrage Society (AWSA), led by Lucy Stone (1818–93) and Henry Blackwell (1825–1909) of New Jersey.

In the Philadelphia region, a number of new suffrage groups affiliated with one of these two societies. The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Society, organized in Vineland in November 1867 and led by Stone and Blackwell, which had drawn most of its early members from southern New Jersey, shifted to ally with the AWSA in 1869. More women from the northern counties became active, while the suffragists of Vineland turned to their own organization and tactics. The Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, formed at Philadelphia’s Mercantile Hall in December 1869 and led by abolitionist Mary Grew (1813–96), also aligned with the AWSA. This society, active into the twentieth century, primarily engaged in educational activities. In March 1872, Philadelphia suffragists sympathetic to the NWSA organized the competing Citizens’ Suffrage Association at 333 Walnut Street, the office of its president, Edward M. Davis (1811–87), son-in-law of Lucretia Mott. Meanwhile, suffragists in Delaware, a border state, remained unorganized, although they held their first convention in 1868.

[caption id="attachment_27924" align="alignright" width="300"] Women in Vineland, New Jersey, brought their own ballot box to the polls beginning in November 1868, after Portia Gage was prevented from voting the previous spring. (Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society)[/caption]

In March 1868, Portia K. Gage (1813–1903) of Vineland attempted to vote in the municipal elections but was prevented because she was not registered. That fall she returned with 171 other women, black and white, and their own ballot box, and voted. The Vineland women continued the practice in 1869 and 1870. Their actions inspired women around the country to begin going to the polls to test the theory that women, as citizens, were enfranchised by the Fourteenth Amendment, suffrage being one of citizenship’s “privileges and immunities.” Carrie S. Burnham (1838–1909), a member of the Citizens’ Suffrage Association of Philadelphia, attempted to vote in October 1871. After a court ruled against her, she appealed to the state supreme court and also spoke before the state legislature. Burnham lost her appeal. In 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Minor v. Happersett, ruled that voting was not a right of citizenship.

State Constitutions

After ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, suffragists also worked to change voting clauses in state constitutions, many of which were rewritten in the Reconstruction era. Women sought to have the word “male” removed from voter qualifications at the same time that states removed the word “white.” The Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1872–73, however, changed its description of those eligible to vote from “white freeman” to “male citizens.” The new constitution did allow women to run—but not vote—for school offices. Neither New Jersey nor Delaware updated their constitutions.

In 1876, at the instigation of the Philadelphia Citizens’ Suffrage Association, NWSA determined to use the centennial celebration of American Independence, in Philadelphia, to point out the contradiction between the ideals of the Revolution and the reality of restricted suffrage. It also began lobbying for a sixteenth amendment for woman suffrage. As early as May 1875, Susan B. Anthony rented rooms at 1431 Chestnut Street to serve as headquarters. That fall, the leaders of NWSA began planning a Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States, which they intended to read at Independence Hall on July 4. Denied permission to present their declaration at the event, they obtained tickets to it, and, after a reading of the Declaration of Independence, distributed it to the audience while Susan B. Anthony led a delegation onto the stage and handed it to the presiding officer. The AWSA, which had declined to sign the declaration, held its own meeting on July 3 at Horticultural Hall to recognize the centennial of woman suffrage in New Jersey and protest its loss in 1807.

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) became an important ally of the suffrage movement in the late nineteenth century. In Montgomery County, the WCTU shared space with the local suffrage society in Norristown. The New Jersey WCTU began cooperating with the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association by 1884. In Delaware, the state WCTU organized a suffrage department in 1888, and Martha S. Cranston (1845–1926) became its superintendent in 1889. The issues of temperance and prohibition complicated arguments for woman suffrage, particularly in Philadelphia, into the final years of the suffrage campaign.

[caption id="attachment_27932" align="alignright" width="300"] Municipal reformer Lucretia Longshore Blankenburg became president of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association in 1892. (Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections)[/caption]

Meanwhile, in 1887, Congress defeated a woman suffrage amendment. This blow led suffragists at the national level to once again reassess strategy. For this and other reasons, the rival NWSA and AWSA reorganized in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with Anthony as its first president. State societies coordinated with this new national society. In 1892, Lucretia Longshore Blankenburg (1845–1937) became president of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Society and encouraged the formation of local societies. Jane Campbell (1845–1928) founded the Woman Suffrage Society of Philadelphia that year and served as its president for nearly twenty years. The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association also reorganized in 1890. Slow to organize, Delaware’s first suffrage society, the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Club, formed in November 1895, under the leadership of Philadelphia’s Rachel Foster Avery (1858–1919), a member of the Citizens’ Suffrage Association and leader of NWSA’s effort to organize Pennsylvania. A state suffrage society formed in 1896, with temperance advocate Martha Cranston as president.

Piecemeal Progress

In the 1890s, some suffragists focused on securing more limited voting rights. New Jersey suffragists, working with the WCTU and the Grange, lobbied for an amendment to restore (for rural women) and expand (for others) women’s right to vote for school commissioners; voters defeated the amendment in a special election in 1897. Suffrage activists were particularly interested in Delaware because it had a state constitutional convention scheduled for 1897. They were unsuccessful in getting “male” struck as a voting qualification, but Delaware did pass a law in 1898 that allowed tax-paying women to vote for school trustees.

Philadelphia experienced a proliferation of local suffrage societies representing different constituencies and strategies in the early twentieth century. Among them were the Pennsylvania College Equal Suffrage League (1908), an affiliate of the National College Equal Suffrage League, led by M. Carey Thomas (1857–1935), president of Bryn Mawr College; the Pennsylvania Limited Suffrage League (1909), which, as its name implied, advocated for a limited suffrage, excluding illiterates and criminals; and the Equal Franchise Society of Philadelphia (1909), which drew its members from Philadelphia’s society women. In 1909 the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association also formed a state Woman Suffrage Party to work on the state legislature in Harrisburg, following the plan put forth by NAWSA’s Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947). In New Jersey, however, the defeat of 1897 had stymied state efforts for a time; by 1908 no branches of the state suffrage society were active in the southern counties. Delaware suffragists experienced similar difficulties after their 1897 defeat.

[caption id="attachment_27964" align="alignright" width="300"] Alice Paul, in a photo taken between 1912 and 1920, sews stars a suffrage flag. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The new energy that infused the woman suffrage movement in the region, and nationally, stemmed from a new generation of leaders. Inspired by suffragists in England, where she had spent a few years after college, Alice Paul (1885–1977), a young Quaker woman from Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduate of Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania, advocated the use of rallies, parades, and similar tactics to draw public attention to the cause. She also pushed NAWSA to focus on the goal of a federal amendment rather than its state-by-state campaign. By 1913, Paul had formed the Congressional Union (CU), which originally affiliated with NAWSA but soon broke with it over strategy.

[caption id="attachment_27949" align="alignright" width="191"]Small girl wearing white dress and "Votes for Women" sash stands next to replica of the Liberty Bell. She and the bell are the same height. A girl wearing a sash saying "Votes for Women" stands on a truck bed next the Justice Bell, a copy of the Liberty Bell made for the suffrage campaign. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Alice Paul

The new CU appealed to many Philadelphia suffragists. Leadership of the state suffrage society shifted to the western part of the state, where its emphasis on smaller meetings and less public spectacle was more effective. But Philadelphia became Alice Paul’s testing ground for new tactics that she later took to a national stage. In May 1914, Paul planned May Day celebrations in every state. In Philadelphia, many of the city’s suffrage societies, including the Men’s League, held the state’s first suffrage demonstration in Rittenhouse Square before marching on Market Street to Washington Square. The CU and state society cooperated, sometimes uneasily, on a successful effort to secure a state referendum, which culminated in a statewide campaign in 1915. For the most part, the CU agreed not to interfere with the state society during that campaign, the highlight of which was a statewide tour of the Justice Bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell with its clapper silenced until women won the right to vote. Financed by Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger (1853–1943) of Chester County, the Justice Bell ended its tour in Philadelphia in October with a parade before a crowd of one hundred thousand. The referendum did not pass, however, with Philadelphia and the counties in southeastern Pennsylvania—except for Chester County—voting against suffrage, in part due to Philadelphia’s machine politics and the power of the liquor interests in the region, which associated woman suffrage with the temperance cause.

New Jersey, too, voted on a suffrage referendum in 1915. The shifting political power in the state away from the Democratic Party gave suffragists cause for hope. NAWSA sent professional organizers to the state, including to Camden, where Jenney G. Kerlin (b. 1878) led the Camden Equal Suffrage League. The anti-suffrage forces were also well organized, however, and the political parties refused to take a stand. President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), former governor of New Jersey, endorsed the referendum, indicating that he thought the women of New Jersey should have the vote, but as a private citizen (thus avoiding a stand on a national amendment). But voters defeated the referendum by a wide margin; it lost in every county except Ocean Country, where it won by a very narrow margin.

Meanwhile, Paul’s supporters focused on a national amendment. In Philadelphia, she found strong allies in Caroline Katzenstein (1876–1968), active in the state suffrage society and the Equal Franchise League, and Dora Kelly Lewis (1862–1928), as well as Mary A. Burnham (1852–1928), a major donor to the National Woman’s Party, which grew out of the CU. While NAWSA suspended much of its work during World War I, the National Woman’s Party pressed on, lobbying representatives in Washington and holding vigils outside the White House to highlight President Wilson’s hypocrisy in fighting for democracy overseas while women were disenfranchised at home. Lewis was among those arrested during the protests in 1917, jailed, and force fed to end a hunger strike.

[caption id="attachment_27943" align="alignright" width="215"] This broadside, published by the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage sometime between 1915 and 1917, used 1910 census data to show that woman suffrage would not increase the proportion of the black vote. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The long struggle with Congress finally ended when it passed a nineteenth amendment for woman suffrage on June 4, 1919. Suffragists in all states then turned their attention to achieving ratification in the required minimum of thirty-six states. Pennsylvania quickly ratified, on June 24. The struggle was more protracted in New Jersey and Delaware. In New Jersey, the legislature put off consideration until 1920, and suffragists worked to elect pro-suffrage representatives in the fall of 1919. After a closely contested vote, New Jersey’s legislature ratified the amendment on February 9, 1920. By the end of March, when thirty-five states had ratified, suffragists focused on a handful of states that had not yet rejected the amendment, including Delaware. As in many southern states, anti-suffrage activists exploited fears that the amendment would bring more black voters to the polls, and the Delaware campaign ended in defeat on June 2. Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify on August 18, 1920. Delaware finally ratified the amendment on March 6, 1923.

The Justice Bell rang for the first time on September 25, 1920, on Independence Square in Philadelphia. Over one million women in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware voted in a national election for the first time on November 2, 1920. It had taken well over one hundred years for women to win that right and to push the nation forward toward living up to the ideals put forth at its founding.  

Tamara Gaskell is Public Historian in Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities and co-editor of The Public Historian. Previously, she was editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography and Pennsylvania Legacies, while director of publications at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and an assistant editor of the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania

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 the Union army. The society’s primary goal was to support families, especially single or deserted mothers. It encouraged self-reliance by urging parents to contribute to their children’s expenses and by temporarily alleviating the burden of childcare so that they could find work. On occasion, the agency cared for abandoned, delinquent, or orphaned children. The Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania drew on the model of the New York Children’s Aid Society, created by Charles Loring Brace (1826–90) in 1853 to address similar concerns.

The nineteenth century experienced a significant increase in urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. The population of Philadelphia tripled between the years 1790 and 1830, and this growth coincided with epidemics of cholera, yellow fever, and typhoid fever, which contributed to an abundance of children who were either orphaned or abandoned. As a result of such upheaval or parental neglect, children often roamed the streets, worked as apprentices through indenture, or faced confinement to almshouses, jails, or insane asylums. The combination of crime and abandoned street children presented serious issues that social welfare advocates such as Hinckley, who had previously served as secretary at the Pennsylvania Homeopathic Hospital for Children, could not ignore. In 1883, she successfully pushed for legislation that prohibited the institutionalization of children in asylums designated primarily for adults. In 1884, the Children’s Aid Society reported that it had cared for 681 children annually, a number that grew steadily over the next fifty years.

The Philadelphia-based organization served children throughout the state until 1889, when the Children’s Aid Society of Western Pennsylvania was organized. Since the Children’s Aid Society could not accommodate all children in the region who were in need of homes and services, volunteer committees created local county branches to respond to this need. Although initially created to address an overflow from the central office, county offices became essential to operations by the 1890s. Before the creation of a centralized bureau in 1921, these local agencies reported between half and two-thirds of the cases to the central office, many of whom were children who had been contracted as indentured workers. By the mid-1930s the Children’s Aid Society reported that it provided care and services for 3,030 children annually from both Philadelphia and its neighboring counties.

[caption id="attachment_27330" align="alignright" width="228"] Dr. Jessie Taft, was a prominent progressive era reformer who exerted a profound influence on social work in its formative years. This portrait of Taft was taken c. 1908. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

The Children’s Aid Society was a pioneer in the professionalization of the field of social work during a period when foundations were established to tackle the root causes of poverty. In the first decade of the twentieth century, the field of social work evolved to include more scientific-based understandings of poverty and child development. In response to these developments, in 1908 the Children’s Aid Society began offering career training to its employees, which eventually grew into the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work (later the School of Social Policy and Practice). The society itself also became more professional, with several prominent figures serving in managerial capacities. Edwin D. Solenberger (1876–1964), a social service administrator, served as general secretary from 1907 until 1943. John Prentice Murphy (1881–1936), a pioneer in the literature on the models of intervention and outcome assessment, joined the society in 1908. In the 1920s, Dr. Jessie Taft (1882–1960), an expert in the burgeoning field of mental hygiene, became the director of the Child Study Department, which provided mental examinations to incoming children. These advancements contributed to the agency’s mission by providing holistic care and support to children and their families.

[caption id="attachment_27328" align="alignright" width="300"]Small children in white uniforms play outside as nurses stand watching Children in white uniforms play as nurses watch in this undated photo outside the Philadelphia Home for Infants. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Over the years, several local child welfare agencies merged with the Children’s Aid Society. The Union Temporary Home (1856), an institution that was created specifically for poor white children, officially closed in 1887 due to financial constraints. The Philadelphia Home for Infants (1873), created for children under the age of three, also began struggling financially in the early twentieth century and eventually merged with the Children’s Bureau in 1942. The Children’s Bureau (1907) functioned as a shelter and centralized information bureau to funnel information to the more than sixty agencies that received needy children. During World War II, both the Children’s Bureau and the Children’s Aid Society helped place juvenile refugees from Europe into homes in the Philadelphia area. They merged into one organization in 1944.

From the 1950s through the late 1970s, child welfare services were typically self-contained units that focused on in-home evaluations. From the 1970s onward, local government agencies began operating under federal legislation. Similar in its mission to the Children’s Aid Society, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 aimed to serve children in their own homes, prevent external placement, and facilitate the reunification of families. Despite such reform, the late 1980s and 1990s experienced increases in child neglect and foster placements. In Philadelphia, agencies such as the Philadelphia Task Force for Children at Risk, the Support and Community Outreach Program, and PhillyKids Connection addressed these concerns.

Dedicated to improving and protecting the lives of children, the Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania was a pioneer in child welfare and advocacy. In 2008, it merged with the Philadelphia Society for Services to Children and formed Turning Points for Children, an organization dedicated to reducing child abuse and improving the lives of over nine thousand children and their caregivers. Like its predecessor, Turning Points for Children focused on providing holistic family-center programs in the interest of building community relations in the region.

Holly Caldwell received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Delaware, where she wrote her dissertation on the medicalization of deafness and deaf education reform at Mexico’s Escuela Nacional de Sordomudos (National School for Deaf-Mutes). She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Chestnut Hill College and has also taught at Susquehanna University.

Tamara Gaskell

Tamara Gaskell is Public Historian in Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities and co-editor of The Public Historian. Previously, she was editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography and Pennsylvania Legacies, while director of publications at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and an assistant editor of the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Holly Caldwell

Holly Caldwell received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Delaware, where she wrote her dissertation on the medicalization of deafness and deaf education reform at Mexico’s Escuela Nacional de Sordomudos (National School for Deaf-Mutes). She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Chestnut Hill College and has also taught at Susquehanna University.

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