Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Allen C. Guelzo

Classical Music

Classical music stands apart from vernacular (or “folk” music) and from “popular” music (in the form of simplified commercial entertainment) in its complexity of structure and high level of performance requirements. Philadelphia established a major position in American classical composition and performance in the early nineteenth century, and maintained that position through its premier professional orchestra (the Philadelphia Orchestra, founded in 1900) and its elite music schools.

[caption id="attachment_27756" align="alignright" width="300"]The heavily decorated front page of the sheet music book Urania, A Choice collection of Psalm-tunes, Anthems, and Hymns. James Lyon produced the first religious music native to Philadelphia in 1761. His 197-page work, titled Urania, a Choice Collection of Psalm-Tunes Anthems and Hymns, included both the sheet music and instructions for performing the pieces properly. (Archive.org)[/caption]

In planning a Quaker “holy experiment” on the Delaware River, William Penn (1644–1718) did not expect it to include music. But Quaker migrants were vastly outnumbered by German, Welsh, and other English settlers with no attachment to Quakerism and who had large community investments in musical performance, especially in the context of religious worship. Swedish Lutherans installed an organ in their first parish church, Gloria Dei, for use in services in 1700, and by the 1740s, Philadelphia’s German-speaking Moravians employed not only organs, but supporting instrumental bands of violins, oboes, flutes, and clarinets. The publication of religious music began in 1761, when James Lyon (1735–94) published the first native Philadelphia musical imprint, Urania, or A Choice Collection of Psalm-Tunes, Anthems, and Hymns. Andrew Adgate (1762–93) organized a short-lived Uranian Academy in Philadelphia in 1784 to promote church music.

[caption id="attachment_27751" align="alignright" width="187"]A black and white illustration of Francis Hopkinson Francis Hopkinson’s 1759 composition for keyboard “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free” was the first piece of music penned in the American colonies. He wrote the piece shortly after his graduation from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Secular classical music performance soon followed religious performance. Philadelphia’s first opera production, Alfred, by Thomas Arne (1710–78), was staged in 1757, and “subscription concerts” of secular music appeared in 1764. The first secular compositions published in Philadelphia came from the pens of lawyer and amateur musician Francis Hopkinson (1737–91) and Alexander Reinagle (1756–1809), who composed the earliest sonata-form music in Philadelphia for keyboard, his four “Philadelphia Sonatas,” in 1786. Raynor Taylor (1747–1825), who had been Reinagle’s teacher in London, followed his pupil to Philadelphia in 1792 and wrote the two most outstanding operas of the federal period, Pizarro, or The Spaniards in Peru (1800) and The Aethiop, or The Child of the Desert (1814). John Bray (1782–1822) composed The Indian Princess (based on the Pocahantas legend) in 1808, after moving to Philadelphia from the Royal Theatre in York, England, in 1805. Benjamin Carr (1768–1831), a prolific composer of sonatas, marches, and overtures, was the early republic’s most successful music publisher. They were joined by Charles Hommann (1803–72?), who made the first large-scale effort at American symphonic composition in the 1830s, writing a four-movement symphony in E flat, along with overtures, three string quartets, and a string quintet.

Development of Orchestras

[caption id="attachment_27748" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white illustration of the Musical Fund Hall A group of Philadelphia’s professional and amateur musicians formed the Musical Fund Society in 1820 and performed their first concert the next year. In 1824, they built their own performance space, Musical Fund Hall, at Eighth and Locust Streets. The venue hosted some of the most popular musicians of the nineteenth century, including Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind and violinist Ole Boll. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Orchestral concertizing in Philadelphia developed out of the small-scale ensembles of musicians hired to accompany plays and operas. None of them achieved much permanence until 1820, when Carr, Taylor, Hommann, and Hommann’s brother-in-law, Charles F. Hupfield (1822–95), founded the Musical Fund Society. The society offered its inaugural concert on April 24, 1821, at Washington Hall, on Third near Spruce Street, with a small orchestra of strings, flutes, and bassoons. In 1824, the society erected its own concert hall (on a design by William Strickland [1788–1854]) at Eighth and Locust Streets and gave its first concert there on December 29. A year later, the society organized a small music school to train new players. But by 1831, the music school had petered out, and although the society’s orchestra had risen in number to sixty-four players and programmed Philadelphia premieres of Beethoven symphonies, Haydn and Handel oratorios, and Weber and Mendelssohn overtures, it could not compete with the popular passion for imported Italian opera companies and celebrity performers from Europe—Ole Bull (1810–80) in 1845, Jenny Lind (1820–87) in 1850 and 1851, Henriette Sontag (1806–54) and child prodigy Adelina Patti (1843–1919) in 1852, Louis Antoine Jullien (1812–60) and his touring orchestra in 1853.

Operatic performance received further encouragement in Philadelphia from the construction of the new opera house at Broad and Locust, the Academy of Music, designed by Napoleon Le Brun (1821–1901) after the pattern of Milan’s La Scala. For two decades, until 1873, the Max Maretzek (1821–97) Italian Opera Company was the primary performer at the Academy of Music. It also played host to a variety of performance groups, including, from 1864 until 1891, the touring orchestra led by Theodore Thomas (1835–1905). But opera, beginning with Verdi’s Il Trovatore in 1857, dominated the stage, and in 1889, New York’s Metropolitan Opera began offering weekly performances, including Philadelphia’s first complete Ring des Niebelungen cycle.

One of the most successful of the touring orchestras was the Germania Musical Society, and in 1856, as the Musical Fund Society’s orchestra spluttered into oblivion, a local Germania Orchestra was organized in Philadelphia to showcase German classical music. The Germania mustered twenty-eight musicians, conducted by Carl Sentz (1828–88), Charles M. Schmitz (1824–1900), and William Stoll (1847–1910). The orchestra drew on Philadelphia’s large German immigrant community—the fourth-largest in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century—for both audiences and membership, and relied on a heavily Germanic repertoire, from Mendelssohn to Lizst, until it, too, folded in 1895. It was quickly succeeded by a new professional orchestra, known as the Thunder Orchestra from its conductor, Henry George Thunder (1865–1958), which performed at Musical Fund Hall, and by an amateur orchestra, the Symphony Society of Philadelphia, under William Wallace Gilchrist (1846–1916), who also directed choirs at Philadelphia’s Holy Trinity Church, St. Mark’s Church, and St. Clement’s Church.

[caption id="attachment_27753" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Leopold Stokowski. The orchestra is on a balcony seated in front of a large pipe organ at Wanamaker's Department Store. From 1912 through the 1940s, Polish-born Leopold Stokowski conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra. In this 1920s photo, Stokowski is shown leading the orchestra at Wanamaker’s Department Store. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

In 1899, an eighty-member Philadelphia Symphony Society was organized to perform benefit concerts for widows and orphans of U.S. soldiers in the Spanish-American War, and from these concerts, a permanent Philadelphia Orchestra was created in 1900, which gave its first concert at the Academy of Music under the direction of German-born Fritz Scheel (1852–1907) on November 16. After Scheel’s sudden death, he was succeeded by Karl Pohlig (1864–1928), and then in 1912 by the flamboyant Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977), who began a comprehensive campaign to restock the orchestra with first-line players and introduced a dizzying varieties of daring premieres—Gustav Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand in 1916, Alexander Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy in 1919, Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps in 1922, and Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder in 1932. Stokowski led the Philadelphia Orchestra in the first commercially sponsored orchestral radio broadcast in 1929. Stokowski also pioneered the orchestra’s first recordings, beginning in October 1917, with acoustic recordings of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances No. 5 and No. 6 for the Victor Talking Machine Company in neighboring Camden (released commercially in 1918).

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s place as one of the “Big Five” American orchestras (beside New York, Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago) was extended through the long directorship of Eugene Ormandy (1899–1985, director 1938–80), but began to falter under the controversial leadership of Ricardo Muti (b. 1940, director 1980–92) and Christoph Eschenbach (b. 1940, director 2003–8). Further criticism pursued the orchestra when it moved in 2001 from the Academy of Music to a new performance venue, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, whose acoustics were considered inferior. In April 2011, the orchestra was forced to file for bankruptcy protection; it emerged from the proceedings in July 2012, only after reorganization of the orchestra’s endowment and pension fund and substantial concessions by claimants and the orchestra’s musicians.

Music Education

The principal partner of the orchestra in Philadelphia’s classical music world was the Curtis Institute of Music, founded in 1924 by Mary Louise Curtis Bok (1876–1970), a major supporter of the orchestra. Not only did the orchestra’s principal players teach at Curtis, but Curtis supplied a major portion of the orchestra’s recruits (Mason Jones [1919–2009], principal horn, 1938–78; John de Lancie [1921–2002], principal oboe, 1954–77; Anshel Brusilow [b. 1928], concertmaster, 1959–66). Curtis also trained a series of prominent instrumental soloists conductors and composers.

[caption id="attachment_27752" align="alignright" width="300"] Jeanette Selig Frank and Blanche Wolf founded the Settlement Music School in 1908 to teach the children of immigrants in Philadelphia’s Southwark neighborhood. By the early decades of the twenty-first century, the school and its satellite schools had educated over three hundred thousand students. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

However, the Curtis Institute was not the first major music education enterprise in Philadelphia. It was preceded by the Zeckwer Academy, founded by Richard Zeckwer (1850–1922) in 1870 at Twelfth and Spruce Streets, which merged in 1917 with the Hahn Conservatory, founded by Frederick Hahn (1869–1942), to become the Zeckwer-Hahn Philadelphia Musical Academy, and then simply Philadelphia Musical Academy (PMA). Two of the most important names associated with PMA were the composers Marc Blitzstein (1905–64) and Leo Ornstein (1893–2002). The academy merged in 1962 with yet another music school, the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music (founded 1877, at 216 S. Twentieth Street). PMA eventually retitled itself as the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts in 1976 just before it merged with the Philadelphia Dance Academy. Finally, after another series of mergers, it was reinvented yet again in 1987 as a college within the University of the Arts, at Broad and Pine Streets. The Academy of Vocal Arts, at Nineteenth and Spruce, was founded in 1934 to offer training in opera (and operatic languages) and voice, and counts among its prominent alumni Joyce DiDonato (b. 1969) and Joy Clements (1932–2005).

The city’s universities also have also been home to music departments with substantial performance reputations, especially the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University, created in 1962, and the music department of the University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1875 by Canadian-born Hugh Archibald Clarke (1839–1927), who also wrote several outstanding textbooks in musical theory: A System of Harmony (1901), Counterpoint Strict and Free (1901), and Harmony on the Inductive Method (1880). The New School of Music, founded by Max Aronoff (1906–81) in 1943 and housed from 1968 at Twenty-First and Spruce Streets, concentrated exclusively on training orchestral musicians and was absorbed in the creation of Temple’s Boyer College in 1985.

Younger musicians enjoyed participation in orchestral performance through the Youth Orchestra of Philadelphia (beginning in 1939) and the Settlement Music School, which was originally a project by Jeanette Selig Frank (1886–1965) and Blanche Wolf Kohn (1886–1983) in 1908 to provide music education to the school-aged children of immigrant communities in Southwark. Settlement operated multiple branches throughout the city for musically gifted children.

The Curtis Institute and the city’s universities and colleges have been home for a number of prominent twentieth-century Philadelphia-based composers. Curtis trained Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007), Lukas Foss (1922–2009), Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962), and especially Philadelphia’s own Vincent Persichetti (1915–87) and Samuel Barber (1910–81). Harl McDonald (1899–1955), the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Music Department, composed four symphonies (1932–35) and a concerto for two pianos; his successor, George Rochberg (1918–2005), wrote six symphonies, Cheltenham Concerto (1958), and seven string quartets. Louis Gesensway (1906–76) wrote the only distinctively Philadelphia-themed symphonic work, The Four Squares of Philadelphia, for narrator and orchestra, in 1955.

Other Classical Organizations

[caption id="attachment_27750" align="alignright" width="283"]A black and white illustration of a large well-dressed audience watching a show at the Academy of Music The Academy of Music opened in 1857 with a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. In the early twenty-first century, it was the oldest opera house in the United States that still was used for its original purpose. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Opera in Philadelphia enjoyed more numerous but more short-lived incarnations. Three separate Philadelphia Grand Opera Companies attempted to attract audiences between 1916 and 1932. The New York operatic entrepreneur Oscar Hammerstein (1895–1960) built a Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street in 1908 to house an experiment he christened as the Philadelphia Opera Company, but the company survived for only two years. Sylvan Levin (1903–96) organized a second Philadelphia Opera Company in 1938, but it closed in 1944. Fourteen years later, the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company launched yet another effort to establish a regular opera presence in Philadelphia with a production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme—which also served as its last opera production in 1974, when the Lyric Opera merged with its rival, the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company, which had originally debuted in 1924 as the La Scala Grand Opera Company. The merger, originally known as the Opera Company of Philadelphia, renamed itself in 2013 as Opera Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, founded in 1966 by Anthony Checchia (b. 1930), and the thirty-three-member Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, founded by Marc Mostovoy (b. 1942) in 1964 as the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia, offered full seasons of small-ensemble performances. In the late twentieth and into the twenty-first century, The Mendelssohn Club, Choral Arts Society, and the Singing City Choir, along with numerous city church choirs, provided musical performance outlets for both professional and amateur singers.

Radio broadcasts have been an important adjunct to classical performance in Philadelphia. An all-classical commercial radio station, WFLN (an acronym for the station’s parent owner, the Franklin Broadcasting Company), went on the air on March 14, 1949. Through live broadcasts, its large recorded library, talk-show interviews by host Ralph Collier (1922–2013), and its monthly magazine, the WFLN Philadelphia Guide, WFLN provided performance announcements, music advertising, and an on-air musical community. However, Philadelphia’s major public radio outlet, WHYY, abandoned its classical broadcasts in 1990, and WFLN experienced a series of sales of the station that resulted in its conversion from classical to heavy-metal rock in September 1997. This left classical music only part-time outlets through the Temple University public radio station, WRTI, and the University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN (which also subsequently dropped classical programming in favor of experimental pop fare). However, between 2012 and 2016, the Philadelphia Orchestra, WWFM/The Classical Network, and WRTI developed high-definition broadcast and streaming services, moving classical music in Philadelphia out of the world of analog broadcasting to digital.

The constituency for classical music in Philadelphia shrank in the twenty-first century, as in other places, as the costs of classical musical education and performance increased. The ease with which “pop” music dominated the performance and broadcast landscapes also made the complexity of classical music less attractive. Private funding for classical music by wealthy individuals, which was the norm in Philadelphia in the first half of the twentieth century, and from public sources—in school curriculums and municipal subsidies—diminished substantially. In an era of reduced public profile, classical composition and performance in Philadelphia became increasingly the preserve of academic environments.

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College.

Union League of Philadelphia

The Union League of Philadelphia, organized in 1862 as a political club for the support of the Union cause during the Civil War, developed into the premier urban social club of Philadelphia. Over time, it also became an important supporter of Republican political candidates and policies locally and nationally, acquired a significant collection of art and sculpture, and established various relief and civic programs for soldiers, veterans, and youth in the Philadelphia area.

[caption id="attachment_19520" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white drawing of the first Union League headquarters on Chestnut Street The Hartman Kuhn mansion on Chestnut Street served as the Union League's first headquarters. Abraham Lincoln was one of the league's many guests during this period. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

At the time of Union League’s founding, Philadelphia was still a divided city with many economic, social, and cultural ties to the South. Indeed, before 1860 Philadelphia, with its proximity to the slaveholding South, had developed into what Pennsylvania political leader Alexander K. McClure (1828-1909) called “the great emporium of Southern commerce.” Although Philadelphia had been the home of the earliest American anti-slavery society, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, its record as a haven of abolitionist feeling was never significantly high. In the election of 1860, it gave Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln only a token majority of 2,039 votes out of over 76,000 cast. When civil war broke out in 1861, pro-Union Philadelphians were incensed that Philadelphians “who were almost in league with the Southern traitors were walking with heads high among our people.”

The League Takes Shape

In November 1862, a small group of pro-Union Philadelphians met at the home of George H. Boker (1823-90), Philadelphia poet and playwright, at 1720 Walnut Street to form a “Union Club” that would act as a social successor to the Wistar Party (a voluntary association of prominent Philadelphia “gentlemen” who were members of the American Philosophical Society but had broken up over sectional issues) and an alternative to the politically-divided Philadelphia Club. But men like Boker thought a more politically active group was needed, and at the Union Club’s meeting of December 27, 1862 (at the home of Dr. John Forsyth Meigs [1818-82] at 1208 Walnut Street), adopted articles of association for an additional “Union League of Philadelphia.” Like the Union Club, the league’s only condition of membership was “unqualified loyalty to the government of the United States, and unwavering support of its efforts for the suppression of the Rebellion,” but its primary task was activist: “to discountenance and rebuke by moral and social influences all disloyalty to the Federal government ... .” As a headquarters, the league initially rented space in the Hartman Kuhn mansion at 1118 Chestnut Street.

[caption id="attachment_19515" align="alignright" width="235"]a black and white daguerreotype of William Morris Meredith circa 1844 The Union League's first president was William Morris Meredith, an attorney who served in many city and national public offices throughout his life. He headed the Union League for just one year before retiring from the position. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The league’s first general meeting for business convened on January 22, 1863, and elected former U.S. Treasury Secretary William Morris Meredith (1799-1873) as its first president and George H. Boker, the first secretary. Its first project was a series of pro-Union publications that could be distributed across the North by direct mail. Eventually, over the course of the war, the League’s Board of Publication issued over four and half million copies of 145 separate pamphlets, and employed a staff of twelve just to handle distribution. The league also raised money to provide bonuses for soldier recruitment, and in 1863 sponsored the organization of five black regiments (3rd, 6th, 8th, 22nd and 25th U.S. Colored Troops) in Philadelphia and a “Free Military School” to train their officers. On June 16, 1863, the league played host to President Lincoln, visiting Philadelphia just after his nomination for a second term as president. By the end of the war, the league’s membership had grown to over a thousand, with almost half that number serving at some point in uniform.

The prestige it had successfully amassed during the war assured the league, and the Republican Party, a dominant place in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania politics, and helped usher in a Republican ascendency in Philadelphia that prevailed with little interruption for nine decades. As one indication of its self-confidence and status, the league built a new League House at Broad and Sansom Streets, turning away from the popular Greek revival style of Philadelphia’s pre-war architecture in favor of a lavish Second Empire building. The league, meanwhile, endorsed Radical Reconstruction, including black civil rights, and made streetcar desegregation in Philadelphia one of its most successful post-war campaigns. In retaliation, an arsonist attacked the league’s new house on September 7, 1866, forcing the rebuilding of the upper floors and delaying its reopening until 1867.

In the post-Reconstruction decades, the league began a lengthy self-transformation into a cultural as well as a political institution. In 1882, the league established its own Art Association, which not only bought art works for the League House, but made the league the most important sponsor of city-wide art exhibitions until the opening of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the 1920s. In 1880, the league began purchasing properties along Moravian and Sansom Streets in preparation for constructing its first annex. In 1909 the cornerstone of the league’s final addition (extending to Fifteenth Street) was laid, with the Philadelphia architectural prodigy Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938) as its designer.

[caption id="attachment_19519" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white photograph of William Cameron Sproul and son Jack leading the Armistice Day Parade William Cameron Sproul was the last Republican governor of Pennsylvania to also be a member of the Union League. He is shown here with his son leading the Union League in the first Armistice Day parade, just days after being elected governor. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

At the turn of the century, the league remained politically prominent in Republican politics at all levels. Of the seven governors of Pennsylvania between Reconstruction and 1906, five were league members. In Philadelphia, one of the league founders, Morton McMichael (1807-79), was elected mayor in 1866, and of the next eleven mayors up to 1916, eight were active Union Leaguers. But in the twentieth century, as the Republican ascendency built by the Civil War passed from the scene, the Union League lost its political influence, and increasingly turned inward as a refuge for the city’s business elites. After 1916, not a single Republican mayor of Philadelphia was a league member, and eventually, not a single member of the Republican City Committee; only one governor thereafter, William Sproul (1870-1928), belonged to the league.

The onset of the Great Depression jolted the league, and although the league was the first civil organization in the city to raise money for unemployment relief, the league itself suffered a 17 percent decline in active membership. It was also sharply critical of the New Deal policies of Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt; indeed, league president Otto Robert Heligman (1879-1941) called for the league’s rolls to be purged of any members who had voted for Roosevelt. When Roosevelt was reelected as president in 1936, a jubilant throng of Roosevelt supporters paraded down Broad Street to the league, where Democratic City Committee chairman John B. Kelly (1889-1960) climbed up the front portico of the League House and tore down the league flag.

The two world wars brought the league back into action as a visible patriotic organization. As Judge William W. Porter (1856-1928) reminded the league’s annual meeting after America’s entrance into the First World War in 1917, the founders of the league had never said a word about creating a “social” club. “Liberty Loans” managed by the league raised $17 million to support American involvement, and 200 of the league’s 2,600 members served in uniform. When the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought the United States into the Second World War, the league once again launched large fund-raising campaigns, and 187 league members joined the armed forces.

[caption id="attachment_19521" align="alignright" width="254"]a black and white photograph of William Thaddeus Coleman Jr and Dr. Ethel D. Allen Despite the league's early history organizing black regiments for the Union Army, there were no black members for over a century. In 1972, lawyer William Thaddeus Coleman Jr. (in tie and vest) became the first black member. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

In 1959, facing the consequences of declining membership and significance, league president James M. Anderson (1900-77) appointed a committee to invent ways of keeping the league vital. Anderson chose for the committee chair J. Permar Richards (1915-2004), a former Olympic rower, and when Richards became league president in 1967, he aggressively expanded the league’s activities calendar to keep members’ attention from straying too much to the suburbs. In 1972, William Thaddeus Coleman Jr. (b. 1920), who later served as secretary of transportation under President Gerald Ford, became the league’s first black member. In 1975, league president Burton Etherington (1909-2006) set aside the requirement (in place since 1893) that prospective members identify themselves as having never voted other than Republican for a state or national office. In 1982, President Perrin C. Hamilton (1921-2005) recommended admission of women members. At a stormy general meeting on January 11, 1983, to the dismay of Hamilton, 60 percent of the members present voted the measure down. The threat of legal action pushed the question back to the forefront of league attention, and at the behest of President Robert G. Wilder (1915-2002), the league membership reversed itself on May 19-20, 1986, paving the way for Mary G.H. Roebling (1905-1994) to become the league’s first woman member. The league’s first woman president, Joan Carter (b. 1943), was elected in 2011.

These changes set the stage in the 1990s for the most dramatic recruitment campaign the league had sustained. While many historic urban clubs of the Northeast, unable to offer activities that would attract clientele to a downtown location, closed their doors between 1990 and 2010, the league aggressively marketed itself as a downtown event and hotel location. It transformed its overnight accommodations into the Inn at the Union League, revamped its dining facilities, established a Heritage Center to house its archives and mount exhibits, and acquired its own parking garage. The league’s Youth Work Foundation, which began as an initiative of league president Millard D. Brown (1882-1957) in 1946 to promote “good citizenship” among Philadelphia’s youth, was by 2016 partnering with fifty-two Philadelphia organizations to recognize more than 250 high-schoolers at an annual “Good Citizen Day” at the league. In 2012, the Platinum Clubs of America ranked the league as the country’s number-one city club. The league’s prosperity is a marker of how a private institution can play a public role in the life of the city, and serve simultaneously a social and a civic goal without subtracting from either.

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College.

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