Monday, May 4, 2015

A Dead Prostitute, a Male Impersonator, and a Medium: Three Sensational Pamphlets

Our Curator of Printed Books Rachel D’Agostino found these three sensational pamphlets at a recent book fair. Purchased with the Davida T. Deutsch Women’s History Fund, they are the sort of lowbrow items our 19th-century predecessors did not acquire for the Library Company. We now purchase them to be able to document the whole spectrum of 19th-century print culture, not just the material that measured up to their elevated standards.

The first one is about Helen Jewett, a beautiful prostitute who was killed in the New York City brothel where she worked. Her murder prompted a feeding frenzy among journalists. The newspapers featured extensive coverage of the subsequent trial. And many believed that the wealthy young man who was accused of the murder bought his acquittal. 

Satiric response to the not-guilty verdict in the 1836 trial of Richard Robinson for the murder of Helen Jewett.
By 1880, when our newly acquired pamphlet appeared, the 1836 case had passed into the annals of crime. Publishers such as Barclay & Co. profited from the public’s ongoing interest in getting all the details about the case.

The firm of Barclay & Co. also published Runaway Girls and Their Startling Adventures (Philadelphia, 1878). According to the rest of the title, these are “true narratives,” giving “real names” of “young women who imbibed romantic notions of life through reading sensational novels,” which seems odd coming from a publisher that specialized in the sensational! Our favorite section in this pamphlet is “Adventures of a Pennsylvania Girl, Who Disguised Herself As a Boy,” in which “Miss Schwartz” runs away to Philadelphia from a Bucks County farm. After a few preliminary events, she finds work as a “male impersonator” in a “theatre” at the corner of Ninth and Chestnut Streets. She continues to cross-dress after the police raid the place, working variously as a clerk in a gentlemen’s furnishing store on Eighth Street, as a messenger-boy in the office of the American District Telegraph Company, as an itinerant street vendor, as a bootblack, as a newsboy, and finally as an errand boy in a grocery store on Girard Avenue. Her escapades come to an end after someone catches a glimpse of her bathing.

The third pamphlet from the Boston Book Fair is Albert Dorman’s The Life of Mary Whittey, the Catholic Medium (Willimantic, 1874). While the Library Company did not acquire a copy in the 19th century, we know from a scholarly study on what William James (1842-1910) read that he probably did. In adulthood, the eminent philosopher became an adherent of Theosophy, a movement that emerged in part from Spiritualism, so it may have interested him to read about Mary Whittey, the “model servant” who first learns of Spiritualism when bells ring, irons and dishes are thrown to the floor, and windows are broken. Since she’s Catholic, her powers as a medium come as a shock both to her and to her employer. After Mary Whittey changes households, her talents as a medium are encouraged, and the spirit she contacts brings amusement and solace to her new employer’s family. Contemporary estimates suggest that as many as twenty million people embraced Spiritualism in mid-19th century America. That number is probably on the high side, but it’s hard to know with any real certainty how many people believed in Spiritualism. Largely discredited today, it’s useful to know that many well-educated people were not total skeptics.

Most likely, the people who read these three sensational pamphlets in the 19th century–including the eminent William James–were simply looking for good escapist reading for an evening’s amusement.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Union Library Company of Hatboro

Union Library Company of Hatboro book plate
The Union Library Company of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, founded in 1755, is one of the oldest public libraries in America and one of many that imitated the Library Company of Philadelphia in name, mission, and organization. Recently the Board of Directors of the Hatboro Library approved a long-term deposit in the Library Company of Philadelphia of some 325 volumes from their collection. Most of them were published before 1800 and they represent some of their earliest acquisitions and their rarest books. None of them is in the Library Company of Philadelphia, and some cannot be found in any American library.

Spine of The History of England, printed in 1757
As part of the deposit agreement, we are cataloging these books in WolfPAC, our online catalog, and the cataloger is Kayla Hohenstein, an Earlham College student working on an internship supervised by the Philadelphia Center, which places interns from a score of Midwestern liberal arts colleges with a wide variety of Philadelphia organizations. When Kayla first interviewed with us, she mentioned that as a high school student she had worked as a volunteer at her local public library, in Hatboro, helping to inventory their historic collection. At that time we did not know when or if the deposit would be approved, but by sheer luck it was approved and the books were transferred here just in time for her to complete the project she began four years ago. Here is a blog post that Kayla wrote about her work with the Hatboro Union Library rare books:

Shelved collection of Hatboro book deposit
In the summer of 2011, at the recommendation of a friend, I applied to work for The Union Library of Hatboro, and went on to assist in cataloging a part of their collection of books and periodicals from the 17th through 19th centuries. Prior to my experience, I was uninformed of The Union Library’s historical significance of being one of the oldest public libraries in the United States, and soon learned of the nature of work that went into caring for and maintaining a fragile and precious collection of this kind.

On my very first day, I was told to come prepared and I remember showing up in my jeans and t-shirt, anticipating the wonder that awaited me. Walking into the library’s main reading room, I looked up at the books that rested on the shelves that lined the walls of the second floor balcony. I had never worked with books this old before and was in awe as I started to carefully handle them as they were cataloged. My job was to assign an accession numbers and to create a flag for each book. This involved documenting the titles, authors, and publication details into an excel spreadsheet, as well as reporting on the bindings and conditions of the books. This experience introduced me to some of the texts on various discourses and treatises from its time, as well as some beautiful printed illustrations such as the ones in Godey's Lady Book Magazine. Every day, I got to hold pieces of history that revealed some of the thoughts that were seen as important during these lifetimes, and I got to listen to the voices of this culture that were passionate, informative, playful and provoking.
Spines of Hatboro book bindings
That summer, I got to work alongside more experienced students who taught me about some of the background and history of the texts. They taught me about some of the basic types of leather, cloth, and marble bindings and I soon found myself identifying numerous stamped leather and cloth bound books that I examined. As time passed each day, I came across books with a wide range of conditions and conservational needs. Some of the books had detached covers and split spines, and I soon became accustomed to coming home with book ash on my jeans, which was common with some of the leather bound books. We tied the books up with spools of cloth tape and placed them back on the shelves, and I never thought that I would be seeing these books any further than their home at The Union Library of Hatboro.
Plate of  Earth's orbit around the Sun in a copy of Samuel Fuller's Practical Astronomy in the Description and Use of both Globes, Orrery and Telescopes (Dublin, 1732)
After four years of working on my undergrad in the Midwest, I found myself returning home to Philadelphia in the last semester of my senior year and enrolling in an internship program affiliated with my school. Since my time working with The Union Library's collection, I knew that I wanted to work in a library and learn more about rare books. I decided to apply for a position at The Library Company of Philadelphia for their groundbreaking history as the first American lending library, and soon learned of their correspondence with The Union Library and their agreement to take some of Hatboro's books on deposit. The symbolic nature of this coincidence brought so much meaning into my life as I assisted in transitioning these books into their new home at The Library Company. Being able to help carry the eighteen boxes of books in and shelve them in their permanent home brought these last four years full circle as I got to see my handwriting on a few of the book tags of books that I had contributed to earlier in my academic career. I feel so fortunate to have had that experience at The Union Library, and to now be able to build on my knowledge and experience here at The Library Company. Since working here, I have been touched by the books and people that I get to work with on a daily basis, and it has inspired me to continue my pursuit in learning more about rare books and in working with these collections.

Kayla Hohenstein in front of Hatboro book collection

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Frocks and Frills: Children’s Fashion at the Turn of the 20th Century

Marriott C. Morris took this photograph of his son, Marriott Jr., in 1903 outside their house on Cresheim Road in the Mt. Airy neighborhood.  Young Marriott’s attire was typical for a boy of three at the time: skirted sailor suit, long hair, stockings and a wide brimmed hat.  However for modern viewers who are used to seeing young boys wearing pants and short hair, this image raises some questions. 

John Frank Keith, Small child
standing on doorstep, Philadelphia
c. 1915
In her article “Clothing and Gender in America: Children’s Fashions 1890-1920,” Jo B. Paoletti points out that until about WWI it was common to see boys dressed like Marriott Jr., or in other words, in a way that modern viewers might associate with typical girls fashion.  Paoletti proposes a few motivations for the use of this style.  One reason was quite practical; dresses were easier and cheaper to sew and could be used as a hand-me-down whether the child was a boy or a girl.  However, the Morris family was wealthy enough that the financial benefits of dresses were probably not their chief concern.  According to Paoletti, distinguishing between girls and boys was less important than distinguishing between adults and children.  This effect was heightened by the common use of white fabric in clothing for both boys and girls rather than the gendered pink and blue color coding seen today.  In this context, Marriott Jr.’s light skirted suit and long hair mark him most importantly as a child, rather than as a boy or a girl.
Universal Fashion Co.
Trade Card, c. 1882

The changes in a child’s dress represented a slow adoption of more adult styles and the child’s gradual maturation.  In the late 19th and very early 20th centuries, all infants wore long white dresses until they were able to walk and shorter dresses until they were about two or three.  After that, both boys and girls often wore skirted suits like the one in Morris’ photo of his son with subtle changes in trim and fastening differentiating between boys and girls.  This image on the right from the July-December, 1889 issue of Godey’s Ladies Book shows examples of clothing for children.  The two designs in the center of the page (Figures 14-17) were intended for children of about two years, the outfit on the left for “every-day wear” and the outfit on the right featuring an insertion of Yak lace.  The text does not specify a gender for the frocks, presumably since both boys and girls would have been wearing them.

Sometime between ages five and seven, usually coinciding with school attendance, boys graduated to knickerbockers and had their hair cut.  Sailor suits and garments inspired by military uniforms were especially popular.  The design on the lower right of the Godey’s page (Figures 20-21) shows a suit for a boy of about four years reminiscent of a military jacket.  The suit features a vest and trousers, items specifically worn by boys.  It wasn't until a boy was about twelve that he began to wear long trousers and dress more like a grown man. 

The photographs of Morris’ sons in the Morris Collection provide a visual example of the progression from dresses to trousers typical for young boys around the turn of the century.  In this portrait of Elliston Jr., Morris’ oldest son wears the long white dress common for a child of about one.  Elliston Jr. is able to stand supporting himself on a wooden chair, however since his dress is still long we can presume that he has not yet learned how to walk.  Morris’ second son, Marriott Jr. was born a year later in 1900.  In this photo on the right from 1902, Marriott Jr. is about a year and a half old and Elliston Jr. is three.  Marriott Jr. wears a long dress similar to the one his brother wore in the above photograph while Elliston Jr. has graduated to a skirted suit.  His hair has been trimmed but is still tied back with a bow.  By 1904, both boys wear skirted suits in the sailor style as seen in the photograph below.  At five years old, Elliston Jr.’s hair is cut short, however at four years old Marriott Jr.’s hair is still long and pulled back with a ribbon.  By 1907, in the family photograph on the right, both boys were dressed in sailor suits with knickerbockers and their hair cut short.  Their younger sister Janet, born that same year, was now wearing a long white dress that was perhaps handed down from one of her brothers. 
In general, the Morris children seem to adhere to traditional children’s attire of the time.  However, it seems as though Elliston Jr’s hair was cut short at around three years old while Marriott Jr.’s hair was long until he was about five years old.   As Paoletti points out, the exact timing of a boy’s switch from skirts to trousers and his haircut was ultimately up to his mother.  Perhaps Marriott Jr.’s longer hair reflected a desire on the part of his mother Jane to maintain his childhood innocence just a little bit longer. 

Jo B. Paoletti. "Clothing and Gender in America: Children's Fashions, 1890-1920." Signs 13, no. 1: 136-43. JSTOR.

Alison Van Denend
Assistant Project Manager
The Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Preserving the Legacy of the Pennsylvania Railroad

The following is a guest post by Michael Froio who is a professional photographer, associate professor and facilities manager for the Photography Program, part of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Drawing inspiration from the work of William H. Rau and Frederick Gutekunst, Michael’s ongoing project, “From the Mainline” examines the former Pennsylvania Railroad highlighting the landscape it traveled and the engineering legacy it left behind. His photographic work and research on the subject can be found at

At the close of 2014 the Greer Family donated a remarkable piece of Pennsylvania Railroad history in the form of an oversized album of large format photographs made by Frederick Gutekunst (1831-1917) a native of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Operating out of a studio at 7th and Arch Streets for more than 50 years Gutekunst was considered one of the preeminent photographers in the post-Civil War era. Some of his subjects included noteworthy people like Thomas Eakins and Walt Whitman but also extended beyond portraiture to include architecture and the built environment of the PRR. Before this album surfaced most examples of his work were in the form of stereo views, making this collection of 16x12” large format prints incredibly rare.
Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.
The portfolio, dating from ca. 1875, titled simple “Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad” represents one in a series of campaigns the PRR embarked on to celebrate the railroad as a destination, touting the freshly manicured railroad dissecting the wilds of Pennsylvania, following serpentine rivers, paralleling the canals the road made obsolete; a symbol of modern engineering and progress in America. Fittingly the railroad chose photography over traditional illustrations and paintings, providing a tangible image which potential travelers could connect to, a portal into the world of the PRR and the landscape it traveled. Like his contemporary William H. Rau, Gutekunst utilized the large plate view camera to portray the growing railroad as the country recovered from the American Civil War. This remarkable portfolio illustrates the Pennsylvania Railroad before the grand system improvements started under Chief Engineer William H. Brown and his successors, which would last from the late 1870’s well into the first decade of the 20th Century.
On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.
What makes this donation even more special, especially to PRR preservationists is that we owe a great debt of gratitude to a former Pennsylvania Railroad employee for having the foresight and pride in his employer to save the portfolio.

David St. John Greer, was born in Philadelphia in 1914, his father a laborer and his mother a seamstress. Settling in New Jersey, David completed high school in Pemberton, NJ and enrolled in a 4-year business administration program at Drexel University. Graduating from Drexel in 1937, Greer would begin a 32-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Though the details of his early years with the company are limited, in 1943 despite being exempt as a railroad employee to serve during WWII, he felt compelled to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy. Greer was never deployed in active war but was appointed as the Assistant Supervisor of Exports for the PRR Port of Philadelphia and later served as the District Property Transportation Officer in the Port of Philadelphia Customs House while also acting on the Ports Conditions Committee. Greer was released from active duty in January of 1946 as a Lieutenant returning to his civilian job with the PRR. Over the next 11 years Greer worked all over the system as a Supervising Agent for important terminals like Williamsport, Harrisburg, the company piers of New York, and Philadelphia. In 1953 he was promoted to Superintendent of Stations in the Pittsburgh Region and later the Chicago area from 1955-57. By the end of 1957 Greer was promoted to Manager / Director of Freight Stations and Motor Service on the entire system, responsible for all stations and trucking companies owned by the PRR. In 1968, the fateful year long time rivals PRR and NYC merged Greer was appointed Director of Stations system wide where he served just one short year, deciding that he could no longer work for the merged railroads.

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family.
During that last year, the PC worked to wipe the slate of documents and ephemera from the PRR archives offering items for sale to employees and later holding public auctions. It was here that Greer purchased the Gutekunst Album along with a number of other pieces of PRR memorabilia. Greer’s son, David, recalls, “My father loved the PRR and hated the merger. He particularly loved freight operations. He worked in places that included many of the locations in Pennsylvania pictured in the [Gutekunst] photographs and felt a close kinship to the railroad and the state of Pennsylvania. He took good care of the album but would occasionally sit and look at the photos much as I have done for the past twenty years.” David’s father gifted many of the other items he purchased at auction after his retirement, but held on to the album of photographs. “I think it is telling he kept the photographs, clearly the most valuable piece of railroad memorabilia he had. He also kept things that I think reminded him of the good times on the railroad. As an example he kept and displayed the menu from his dinner on the last run of the all Pullman Broadway Limited. The train crew signed the menu and he kept it along with some of the serving pieces that were used for this dinner. I think he felt that the end of the Broadway Limited was the end of an era. He flew to Chicago on business so that he could ride home on the Limited’s last eastbound trip as an all Pullman train, disembarking at Paoli near his home.”

Survived by his daughter Ann Hiros and son David Greer, David St. John Greer passed in December of 1993, leaving the album among other items with the family. In late 2013 I had heard about the album surfacing through PRRT&HS archivist Charlie Horan and in March of 2014 had the pleasure of meeting David on a train trip to Pittsburgh riding the Juniata Terminal Company PRR 120 and the Warrior Ridge (A Ride on the Pennsylvania). Dave expressed his interest in donating the album to a place that not only could care for it properly but also make it accessible to the public. Given my experience with the Rau collection housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia I suggested that David consider the institution, not only because of Gutkunst’s Philadelphia connection but also because of the existing collection of his work already at the LCP. It would also bring together two very important collections of photography that focused on the Pennsylvania Railroad from the 19thCentury. At the close of 2014 the Greer family ultimately decided the album belonged in LCP’s permanent collection, adding to an incredible archive of 19th Century prints and photographs. We are lucky to have this resource preserved where it will ultimately be digitized for many future generations to enjoy in the honor of David St. John Greer and photographer Frederick Gutekunst.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Keeping the Highways and Byways Safe

In 1906 the Keystone Automobile Club was established, and fifteen years later became affiliated with the newly formed National Motorists' Association, a group promoting national standards for roads, pedestrian and motorist safety, as well as the distribution of travel information. In the Library Company of Philadelphia's collection of photographs by the Philadelphia commercial studio The Photo-Illustrators are a number of publicity shots relating to the Keystone Automobile Club's activities during the 1920s through the 1940s.

The Photo-Illustrators. Keystone Automobile Club Testing Site, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1925. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Joseph Kelly.

The Photo-Illustrators. Awarding an Inspection Sticker, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1925. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Joseph Kelly.

At an unidentified location, the Keystone Automobile Club set up an area for motorists to test their car headlights. Club mechanics were on hand to make whatever adjustments deemed necessary before the awarding of a sticker indicating that the car possessed headlights meeting the city of Philadelphia's standards.

The Photo-Illustrators. Keystone Automobile Club Motor Patrol Changing a Tire, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1937. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Joseph Kelly,

By the late 1930s motorcycle-riding members of the Club's motor patrol offered assistance to stranded motorists. Changing a tire with white gloves on might have been problematic for our distressed motorist, but it is a shame to think that this nattily dressed mechanic would get grease on his uniform while performing his duties.

The Photo-Illustrators. Keystone Automobile Club's Safety Test Trailer in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1937. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Joseph Kelly.

In the summer of 1937, the Keystone Automobile Club launched a "new and effective safety weapon," the safety test trailer. Licensed drivers were invited to try out their skills in a series of tests housed in the 23-foot-long trailer. The safety trailer was also part of the Club's educational program aimed at future drivers, and along with posters, films, and textbooks sought to instill important safety lessons to students from elementary school through high school.

Although the safety test trailer may not be pulling into your community any time soon, the mission of automobile clubs today in promoting safe habits for drivers and pedestrians has not changed over the decades.

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs