Like many of my colleagues, I find it impossible to choose just one favorite thing from our collection. Nevertheless, I’d like to shine a spotlight on a humble but intriguing item, an annual report. Since I trained as an archivist, it’s not surprising that I have a soft spot for institutional records. Printed institutional reports are intended to circulate widely, allowing institutions to amplify their image, aspirations, and goals. The Library Company’s African Americana Collection is rich in printed annual reports, minutes, and constitutions of anti-slavery societies as well as black-run institutions, such as churches, charities, and schools. Objects and Regulations of the Institute for Colored Youth, … for the Year 1860 (Philadelphia, 1860) exemplifies how very informative these publications can be.
The Institute for Colored Youth (ICY), Philadelphia’s only high school for African Americans prior to the Civil War, became the institution of choice for many of the city’s elite black families. Through the bequest of Quaker Richard Humphreys, the school was founded in 1837 for the express purpose of educating African American youth, especially for careers as teachers. Located on a farm on the outskirts of the city, the school taught mechanical and industrial arts, a curriculum which proved unpopular and resulted in the school’s closure in 1846. It reopened as a preparatory and high school in 1852 in Philadelphia with a redesigned curriculum and a staff of educated, highly trained black teachers, allowing African American students to attain a quality classical education while avoiding the racial prejudice they often encountered under the tutelage of white teachers in public schools.
Curator of African American History