Sunday, February 15, 2015

Rev. William Speer: An Early Christian Missionary to the Chinese

    From about 1867 to 1875, Rev. William Speer, D.D., his wife, Elizabeth, and their three children lived at 3409 Hamilton St.  While here, he work for the Presbyterian Church of America as Corresponding Secretary of Education from 1865-1876.  He brought to this work a rich history of working as a missionary first in China then among the Chinese immigrants in California.

     At the time of Speer's birth, his grandfather and namesake was minister of the Presbyterian Church of Greensburg, Pa.  (He was also the uncle of President Buchanan.)  Speer studied medicine for a few years in addition to becoming a Presbyterian minister.  His first wife died in 1847 not long after their marriage (possibly in childbirth).  He left for China in December, 1848.  He spent about four years as a missionary in Canton and became fluent in Cantonese.  In 1852, he married Elizabeth B. Ewing in Allegheny Co., Pa. and they settled in San Francisco  In 1853, he founded a mission that became the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, the oldest Asian-American Christian church in North America.  He visited new Chinese immigrants and Chinese mine workers and set up a dispensary to provide care to the Chinese.  He also was founder and publisher of The Oriental, a Chinese language newspaper.  He was a strong advocate of establishing schools for Chinese immigrant children, however, he supported using these schools to teach Christianity.
    Speer became an early supporter of Chinese immigration and opposed laws for Chinese exclusion.  He offered strong economic arguments in favor of immigration, but his main focus was evangelizing.  He hoped that Chinese who converted to Christianity would return to China and spread the faith.
   While in Philadelphia, Speer published two large volumes.  The first,  The Oldest and Newest Empire: China and the United States (1870), was a massive history of China and its culture.  The second was The Great Revival of 1800 (c1872).  (Both are available for  download from the Haithi Trust.)
      Speer's stay in Powelton overlapped with the that of the Fullerton family who lived a block away at 3307 Hamilton St.  They had been medical missionaries in India during the time Speer was in China.  One can only imagine what experiences they shared with each other about their time as early American missionaries in two great, but very different, cultures..

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Powelton's Army of Servants

           Running a Victorian household was hard work.  Powelton was fortunate to have running water and gas for heating it but without electricity everything required physical labor.  Without vacuum cleaners, floors were swept and washed and carpets were taken outside and beaten.  Windows were often open in the summer which allowed in dust and smoke from the streets.  Until the development of Fels-Naptha about 1893, there was no good laundry soap.  There also were no electric wash machines.  Somebody had to empty chamber pots.

            Almost every middle-class Victorian home in Powelton had at least one servant.  Almost all (97%) were female and most were young and unmarried.  Seventy percent were under age 30 and half were 23 or younger.  In 1880, more than half were Irish, either born in Ireland (42%) or native-born with a parent born in Ireland (12%).  About 17% were non-Irish whites born in Pennsylvania and another 17% were black.     There was a great deal of turnover of servants which led to the well-known “servant problem” that “plagued” most cities.  Evidence from elsewhere suggests that many servants left to work in factories.  Although the conditions in factories were often harsh, factory work involved more regular (though long) hours and may have paid more.  Others left to get married.  For example, Julia Donavan emigrated from Ireland in 1894 at age 16.  She started her life in the U.S. as a servant for a small family in North Philadelphia.  At age 23, she married Timothy Callahan, a contractor born in South Philadelphia.  In 1910, they lived at 3632 Warren St. (just below Lancaster Ave.)  In 1919, they purchase 3619 Powelton Ave. (and the adjoining lot at 3618 Pearl St.) and moved in with their nine children.  Julia still lived there in 1940 with four unmarried daughters and three grandchildren.  The family owned the house until 1951.
Washing cloths was an arduous, messy process. There were no washer women living in Powelton proper, but there were 39 nearby.  Most lived (and worked) just below Lancaster Ave. on the 3600 and 3700 blocks of Warren and Cuthbert St.  (Many of those houses were torn down to build the high school.)  Forty percent were black and 40% were foreign-born.  Most were married to laborers.  For example, the Jackson family lived at 3626 Warren St.  George was a 40 year-old mulatto laborer who had been unemployed for 5 months in the previous year.  His wife, Julia, was a servant for another household.  Their two daughters, Annie and Hester (ages 20 and 19) took in wash.  Hester was married to George Williams, a laborer.  They shared the house with George and Hester Laws and their infant son.  George was a mulatto cart driver who had been unemployed for 3 months and five daughters, and an Irish servant girl.  Hester took in laundry.
            A few of the larger homes had several servants and had a housekeeper to oversee the staff.  Deborah Roberts was the housekeeper for the Scattergood household (3515 Powelton Ave.).  She was born into a good Quaker family in Medford, New Jersey in 1849, the daughter of Samuel H. Roberts, a farmer, and Abigail Haines.  In 1860, their family included four sons, five daughters and an Irish servant girl.  In 1869, Samuel moved his family to Philadelphia where he became sexton of the Arch St. Quaker Meeting House.  Deborah was housekeeper for the Scattergoods for more than 20 years.  She oversaw (at least) two Irish servant girls and a nurse.  She retired in the 1920s and in 1930 (when she was 80) lived with her sister, Margaretta Roberts, as a boarder at 3609 Baring St.
            A few of the wealthiest families in Powelton had a coachman.  They were generally black.  For example, the carriage house (3400 Pearl St.) behind the Burnham’s mansion (34th and Powelton) was the home of the Hollians family.  In 1900, William (age 53) was the Burnham’s coachman and his second wife, Edith (35), and only child, Della (14), worked as servants.  Even with electricity, the Burnhams needed four servant girls in 1920.  Around 1910, William Hollians left to buy his own home and work as a gardener.  The carriage house then became the home of Fred and Anna Richter.  Fred was born in Germany.  Anna was born in Austria; her parents were ethnic Germans born in what became Czechoslovakia.  Fred was the Burnham’s chauffeur.  In 1940, they were still living in the Burnham carriage house, but the main house had become an apartment house.  Fred was a self-employed auto mechanic.  His two daughters, Caroline (21) and Anna May (19), were working as bookkeepers.
            These were a few of the house servants who were listed in the censuses.  They were just a fraction of the army of support personnel needed to keep Powelton running.  Households constantly received deliveries from grocery stores and coal dealers.  There were gardeners, livery drivers and stable hands, messenger boys, street sweepers, lamp lighters, and other miscellaneous support people.  Without electricity, telephones, and automobiles, Powelton’s streets must have been swarming with a constant stream of pedestrians, peddlers, carts, carriages and horse-drawn trolleys.

[Tabulations of the 1880 census based on data from IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota,]

Sunday, March 9, 2014

“The Door of Blessing” – Part 2: The Fate of the Block

The Door of Blessing opened at 3611 Baring St. in May 1916. Its provided women recently released from prison a temporary home, training for a new job and a chance to make a better life. It appears that the neighbors were supportive of the home's goals but there were very concerned about the potential impact on the neighborhood.  A petition begun by Raymond G. Fuller and Miss Mary Klemm had gathered more than 100 names in opposition. A large general meeting held at St. Andrews Church across the street led to an offer to raise funds to purchase 3611 plus additional funds to support the home at a different location. However, Mrs. William C. Bullitt and the other organizers of the home were undeterred.
            In 1930, the census shows the Door of Blessing with seven "inmates" ranging in age from 19 to 62.  They included three black women born in Virginia, an immigrant from Germany and one from Ireland.  The home was run by Gertrude Brown, 65 years old, a single woman born in New York who had run it since at least 1920.  The house was sold in 1937 and became an apartment house.
            Who was behind the petition to block the Door of Blessing and what was the effect of the house on the 3600 block of Baring St.? Miss Mary Klemm was the 50 year-old daughter of Mary Klemm who owned the large stone single at the corner of 37th and Baring.  Mrs. Klemm was the widow of John Klemm, a manufacturer.  In 1918, she sold the large single house at the corner of 37th and Baring to Clare Tetlow.  Tetlow might not have met Mrs. Bullitt’s standard for “decent people,” but she controlled the company founded by her husband, Tetlow Manufacturing, a maker of cosmetics.  In 1936, she sold the house to Dr. Hugh McAdams who lived there until at least the mid-1950s.   The other organizer was John Fuller, the son of Dwight and Sarah Fuller who moved to 208 N. 34th St. about 1887.  Dwight Fuller was a dentist and John followed in his footsteps.  However, he gave up dentistry and became a real estate agent about 1914.  He rented at 3402 Baring.  His brother, Dwight B., took over the family house lived there into the 1940s.
            Next door, 3613 Baring was owned and occupied by Levi and Mary Fouse.  After his death in 1914, Mary sold the house in 1917.  It was bought by Owen McGrath, an Irish immigrant who was a saloon owner and liquor dealer.  He lived there with his wife, seven children and her mother and brother.  In 1931, it was sold at Sheriff sale and became a rental.
            Two houses were already split into apartments by 1900: 3616 Baring and 3624 Baring.  The others were either owner-occupied or were rented to a single family.  In 1913, 3604 became St.Andrew’s manse.  During the 1920s, two houses were split into apartments.  The first to be converted was 3610.  In 1900 it was rented to Dr. Belfry and his wife.  In 1908, the following ad appeared: “Apartments for gentlemen only; homelike, southern exposure; moderate summer rates; porch, ‘phone.’”  However, later that year it was sold to James Boyd, a saloon owner and liquor dealer who lived there with his mother, sister and brother into the 1920s.  However, by 1930, it was split into four apartments for three singles and a newlywed couple.
            The other house that went from owner-occupied to apartments by 1930 is 3620.   Its transition was slightly different.  In 1915 it was owned by Thaddeus Zook, a 77 year-old single lawyer who lived there with his two unmarried sisters.  All three died between 1916 and 1919.  The house was purchased by Frank Houston, a theater manager.  He lived there with his wife and two children and five lodgers.  They sold it within a few years and it was divided into seven apartments.  In 1930, there were 13 people living there.
Another type of transition took place at 3603.  From 1902-1922 it was the home of Ellis Bacon and Helen Comly Bacon and their family (including future city-planner, son Edmund).  Both Ellis and Helen had grown up in Powelton.  When they moved to Delaware County in 1922, an ad for 3603 included the statement “Could be changed to apartments."  In 1923, it was purchased by Robert Davies, a 50 year-old immigrant from England.  He had 8 years of education and was a secretary to a private family.  He lived there with his wife, Florence, and daughter.  After his death, Florence sold the house in 1946.  However, the entire time they lived there, the house was divided into seven apartments.
            These were the only transitions to apartments between 1915 and 1930.  In 1930, half (9) were still owner-occupied and one was rented to a single family.  Four houses were owner-occupied but had apartments and five (28%) were just apartments.  The balance changed during the 1930s when four were split up.  By 1940, 10 were apartments (including 3611); only 6 were owner-occupied.  The figure shows a relatively steady pace of change from virtually all owner-occupied (89%) in 1900 to 30% in 1940.
            During the period 1922-1940 some homes remained quite stable.  3615 Baring is a single home that was purchased by the Atkins family in 1884.  They owned the house until 1911.  In 1914, it was purchased by Anna C.  Robertson a 51-year-old single woman who owned it without a mortgage.  In the censuses of 1920, 1930 and 1940, she is listed as living there alone.  It was sold by her estate in 1943.  3607 Baring also remained quite stable.  It was purchased by John Price in 1903.  He died in 1911 and his wife died in 1922.  The house was then sold to Joseph P.  Garvey, a 41-year-old physician.  He and his wife, Mary, raised their family there.  He was still living there in 1950.  George H.  Hill, a 41-year-old broker, purchased 3601 Baring in 1886.  His son was still living there in 1950, 64 years later.
            There was no flight from the Door of Blessing and no sudden rush to the suburbs.  Only the Bacon family moved out of the city.  Most sales followed the death of an owner, not flight.  New owner-occupiers moved in.  However, there was a steady trend toward apartments probably driven by an aging house stock, the strain of the Depression on ownership and the need for cheap housing

“The Door of Blessing” and a Bit of NIMBY

            It was almost Christmas, 1915 and “[r]esidents in the neighborhood of 36th and Baring streets have risen in protest against the proposed location of a home for fallen women, known as ‘The Door of Blessing,’ in the now vacant property at 3611 Baring St. in the midst of one of the city’s oldest and most distinguished residential sections.”  The protest started with a petition begun by Raymond G. Fuller (3402Baring St.) and Miss Mary Klemm (3619 Baring St.) that included nearly a hundred names.  One argument used by those opposed to placing the home at 3611 was that the deeds required that the neighborhood be free from ‘stores, saloons or any other nuisance.’” (Ev Pub Ledger, Dec. 21, 1915)
            The article noted that “the institution is run and backed by a large committee of society women.”  Mrs. William C. Bullitt, president of the association, was firmly in charge.  Her father-in-law founded the law firm now known as Drinker Biddle & Reath.  Her husband was a member of the firm and had died recently. George Wharton Pepper, the treasurer, had founded the law firm of Pepper Hamilton and later served in the U. S. Senate.
            Mrs. Bullitt explained that “It is ridiculous all this tempest in a teapot about the home.  It will be entirely inoffensive, the girls will not be allowed to be on the porch or in sight and it will be like an ordinary house….  It could not depreciate their properties any more than they are depreciated, for it is a very poor neighborhood.  The Pennsylvania Railroad ruined it years ago with the smoke and all the decent people moved out.  I don’t understand where they see it as a good neighborhood.  They threaten they would sell their properties, but they could not, because they are worth nothing.”
            The article noted that on this block of Baring all but two houses were owner-occupied.   “Mrs. Edward Wilson, who lives at 3609 Baring street… said she did not know whether they would move or not as they had just made extensive repairs and alterations.  Mrs. Harry Palmer, at 3613, the other side of the proposed home, said... ’I have small girls,’ she said, ‘and while the home will undoubtedly be orderly and quiet, it is hardly the situation that I would select in which to raise two children.  We would most probably move in time.’”  The Palmers were renters.

Leaded Window in door of Door of Blessing
             The Door of Blessing opened at 3611 in May, 1916 as a home for women recently released from prison.  Miss A. M. Dupree explained “[a]ny woman who wants to try again is welcome.  Every inmate comes of her own free will….  Our doors are open to women of any creed or faith…  There are so many women who have no place to go but back to the conditions that brought them to the prison.”  The women shared the housework and mending and making carpet rugs.  Each was taught a trade and usually a position was found for her.  The home continued at this location for about 20 years.
            Who were the protestors?  Where they conservative anti-progressives?  Did the block crumble in the next 20 years?  In the blog, I’ll review the evidence.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Powelton’s Suffragettes

     Poweltonians were a generally civic-minded group and were always involved in various social and political organizations. The women’s suffrage movement was no exception. Several Powelton women were prominent in the suffrage movement both locally in Pennsylvania and nationally. The story of the suffrage movement in Philadelphia was chronicled by Caroline Katzenstein (1876-1968) who was herself a key organizer of the movement. When passage of the 19th amendment was imminent, she resigned her position and became an agent for Equitable Life Insurance Co. In the 1920s, she moved to an apartment at 3411 Powelton Ave. where she lived until at least the 1950s. Her history of the suffrage movement in Philadelphia (Lifting the Curtain) includes information about the involvement of several Powelton residents. (See “Caroline Kateznstein and Woman's Suffrage.”)

Caroline Katzenstein, c1914 (Temple Univ. Archives)
     The most senior of Powelton’s suffragists (the term they preferred to “suffragettes”) was Charlotte L. (Woodward) Peirce (1830-c1923). In 1848, she was 18 year-old girl living in central New York State when she attended the Seneca Falls Convention. She is often identified as a teacher at the time of the Convention. Apparently she had taught school when she was 15. However, in the summer of 1848, she helped earn money for her family by sewing gloves at home for a local glove factory. She later moved to Philadelphia and in 1857 and married Quaker dentist, Cyrus Newlin Peirce (later Dean of the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery). In 1869, she was named vice president of the new Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association. The Peirces moved to Powelton in 1892 and into their new home at 3316 Powelton Ave. in 1895. She remained active in suffrage politics throughout her life. She was the only signer of the Seneca Falls Declaration who lived long enough to vote under the 19th amendment, although it appears that her health prevented her from voting.  She is the subject of a children's reader, "Meeting Mrs. Pierce," which gives an introduction to women's suffrage.    She was also a founder and long-time treasurer of the New Century Club and a founder of The Spring Garden Unitarian Society.

Charlotte L. Peirce and Caroline Katzenstein (Lifting the Curtain)

     Charlotte Peirce must have influenced many Powelton women, but Powelton women had been involved in women’s issues since at least 1876. (See “Advancement of Women, 1876.”) Several women became active in reform politics through the New Century Club. The Club addressed problems facing working women and their children. Miss Mary A. Burnham (1852-?; 3401 Powelton Ave.) was an active member. Katzenstein calls Burnham “one of the State’s most prominent Suffragists” and notes her knowledge of “political affairs.” In addition, “she was Pennsylvania’s outstanding financial supporter of the national suffrage movement.” As a daughter of George Burnham, a senior member of the partnership that owned Baldwin Locomotive Works, she was in a position to offer both financial and material support. In 1907, she gave $2,500 to the Susan B. Anthony memorial fund which was designed to meet the expenses of woman suffrage work for the next five years. In 1915 during the campaign to amend Pennsylvania’s constitution, she loaned the Equal Franchise Society a driver and automobile (termed the “Burnham Winner”) for three months. It was freshly painted in the movement’s colors with a purple body and yellow wheels. The “Burnham Winner” led of a string of 150 automobiles that were part of a pre-election parade up Broad St. During the election of 1916, Mary Burnham was the third largest donor to the National Woman’s Party. Her contribution of $2,300 was enough to buy about six Ford Model Ts.

The "Burnham Winner" (Evening Ledger, July 29, 1914)

      Katzenstein relates an amusing story about Mary Burnham. As part of relations for the Equal Franchise League, Katzenstein organized a campaign to plaster posters throughout the city. To get press coverage, she asked three “older and socially prominent members” to join a “Poster Brigade.” Miss Burnham (and possibly fellow Poweltonian Mary Grice) made a brave effort to plaster a poster to a brick wall. Dressed in their long, black dresses they must have made a spectacle as Katzenstein notes they were not used to this kind of work.

     Another member of the Burnham household also active in suffrage activities was Mrs. Katherine G. Halligan (1862-1928), a trained nurse. She was probably hired to assist George Burnham, but remained in the household long after his death. Katzenstein credits her with designing a moveable speaker’s platform, among other contributions.

      Mary Burnham’s support of the suffrage movement was not her only foray into the politics of women in society. In 1912-’13 she was one of four women on the Mayor’s 22-member “Vice Commission.” The Commission investigated conditions in the Tenderloin district. It based its findings on the reports of an expert team hired to carry out what we would call an ethnographic survey of the area. The Commission’s findings were almost revolutionary. The traditional view held that men’s needs for gratification were lamentable, but understandable while condemnation; enforcement (to the extent there was any) was aimed at the women. The Commission soundly rejected this view. They also noted the large number of homes of “respectable” people living in the so-called “segregated district” and the large number of young children surrounded by the prevalent vice. Two other Poweltonians were members: Theodore J. Lewis (212 N. 34th St. and 3405 Powelton Ave.) who was vice-chair (and Mary Burnham’s brother-in-law), and Joseph W. Cochran (3302 Baring St.) who was the minister of the Northminster Presbyterian Church (35th & Baring).

      Another prominent suffragist was Mary (Mrs. Edwin C.) Grice who was a founder of the New Jersey National Congress of Women. She became vice president of the National Congress of Women which was led by Hannah Schoff (3418 Baring St.). (See “Hannah Schoff - The "Mother" of the Nation's Organized Mothers” and “Hannah Schoff In Her Own Words.”) She was also active in the New Century Club. The Grices moved to Powelton (first 3308, then 3318 Arch St.) from N.J. about 1907. In 1914, Mary Grice headed a delegation of 20 Pennsylvania women to Washington where they met with legislators to push the House of Representatives to consider a suffrage amendment. The delegation included Mary Burnham and Maria Chase (Mrs. Thomas) Scattergood (3515 Powelton Ave.). Becoming active in the suffrage movement put Grice at odds with Schoff who believed that a woman’s influence should be through motherhood. However, many of the local units of the NCW did support suffrage, including the New Jersey chapter.

Mrs. Edwin C. Grice

     Grice and Schoff differed over another important topic: organizing parents’ involvement in schools. Schoff turned the National Congress of Women into what became the PTA. Grice, on the other hand, was a leading organizer, and first president, of Philadelphia’s Home and School Association. She served as president from 1907 to 1919 and was a leading critic of the Board of Education. Philadelphia still has a Home and School Association rather than a PTA. Grice was also a prominent member of the Woman’s Peace Party of Pennsylvania, a leader of the Church Woman’s Housing Committee, and in 1918 served on the governor’s Old Age Pension Commission. Her husband, Edwin C, Grice was a leading founder of the Ethical Society.

     These differences between neighbors remind us that Powelton’s suffragists were bold proponents of a new vision of women’s role in society.  As with any new social movement, there are differences of opinion on the best way to proceed and these were all strong women with strongly held opinions.

(Note: Charlotte Woodward Peirce’s name is almost universally spelled incorrectly as “Pierce.” The spelling used here comes from her signature and other documents. Her date of death is generally given as 1921 or “c1921.” There is no notice of her death in the Philadelphia Inquirer through the end of 1922. Her name is still listed in Boyd’s Directory for 1923 which was generally complied the previous fall. She was not listed in the 1924 Directory. It appears likely that she died in 1923. Her age at the time of the Convention is often given as 18 or 19. The 1900 census lists here date of birth as January, 1830. )