Editor's note: The following article, with notes, was rekeyed and reprinted on January 24, 2003 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of the The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, a publication of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The article was previously published in PMHB Volume CXVII, No. 3 (July 1993), pp. 177-199. Images accompanying the text in the PMHB publication were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the PMHB issue containing the article, please contact The Historical Society of Pennsylvania directly through either this phone number or web address:
Art and Industry in Philadelphia: Origins of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women
by Nina de Angeli Walls
To a twentieth-century Philadelphian, Moore College of Art and Design seems a permanent fixture on the city's cultural landscape. Now on Logan Square with the even more venerable Franklin Institute and Academy of Natural Sciences, from 1880 to 1959 Moore occupied an imposing building at Broad and Master Streets, north of City Hall. Originally known as the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, it began in 1848 as a charitable effort to train "needy and deserving" young women in textile and wallpaper design, wood engraving, and other salable artistic skills. During the 1850s, governance passed from the woman founder to men of the city's financial and manufacturing elite. Curriculum and policies frequently reflected both conflict and compromise among the differing goals of managers, faculty, and students. By 1919 the school claimed thousands of alumnae. After its merger in 1932 with the Moore Institute of Art, Science, and Industry, this experiment in vocational art training continued to flourish as a women's college dedicated to commercial art, in an era when many other single-sex institutions foundered under the impact of changing attitudes towards coeducation.
The Philadelphia school was first among a group of women's design schools established in the 1850s and 1860s; others appeared in Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. Art historian Lillian Miller years ago attributed this movement to "an increased awareness among Americans that manufacturing and industry profited from training in art." Profit from art What in the name of all the muses did practical men of industry find useful in aesthetic theories of art and design? And why select women as students for industrial design training, at a time when females were discouraged from seeking careers of any kind?
The early development of the School of Design suggests some answers to such puzzles, while raising issues of gender and economics. Throughout the nineteenth century, supporters of design training for women assumed without question that the female mind and hand were suited by nature for artistic pursuits, subject of course to proper guidance. Design schools also reflected prevailing beliefs that American society would benefit from emulating European standards in the arts, and that American industry would profit if widespread art training could enhance workers' skills and consumers' tastes. At the local level, Philadelphia's economic development significantly influenced the school's evolution. Early sponsors of the school acted in part out of concern over the national and international competitive position of Philadelphia's textile industry. In the midcentury period, this industry depended heavily on imported French designs, either purchased by subscription or pirated, and on the skills of English, Irish, and German immigrant workers. Philadelphia manufacturers clearly perceived a need for local training to reduce this dependence.
The specific question "Why select women?" should be reversed to "How could women support themselves?" Founding the school provided a means for training women who needed wage work. Selecting commercial design as the vehicle was the innovative contribution of Sarah Worthington King Peter, an Ohio-born philanthropist and arts patron who lived in Philadelphia from 1844 to 1853. Sarah Peter succeeded in persuading the Franklin Institute to take financial responsibility for the project, after the first class of twenty students expanded to about fifty and outgrew the space she had provided in her fashionable three-story house on Third Street near Spruce. Sponsorship by the Franklin Institute from 1850 to 1853 then launched the school with support from textile manufacturers, railroad entrepreneurs, Quaker philanthropists, bankers, and lawyers. These men of Philadelphia's elite included both representatives of established old families and holders of newly acquired wealth.
Practical reasons for supporting a school of design for women included local industry's need for trained native designers of household goods. Manufacturers and city leaders hoped both to improve the Philadelphia textile industry's competitive position within the United States and to reduce dependence on European textile designers. Philanthropic efforts to expand women's educational opportunities coincided with civic boosterism, with industrial demands for workers skilled in technical design, and with new trends replacing traditional apprenticeships with more formal preparation for careers in commercial art.
Board members and supporters also shared a widespread concern in Philadelphia and other growing cities about the increasing number of women in urban areas who were either supporting themselves or helping to support their families. Although reliable statistics on this hidden segment of the workforce are lacking, Philadelphia publisher and author Mathew Carey estimated as early as 1831 "that the nation's four largest cities had between twelve and thirteen thousand women who worked at home." "Home work" usually meant sewing thousands of tiny stitches for long hours in dim light, until arthritis and failing eyesight precluded even this source of income. Employers rationalized below-subsistence wages with the fiction that women worked only for extra money, relying on husbands or fathers for primary support.
Sarah Peter and the directors of the Franklin Institute recognized this rationale as fiction, that many so-called "deserving" women, some with dependents, had to work to support themselves. Not all women had the option of marriage; an unbalanced sex ratio in the northeastern cities was recognized as early as the 1820s and became more pronounced after the Civil War. Horace Greeley's famous injunction to "Go West, young man" left women behind in both city and country. In addition, the advent of factory-produced textiles and specialized commercial farming in the Northeast prompted many young farm women to migrate to urban areas as household production decreased. Status considerations further restricted the marriage options of women who often considered themselves above marrying manual wage laborers because they were daughters of independent farmers or craftsmen. Religious beliefs raised other barriers: immigrant Irish Catholic husbands were not generally acceptable to native-born Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Philadelphia Quaker women frequently did not marry because of the split between the Orthodox and Hicksite branches and the severe penalties for marrying out of meeting.
Designed to help so-called "deserving" women, both single and widowed, escape the trap of respectable poverty, the School of Design differed from other women's charities of the reform-minded decade of the 1840s. Many of these philanthropic organizations concentrated on the poorest women and girls, those subject to the greatest dangers of urban life in America's rapidly growing cities. For example, female moral reform societies used religious persuasion as a tool to rescue 'fallen women" and delinquent girls, along with training in domestic service and needlework to provide "respectable" employment. Unfortunately, respectability did not guarantee a living wage. Such training programs, based on prevailing misperceptions of poverty and its causes, did little to expand the limited and underpaid employment opportunities for women.
Another major effort of antebellum women reformers to aid their own sex was female education. In a movement led by Emma Willard, Catharine Beecher, and others, the narrow limits of suitable education for women expanded during the 1820s and 1830s. Basic literacy and elaborate needlework no longer sufficed. The new educational opportunities applied to women in the "middle class," similar to the deserving and respectable women recruited by the design schools after 1850. Among Catharine Beecher's most important accomplishments was the promotion of academies to train women as teachers; she also conducted a successful campaign to include teaching in "woman's sphere" by virtue of its association with training children at home. With her help education quickly became one of the few acceptable careers for women of the "respectable" classes, in spite of the inadequate pay received by female teachers.
For women who considered themselves "respectable" or "genteel," the Victorian ideology of "true womanhood" severely restricted employment options. To maintain a veneer of gentility, self-supporting women had to work within a domestic setting or in a setting that could be made to seem domestic. "Deserving" women, the School of Design's intended students, meant in this context poor but respectable, native-born or English white Protestant women, living in a family setting, women who adhered to the code of "respectability" in regular church attendance, "modest" dress, and "lady-like" demeanor. Young, in their late teens or early twenties, unmarried for the most part, these women were not completely destitute, since they had to have some income or family support while attending classes.
Philadelphia's school of design was neither a religious organization nor an educational seminary of general education. It offered industrial arts training aimed at widening career opportunities for women of some education who were forced to support themselves; these careers were said to promise higher pay than either needlework or general school teaching afforded. Supporters of the school took pains to assert that artistic endeavors remained within woman's natural sphere, since women were believed to have an innate sensitivity to the fine arts. A widespread belief in the spiritually uplifting effect of exposure to the arts also made women seem especially suited to this field.
Sarah Peter described the origins of her project in a letter to the Franklin Institute's Board of Managers dated March 27, 1850:
The letter makes it clear that this type of work fit into the acceptable limits for women, because it could be dune at home, without venturing into the public, masculine world of factory and office.
Sarah Peter was fifty years old in 1850, an unusually well-educated woman accustomed to moving in elite society. She had moved to Philadelphia in 1844 after marrying her second husband, the city's British consul William Peter. Sarah's parents, Eleanor Van Swearingen and Thomas Worthington, migrated in the 1790s from their native Virginia plantations to the Ohio Territory where they became leaders in the drive for statehood.
The Worthingtons raised their children in the eighteenth-century patrician tradition, in which privilege and wealth entailed civic responsibility: During her first marriage, to prominent Cincinnati lawyer Edward King, Sarah had helped to found the Cincinnati Protestant Orphan Asylum, the city's first such institution, in 1833. Sarah King's circle of friends in Cincinnati, during the 1830s, included Catharine Beecher whose vigorous views on education and the role of women in society undoubtedly influenced the development of Sarah's ideas.
In Philadelphia the deeply religious Sarah King Peter continued to be active in the Episcopal church; she attended St. Peter's, one of Philadelphia's oldest and most prestigious churches, located near her Third Street residence. The combination of consul William Peter's status and her own family connections and intellectual qualities made Sarah a leader among the socially concerned ladies of Philadelphia's old families. Three years after her arrival in Philadelphia, Sarah Peter became the first president of the Rosine Association for Magdalens, an organization founded in 1847 by women of Cherry Street Friends' Meeting (Hicksite) and of William Henry Furness's First Unitarian Church. Her work for the Rosine Association included chairing the committee to write the constitution and helping to raise funds for a "house of industry" where delinquent young girls could be taught respectable trades.
The Rosine Association was founded by Protestant women in comfortable circumstances; they had vowed not to judge the women who worked as prostitutes but to help them find "more dignified labor." The new association took a different tack from the existing Magdalen Society, both because the latter was "under the superintendence of men" and because it was too repressive. Philadelphia's Rosines insisted on female management, both at the policy-making level and in daily supervision of the House of Industry, promising sympathy and the example of "respectable" women to the inmates.
Less than one year after the Rosine House of Industry opened, Sarah Peter had started her school of design. In contrast to her own previous philanthropic efforts, and to those of other women's charitable organizations of the antebellum period, promotional literature for the design school noticeably lacked the usual religiosity. Instead, Mrs. Peter and later supporters of the school stressed the usefulness of such training, both to the students and to their city. In seeking support for her school, Sarah Peter did not turn to the church women's groups, which had provided the framework for the orphan asylum in Cincinnati, the Rosine Association in Philadelphia, and most other female philanthropic organizations of this period. Instead, she approached the financiers, manufacturers, and scientists on the board of the Franklin Institute, which had offered technical education for young men since its origin as a mechanics' institute in 1824.
The fund-raising strategy devised by this genteel Victorian lady constituted a bold step beyond the carefully circumscribed boundaries of the "female sphere," i.e, the networks of women friends and relatives who inhabited her social world. Charitable work within this sphere typically suffered from what might be called the "bake-sale syndrome," like twentieth-century PTA activities. Women raised pitifully small amounts of money with hours and hours of hard work producing and selling domestic items like lemon-drop cookies and crocheted antimacassars. Meanwhile, their male counterparts in the public sphere controlled power and wealth which flowed into other channels. Sarah Peter clearly saw that her school would never acquire a sound financial footing without some access to this power and wealth. A shrewd political sense led this pious female philanthropist to step outside the normal women's networks in order to approach a group of men whose primary interests lay in promoting science and industry.
Sarah Peter's reasons for directing her charitable efforts towards expanding opportunities for women not completely destitute derived from sympathy for young women whose class position, education, and family precluded any employment but low-paid teaching or seamstress work. Her experience with the Rosine House of lndustry, attempting to reform young prostitutes by training them as domestic servants, may well have led her to think about these other women, closer to her own life experience, who were struggling to cling to "respectability" without the requisite middle-class income.
Sarah Peter's appeal to the Franklin Institute to sponsor her school represented a significant new direction, apparently predating any other such effort in the United States. In her letter she indicated a likely model for the Philadelphia school: "In England, there already exist large female classes in all the schools of design." The president of England's Board of Trade had even said that the "female classes have certainly performed wonders." While this statement probably referred to female classes at South Kensington's government school, other such schools had existed in London as early as 1842. Consul William Peter's close connections with friends and relatives in the London area undoubtedly helped to make Sarah Peter familiar with British design training for women.
The English schools were not, however, charitable undertakings, as Sarah Peter intended her Philadelphia school to be. The British government had in mind training young working-class men in the industrial arts, in order to reduce English dependence on French design ideas. The great numbers of middle-class women who applied for design training proved to be something of an embarrassment to the school administrators, especially when the educated women in the female classes consistently turned out better work than the unprepared youths in the regular classes. These women the British press snidely labeled the "governess class," meaning an impoverished group similar to the "deserving women" whose poverty stirred American philanthropists.
Apart from disinterested benevolence, the reasons for launching the Philadelphia School of Design lay in civic leaders' views on practical benefits to be expected from cooperation between art and industry. Design schools proliferated rapidly in the early 1850s in a movement related to what one historian has called an "art crusade." Civic leaders and reformers in New York, Boston, and later Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati, followed Philadelphia's example. In her address to the Franklin Institute's managers, Sarah Peter developed a carefully reasoned economic argument for supporting a school of design based on the needs of Philadelphia's manufacturers:
The target audience for this well-designed argument, the Franklin Institute's directors, represented some of Philadelphia's most energetic and forward-looking businessmen. They included representatives of the textile industry, who might be expected to employ the school's graduates. Sarah Peter's appeal came during a period when the institute's managers were engaged in redefining its role in technical education; they were thus receptive to new suggestions. Within six weeks after receiving Sarah Peter's letter, the institute's Committee on Instruction had reported favorably on the new proposal, echoing both the charitable and the economic arguments of her proposal. The committee asserted that no competitive problems would arise in these artistic fields of employment, for even if women should "supplant men entirely, no evil could occur, especially in a country like ours, where such broad fields for male labor lie entirely unoccupied." Despite this disclaimer, the committee's efforts to deny that women designers threatened jobs for men imply that the issue was raised in some way.
The Franklin Institute board approved Sarah Peter's plan, but specified that none of the institute's funds could be used for the new school. A public appeal for endowment money would have to be launched. The group charged with raising the money included two of the most active civic leaders of mid-century Philadelphia, Samuel Vaughan Merrick and Frederick Fraley. Merrick, owner of the Southwark Foundry, had been a founder of the Franklin Institute in 1824 and became the first president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1847. Fraley, president of the Schuylkill Navigation Company, formed to build canals to Pennsylvania's coal regions, served as treasurer of the Franklin Institute and of the Philadelphia Board of Trade. Fraley later helped to organize Philadelphia's city/county consolidation movement in 1854 and the Centennial Exposition of 1876.
The Franklin Institute's sponsorship lasted less than three years. The governing structure was an unusual board, consisting of three men appointed by the institute, Sarah Peter, and two other women known as "lady managers." The board appointed a principal who exercised close supervision over the students' behavior as well as the progress of their work. Printed rules of conduct required "entire propriety of demeanor" and punctuality from the young women. Anne Hill, an "accomplished teacher of drawing" hired as the first principal in 1850, pleased all of the managers with her "fine taste and great energy of character." Her responsibilities included drawing instruction, administering contracts, and enforcing proper deportment and conduct.
Unfortunately, Anne Hill died suddenly in the summer of 1852, drowned after a steamboat explosion on a Hudson River excursion. After opening in September with a temporary replacement, the managers in November chose a new principal from several applicants. Elizabeth Speakman, a twenty-five-year-old art teacher, was a Hicksite Quaker and, possibly, a niece of apothecary John S. Speakman, a founding member of Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences. In February 1853, Thomas Braidwood, an older and more experienced teacher with an established reputation as a free-lance designer, contested Elizabeth Speakman's authority as administrative head of the school. The Franklin Institute directors apparently favored Braidwood, while Sarah Peter strongly supported Speakman.
The minutes of February 22, 1853, reported a letter from Braidwood to the Franklin Institute committee complaining of inadequate discipline in the school. Frederick Fraley expressed concern that the school's very existence was threatened. By March 8, the board had received protest letters from two groups of students, each supporting one of the two rival teachers. Apparently, Braidwood had threatened to resign by this time. In reporting what must have been a very lively meeting, the minutes stated that charges by Miss Speakman against Braidwood's "moral character" had not been corroborated. Several witnesses to the latter's exemplary character had, in fact, written testimonials to the board. The discreet secretary did not record the nature of Braidwood's alleged immoral behavior. Given the elaborate conventions of Victorian etiquette, Braidwood's transgression may have been no more than an overly familiar attitude toward his female students. The fact that Braidwood's own students supported him as a group indicates that he was probably not guilty of singling out a favorite for special treatment.
At a specially convened meeting of the Franklin Institute committee on March 10, the secretary read a letter from Miss Speakman explaining her position. She had not accused Mr. Braidwood of anything; she had merely repeated to him charges she had heard from others, and Braidwood had misinterpreted her remarks. Sarah Peter also sent a letter giving Speakman's position a ringing endorsement with "unqualified approval of her conduct as a woman and a teacher." The committee then voted to communicate to Miss Speakman through her counsel, Henry D. Gilpin, that the gentlemen managers would be quite happy to let the whole matter rest with no further action. Evidently the gentlemen had no wish to entangle themselves in a quarrel involving two such formidable ladies. Mrs. Peter seems to have been firmly committed to having a woman as the administrative authority in the school, even though the Franklin Institute managers might have preferred Braidwood, if only because of his greater age and experience.
Within two weeks after these events, Sarah Peter and the managers of the Franklin Institute had decided to sever the school's formal relationship with the institute. In her letter of March 21 to Frederick Fraley, Sarah Peter agreed with his suggestion that the school attempt an independent existence. Using carefully phrased polite conventionalities, she thanked the gentlemen of the institute for their help during the period of sponsorship during which, she said, the school had grown large and strong enough for separation. This face-saving fiction glossed over the power struggle between Peter and the other managers. The Franklin Institute committee, constituting the school's board of managers, copied this letter into their minutes of March 23, at which time they resolved to offer their help to the founder and her friends in the proposed reorganization.
In its final report, however, the Franklin Institute committee more bluntly described an irreconcilable conflict with Sarah Peter over administrative control of the school:
Clearly, Sarah Peter had refused to compromise her stand on the proper administration of the school, and the men of the Franklin Institute refused to accommodate themselves to her position. The apparent suddenness with which the institute managers washed their hands of the school's affairs implies that Sarah Peter's insistence on a female administrator seemed completely irrational and impractical to them. When the managers decided to "abandon the school to her and her friends," they must have given up their brief attempt to understand "her own views and purposes." Thomas Braidwood had years of experience as a free-lance designer, while Elizabeth Speakman's chief assets may have been her Quaker heritage of independence and dedication to reform. Sarah Peter's willingness to entrust the school's financial affairs to male managers contrasted with her attempts to maintain female control over the school's social and educational policies. This baffling contrast reflects the dichotomy in her own life between a comfortable affluence provided by father, husbands, and sons, and the exclusively female environment of her previous reform work in the Rosine Association.
The Franklin Institute committee's report ended with thanks to the teachers and students for their "correct moral professional deportment" and the assurance that the "public-spirited gentlemen who have assumed the responsibility of the institution will soon restore it to vigor and usefulness." Elizabeth Speakman did not appear on the final list of teachers, which included Braidwood and a "temporary teacher of the drawing school," Hannah L. Oakford, evidently a hasty replacement for Speakman. Oakford and her sister Rebecca had been students in the school in 1852; like the Speakman family, the Oakfords belonged to Philadelphia Monthly Meeting (Hicksite).
A new board of directors, including some men from the Franklin Institute committee and others recruited by Sarah Peter, formally incorporated the Philadelphia School of Design for Women as a separate institution in September 1853. By this time, however, the founder had left Philadelphia to live in Cincinnati following the death of consul William Peter. A separate board of lady managers continued to assist in supervising the school, but without the strong leadership of Sarah Peter their influence decreased steadily until they disappeared from the records after 1859. Elizabeth Speakman returned as elementary drawing instructor for the 1853-54 school year, but she shared administrative responsibility with a French design teacher, M. Fillet, who filled Braidwood's place on the faculty. This awkward arrangement failed to satisfy anyone, especially since M. Fillet's violent temper produced a chorus of complaints from his pupils and their parents. The next year, another European design teacher replaced Fillet; Edward Gombert received the title of principal and full authority over the school. Elizabeth Speakman had no further connection with the School of Design, but Thomas Braidwood returned two years later as principal. His tenure lasted from 1856 to 1873, a period of relative stability and slow growth for the school.
Personnel decisions, fundraising, and building plans through the 1850s and 1860s fell under the authority of the new board of directors set up in 1853. This board, like that of the Franklin Institute, included men from established "leading families" of the city, both Quaker and Episcopalian, and newly wealthy businessmen. These three groups bridged the divisions in Philadelphia's elite as explored by E. Digby Baltzell in his Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia. Perhaps the most prominent member was Job Roberts Tyson, solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad and a sixth-generation Philadelphian. Tyson had a certain standing in the city as an author and lecturer on prison and school reform, temperance, and local history. He clearly belonged on the "old family elite" side of Baltzell's division, as the son-in-law of merchant Thomas Pym Cope, a leading member of the Society of Friends, and one of the most prominent civic reformers of Philadelphia's antebellum period. Similar to Tyson in representing old established families were Elliot Cresson, a Quaker merchant known for his philanthropy, and attorney Phineas Pemberton Morris, an active Episcopalian descended from two leading families of Philadelphia's colonial era. Compared to Tyson, Morris, and Cresson, two other board members were relative newcomers to Philadelphia society: William J. Horstmann, oldest son of the German immigrant founder of a large silk hosiery mill, and Joseph Harrison, Jr., who made a fortune in railroads. Harrison was known for construction of the St. Petersburg and Moscow railway in Russia, the invention of a safety steam boiler, and an extensive art collection in his mansion on newly fashionable Rittenhouse Square. His interest in art may have helped to assert his status among Philadelphia's elite, who were notoriously slow to accept the newly rich. Harrison was one of several board members who also served as directors of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, starting in the 1860s. The overlapping boards did not imply equal social importance: the School of Design remained clearly lower in the city's cultural hierarchy, both because it was a women's school and because it was dedicated to commercial art instead of the fine arts.
Harrison served as board president of the School of Design from 1855 to 1866. An obituary notice in 1874 described his views on the value of art education for industrial workers:
Harrison's views probably represent those of his colleagues on the boards of the Academy of Fine Arts, the School of Design, and the new Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the Philadelphia Museum of Art) in Fairmount Park. He believed that copying the public art museums of Europe, and promoting "art culture" in general, would benefit American industrial workers by improving the taste of artisans and producing native designers equal to their European rivals.
In contrast to Harrison and Horstmann, another textile industry representative among the incorporators did have ties to Philadelphia's old families. David S. Brown was president of Washington Mills, a large print works in Gloucester, New Jersey, and later head of the Ancona Printing Company, an aniline print works built in 1872; other enterprises included a gingham weaving mill and an iron works. He also served as a director of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the most powerful corporation in the state, and of the Franklin Fire Insurance Company. Brown came from a New England Quaker family, and he found enough acceptance in Philadelphia to marry his daughter to one of the Chews of Germantown. David Brown is a good example of the convergence of economics and philanthropy that lay behind the eventual success of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. He employed its graduates to design calico prints for his mills, and he served as president of the school's board of directors from 1872 to 1877. In a testimonial letter written to the principal in 1862, Brown noted that not only were great "advantages to be derived by females from the instruction given in art and design," but this instruction was also important for "our art and manufacturing." This charitable businessman went on to say that he had replaced two male designers with one graduate of the School of Design at a salary three time as high as most women could expect to earn. Of course, this was still a "saving over what we should pay male designers." Such a convergence of charity and money-saving business acumen surely compensated David Brown for any qualms he might have had about women in men's jobs. Needless to say, lower pay for women prevailed everywhere before the twentieth century. After his death in 1877, Brown's motives were described in a memorial minute of the school's directors:
David S. Brown obviously agreed with Joseph Harrison that Philadelphia's manufacturers would benefit from the spread of art education, just as women students would gain from training in a marketable skill. Led by Harrison, Brown, and their colleagues, the School of Design expanded its program during the 1860s and early 1870s into two new areas: formal training for art education and fine arts in the academic tradition. The expansion laid the foundation for its future development as a professional school of commercial art in the twentieth century. Curriculum changes instituted in the late 1860s added a selection of courses in landscape and figure studies, derived from the European academic tradition, to the work in commercial design. These changes marked a shift in the school's orientation that moved it closer to the artistic and social orbit of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the dominant institution in nineteenth-century Philadelphia's art world. The early influence of the Franklin Institute's approach to technical education continued to be felt, however, in the core curriculum.
Preparing teachers for art education did not require major curriculum changes, but rather a series of energetic forays into statewide promotion of industrial arts in the schools and into a search for teaching jobs for School of Design alumnae. The demand for new teachers accelerated after the Civil War with the rapid expansion of public schools in this period. Women seeking careers in education could enhance their professional skills with special training in a new field which came to be called "industrial drawing." Many cities, including Boston and Philadelphia, added this subject to the common school curriculum in the late 1860s. School administrators believed that drawing instruction would promote "fundamental concepts of form and desirable habits of work and learning." Like the methods used in the elementary courses of the private schools of design, originally developed by the European design schools, industrial drawing began with copying simple geometric shapes and progressed to more complex designs. No longer an educational frill suitable only for young ladies' seminaries, elementary art after 1870 acquired a serious, practical, more "masculine" image as an industrial skill that might aid in reading blueprints or cutting patterns on the shop floor.
At the Philadelphia School of Design the two new areas of teacher training and fine arts seemed to point in two very different directions: one toward mass education, the other toward a selective group of relatively affluent students. However, both of these domains shared with the original commercial design program certain underlying assumptions. In the 1870s, as in the 1840s, women were considered to have an affinity for artistic pursuits. The Philadelphia school's adherence to European standards of the academic tradition in fine arts corresponded to its use of English and German design training as models for the commercial courses. English and European styles, then, became a standard for something called "taste," or "appreciation of the beautiful," which was to be disseminated through American schools by teachers trained in the art education courses. After 1870 the broadened scope of the curriculum contributed to a steadily creasing enrollment, climbing from under 100 students in the 1860s to over 200 by 1880. The school benefited both from increasing numbers of women seeking higher education and from growth in Philadelphia's population, manufacturing base, and retail economy.
For the city of Philadelphia, the biggest event of the 1870s was the great Centennial Exposition held in Fairmount Park on the western edge of the city. As an institution the School of Design for Women did not play a very large role at the Centennial, but a number of individuals associated with the school participated actively and visibly. The organizers and fund raisers included Frederick Fraley, from the original Franklin Institute committee, and board president David S. Brown, who allegedly died from working too hard on Centennial financial affairs. Philadelphia engraver John Sartain, vice-president of the School of Design board, served as chairman of the Centennial Fine Arts Committee, responsible for selecting sculpture and painting from around the world to be displayed in the art pavilion. John's daughter Emily, an engraver and painter who studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in Europe, exhibited her work both in the Women's Pavilion, and in the main art building where she received a medal.
The Women's Pavilion featured displays of several design schools, including those of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. However, at the invitation of the state superintendent, the Philadelphia School of Design for Women chose to display the work of its pupils in the Pennsylvania State Board of Education building. Perhaps the superintendent's good will was more important than documenting the variety and quality of women's handiwork in conjunction with other women's schools. In effect, the managers placed a higher priority on the school's role in general public education than on its place in women's education.
In the twenty-eight years between Sarah Peter's first drawing class and the Centennial Exposition, the appearance, size, and scope of the School of Design for Women had changed immensely. With a large enrollment and the prestige of a secure place in Philadelphia's cultural establishment, the school was poised to supply the growing demand for designers, illustrators, teachers of industrial drawing, and instructors for popular new crafts like china painting. Many of Sarah Peter's original goals had survived. Despite the weak public stand on women's education, demonstrated by the incident of the Centennial exhibit placement, and the predominance of male policymakers after 1853, the founder's vision of a practical vocational art school exclusively serving women had blossomed into reality. Two basic assumptions had remained consistent: first, art was especially suited to feminine sensibilities; second, the practical utility of art in a republican economy lay in its application to improving design of American-made products.
Apart from the economic role of art education, the history of the school itself raises a central issue in women's education. What is the social effect of single-sex institutions? Separate institutions for women have provided bases for strong, supportive women's networks, but they could also become restricted areas perpetuating inferior status through segregation. Compared with other exclusively female institutions, the Philadelphia School of Design between 1853 and 1873 suffered from a lack of strong women leaders. Sarah Peter's abrupt departure from Philadelphia after her struggle with the Franklin Institute effectively left policy decisions to the all-male board of directors. These men did their best to carry out Peter's original intentions. However, the principal and instructors for advanced courses were men; students encountered women only as elementary level teachers. As role models these teachers could do no more than reinforce the subordinate status of female professionals in art and in education.
On the other hand, historian Estelle Freedman has made a good case for separatism in itself as a positive force for women in the period from 1870 to 1930. Nineteenth-century women's medical colleges, for example, enabled their graduates to obtain professional standing as physicians despite being excluded from established medical schools. Although design school alumnae did not encounter the strenuous course work, hostility, and prejudice faced by female physicians, at a time of severely limited career options for women the School of Design offered a realistic, accessible avenue out of the old restrictive domestic sphere without openly challenging those restrictions. Sarah Peter's strategy of enlisting a male board of directors to gain financial stability assured her school's survival as a separate institution, albeit with the loss of female administrative control. In the final analysis, many graduates did achieve a degree of economic independence, as teachers, free-lance artists, or salaried designers. Success in opening up new careers for Philadelphia women enabled the School of Design to continue to grow, flourishing in its separatism as an integral component of the city's cultural life.
This article is drawn from a dissertation in progress; a detailed narrative of the school's early years appeared in the author's M.A. thesis, "The Philadelphia School of Design for Women, 1848 to 1876" (University of Delaware, 1989). In partial return for numerous intellectual debts incurred in writing both the thesis and this article, I thank Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware; Brian Greenberg, Monmouth College; Philip Scranton, Rutgers University; and Neville Thompson, Winterthur Museum Library, who first suggested the topic.
1. The most complete history of the Philadelphia School of Design (hereafter, PSDW), An Experiment in Training for the Useful and the Beautiful, was written by board member Theodore C. Knauff in 1922 and published by the Moore Institute in 1932. Moore College of Art later published a briefer history, Design for Women (Wynnewood, Pa., 1968). Primary sources include published reports and prospectuses, and minutes of the board of directors and board of lady managers, located for the most part in the archives at Moore College of Art and Design (hereafter, MCAD). The minutes of the lady managers, held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (hereafter, HSP), long ago became separated from the school's official records. Minutes and other records of the Committee on the School of Design for 1850-53 are in the Franklin Institute Archives (hereafter, FIA). Bruce Sinclair, Philadelphia's Philosopher Mechanics: A History of the Franklin Institute 1824-1865 (Baltimore, 1974), the best and most thorough analysis of the institute's history, its role as a "national technical institution," and as a catalyst in Philadelphia's cultural life, covers PSDW and other educational ventures in chapter 10, "In Search of a Mission."
2. Lillian B. Miller, Patrons and Patriotism: The Encouragement of the Fine Arts in the United States 1790-1860 (Chicago, 1968), 214. Miller noted Sarah Peter, founder of PSDW, as the only woman among important art patrons in this period. Neil Harris, The Artist in American Society (New York, 1966) is the standard work on the economic and cultural struggles of artists in the early republic. Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society (London, 1990) surveyed the burgeoning historical literature on women in art; it is an essential starting point for the student coming from outside the field of art history, as are two bibliographic guides to American artists: Eleanor Tufts, ed., American Women Artists Past and Present: A Selected Bibliographic Guide (New York, 1984) and Charlotte Rubinstein, ed., American Women Artists: From Early Indian Times to the Present (Boston, 1982); Phyllis Peet, "The Emergence of American Women Printmakers in the Late Nineteenth Century," Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 1987, comprehensively surveyed all the major women's design schools and the field of printmaking between 1850 and 1900.
3. Philip Scranton, Proprietary Capitalism: The Textile Manufacture at Philadelphia, 1800-1885 (New York, 1983) and Figured Tapestry: Production, Markets, and Power in Philadelphia Textiles, 1885-1940 (Cambridge, 1989). Scranton's two-volume history of the Philadelphia textile industry from 1800 to 1940 documents and analyzes the vital role of this industry in the city's economic life and describes its specialized, high-quality products which demanded a highly skilled workforce.
4. Two of the biographies of Sarah Peter include a chapter on her nine years in Philadelphia: Margaret Rives King, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Sarah Peter (Cincinnati, 1889), is an admiring portrait by a daughter-in-law; Anna Shannon McAllister, In Winter We Flourish: Life and Letters of Sarah Worthington King Peter, 1800-1877 (New York, 1939), equally admiring, emphasizes Peter's conversion to Roman Catholicism and her later work establishing four charitable orders of Catholic nuns in Cincinnati. Lea J. Brinker, "The Charitable Impulse of Sarah Worthington King Peter," Queen City Heritage 42 (1984), 27-40, covers both the religious charities and Peter's role in founding the Cincinnati Ladies' Academy of Fine Arts in 1854.
5. Quoted in Alice Kessler-Harris, Out To Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (New York, 1982), 48. Kessler-Harris comprehensively surveys the history of women's employment from colonial times to the present. Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York 1789-1860 (New York, 1986) breaks new ground with a richly detailed study of women in New York City's underclass in the antebellum period; Joanne Meyerowitz, Women Adrift: Independent Wage-Earners in Chicago, 1880-1930 (Chicago, 1988), using examples and data from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, analyzes family and social constraints on single working women with claims to "respectability" in the urban environment.
6. Kessler-Harris, Out to Work, 24; Meyerowitz, Women Adrift 2. Also see Stansell, City of Women for details on antebellum "home work" sewing and its relation to sweated labor in the garment industry.
7. Kessler-Harris, Out to Work, chap. 2.
8. Philip S. Benjamin, The Philadelphia Quakers in the Industrial Age 1865-1920 (Philadelphia, 1976), 97.
9. Anne M.Boylan, "Women in Groups: An Analysis of Women's Benevolent Organizations in New York and Boston, 1797-1840," Journal of American History 71 (1984), 497-522; Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, "Beauty, the Beast, and the Militant Woman," American Quarterly 23 (1971), 562-84.
10 My understanding of Beecher's life and work relies heavily on Kathryn
Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New
York, 1976); the classic description of "woman's sphere" is Barbara
Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860," American Quarterly
18 (1966), 151-74, but this rather static version assumes women's passive
acceptance of roles assigned by dominant males. Boylan, Sklar, Nancy F.
Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England,
1780-1835 (New Haven, 1977), Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly
Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York, 1985), and
other works have shown women as active agents both in defining their own
roles and in expanding these roles gradually throughout the century. Mary
P. Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New
York 1790-1865 (Cambridge, 1981) and Stuart M. Blumin, The Emergence
of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City, 1760-1900 (Cambridge,
1989) have both explored the complex interaction among female "gentility,"
education, and class position in what Blumin aptly calls the "elusive
middle class." His extensive use of Philadelphia data on the material
lives of this group and of those aspiring to join it clarified my views
on Philadelphia reformers' definition of "respectable" and "deserving":
native-born, white Protestants from church-going families, preferably those
whose children attended Sunday school, a distinction of the "respectable"
poor noted by Anne M. Boylan, Sunday School: The Formation of an American
Institution 1790-1880 (New
Haven, 1988). Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America 1830-1870 (New Haven, 1982), outlines other attributes of "respectability" for women, visible in "modest" demeanor and appearance.
11. Franklin Institute, Proceedings. . . Relative to the Establishment of a School of Design for Women (Philadelphia, 1850) (hereafter, FI, Proceedings, 1850), 1-2.
12. Sklar, Catharine Beecher, 118-20.
13. Knauff, An Experiment in Training, 6; King, Mrs. Sarah Peter, 69.
14. Marcia Carlisle, "Disorderly City, Disorderly Women: Prostitution in Ante-Bellum Philadelphia," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 110 (1986), 567; for more details on both organizations, see Carlisle, "Prostitutes and Their Reformers in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia," Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1982.
15. Sinclair, Philadelphia's Philosopher Mechanics, 261-64.
16. Anthea Callen, Angel in the Studio: Women in the Arts and Crafts Movement 1870-1914 (London, 1979), 27.
17. Callen, Angel in the Studio, 28. Callen's analysis is grounded in the standard work on English design schools, Quentin Bell's The Schools of Design (London, 1963).
18. Peter C. Marzio, The Art Crusade: An Analysis of American Drawing Manuals, 1820-1860 (Washington, 1976). In 1851 Boston abolitionist Ednah Dow Cheney began a school explicitly modeled on Philadelphia's, with such illustrious board members as James Russell Lowell and Julia Ward Howe: Cheney Reminiscences (Boston, 1902). Peet, "Women Printmakers," 62, found no records for the Boston school after 1861. Peet also noted that New York's School of Design for Women was founded in 1852 by Mary Morris Hamilton (granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton); it became a division of the Cooper Institute in 1859. Britta Christina Dwyer, "Nineteenth-Century Regional Women Artists: The Pittsburgh School of Design for Women, 1865-1904," Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1989.
19. FI, Proceedings, 1850, 2.
20. Scranton, Proprietary Capitalism; Sinclair, Philadelphia's Philosopher Mechanics, FI, Proceedings, 1850, 5.
21 Sinclair, Philadelphia's Philosopher Mechanics, 254; Dictionary of American Biography (hereafter, DAB), s.v. "Fraley, Frederick," and "Merrick, Samuel Vaughan."
22. Franklin Institute, Proceedings. . . Relative to the Establishment of a School of Design for Women (Philadelphia, 1851) (hereafter, FI, Proceedings, 1851), 27, for the "Rules and Regulations"; Franklin Institute Committee on the School of Design for Women, First Annual Report (Philadelphia, 1852): Hill's salary of $1,000 per year was extremely high for any teacher; most women teachers in the 1850s could hope for no more than $150-200 annually; FI, Records of the Committee on the School of Design for Women (unpublished report), Dec. 18, 1850 (FIA).
23. Walls, "Philadelphia School of Design for Women," 48-51; PSDW, Minutes of the Board of Lady Managers (hereafter, Minutes, BLM), Feb. 22-March 10, 1853 (HSP). The most detailed account of this power struggle was recorded in the separate lady managers' minutes; a sketchier version appeared in the Minutes of the Franklin Institute Board of Managers, May 19, 1853. Bruce Sinclair analyzes this episode in Philadelphia's Philosopher Mechanics, 261-64, noting the experimental nature of the Franklin Institute's venture into women's education, inspired to some extent by the success of its relationship with Central High School for Boys.
24. PSDW, Minutes, BLM, Feb. 22-March 10, 1853, 69-73 (HSP).
25. PSDW, Minutes, BLM, March 8-10, 1853, 71-74 (HSP).
26. PSDW, BLM, March 23, 1853, 75-76 (HSP); Franklin Institute, Minutes of the Board of Managers (hereafter, FI, Minutes, BM), May 19, 1853, 331-32 (FIA).
27. FI, Minutes, BM, May 19, 1853, 331-32 (FIA).
28. FI, Minutes, BM, May 19, 1853; Franklin Institute, Records of the
Committee on the School of Design for Women, "Pupils of the School
of Design," 1852 (FIA). William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American
Quaker Genealogy (4 vols., Ann Arbor, 1938), 2:811, 820-21; also see
Emma Speakman Webster, comp., The Speakman Family in America (Philadelphia,
1930), 92-94. Hinshaw and other genealogical references are invaluable sources
for tracing the lives of women who might never appear as heads of households
in census and directory listings.
29. DAB, s.v. "Tyson, Job Roberts."
30. DAB, s.v. "Tyson, Job Roberts"; Knauff, An Experiment in Training; E. Digby Baltzell, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia: Two Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Class Authority and Leadership (New York, 1979). Baltzell's Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class (Glencoe, Ill., 1958) defines the city's elite with names and genealogies; Ronald Story, Forging an Aristocracy: Harvard and the Boston Upper Class, 1800-1870 (Middletown, 1980) demonstrates the cohesiveness of Boston's leaders, supporting Baltzell's thesis that contrasts the Boston Brahmins' relatively rapid acceptance of "new money" with Philadelphia's glacial pace.
31. Coleman Sellers, "An Obituary Notice of Mr. Joseph Harrison, Jr.," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 14, 2d ser. (1875), 347-55. Nicholas Biddle Wainwright, "Joseph Harrison, Jr.: A Forgotten Art Collector," Antiques 102 (1972), 660-68, describes Harrison's role in promoting and founding the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the 1870s.
32. See Neil Harris, "The Gilded Age Revisited: Boston and the Museum Movement," American Quarterly (1962), 545-66, on the educational goals of the men who founded Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in the 1870s.
33. Knauff, Experiment in Training, 59. For biographical data on David Brown, see the archival description of Brown's papers, Chew Family Collection (HSP).
34. David S. Brown to Thomas W. Braidwood, 3rd mo. 11th 1862, in 1858-1864 letterbook, Box 247, Chew Family Collection (HSP). An excerpt from this letter appeared in the PSDW Report (Philadelphia, 1862).
35. PSDW, Minutes of Directors, July 9, 1877 (MCAD).
36. PSDW, Prospectus (Philadelphia, 1866-1873).
37. Foster Wygant, Art in American Schools in the Nineteenth Century (Cincinnati, 1983), 5.
38. Russell F. Weigley, ed., Philadelphia, a 300-Year History (New York, 1982), 469; Knauff, An Experiment in Training, 59; A. Katherine Martinet, "The Life and Career of John Sartain, 1808-1897," Ph.D. diss., George Washington University, 1986; Agnes Addison Gilchrist, "Emily Sartain," Notable American Women, 1607-1950 (3 vols., Cambridge, 1971), 236.
39. U.S. Centennial Commission, Official Catalogue (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1876), 2:83-102; PSDW, Minutes of Directors, March 6, April 3, 1876. Mary Frances Cordato, "Toward a New Century: Women and the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, 1876," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 107 ( 1983), 113-35, provides a recent historical assessment of the significance of the separate Women's Pavilion.
40. Estelle Freedman, "Separatism as Strategy: Female Institution
Building and American Feminism, 1870-1930," Feminist Studies 5
(1979), 512-29. On separate institutions, also see Kathryn Kish Sklar, "Hull
House in the 1890s: A Community of Women Reformers," Signs 10
(1985), 658-77; for an overview of women's education see Thomas Woody's
comprehensive but dated History of Women's Education in the United States
(2 vols., New York, 1929) and Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company
of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America
(New Haven, 1985); for the history of women's medical schools see Regina
Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine
(New York, 1985). For examples of a few specially talented PSDW alumnae
who achieved substantial artistic reputations, see Helen Goodman, "Women
Illustrators," Women's Art Journal 8 (1987), 13-22; Ann Barton
Brown, Alice Barber Stephens: A Pioneer Woman Illustrator (Chadds
Ford, Pa., 1984); Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Susan Macdowell Eakins,
1851-1938 (Philadelphia, 1973); Christine Jones Huber, ed., The Pennsylvania
Academy and Its Women (Philadelphia, 1974).
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