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. )

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The American Oncologic Hospital

     The American Oncologic Hospital (AOH) was founded in 1904 as the first cancer hospital in the United States. It was "devoted exclusively to the treatment of cancer and other tumors, and research into the nature and causes of those affections." The charter for the AOH stated that patients would be admitted free of charge “without regard to race, creed, or color if such persons are in indigent circumstances.” Patients who could afford to pay would be admitted and their payments would be used to enlarge and maintain the hospital. At the time, few hospitals could care for cancer patients and the disease was considered incurable. One of the problems was the need to provide aseptic surgery. To treat cancer patients, hospitals would have to have a separate staff of physicians and nurses to guard against the infection of surgical wounds. (Inquirer, Nov. 11, 1904)

First Home of the American Oncologic Hospital, 45th and Chestnut Sts
     The first home of the AOH was at 45th and Chestnut streets in an early Victorian mansion. At the inauguration of the hospital, Dr. G. Benton Massey stated that there were already hospitals for sufferers of tuberculosis and other diseases, but cancer patients were neglected. “The sufferer from cancer alone has cried to deaf ears from the hovels of the poor, from the residences of the well-to-do, and from the palaces of the rich.” He emphasized the role the AOH would play in educating people about the potential dangers of “moles, warts, and other apparently harmless growths.” (Inquirer, Jan. 3, 1905) The AOH aimed to pursue several lines of research including both the “parasitic and the autocytic theories.” The former was a germ theory of cancer whereas the later ascribed cancer to nervous degeneration. Early stage surface tumors could be treated by “electric sterilization with electrolytic salts of mercury; by Rontgen rays, by emanations of radium, [or] by the knife….”(Inquirer, July 22, 1904) During 1905, the AOH admitted 106 patients include some from as far away as Iowa and Florida.

     The AOH quickly outgrew its first home. In 1906, Elizabeth Anderson, a thrifty domestic servant, donated $40,000 (the equivalent of almost $1 million today) which enabled the AOH to consider plans for expansion. Her estate, which totaled over $76,000, was donated to numerous causes, including $5,000 to Presbyterian Hospital and $1,000 to the Old Man’s Home at Powelton and Saunders Avenues.  In 1911, the AOH purchased a stone mansion on a large plot of land at 33rd St. and Powelton Avenue. At the time, it was described as "one of the largest of the many fine residential properties in the section." In 1858, the mansion was the home of John C. Keffer, a writer and newspaper editor. In the early 1860s, he also ran a liquor store and distillery. At the end of the Civil War, Keffer moved his family to Montgomery, Alabama. As representative of the Union League in New York he played a central role in the early period of Reconstruction in that state. In the 1870s, he moved his family to Cleveland where he was an editor known for his large personal library.

American Oncologic Hospital, 33rd and Powelton (1914 addition at left)

      For many decades, the mansion was the home of the family of Edward Lewis, a wholesale iron and steel merchant. He retired from business in 1876 at age 57 and for many years was the head of the property committee of the Philadelphia School Board. He was also on the board of the Women's Medical College – his daughter Bertha was a graduate. (His brother, Enoch Lewis, later moved to 3405 Powelton Ave.) Edward died in 1901 and his wife, Elizabeth, died in 1903. In 1911, the family sold the mansion for $40,000 to the AOH which assumed a mortgage for $32,000.

     In 1914, the Oncologic Hospital began construction of a new two-story building. It included the finest operating room in the city, special facilities for x-ray and radium treatments and eight additional beds. The AOH was a leader in research -- particularly the use of x-ray and radium in treating tumors. The new building contained the radium therapy which had previously caused problems for the x-ray work. An article in the Inquirer at the time explained that “[f]or some time past it has been the custom at this institution to treat cancer by placing the radium on the tumor, rather than injecting it into the body as is done in some instances.”

    One of the leading experts in the use of radium was Dr. William S. Newcomet who did much of his early work at the AOH. Newcomet’s father, Henry Walborn Neukomet, was on the medical faculty at Penn. When he died in 1885 at age 46 Elizabeth Neukomet went to with their three children to Germany. William attended the University of Berlin (1888-1889) where he studied chemistry and microbiology. On the family’s return in 1890, they moved to 3229 Powelton Ave. and William attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1899, he purchased 3501 Baring St. where he and his wife lived for more than 50 years. They had two children, one of whom died in infancy. Newcomet wrote the first comprehensive book in English on the use of radium in treating tumors (1914). Beginning in 1915, his primary appointment was Director of the Lucy B. Henderson Foundation for Radiation Therapy at Jefferson Medical College.

     In 1930, the University of Pennsylvania received an anonymous donation of $210,000 to a fund for cancer research created in 1928 by Irenee du Pont. (As a child, she lived at 3500 Powelton Ave.) The funds were used to equip a new clinic at the AOH for modern diagnosis and treatment of tumors. Continuing the focus on surface cancers, the chief of the clinic was Dr. George M. Dorrance, Professor of Maxillo-facial surgery at the Penn School of Dentistry. (NYT, Jan. 26, 1930)

Brady A. Hughes, Sr. Using the "Radium Pack," to Treat a Patient

at the American Oncologic Hospital in the 1930s.

      The American Oncologic Hospital remained a leader in the use of radium for decades.  In 1935, it was one of only seven institutions in the U.S. to offer “radium pack” or “teleradium” therapy which allowed treatment of inner organs without burning the skin. The New York Times explained that the teleradium employed “portions of radium held in place by a disk, protected by a covering of lead six inches thick, with a small opening through which the radium rays pass…. The value of the radium pack… is that it permits the use of the ‘hardest’ gamma rays, those that penetrate most deeply into the body, while at the same time it permits the filtering out of the ‘soft’ gamma rays, which injure the skin.” (NYT, June 9, 1935)

      The radium used in the treatments was very expensive. In 1932, The New York Times reported that a new cleaning woman at the AOH had accidently swept four needles containing radium into the trash. They were valued at $30,000. Three of the needles were recovered.

      In 1967, the American Oncologic Hospital built a new path-breaking “patient-centered” hospital and joined with the Institute for Cancer Research to form Fox Chase Cancer Center. Today the buildings at 33rd and Powelton belong to Drexel University.