Unity House, A Workers’ Shangri-La

I can imagine the hundreds of people who were here on any summer evening,” recalls Nelson Whittaker, veteran custodian of twenty-five years. “They’d be walking around, talking, going to a theater performance, dancing in the ballroom, listening to a lecture, enjoying a fantastic meal. Now, it’s all gone.” For most of the twentieth century, garment workers –...
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Joseph Priestley, Catalyst of the Enlightenment

When Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) is remembered today, it’s usually for his 1774 discovery, in England, of oxygen. Few know he was a noted theologian, political progressive, and prolific author whose scientific contributions include the development of the carbonation process, the identification of carbon monoxide, and early experiments in electricity. He counted Benjamin Franklin, Thomas...
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Born to Organize

For nearly two decades, from 1944 to 1963, in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, a center of anthracite mining, Min L. Matheson (1909-1992) and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) were synonymous with notions of “community.” A charitable event? Count on the ILGWU to provide volunteers and raise money. Patients at an area veterans’...
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Living for Reform

For too long, Joseph A. Yablonski (1910-1969) – known to most simply as Jock – had seen things go wrong in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), once a respected labor union. He had served in its hierarchy but with an increasingly troubled conscience. What mattered to him most was that things had to change and he had to lead the charge to change them. He ardently believed that...
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David L. Lawrence, the Deft Hand Behind Pittsburgh’s – and Pennsylvania’s – Politics

David Leo Lawrence (1889-1966), governor of Pennsylvania from 1959 to 1963, and mayor of Pittsburgh from 1946 to 1959, during the city’s first heralded renaissance, was a professional politician to the very core. Ranked as one of America’s great chief executives among big cities, Lawrence immersed himself in politics, beginning at the age of fourteen when he became a city Democratic...
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Born a Leader for Pennsylvania

The essence of life is unconditional, non-judgmental love,” explains George Michael Leader when asked to sum-up his philosophy. He writes poetry, models and advocates wellness, leads community humanitarian projects, reads extensively, and oversees a family corpora­tion he founded that includes nursing facili­ties and retirement communities. In his ninth decade he is, as he has always been,...
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Breaking Down Barriers

In the summer of 1957, William and Daisy Myers and their three children moved from their house near Philadelphia to the post-World War II development of Levittown, some twenty miles northeast of the city. Like millions of American families in the 1950s, they were seeking the highly touted amenities of suburban living (see “Picture Window Par­adise: Welcome to Levittown!” by Curtis...
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Maurice K. Goddard: The Commonwealth’s Conservation Czar

There is a point in crossing the top of the Allegheny Mountains between Pittsburgh and Harris­burg at which a traveler sees, at every turn, only trees. It is one of the most spectacular views on the North American Continent. The scene lacks the frenetic energy of Niagara Falls, or the awe-filling majesty of the Grand Canyon, but this several­-hundred-square-mile panorama of second-growth forest...
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Catherine Drinker Bowen (1897-1973)

Writers seldom choose as friends those self-contained characters who are never in trouble, never unhappy or ill, never make mistakes and always count their change when it is handed to them” wrote one of twentieth-century Amer­ica’s best-known historians and biographers, Catherine Drinker Bowen (1897-1973). Born in Haverford, Mont­gomery County, she is best known for her narratives of...
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Max Hess Jr. Puts Allentown on the Map

When Diane Stoneback, food editor of The Morning Call, the daily newspaper published in the Lehigh County seat of Allentown, challenged readers to a concoct a strawberry pie as scrumptious as the trademark dessert once served at the popular Patio Restaurant in Hess Brothers, a beloved department store, she found more than a flood of recipes overflowing her inbox. Hopeful contestants who...
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