Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

The features in this edition focus on Pennsylvanians who strived for a more equitable, pluralistic America. The articles cover a period from the mid-19th century into the early 20th, a time when movements for civil rights were emerging and new barriers were being broken in several social and cultural realms.

The story of Octavius V. Catto reflects a key moment in the history of the struggle for racial justice in Pennsylvania. An educator, baseball player, and one of the nation’s earliest civil rights activists in the period following emancipation, Catto was tragically shot and killed on October 10, 1871, in Philadelphia, while he was on his way to safeguard Black male voters who had recently received suffrage rights after the passage of the 15th Amendment. In “Without Fear and Without Reproach,” historian Todd M. Mealy recounts Catto’s remarkable life and accomplishments, from his education at the Institute for Colored Youth, where he would later teach, to his work for African American rights, including his crucial roles recruiting Black troops in the American Civil War and lobbying legislators for a bill that led to the commonwealth’s integration of streetcars.

The architect Frank Furness, who designed more than 600 buildings during his career, was influenced by a coterie of intellectuals and social reformers who came together in mid-19th-century Philadelphia and included his father William Henry Furness, pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, and Marcus Jastrow, rabbi of Rodeph Shalom, the first Ashkenazi Jewish congregation in the Western Hemisphere. In “Reforming Faith by Design,” art historian Matthew F. Singer demonstrates how the younger Furness translated the ecumenical and philosophical sensibilities of this progressive circle into the “spiritual architecture” he created in the city, beginning with his first commission for the Rodeph Shalom synagogue and extending to his designs for First Unitarian and the city’s “temples of art and learning,” the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania.

At a time when there were few occupational alternatives available to women, especially in leadership positions, Pittsburgh native Lois Weber was a leading force in motion pictures in the medium’s early years. Lauren Uhl, a curator at the Heinz History Center, tells the story of this pioneer of the silent cinema who was involved in more than 200 films as either screenwriter, performer, director or producer — sometimes all four at once — revealing the evolution of a visionary artist who progressively gained more control over her work and expanded upon emerging narrative film techniques to create an output that bears her own unique signature.

Also, for further reading, be sure to visit our Pennsylvania Heritage online archive at paheritagemagazine.com, where you’ll find more articles on the diverse experiences and events that make up the broad narrative of Pennsylvania history.

Kyle R. Weaver