Pennsylvania’s Ratification of the 15th Amendment

Black men in Pennsylvania were given the right to vote not once but twice in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pennsylvania’s Constitution of 1776 had permitted tax-paying free Black men to vote. In 1838, however, Black suffrage became a point of high contention during a new Pennsylvania constitutional convention. Opposing groups sent various petitions to the convention advocating for and against...
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The Witch Trial of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s founder and original proprietor William Penn (1644–1718) was not only a great lawgiver but also a clever arbiter of disputes between residents of his commonwealth. His thoughtful handling of a witch trial on December 27, 1683, at a Provincial Council meeting in Philadelphia helped to prevent a crisis in Pennsylvania like the hysteria that occurred in Salem, Massachusetts, only...
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Soldiers to Governors: World War II

More than 1 million Pennsylvanians served in the Armed Forces during World War II. Five of these servicemembers would later be elected as Pennsylvania’s governor. Carrying on the great American tradition of citizen-soldiers, these civilians or members of the National Guard left their homes and families to volunteer to fight for their country during a crucial period in history. The Pennsylvania...
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Butter v. Margarine

Butter and margarine have been at war since the latter was invented in France in 1869. Made from beef tallow, “oleomargarine,” as it was originally called, arrived in the United States in the 1870s. It was marketed as a cheaper and less perishable alternative to butter. This threat to butter sales led many American dairy farmers to wage campaigns against the new product in legislatures and...
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Pennsylvania State Archives Multiyear Freezer Negative Project

The Pennsylvania State Archives is home to many photographic collections. Recently, a project was initiated to remove unstable nitrate and acetate negatives in the archives’ walk-in freezer to clear storage space and prepare for the future move to a new State Archives building, planned to open in 2022. The negatives have been stored for years in the freezer to slow down their deterioration and...
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Terror and Extortion on the Pennsylvania Railroad

Threats of terrorism and challenges to security are nothing new for railroads; these phenomena have been around for nearly 200 years of railroading in the United States. Safety and security, therefore, have been of the utmost importance for railroad lines from the 19th century to the present, and railroad police have had authority equivalent to state police in many locations. Yet, the amount of...
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Women’s Suffrage: Pennsylvania’s Ratification of the 19th Amendment

The struggle for women’s suffrage in Pennsylvania has a long history. Throughout the Colonial Period, 1681–1776, only adult males who owned property could vote. After breaking from the British crown, Pennsylvania’s revolutionary political leaders broadened male voting by abolishing the property qualifications; however, they did not extend the vote to women. A significant precursor to the women’s...
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Beaver’s Diary, Document and Lifesaver

The Pennsylvania State Archives has in its collection numerous diaries recording the personal experiences of prominent people in the state’s history. One of those diaries not only documented its owner’s life but also possibly saved it. James Addams Beaver (1837–1914), born in Millerstown, Perry County, was an attorney in Bellefonte, Centre County, who would serve as the 20th governor of...
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Remembering TMI 40 Years Later

In late March 1979, south-central Pennsylvanians were startled to learn of an accident that had occurred at Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant in the Susquehanna River near Middletown, Dauphin County. In my own experience, the initial news came to me at Dallastown Elementary School in York County after a teacher shouted out to my fifth-grade class to come back inside the school building...
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Sydney Ware, Eastern State Penitentiary Artist

Built in the 1820s as part of a new type of prison system, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia was founded on the belief that prisoners could be rehabilitated during incarceration through separate confinement and industrious labor. During the penitentiary’s span of operation, 1829–1971, numerous records were compiled about the inmates and maintained at the prison, including statistics on...
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