To Form a More Perfect Union: Violet Oakley’s Murals in the Pennsylvania Senate Chamber

At breakfast tables on Sunday morning, December 3, 1911, readers of The New York Times were confronted with a surprising headline running across the magazine section: “A WOMAN CHOSEN TO COMPLETE THE ABBEY PAINTINGS.” Four months earlier, the news that the American artist Edwin Austin Abbey (1852–1911) had passed away in London raised speculation about who would receive the remainder of his...
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The Fearless Benjamin Lay by Marcus Rediker

The Fearless Benjamin Lay The Quaker Dwarf Who Became The First Revolutionary Abolitionist by Marcus Rediker Beacon Press, 224 pp., cloth $26.95 Who cares about Benjamin Lay (1682–1759), a 4-foot-tall, malformed, 18th-century member of a minority religious network known as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)? Until recently, not very many people. But in seven gracefully crafted chapters...
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The Loyal Son by Daniel Mark Epstein

The Loyal Son The War in Ben Franklin’s House by Daniel Mark Epstein Ballantine Books, 464 pp., cloth $30 The Loyal Son vividly narrates the complex and often painful relationship between Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) and his son William Franklin (c.1730–1813), from its beginnings in Philadelphia to its foundering on the rocks of the American Revolution. For some 40 years, the pair were on warm,...
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Humphry Marshall, Father of American Dendrology

Humphry Marshall (1722-1801) has been called the Father of American Dendrology, the study of wooded plants. In 1785 he authored Arbustum Americanum, a catalog of American trees and shrubs following the Linnaean system of plant classification, the first publication of its kind. A stonemason by trade, Marshall took an early interest in botany. His cousin John Bartram (1699-1777), who had created a...
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Pennsylvania Icons: State Treasures Telling the Story of the Commonwealth

  Pennsylvania Icons is a landmark exhibition at The State Museum of Pennsylvania that tells the story of the commonwealth and its people, places, industries, creations and events with more than 400 artifacts and specimens from the museum’s collection. The State Museum contains the largest and most comprehensive Pennsylvania history collection in the world, with a diverse array of objects...
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Historian of Pennsylvania Exceptionalism: Samuel W. Pennypacker

Reflecting on “the play of forces” that propelled him to Pennsylvania’s governor’s office in 1903, Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker (1843–1916) confidently declared, “there is no such thing as an accident” (a notion popularized by Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis). This was not to say chance plays no part in history because he pronounced with equal certitude: “To every man certain...
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Free-Thinking, 19th-Century Style

Francis Ellingwood Abbot (1836–1903) was nothing if not determined. In 1872, as editor of The Index, the nation’s leading free-thought magazine, he began to muster the full force of his small army of subscribers against what was being called “the God-in-the-Constitution amendment.” A philosopher and theologian, he sought to reconstruct theology in accordance with scientific methodology. From the...
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Iconographic Treasures at the Library Company of Philadelphia

In the summer of 1731, Benjamin Franklin later re­counted in his autobiography, “I set on foot my first Proj­ect of a public Nature, that for a Subscription Library.” He encouraged fifty subscribers to contribute forty shillings each for the purchase of books that were considered indispen­sable to colonial Americans, but were generally too expensive for any one individual alone to...
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Germantown: Gateway to the New World

We went on board the Concord at Gravesend, the 24th, 5th month, and after we lost sight of England, which was in about three weeks time, we were forty-nine days before we saw land in America, and the 1st 8th month, some of us went ashore in Pennsylvania. The blessing of the Lord did attend us, so we had a very comfortable passage, and had our health all the way. With these words James Claypoole...
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A Country Seat on the Susquehanna: Wright’s Ferry Mansion

On the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River in southeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles west of Lancaster, Wright’s Ferry Man­sion was built in 1738 for a remarkable English Quaker, Susanna Wright. In 1726, when Susanna was twenty-nine, she purchased one hundred acres in this region on the fringes of Pennsylvania wilderness, then inhabited by a small tribe of Indians and known as...
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