Bookshelf

Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890-1940

by Fredric M. Miller, Morris J. Vogel and Allen F. Davis
Temple University Press, 1983 (290 pages, cloth, $24.95)

A photo album for all Philadelphians and photog­raphy buffs alike, its pages contain more than 250 photographs which document the Gay Nineties to the eve of World War II. This photo­essay is the story of a great industrial metropolis in transition: from horse and railroad to the age of the auto­mobile; from neighborhood urban industry to the growth of suburbs and commuter travel. The book records changes in the very nature of work itself. Still Philadelphia focuses on the common person, the lives of immi­grants and industry, rather than upon the affluent. There is little coverage of unusual civic events, political activities or even cultural landmarks­ – the authors claim that this book may be the first illustrated book on Philadel­phia without a picture of Independence Hall! Most of the photographs were taken by anonymous photog­raphers, but some famous photographers, such as Lewis Hine and John Vachon, are represented. The authors concentrate not on the quality of the print or the equip­ment used, but on what the photographs tell readers about the texture of urban life. A serious text accompany­ing the photographs is well indexed, but lacks foot­notes and bibliography. By all measures the book is a visual essay for those who savor or study Philadelphia, enjoy the excitement of old photo­graphs and are fascinated by the vitality of urban life.

 

Anthracite People: Families, Unions and Work, 1900-1940

by John Bodnar
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Com­mission, 1983 (100 pages, paper, $3.50)

A fascinating look at the cultural, political and economic realities of life in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region during a turbulent period of change, this is as much a sociological study as a historical perspective on the motivations of people who were the actors in the harsh, sometimes violent, events during the decline of the anthracite industry. Bodnar proposes that the miners’ protests of the 1930s in seeking to share available work was not accidental, but evolved out of the philosophies of sharing and cooperation central to the culture of the mining people. The behavior and percep­tions rooted in the institution of the family economy at that time are key in under­standing the miners’ conflict with the United Mine Workers as the union stood in the way of achieving the miner’s fundamental goal of sharing. Anthracite People does not attempt to romanticize the working-class family, but it is a historian’s attempt to expand traditional views of working-class behavior. The interviews upon which the book is based justify Bodnar’s conclusion that the most significant statement of the anthracite-region people in the 1930s was their powerful expression about life’s priorities. This very readable book is of interest to students of labor history, residents of the region involved in local history and the general reader.

 

“E.L”: The Bread Box Papers

by Helen Hartman Gemmill
Dorrance & Company and The Bucks County Historical Society, 1983 (275 pages, cloth, $22.95)

This delightful and fascinating biography of Eliza­beth Chapman Lawrence provides some insight into the world of a Victorian socialite. “E.L.,” a native of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, married a wealthy Boston diplomat and thus enter­tained the most important politicians, artists and literati of the era at residences in London, Florence, Boston and Washington. In 1976, Helen Gemmill discovered the letters of Elizabeth Chapman Lawrence, signed “E. L.,” in an old tin bread box at the Bucks County Historical Society. Five years of tran­scribing these letters, researching and traveling have produced a unique, fresh view of the people and events of the nineteenth cen­tury. An introduction by James A. Michener sets the mood for this unusual journey through an era seldom seen from a feminine per­spective. The book is fully indexed and contains many illustrations and photographs.