Bookshelf

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

Benjamin Frank­lin Bache and the Philadelphia Aurora

by James Tagg
University of Pennsylva­nia Press, 1991 (431 pages, cloth, $38.95)

This is the first modern biography of Benjamin Frank­lin Bache (1769-1798), the grandson of Benjamin Frank­lin, who during the turbulent period from 1793 to 1798 was the fledgling nation’s leading political journalist and a sharp critic of the Federalists and their policies. As editor of the Philadelphia Aurora, the most important radical newspaper of the closing decade of the eighteenth century, he lived at the very center of most of the political storms of the decade. He staunchly defended the Democratic Societies as the earliest vehicles of public opin­ion; he strenuously opposed the ratification of the Jay Treaty, the central political event of the period; he orches­trated and led the attack on George Washington in an attempt to curb growing execu­tive authority; and he de­fended French policies which contributed to the sedition crisis of 1798. A primary target of the Federalist-sponsored Sedition Act, he was indicted for federal common law sedi­tious libel before the act took effect. Much like Thomas Paine, to whom he was per­sonally and ideologically con­nected, Bache was not a product of Whig Oppositionist or classical republican philoso­phy; yet neither was he an inheritor of a more thoroughly modern liberal ideal. Committed to rational self-interest, Benjamin Franklin Bache pro­moted a civic vision and only partially embraced the newer world of nascent capitalism. The author establishes the idealogical and psychological framework of Bache’s later radicalism by carefully examin­ing his childhood at Passy, France, with his grandfather, his education at Geneva, Switzerland, and his adoles­cence in Philadelphia. Unlike his famous grandfather, Ben­jamin Franklin Bache died young; in 1798 – during the height of the political hysteria – he died of yellow fever at the age of twenty-nine. Despite his brief life, Bache managed to make a mark on American journalism and politics, even though his con­temporary critics harshly belit­tled him as “a base and unnatural miscreant,” an “im­pudent dog,” and “an ill­-looking devil.”

 

Allegheny Cemetery: A Romantic Landscape in Pittsburgh

by Walter C. Kidney
Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1990 (156 pages, cloth, $34.95)

Allegheny Cemetery is an unexpectedly romantic place in Pittsburgh, so long known as an industrial city. Moreover, the three hundred acre tract is one of the most picturesque landscapes in western Penn­sylvania. The cemetery was conceived in 1844 as a work of informal landscape art, a wooded hillside park in which the monuments of the dead would be aesthetically set. Such “rural” burial grounds, more beautiful and spacious than the old fashioned church­yards, were then new to the United States, and coincided with an emerging interest – if not fascination – with honoring the dead. Monuments of in­creasing elaboration came to mark the final resting places of individuals or entire families. In a city such as Pittsburgh­ – served by roads, then canals, and later railroads – the nine­teenth century witnessed a progress from small monu­ments of local sandstone to larger memorials of marble from distant lands, and finally to massive funerary master­pieces of granite, and ranging in style from early Romantic fantasy to Classical propriety. Allegheny Cemetery: A Romantic Landscape in Pittsburgh offers readers an intriguing tour through the hallowed grounds – the sixth “rural” cemetery in the United States – in which many of Pittsburgh’s rich and famous are buried; John B. Ford, a founder of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company; John H. Shoenberger, a principal of the Juniata Iron Works; Charles H. Kerr, a prosperous building contractor; Samuel S. Brown, proprietor of the city’s Monongahela House; Arthur E. Braun, president of the Farmers Deposit National Bank; and Roy A. Hunt, presi­dent of the Aluminum Com­pany of America. In addition to many of Pittsburgh’s promi­nent families, such as the Scaifes, the Mellons, and the Carnegies, Allegheny Cemetery safeguards the remains of several national figures, in­cluding composer Stephen Collins Foster and actress Lillian Russell. Insightful text, describing various buildings and monuments, as well as sculpture, stained glass, foun­tains and gardens, is followed by a guide to nearly two hun­dred notable works of art by sculptors, architects, stonecut­ters and glaziers. Allegheny Cemetery is illustrated by fifty color photographs and more than three hundred black and white photographs, both his­toric and contemporary. The book ends with a sensitive epilogue, “This Is a Cemetery,” which places this – and all other burial grounds – in a context which can be appreci­ated and even enjoyed.

 

Sons and Daughters of Labor

by Ileen A. De Vault
Cornell University Press, 1990 (194 pages, cloth, $21.50)

Between 1870 and 1920, the clerical sector of the nation’s economy grew more rapidly than any other. As the devel­opment of large corporations affected both the scale and the content of office work, the accompanying sexual stratifi­cation of the clerical workforce blurred the relationship be­tween the new clerical work and earlier perceptions of white collar status. Sons and Daughters of Labor: Class and Clerical Work in Turn-of-the­-Century Pittsburgh reassesses the existence and significance of the “collar line” between white collar and blue collar occupations during this period of clerical work’s greatest ex­pansion and the beginning of feminization in the Common­wealth’s second largest city. The author provides a unique window on the dynamics of working class life at the turn­-of-the-century by exploring the family and economic situations of the students in Pittsburgh’s public high school commercial education program. She tracks the paths of a significant num­ber of young individuals through their vocational – or “commercial” -training, and doggedly follows the twists and turns, and the trials and triumphs, of their careers. She also proves that programs such as that offered by Pittsburgh’s Commercial Department sought to serve both busi­nesses and individuals by training its students to fill the new office jobs and, in the process, made the school a crucial institution linking the economy as a whole with communities and families. In addition to a wide range of qualitative sources, the author employs quantitative data to both pose and answer ques­tions about social mobility, the ambiguities of class and status distinctions, and shifting gen­der roles. The “collar line” did not function as a major divi­sion within working class communities al the lime be­cause of the dynamics of the clerical sector itself and be­cause of deep divisions within the manual working class. Combining the techniques and insights of social history, labor history, and women’s history, Sons and Daughters of Labor draws a clear perceptive pic­ture of a historical moment when both the experience and meaning of social class were open issues.

 

“The Swift Progress of Popula­tion”

by Susan E. Klepp
American Philosophi­cal Society, 1991 (344 pages, doth, $35.00)

“The Swift Progress of Popula­tion”: A Documentary and Biblio­graphic Study of Philadelphia’s Growth, 1642-1859, examines the local demographic condi­tions of Philadelphia, which have interested historians and scholars for years. In fact, historians have often com­plained that the city’s vital statistics have been unavail­able for research and compara­tive study, a criticism that dates to as early as 1749 when Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm wrote, “I have not been able to find the exact number of in­habitants in Philadelphia.” Through the years, researchers discovered that official city records were poorly managed and poorly preserved. How­ever, changes in the history profession occurring in the last twenty years have intensified the demand for records illus­trative of the demographic history of Philadelphia before 1860. The rise of social history with its emphasis on common experience, the increased interest in local and commu­nity sh1dies, and the develop­ment of demographic history as a sub-speciality have all played a part in the growing use of Philadelphia bills of mortality and other sources of population history. Through the years researchers have used the mortality records in their work, reiterating the significance not only of these documents in and of themsel­ves, but of their location and preservation as well. Much is known about the population history of Philadelphia be­tween 1750 and 1775, and from 1850 to 1880, but very little knowledge of the early colo­nial, revolutionary, and early national periods exists. To redress these gaps, various organizations and projects have collected data regarding the city’s demography, which inevitably resulted in “The Swift Progress of Population,” an annotated bibliography of nearly three hundred manu­script and printed sources. The book features selected bills of mortality for the city which have been collected for the first time and reprinted or reproduced. In an insightful chapter entitled “A Brief History of Vital Statistics in Phila­delphia,” the author discusses health and mortality in the Delaware Valley, as well as the use of health statistics in Phila­delphia as news, public serv­ice, natural philosophy, and medical information. “The Swift Progress of Population” offers readers an intriguing look at the ways in which these demographic documents can be used for a broad range of studies.

 

Just For Nice

by Richard S. Machmer and Rosemarie B. Machmer
The Historical Soci­ety of Berks County, 1991 (88 pages, cloth, $35.00)

A Pennsylvania German colloquialism, “Just For Nice” means that an object exists, not for any utilitarian purpose, but simply for one’s pleasure or amusement. With more than one hundred full-color photographs of nearly three hundred carvings, Just for Nice: Carving and Whittling Magic of Southeastern Pennsylvania – a catalogue that accompanied an exhibition by the same title mounted by The Historical Society of Berks County, Read­ing, last year- gives readers the most wide ranging and varied selection of woodcarv­ings by the region’s craftsmen ever assembled. The book – as did the exhibition – measures benchmark carvings with newly discovered examples, and compares the self-taught artisans with the professional artists who created portraits, furniture, and trade signs. Just for Nice also showcases the works of non-academic whit­tlers who felt compelled to decorate utilitarian objects, such as butter prints and bag stamps. Research has identi­fied thirty-five woodcarvers – among them Lewis Miller, Bruce Barrett, Aaron Mountz, Wilhelm Schimmel, Noah Weiss, George D. Wolfskill, Amos Borneman, and David Strausser – whose works span nearly two centuries. What is most surprising, however, is that the carvers’ handiworks run the spectrum of very human, even humane, observa­tions about the world surrounding them: farm and barnyard animals, hunting, birds, Christmas trees, favorite teachers, and patriotism. By serving as the first serious examination of this fascinating subject, Just for Nice: Carving and Whittling Magic of South­eastern Pennsylvania yields biographical data that will aid researchers seeking informa­tion to explain why particular (if not peculiar) subjects formed the corpus of a carver’s work. Objects documented to the hands of a certain wood­carver combined with details about the artisan’s life may eventually aid in the identifica­tion of examples by other carvers or document a regional school of woodcarving. Carv­ings featured in Just for Nice were selected from the hold­ings of prestigious museums and historical organizations, as well as from many important private collections. A number of the pieces were found by tracing descendants of the carvers, while others were lent by collectors who discovered carvings in the homes of the original owners. More than three-quarters of the objects chronicled by the authors have never before been published or exhibited. The authors, serious collectors of antiques, primar­ily folk art, treat this subject with sensitivity and insight; in fact, their observations and commentaries are as spellbind­ing as the sumptuous color photographs. Just for Nice: Carving and Whittling Magic of Southeastern Pennsylvania is, in itself, a magical excursion into the the countryside of south­eastern Pennsylvania as seen through the eyes – and, most importantly, with the hearts and souls – of these regional woodcarvers and whittlers. “The kind of Pennsylvania carvings we have known,” the authors write, “reflects the values of a rural society and mirrors our personal love of birds and animals, and farm life, as well as religious and patriotic symbols.”