West Chester Wide Awake Club Ribbon and Hat at State Museum of Pennsylvania

Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.

Throughout the North in 1856 the new Republican Party — established just two years earlier by antislavery activists, ex-Whigs, and former Free Soilers — organized marching clubs for young men called, among other names, the Wide Awakes. A paramilitary campaign organization affiliated with the Republican Party during the United States presidential election of 1860 that pitted Abraham Lincoln of Illinois against John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, a Southern Democrat, Wide Awakes wore distinctive uniforms and carried torches in evening parades and during political rallies. Their standard garb consisted of a full robe or cape and a black glazed stovetop hat frequently associated with Lincoln. A hat and ribbon of Chester County’s West Chester Wide Awake Club (most likely paired after the era during which they were manufactured) were acquired by The State Museum of Pennsylvania in 1990. They are prominently illustrated with a gimbel-mounted oil lamp torch, acquired by the museum in 1963, in Soldiers to Governors: Pennsylvania’s Civil War Veterans Who Became State Leaders, published by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 2010.