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Wednesday, 14 February 2018 20:50

Dr. Daniel A. Wilson and Desegregating PA Schools

While preparing for our June 2018 exhibit, Made in Montgomery, I found a portrait that struck my curiosity. According to our records, the portrait is believed to be of Dr. Daniel A. Wilson. Since portraits were generally made for prominent people, I wanted to learn more about Dr. Wilson.

           Portrait

According to multiple sources, Dr. Wilson was the first African-American physician in Montgomery County. Dr. Wilson received his degree from Hahnemann Hospital for homeopathic medicines in 1890. His accomplishment was so groundbreaking, that it was even published in the Norristown Herald on May 12, 1890.

 Wilson, Norristown Weekly Herald, Monday May 12, 1890

Dr. Wilson’s ability to graduate from Hahnemann was, in part, the result of a movement led by his own father, Rev. Amos Wilson. In 1839, the Norristown School Board established a public school on Powell Street exclusively for African Americans. [1] However, in the 1880s, Rev. Amos Wilson led a movement to desegregate Norristown schools.[2] This successful movement coincided with a larger, statewide, desegregation movement. Although an 1881 law made it illegal to segregate schools based on race, many Pennsylvania public schools either ignored or found a way to circumvent the law.[3] It was not until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that all public schools in Pennsylvania ended segregation.[4]

Despite the challenges of segregation, Dr. Wilson led a successful career as a physician. He lived on Elm Street in Norristown until his death in 1934. Recognizing his success, the Times Herald published his obituary on the front page of the December 22, 1934 paper.

Wilson Obit., Front page of Norristown Herald, Dec. 22, 1934

According to the second and third obituaries posted in the Times Herald on December 24th and 26th, his funeral service occurred at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church (Norristown) and he was buried at Tremont Cemetery.

 Wilson Obit. 2


[1] Dan Kelley, “Blacks Came for Work, Gave So Much More,” Times Herald, http://www.timesherald.com/article/JR/20050724/NEWS01/307249998.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Desegregation of Pennsylvania Schools,” Pennsylvania Heritage, http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/pa-heritage/desegregation-pennsylvania-schools.html.

[4] Ibid.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 01 February 2018 20:32

The Academy Acorn

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Recently I was looking through a very old box labeled “Schools.”  I found some very old items relating several now defunct schools in Montgomery County, including the North Wales Academy and Business School.  There was a catalogue for the school for the 1884-1885 school year.  There were also several copies of a school periodical called The Academy Acorn.

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North Wales Academy can be seen on the lower left in the 1877 atlas

North Wales Academy was founded in 1867 by Samuel Umstead Brunner.  Since the original school was in Kulpsville, its name was the Kulpsville Academy at that time (less formally, it was often called Brunner Academy).  In 1871, the school moved to North Wales to take advantage of the newly built North Pennsylvania Railroad, according to Mrs. John M. Willis in her 1921 paper “The Brunner Academy of North Wales.”

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A photograph of the school in the 1884-1885 catalogue

With the move to North Wales, the school began taking boarders.  Many day students also attended.  The school hosted several lectures each year which were open to the public and free.  The school was co-ed and taught a college preparatory program as well as a business program.

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Small private schools at this time existed all over the county.  They were generally led by an individual and the school’s identity largely came from that individual.  Samuel Brunner was born and raised in Worcester Township, attending public school there until he went to Washington Hall in Trappe.  He attended Eastman’s Business College in Poughkeepsie before returning to Pennsylvania to work in Philadelphia.  He taught on and off throughout his younger years and spent one year teaching in a public school in Jenkintown before starting his own school.

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Samual Brunner from Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania by Henry Wilson Ruoff

The school taught math, science, music, literature, ancient and modern languages, as well as book-keeping and telegraphy.  The Academy Acorn is a combination of articles about education (presumably by Brunner) about education and articles by the students themselves.  In the first issue, Brunner writes about the public school system and an article titled “Prepare for College,” which claims that Pennsylvania’s high schools do not properly prepare students for college.  Student articles include “The Growth of Intellectual Life during the Middle Ages,” “A Few Benefits of Physical Culture,” and “The Women and Shakspeare [sic].”

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The school did not outlast Professor Brunner, which was typical of these sorts of schools.  After he died in 1901, the building became a private home and was purchased in the 1940’s to be home of the local American Legion. 

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 29 June 2017 19:55

Class of 1900

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As June comes to an end, graduation season is winding down.  I thought this photograph of Norriton's Township's graduating class of 1900 was an appropriate one for this week.  The photo was donated by Irma Schultz in 1978, and that's her brother Raymond (he's easy to spot).  Lidie Cassel is on his right, but the girl on the left is unidentified.  The bottom row is Mary Allebach Markley Lesher, Samantha K. Hoover, and the final girl is also unidentified.

The back of the photograph has the stamp of S. H. Cope, a photographer with a studio in Norristown.  Many of Cope's photos have made it into our collection.  The photo doesn't give an indication of what school the teens attended.  Dr. David Schrack's 1895 article on the history of then Norriton Township (published in our own Sketches) notes that the township had 5 public schools at that time, but doesn't list them.

So, it is possible that they attended this school - the Jeffersonville School.  This two room schoolhouse was built in 1898, and this photo is from around that time.  It stood on School Lane and West Main Street.  It was later expanded and remained in use until 1926, according to The History of West Norriton Township (2009).

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Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 25 May 2017 20:31

The Old Gulf School

Here is a photograph that just came into the Historical Society of the old Gulf School.  Yes, it is sometimes called the “Gulph” School, but the former spelling seems to have been more common in the early days.

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I couldn’t find an exact date of its founding.  I do know it was operating as a school as early as 1785 when future US Congressman Jonathan Roberts attended.  Decades later, the school had a teacher who terrorized students with a whip, according to an article by Edward Hocker (a.k.a. Norris) in Times-Herald article from 1930.  His tenure at the school came to end when he was arrested and later convicted for horse stealing.

Like most schools in the early nineteenth century, Upper Merion schools employed only men as teachers.  According to Hocker, teachers made $20 per month in 1837.  In the middle of the nineteenth century, women began to move into the profession.  Here we see two female teachers with an 1891 class.  The head teacher, on the right, was Anne Davis.

Gulf School

Today the building that once housed the school is the property of Gulph Christian Church.  The church began in the school when Frederick Plummber began preaching there in 1830, according to M. Regina Stitler Supplee in her article “History of Gulph Christian Church, Gulph Mills, PA.”  The church met there until 1835 when the congregation was able to build its own church.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 01 December 2016 17:02

Stewart Fund Hall and the Union School

“What’s in a name?” an expression attributed to William Shakespeare, in the case of the name Stewart Fund Hall and Union School the name contains much history and care for the community of King of Prussia. In 1808, William Stewart, reportedly an illiterate Scottish farmer, established a fund of twenty-five thousand dollars to provide educational benefits to poor children who parents could not pay the school tax. This was an enormous sum for the 19th Century. In 1798, William Cleaver, a Welshman, gave a portion of his land for school for the same Upper Merion community. Earlier still, Welsh Friends and Swedish settlers had a practice of establishing school buildings and church structures adjacent to each other to strengthen a sense of community.

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A painting showing Stewart Fund Hall, the Union School, and the small schoolmaster's house.  Painted by E. M. Law.


Out of this diverse ethnic community (thus fully American community) constructed a log school house in 1740, known as the Union School. This building in use until 1810 when a stone building was erected on the land of the above cited William Cleaver. William Stewart’s will provided the trust fund to support educational improvements. This fund also was responsible for building an adjacent hall known as the Stewart Fund Hall.

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This community education facility further strengthened education for the entire community which included the Grange Farmer Institute, singing school, band rehearsal activities, scientific, and literary discussion groups.  The fund was overseen by a committee of trustees.  The records of the Stewart Fund Hall Assocation are in the collection of the Historical Society.

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A list of the Stewart Fund Hall Library subsribers.


In 1878, the Stewart Fund Hall was rebuilt and furnished with a library.

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In 1947, according to an article by Ed Dybicz in 1965, the building was sold to Upper Merion Township and used for administration purposes. Finally, as noted in the King of Prussia Courier on July 24, 1993, the Stewart Fund Hall and adjacent buildings located at DeKalb Pike (Rt. 202) and Allendale Road were demolished.

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The building complex was replaced by the Girard Trust Back branch and is an AT&T store.

In closing, “What’s in a name?” Quit a lot. With regard to the Stewart Fund Hall and Union School years of love and concern for the people of the community for each other’s’ well-being is evident. It should also be noted the building complex underground room is believed to have been used as a station for the Underground Railroad to Canada, which further illustrates a commitment to benefit all mankind.

Published in Found in Collection