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Karen Ploch, Curator

Thursday, 12 September 2019 17:40

Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker

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Born in Phoenixville in 1843, Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker spent his young adult life studying law. After opening his own law practice in Philadelphia in 1866, Pennypacker explored public service opportunities. He served on the Philadelphia Board of Education and was appointed judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia in the late 1880s. In 1902, Pennypacker (Republican) defeated Robert Pattison (Democrat) to become the 23rd Governor of Pennsylvania.

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Campaign Pin for Governor Pennypacker

During his time as Governor, Pennypacker addressed problems created by the industrial revolution. One of these problems was the Coal and Iron Police. Prior to the 20th century, Pennsylvania only had localized sheriffs and police. With the rise in Pennsylvanian manufacturing, companies hired private police to secure their property. However, without oversight, many of these private police were used to combat strikes and other worker disputes. Governor Pennypacker saw these private police as unconstitutional and thus created the Pennsylvania State Police. This statewide police force was one of the first in the United States.

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In addition to the State Police, Governor Pennypacker appointed the first commissioner of forestry and helped to preserve half a million acres of land. He also established the State Museum of Pennsylvania and oversaw the rebuilding of the State Capitol (which later became the subject of a price gouging scandal).

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Book written by Gov. Pennypacker about the PA State Capital. HSMC Collection

One less positive aspect to Governor Pennypacker’s time in office was his poor relationship with the press. Tired of being drawn as a parrot by political cartoonist Charles Nelan, the Governor passed the Salus-Grady law (also known as the anti-cartoon law of 1903). This law banned cartoons that depicted people as animals. According to Governor Pennypacker, the law was designed to make the press more accountable and less driven by newspaper sales. The press claimed the law was a violation of their first amendment rights and proceeded to depict the Governor and other politicians as non-animal objects. The Salus-Grady Bill was ultimately repealed in 1907 after Governor Pennypacker’s term ended.

 

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The law's supporters satirically portrayed as inanimate objects by Walt McDougallPhoto credit: The North American

After his Governorship, Pennypacker returned to practicing law and writing. He died on September 2, 1916 in Schwenksville and is buried in Morris Cemetery.

 

Sources:

Cartoons and Cartoonists: Charles Nelan, “Mutual Admiration,” Philadlephia North American, January 29, 1903. The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/cartoons-and-cartoonists/54992_ca_object_representations_media_109963_full_jpeg/

When Cartoonists Were Criminals. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. https://hsp.org/blogs/fondly-pennsylvania/when-cartoonists-were-criminals

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/governors/1876-1951/samuel-pennypacker.html

Thursday, 08 August 2019 16:08

Chatlin's Charge Card

For much of our history, people used physical currency to purchase goods. However, today we are experiencing an increased use of electronic payments instead of traditional paper and metal currency. This transition can be partly attributed to the emergence of charge accounts in the early twentieth century.

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Times Herald, September 1956

Charge accounts were essentially the first credit cards. Large companies gave their customers an account number and a small metal coin to show to the cashier for each purchase. At the end of the month, the customer would get one bill for all the purchases they made at that store. The picture below shows an example of a Chatlin’s Charge Card.

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Chatlin's Charge Card, HSMC Collection

Russian Jewish immigrants Samuel and Ida Chatlin founded this Norristown department store in 1892. Located at 244-252 East Main Street, Chatlin’s sold a variety of items such as: clothing, tools, and home appliances. To compete with other large stores in the area, Chatlin’s created many charge accounts for their customers.

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Chatlin's Department Store, HSMC Photograph Collection

Upon their retirement in 1926, Samuel and Ida’s son, Morris, took over the family business. When Morris died in 1974, Chatlin’s had no heir willing to continue the family business. Morris’ widow, Cecele (Stein) Morris, originally planned to move the company to Logan Square in 1975. However, by November of 1975, Cecele announced the store would close.

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Times Herald, November 21, 1975

 

Sources:

Jack and Brian Coll, Norristown: Then & Now, Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, SC 2005.

Michael E. Tolle, “What killed downtown? Norristown, Pennsylvania from Main Street to the malls,” 2012.

 

Thursday, 18 July 2019 15:17

The Buckshot War of 1838

We recently put some new paintings on display in our Reading Room at HSMC. One of them is a portrait of former Pennsylvania Governor David Rittenhouse Porter. In 1838, Porter ran against incumbent Governor Joseph Ritner and won by roughly 5000 votes. Porter’s victory shocked the Anti-Masonic Whigs, causing Burrowes (Chairman of the Whig Committee) to demand an investigation of what he believed to be a fraudulent election. Burrowes instructed supporters of Governor Ritner to “treat the election held on the 9th of October as if it had never taken place.”[1]

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Governor David Rittenhouse Porter, HSMC Collection

When the Philadelphia votes were tallied, it was revealed that the legal voting returns from the Northern Liberties District (representing about 5000 voters) were withheld at the request of defeated Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Charles J. Ingersoll. He claimed he lost due to voter fraud since the tally books from the sixth and seventh wards were lost.[2] In response to Ingersoll, six of the seventeen voting return judges submitted their own voting results, which favored the Anti-Masonic Whig candidates. As a result, both parties submitted separate voting results on the State House floor and elected their own Speakers for the State House of Representatives.

Similar problems were found in the State Senate. When Senators were denied their seats due to fraudulent voter returns, a crowd of angry onlookers threatened violence against Anti-Mason Whig leaders Burrows, Stevens, and Penrose. This caused the men to flee the State Senate floor by jumping out a window. The Norristown Herald and Free Press and other papers claimed the mob was led by Philadelphia Loco-Focos. [3]

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Norristown Herald and Free Press, December 12, 1838

The scene became increasingly unstable when the PA State Arsenal was taken by Anti-Mason Whig supporters. Governor Ritner called for the PA militia to be sent to Harrisburg to keep the peace. When General Patterson arrived with his troops in Harrisburg, he was asked if he would support Governor Ritner and the Anti-Mason Whig leaders. Patterson proclaimed that “he had not come for political purposes” and would only act if actual physical violence broke out among the angry crowds.[4] Governor Ritner even appealed to President Van Burren to help put an end to the situation in Harrisburg. The President denied Governor Ritner help, deeming the situation as one that must be settled by the State of Pennsylvania. Without a federal supply of troops or ammunititon, Governor Ritner ordered thirteen rounds of buckshot cartridges to be given to the State troops, giving this event its name. 

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Photograph courtesy of Capital Preservation Committee and John Rudy Photography

Ultimately, a group of Anti-Mason Whig Representatives joined their Democratic counterparts, giving the Democrats the majority in the State House of Representatives.[5] This settled the major disputes in the Legislature and allowed Governor Porter to be inaugurated as the ninth Governor of Pennsylvania. 

Sources:

[1]Egle, William Henry, M.D. “The Buckshot War,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. XXIII 1899 No. 2, p. 143 https://www.jstor.org/stable/20085847?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[2] Norristown Herald and Free Press, October 17, 1838, page 2.

[3] Norristown Herald and Free Press, December 12, 1838, page 2.

[4] Egle, William Henry, M.D. “The Buckshot War,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. XXIII 1899 No. 2, p. 151 https://www.jstor.org/stable/20085847?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[5] Malawskey, Nick, “Tight election, voter fraud worries, power grab – no, not now, but 175+ years ago,” December 19, 2016, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2016/12/tight_election_voter_fraud_wor.html


Wednesday, 03 July 2019 16:01

Closed for Independence Day

We will be closed tomorrow, July 4, 2019, to celebrate Independence Day. Enjoy this scanned picture of the front page of the July 3, 1976 Times Herald as Montgomery County prepared to celebrate the country's bicentennial!

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Times Herald, July 3, 1976

Thursday, 27 June 2019 15:17

Unraveling a Mystery

In preparation for our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we attempted to unravel a mystery regarding General Winfield Scott Hancock. On July 3, 1863, during the third day of the battle of Gettysburg, General Hancock was shot while on his horse. The bullet went through the saddle and lodged in the General’s upper thigh near the groin. Although wood and a nail (from the saddle) were removed from the wound, none of the field doctors could locate the bullet.

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General Hancock

General Hancock was eventually sent home to Norristown to recover from his wound. Several doctors tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the bullet. The wound continued to fester, causing many people to fear it would eventually kill the General. In a final attempt to remove the bullet, Dr. Louis W. Read was sent to General Hancock’s home in Norristown in late August 1863.

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Bullet removed from Hancock

After examining the wound, Dr. Read realized previous attempts to remove the bullet had failed because General Hancock’s leg was not positioned in the same way he was sitting in the saddle at the time of his injury. Dr. Read instructed General Hancock to position himself similarly to how he was sitting in the saddle when he was injured. This allowed Dr. Read to quickly remove the bullet.

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Dr. Louis Read

Here is where historians have been unable to come to a consensus: how exactly did Dr. Read get General Hancock into the proper position to remove the bullet? The most popular theory among historians is General Hancock was instructed to straddle a chair on the dining room table. However, other theories such as being put into a saddle on a saw horse or a barrel also circulate among Civil War buffs. So far, we have been unable to locate a primary source to prove any of these theories.

 

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Dr. Read’s portrait and the bullet he removed from General Hancock will be on display in our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals. There will be an opening celebration tonight, June 27, 2019 from 6PM to 9PM. Tickets are $40 per person. The exhibit will be free and open to the public from July 1, 2019 through March 2020. 

Thursday, 23 May 2019 16:51

New Acquisition!

Recently we received a new addition to our collection. This coverlet was made by Isaac Kepner of Pottstown, PA in 1838. It was passed down through the donor's family, although we are uncertain which family member originally purchased the coverlet from Kepner.

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Isaac Kepner Coverlet, HSMC

Kepner was born approximately 1805. He wove in North Hanover Township from 1835 to 1836 and in Pottstown from 1838 to 1848. All of his work had his name, location, date, and sometimes the client’s name woven into a corner of the textile. This coverlet, unfortunately, is one of his pieces that does not include the client’s name. He died in 1880 and is buried at Pottstown Cemetery.

Coverlets are woven bed covers, primarily used in the 16th and 17th centuries. These covers were put on top of the bed sheeting to keep the user warm. After receiving an order for a coverlet, the local weaver would weave the fabric using a large wooden loom. As the fabric was woven, the colored design would take shape.

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Isaac Kepner Coverlet, HSMC

The Kepner coverlet was made in a style often referred to as jacquard or “figure and fancy”. Weaving floral designs, this style of coverlet was made primarily by professional weavers, who often times were men. Unlike quilts, coverlets like these were reversible and were made of wool or a combination of wool and cotton.

 

Sources:

The National Museum of the American Coverlet, http://www.coverletmuseum.org/coverlet.htm

Clarita Anderson, American Coverlets and Their Weavers: Coverlets from the Collection of Foster and Murial McCarl, Ohio university Press: Athens, 2002, p. 180

 

Thursday, 25 April 2019 18:34

Dr. Chevalier Q. Jackson

For our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we were fortunate to receive some loaned items from Sunrise Mill. Currently, this historic mill is undergoing construction and is planned to be open the public in the next few years.

Dr. Jackson

One of Sunrise Mill’s inhabitants was Dr. Chevalier Q. Jackson. Born in Pittsburgh on November 4, 1865, Chevalier attended Western University of Pennsylvania (modern day University of Pittsburgh). He later received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1886. After further studies in England, Dr. Jackson opened his own Laryngology practice in 1887 in Pittsburgh. By 1916, Dr. Jackson and his family moved to Philadelphia.

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Medical Kit Loaned to HSMC by Sunrise Mill

In 1918, Dr. Jackson purchased Sunrise Mill in Schwenksville. He commuted to his job at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia for eighteen years, which was a 75 mile round trip! Dr. Jackson’s invention of the bronchoscope and experience removing foreign items (coins, teeth, etc.) from patient’s throats greatly advanced the field of laryngology. In addition to his medical inventions, Dr. Jackson was also involved in the passage of the Federal Caustic Poison Act of 1927. This Act required the poison symbol and antidote label to be placed on household cleaners.

Hospital Logo

In our exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, you will have the opportunity to see an example of some of the medical tools Dr. Jackson invented. There will be a Gala on June 27, 2019 from 6PM to 9PM. Starting July 1, 2019, the exhibit will be free and open to the public!

Thursday, 18 April 2019 17:39

Restoring Firebacks

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Cast Iron Fireback before Restoration

As we prepare for our next exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, I decided to use the extra space in the gallery to restore four of our firebacks. These firebacks were placed in the back of a fireplace to protect the chimney and reflect the heat back towards the interior room. Firebacks were also used for decoration.

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Cast Iron Fireback after Restoration

This cast iron fireback was found at Wentz's Church, in Worcester Township. The design is based on a Biblical Representation, which was identified in Henry Mercer's book Bible in Iron on page 28. The rough German translation is: "The widow’s oil did richly glow. God's mercy in the tomb did show. A boy to life rose from the dead. A hundred men on few loaves fed."

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Cast Iron (rear side) Before and After Restoration

To restore this cast iron, I used a wire brush to gently remove the rust. Once removed, the rust was vacuumed off the fireback. I then applied a thin coat of Crisco shortening to the entire piece. Shortening was used instead of oil, because it does not go rancid. For those of you with cast iron skillets, this same process can be followed to treat rust on your pieces. I would like to thank Curator Amy Reis from Pottsgrove Manor for her instruction on how to restore cast iron!

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3 Pieced Steel Firebacks before Restoration

I am currently working to restore a three pieced fireback. Originally, we thought it was cast iron. However, upon removal of rust we realized it was most likely made from a steel alloy, which means using a wire brush is not necessarily the best method for removing rust. We are currently exploring better ways to restore the steel without damaging it with a wire brush. Once they are restored, we will post the results on our Facebook page.

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Two sides of the three piece fireback. The left one has rust removed from it.

Margaret Phillips Richardson was born in Radnor Township (Delaware County) on October 27, 1816. She married Abraham Richardson on September 12, 1839 and lived with him in Juniata County for several years. Abraham died on August 6, 1841 and Margaret remained in the county with their son, John P. Richardson, until she decided to obtain a career in medicine.

Dr. Margaret Richardson

Ten years later, in 1851, Margaret started studying medicine at the Pennsylvania Female College in Philadelphia. Part of the second class to graduate from this college, Dr. Richardson received her degree in 1853. She then moved back to Juniata County for four years to practice medicine. In 1857, she moved to Norristown.

Dr. Richardson was the first female physician in both Montgomery and Juniata Counties. She was known for her success in curing fevers and was often asked to consult other medical professionals when they were treating a patient. She also aided county courts by providing her medical expertise as needed.

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Times Herald, May 15, 1909

Dr. Richardson stayed in Norristown until her death on May 15, 1909. She died of bronchitis at 92 years old and is buried at Plymouth Meeting Friends Cemetery. In our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we will display one of Dr. Richardson’s advertisements for medical treatment. There will be a Gala on June 27, 2019. Starting July 1, 2019 and through March 2020, the exhibit will be free and open to the public.

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Dr. Richardson Advertisement

Source:

History of Montgomery County Pennsylvania, Volume 1. Edited by Theodore W. Bean. Philadelphia: Everts and Peck 1884.

Thursday, 14 March 2019 15:25

Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing

Opening on January 1, 1891, Montgomery Hospital (formerly known as Norristown Hospital and Dispensary and later Charity Hospital) was one of the first hospitals in Montgomery County. Montgomery Hospital was also one of the first hospitals to establish a training school for nurses in the county. On April 1, 1893, the nursing school opened, welcoming local women to apply for the new program.

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Times Herald, April 10, 1894

Since the training school was new, application requirements were, in some ways, less daunting than some of the nursing programs in the area today. Originally, any woman between the ages of 21 and 35, in good mental and physical health, and was educated could apply to the school. While this may not seem like many requirements, it is important to note that these requirements would make it difficult for women from low income families to compete with wealthier women who would be more likely to have several years of education. Furthermore, unlike today, men were expected to become doctors not nurses, and therefore were not welcome to apply to the program when it began. As the program grew and changed, so too did these application requirements.

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Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing, 1966

Part of what made Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing such a popular program in the region was its partnerships with local hospitals. The nurses’ training program required all students to work with doctors and patients in Montgomery Hospital. In 1944, the school expanded this hospital partnership to Norristown State Hospital, which offered nursing students with a wider variety of training, particularly with psychiatric related work.

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Pulse Yearbook, 1971

Although the Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing produced hundreds of certified nurses from the program, it was no match for the hospital's looming financial troubles. As a non-profit hospital, it could not compete with the numerous local for-profit hospitals in the region. The Nursing school closed in 1975 and the hospital itself closed in September 2012.

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Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing, Class of 1965

To learn more about how Montgomery Hospital impacted our county’s history, be sure to see our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals. There will be a Gala on Thursday June 27, 2019 and the exhibit will be open to the public starting July 1, 2019 through March 2020.

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