Karen Ploch, Curator

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.


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.

MH Nurses   001

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.

MH Nurses 002

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.

1965 class

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.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019 18:00

Black Dolls

Dolls have been around for centuries. Whether they are made from straw, fabric, wood, ceramic, or plastic, children throughout the world play with these timeless toys.

At HSMC, we have a number of dolls in our collection. However, one doll is quite different from the others. This wooden doll is painted black and has metal joints. Based on the design of the joints, it is supposed to imitate the movements of a dancer.

black doll

HSMC Doll - 1931.8412.014

This doll used to belong to Emeline H. Hooven, but the precise origins were not described when it was donated in 1931. Since dolls did not have ball joints until the turn of the 20th century, and given the inaccurate caricature of the doll’s face, we believe this doll was made around the early to mid-19th century.

Dolls like this one were the reason why black families called for better representation in the toy industry. They wanted their children to have toys that showed the beauty of their heritage and did not promote racial stereotypes. These calls for change encouraged Richard Henry Boyd to create the first black doll company, the National Negro Doll Company (NNDC), in 1907.[1] Based in Tennessee, the NNDC made and shipped dolls to children as far north at Pennsylvania.


Mabel Parchman poses with her doll from the National Negro Doll Company (Nashville Globe, 11 April 1913).[2] 

Since Boyd’s company launched their first line of dolls, many similar toy companies have emerged. Today, children have access to a wide variety of dolls that are more likely to accurately represent them. To learn more about Black-owned businesses in Montgomery County, PA and beyond, check out these websites:


Photo Credit: Herstory Dolls[3]

To learn more about Black-owned businesses in Montgomery County, PA and beyond, check out these websites:


[1]"The National Negro Doll Company.” The Tennessee Historical Society.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Shoppe Black.

Wednesday, 09 January 2019 21:19

Preparing for a New Exhibit!

Everyone relies on hospitals at some point in their lives. We rely on the expertise of medical staff to treat diseases and help patients live longer, healthier lives. In many ways, hospitals have a substantial impact on the health and wellness of the surrounding community.

However, have we ever thought about how our local hospitals came into existence? Who were some of the medical pioneers in our county? How do certain medical related laws impact our communities? How do medical breakthroughs impact patients in our area hospitals? In our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we will explore the evolution of hospitals and medical treatment in Montgomery County.


Painting of Montgomery County Almshouse, by Charles Hoffman

If you have not seen our Made in Montgomery County exhibit, there is still time! The last day to view the exhibit will be Saturday February 2, 2019. After this exhibit closes, we will be preparing for our next exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, which will open in June 2019. As always, our exhibits are free and open to the public!

                                                                          Made in Montco.

Part of Made In Montgomery Exhibit. Ending February 2, 2019!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018 20:38

Toy Cars

Regardless of which holiday (or holidays) you celebrate, there are probably children in your family hoping to receive a present sometime this month. Although there are a wide variety of toys, one type of toy continues to captivate children, the toy car. Created alongside the first gasoline powered cars in the late 19th century, toy cars are a staple in most children’s lives.

At HSMC, we have two unique toy cars in our collection. The first car is a double decker bus and the second is a trolley. Both are metal, most likely made from tin or a tin alloy, and were likely made in the early 20th century. Both of these toys were found in Norristown, but the donor claimed they were made in England.


HSMC Toy Bus – 1935.8787.001

Since neither toy has a maker’s mark, we had to compare the designs of the toys to other ones made in the early 20th century. The toy bus looks similar to English designs produced by the London based company Lines Brothers Ltd. Their toys were made under the brand name “Tri-ang Toys”. In the picture below, you can see one of the wooden cars produced by Lines Brothers Ltd. in the 1920s/1930s. There are some noticeable differences between this one and the one at HSMC, which means it is possible that whoever made our bus was trying to mimic the Lines Brothers’ design.

Lines Brothers Bus

Wooden Toy Bus, Lines Brothers, c. 1920 [1]

The real mystery is who created the trolley? So far we have not been able to find any similar toy designs. Even historic, full scale trollies in Montgomery County do not have this oval, open top design.

HSMC Trolley

HSMC Toy Trolley – 1935.8787.002

However, the letters “C. B. T.” on the side of the trolley could be an abbreviation for City of Birmingham Tramways, in Birmingham, England. When we looked at photographs of this company’s trollies, they do appear to have the same design. If you have seen any other toy trollies like the one at HSMC, please share your pictures with us!


BCTC's Car No. 104 outside the tram shed in Dawlish Road, Bournbrook, in 1891. This vehicle survives, at the Black Country Living Museum.[2]


[1] Vetics Auctions, LTD.

[2] “City of Birmingham Tramways Company Ltd”.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018 21:23

Native American Pipes

Recently, we have been researching two pipes that were claimed to be made by Native Americans. Although we were unable to pinpoint the creator of these pipes, we determined they were most likely created by someone in Montgomery County who was inspired by Native American culture or wanted to celebrate a specific event.

The first pipe is made from a hollow piece of wood and has a stone end shaped like a face. Although we are not sure of this pipe’s origin, the design of the face looks similar to Native American designs in the Central and Southern American region.

pipe 1

Pipe 1, HSMC

The second pipe also has a hollow wood piece. Unlike the previous pipe, this one has a long stone design at the end and is painted red. Without any distinct carvings, we are unsure where this pipe originated. However, since the pipes were housed together in our vaults, it seems likely that these two pipes were made by either the same individual or social group.

pipe 2

Pipe 2, HSMC

Although these two pipes are not authentic Native American pieces, they demonstrate people’s interest in Native American culture. So what does an authentic Native American pipe look like? Observe the picture below.

authentic pipe

Photograph by Katherine Fogden, NMAI. Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

This is a Sisseton Dakota pipe bowl and stem, c. 1870.[1] It is made from catlinite pipestone, wood, mallard feathers, porcupine quills, horse hair, ribbon, wool cloth, and sinew. Unlike the two pipes at HSMC, authentic Native American pipes like this one are made from thick, strong wood. Authentic pipes are often decorated with feathers, string, beads, or carvings.

Native American pipes have different functions, depending on the tribe. Pipes like the one from NMAI are often used as a way to pray. According to George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin), “Tobacco is placed into the pipe bowl and tucked in with a pipe tamper, and the pipe is then lighted and smoked by each of the participant as they pray.”[2]


[1] George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin). “Ceremonial Pipes”.

[2] Ibid.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 19:44

A Grave Mystery

Tonight is Halloween. Some of our ancestors believed this was the only night during the year when the spirits of the dead could walk the Earth. So what better time to talk about a mysterious grave marker than tonight?!


Tombstone, A.S. 1

Unknown Grave Marker, HSMC


At HSMC, we have this heavy grave marker, believed to be made from limestone. It took two people to lift it off the shelf to take photos. The only markings are the initials “A. S.” Although our records have not yet revealed the name of this person, we can learn more about them just by examining this grave marker.

Different rocks were used for making grave markers throughout American history. Slate and sandstone were used primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries. Marble and limestone were most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, most are made from granite because they do not deteriorate as quickly. Since we believe this grave marker is made from limestone, we can estimate that A. S. lived around the 18th or 19th centuries.



Burial Plot for John F. Hartranft at Historic Montgomery Cemetery


We can also look at the overall design of the grave marker to learn more about this person. Given that there are no engraved designs, it is possible A. S. did not have the money for these designs. Compare A.S.’s marker to the obelisk that marks the burial plot for John F. Hartranft (December 16, 1830 – October 17, 1889). Being a former Pennsylvania Governor and Civil War General, Hartranft had plenty of money to pay for a large family plot.

The identity and burial location of A. S. may be a mystery for now, but hopefully someday we will be able to uncover the rest of this mystery.

Wednesday, 03 October 2018 20:04

The Women's Vote

Since the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania is Tuesday October 9, I wanted to share two objects connected to the history of women voters in Montgomery County. When the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote on August 18, 1920, politicians realized the need to alter their campaign strategies. Advocate groups, such as the League of Women Voters, were formed to encourage people to vote.

League of Women Voters

2016.152.007f – League of Women Voters, Upper Merion

Since their establishment in Chicago in 1920, local chapters of the League of Women Voters have emerged throughout the United States, including here in Montgomery County. This group provided, and continues to provide, voters with an understanding of current issues, government processes, and current political candidates. The League of Women Voters created tags and pins, like the one depicted in the picture above, to hand out to voters before and on Election Day.

As time progressed, women became increasingly active in politics. To appeal to women voters, politicians created items, such as this potholder, to encourage women to vote for them.


2018.193 - Given in Memory of A. Patricia McCann

This potholder was one of many commissioned by the Coughlin for Congress campaign in the 1960’s. Robert Lawrence Coughlin was a Republican running for PA State Representative for Montgomery County. Since many women spent time in the kitchen, Coughlin and other candidates realized making an item women could use on a daily basis would be great advertising for their campaign. This particular potholder was given to A. Patricia McCann, for her participation in Coughlin’s campaign. McCann was a Republican Committee Woman and Co-Chairperson in King of Prussia during the early 1960s. For candidates, politically active women like McCann were becoming crucial for their success.

Today, political candidates and advocate groups continue to create items to encourage people to vote. Some of the most common items we see are: political t-shirts, bumper stickers, and the “I Voted” stickers.

Thursday, 06 September 2018 17:04


To many people, the introduction of trains in Montgomery County was a welcomed change in transportation. However, while trains were a faster way to travel, it was not uncommon for them to derail during the earliest days of their use. At HSMC, we have a piece of metal believed to be from one of these train wrecks.

train piece

Piece of Metal from Gwynedd Train Wreck

On Saturday November 21, 1903, a train derailed shortly after leaving Gwynedd Station. The engine and one passenger car jumped off the track and slid down an embankment when trying to cross the Wissahickon. Sadly, one passenger, Clement Custer, and one fireman, Harry Roderick, were killed. Several other passengers were injured.

Although this train wreck may not appear to be unusual when compared to similar accidents, the cause of this wreck was quite unusual. According to the Times Herald, the authorities believed the rail road tracks were sabotaged! There were two theories as to why someone would sabotage the tracks.

First, the previous week, a group of intoxicated African American men were forced off the same train when they reached Landsdale. Some people claimed the men said they would take revenge for being forced off the train.

The second theory, some people believed the sabotage could have been part of a robbery plan. According to Great Train Wrecks of Eastern Pennsylvania, the Black Diamond Express, which carried large sums of money, was scheduled to pass the sabotaged tracks before this passenger train. The tracks were bent without cutting the bond wire, which would have triggered the signal system and alerted oncoming trains. This could only have been accomplished by a person who knew the train schedule and understood the construction of the tracks.

Book 1

In spite of these two theories, no arrests were ever made and the exact reason for the sabotage remains a mystery. The Times Herald mentions the wreck four times over the next few weeks, but investigators were unable to find the person responsible for the sabotage. Was it the result of a disgruntled passenger or railroad worker? Was the saboteur just looking to get rich? This is one mystery we may never solve.

Wednesday, 08 August 2018 20:09

The Great Sanitary Fair

Upon first glance, this green glass mug may not appear to be historically significant. However, according to our records, it was bought in 1864 at the Soldiers’ Fair in Logan Square, Philadelphia. The Soldiers’ Fair, also known as Sanitary Fairs, was a grassroots movement where U.S. citizens used their own unique skills to sell products to provide funding for Union soldiers during the American Civil War.[1]



Glass Mug, HSMC, 1923.7452.001


When the Civil War began in 1861, women across the Northern U.S. organized local fundraising events to provide supplies for Union Soldiers.[2] As this localized fundraising became popular, a law to create the U.S. Sanitary Commission was passed on June 18, 1861. This law allowed the civilian run Commission to organize the funding and distribution of medical and sanitary supplies for the Union Army.[3] As the Commission became more organized, larger fundraising events, like the Sanitary Fairs, became more prevalent.


 SanFair e1337457351171 575x273

The Great Central Fair in Logan Square, 1864. Photo Credit: (Library of Congress)


The 1864 Great Sanitary Fair, sometimes referred to as the Great Central Fair, opened on June 7, 1864 in Logan Square, Philadelphia. This fair lasted for three weeks and had roughly 250,000 attendees.[4] With different venues for attendees to shop and dine, the Great Sanitary Fair raised approximately $1,046,000.[5] The success of the fair even set a precedent for future fundraising and celebratory fairs in Philadelphia. In 1876, Philadelphia city leaders used the 1864 Great Sanitary Fair as a template to plan for the Centennial celebration.[6] 



Ground plan of buildings of the Great Central Sanitary Fair, Logan Square, Philadelphia, June 1864.

(Philadelphia: Printed & Lithogrd. by P. S. Duval & Son, 1864). Photo Credit: Library Company of Philadelphia.


[1] Kerry L. Bryan, “Civil War Sanitary Fairs,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Rutgers University, 2012,

[2] Henry W. Bellows, D.D., The United States Sanitary Commission, G. P. Putnam’s Son Sons Printers, N.Y.,

[3] “United States Sanitary Commission Records 1861-1879 [bulk 1861-1872]”, The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts, December 2013,

[4] Harry Kyriakodis, “Logan Square, Lincoln & The Great Sanitary Fair of 1864”, Hidden City Philadelphia, June 20, 2014,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018 19:58

Tinsel Paintings

There are many styles of decorative arts, but one of the lesser known is tinsel paintings. Done on the back of glass, tinsel paintings use metallic foil to paint decorative designs. When viewed under light, the foil produces a unique shimmer.


folk 10236 image

Photo Credit: American Folk Art Museum


This style of decorative art was popular, particularly among women, in the United States from 1850 to 1890.[1] Some young women even attended classes to learn how to make these intricate pieces of art. Since botanical patterns were easy to obtain, most tinsel paintings depict floral imagery.[2] Some rare works even included photography and collages to make the painting.[3]


folk 10233 image

Photo Credit: American Folk Art Museum


At HSMC, we are fortunate to have a beautiful example of tinsel painting. This tea table was made by Emma Kratz Weinberger in 1860, when she was just seventeen-years-old. Emma attended the Excelsior Normal Institute in Carversville, where she learned how to make paintings like the one on this table. She married Professor John Weinberger and moved to Collegeville circa 1860, where John taught at Ursinus College. It seems likely that Emma continued to make tinsel paintings after her move to Collegeville, but, like so many other tinsel paintings, they have likely been lost or broken over time.


20180710 112949

Emma Kratz Weinberger Tea Table, 1860


This tea table is currently on display in our Made in Montgomery County exhibit, which is free and open to the public. We invite you to come view it for yourselves before the exhibit closes on February 1, 2019.


Take a look at this short video to see more examples of tinsel paintings:


[1]American Folk Art Museum, “Foiled: Tinsel Painting in America,” September 12, 2012,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Page 9 of 11