Ursinus College

As parents prepare to send their children back to school, I thought it might interesting to look through some of the Historical Society of Montgomery County’s school related collection.   In our box of items from Ursinus College I found a bill for tuition from 1887.  Belonging to Jay Francis, he was apparently in the preparatory program, at $20 a semester or $40 a year.  In addition, he paid for a room.  With incidentals, the total bill came to $25.70.  How many minutes of a class would that pay for today?


Four years later, we can see that Jay Francis graduated with a B.A.

Ursinus grad

Ursinus was founded in 1869 and began admitting women in 1880.  From the above graduation program, it’s clear that the women received a different degree from the men.  The men’s B.A and B.S are familiar, but I haven’t discover what a B.L. is.  Literature? Liberal Arts?  If anyone knows, please share in the comments.

A little bit of our own history

50th Anniversary001

This picture was taken at the celebration of the Historical Society of Montgomery County’s 50th anniversary on Saturday, February 22, 1931. The group seen here is unveiling a brass plaque to commemorate the anniversary. They are standing in front of Historical Hall on Penn Street, the home of the Historical Society at the time. The plaque is now attached to our current building on DeKalb St..

The people in the photograph are (left to right): William M. Gearhart, Lyman A. Kratz, Mrs. Mary Bean Jones, Isaac Roberts, Katharine Preston, Howard W. Kriebel, Nancy P. Highley, Nelson P. Fealey, Theodore Lane Bean, Anna Jarrett, and Luther C. Parsons.

St. Paul’s, Ardmore

Charles Reed Barker was an amateur historian and member of the Historical Society of Montgomery County for many decades.  He was a tireless researcher and donated a large collection of scrapbooks to the Historical Society.  A set of four scrapbooks contains records of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ardmore, Pa., including baptisms, marriages, and deaths.


The death records include the cause the death.  Consumption and old age are the most common, but typhoid fever, pneumonia, and cancer also appear.  One teenager named Hannah Roberts died by drowning at Atlantic City.  One infant is listed as dying from “teething,” and there is one unnamed suicide.


The church also recorded the faith of the deceased, and interestingly, during this period (the 1870’s) most were not members of St. Paul’s or any other church.  A few are listed as Baptists or Methodists, but most are listed as having no professed faith.  There are a few deathbed conversions listed.


Then there are those who never became Christians, and one pastor in particular, H. J. Watkins, pulled no punches on them in the comments section.


The most emotional comment is listed for the infant who died of teething, Louisa Askin Watkins, aged 9 months, 11 days.  Her church relationship is listed as “An angel with God,” and the comment appears to have been originally by one of her parents.




A metamorphosis is a printed document with flaps that, as the reader unfolds them, transform the original illustration into a new one.   Here’s an example:


Now with the top flaps opened:


Now with the bottom flaps opened:


As the cover says, this metamorphosis was intended for children, and in typical nineteenth-century fashion, it teaches a rather serious lesson.  Here is the final set of pictures:





This metamorphosis was originally printed in Harrisburg by G. S. Peters.  Our copy is a reprint created and distributed by Kirke Bryan as part of his annual Christmas mailing.  Mr. Bryan was a printer as well as president of the Historical Society from 1943 to 1950.


Silhouettes are said to have been the first form of art, with their origins in tracing the shadow of a person upon the ground.  The traditional dark silhouette with a light background we think of today had its heyday in the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century.  It emerged as a popular portrait medium in response to miniatures or oil portraits.  Painted portraits were expensive and required multiple sittings.  A skilled silhouettist could complete a silhouette in just minutes.

Abraham Supplee, born 1748

Abraham Supplee, born 1748

Margaret Supplee, born 1749

Margaret Supplee, born 1749

Most were made with paper and are about the size of a modern snapshot.  Many examples are in profile, which was thought to capture the sitter’s likeness more easily.  A late 18th-century physiognomist, Johann Lavater, promoted the idea that a person’s outward appearance could provide insight into their character, and that the best way of evaluating was to look at a profile of the person.

Mr. Truckmiller, said to be made before 1800. Decoration is reverse-painting on glass.

Mr. Truckmiller, said to be made before 1800. Decoration is reverse-painting on glass.

There were three different techniques that are easily recognizable.  Many early silhouettes were painted or drawn with pen onto a light background.  The outline would be laid down and then the image filled in.  Many American silhouettes are hollow-cut; that is to say, the image is traced and the positive image removed.  The negative image is then adhered to a dark backing of cloth or paper.  Finally, there are cut-outs.  Both busts and full-figure silhouettes are prevalent.  A silhouettist would draw the profile on a piece of paper, and then cut it out.  It was then adhered to a light background.

Peter Richards in 1868.  White chalk lines and black pen lines add detail to the silhouette in the hair and dress.

Peter Richards in 1868. White chalk lines and black pen lines add detail to the silhouette in the hair and dress.

The Historical Society has one example of a cut-out, and the rest of our collection are hollow-cut.  The cut-out silhouette has a very interesting story.  It was created by Martha Ann (M.A.) Honeywell, a native of New Hampshire, who briefly worked at the Peale Museum.  She was born without hands and with only one foot.  She created her silhouettes by holding the scissors in her mouth and steadying them with her toes!

"Cut without hands by M. A. Honeywell"

“Cut without hands by M. A. Honeywell”

Many silhouettists worked free-hand, either drawing or cutting.  Some set up lights and papers to be able to trace the sitter’s shadow.  Still others used the assistance of a machine.  One such machine, the physiognotrace, was developed by Isaac Hopkins and used in Philadelphia in the museum of Charles Willson Peale.  It had a metal bar which literally traced the face of the sitter.  The Historical Society has a variety of silhouettes from the Peale Museum.  They are marked with a blind stamp “MUSEUM” below the curve of the bust.  Below are some examples.

Four silhouettes of the Shippen and Burd families.  All with "MUSEUM" stamps, indicating Peale Museum origin

Four silhouettes of the Shippen and Burd families. All with “MUSEUM” stamps, indicating Peale Museum origin

Image of a young boy with "MUSEUM" stamp, indicating Peale Museum origin

Image of a young boy found in Yerkes family bible with “MUSEUM” stamp, indicating Peale Museum origin

The tracing machine at the Peale Museum could be operated by an amateur visitor to the museum, or for eight cents, Moses Williams, a former slave of the Peale family, assisted the visitor in creating their silhouette.


Unknown female, with blind stamp of an eagle and "PEALE'S MUSEUM" indicating later Peale Museum origin

Unknown female, with blind stamp of an eagle and “PEALE’S MUSEUM” indicating later Peale Museum origin

There were other well-known silhouettists who traveled the country and even across the Atlantic Ocean meeting the demand for silhouettes, like August Edouart.  John Miers’ work appears early, even before a silhouette was called “a silhouette.”  They were originally called profiles, shades, or shadow portraits.  There’s no definitive story of how the term silhouette came to be, but Etienne de Silhouette, a short lived Minister of Finance in France in 1759, was known to be both a cheapskate and a fan of cutting profiles.

The Historical Society will have a small exhibit of all many more of our silhouettes at Headquarters in the upcoming weeks.


Source: http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v18/bp18-07.html