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Penn History

This exhibit was researched, written and created by Mary D. McConaghy, Michael Silberman, and Irina Kalashnikova in 2004 as part of the celebration of Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday.

To create the web pages relating to the people and places that made up Penn in the 18th century, a number of sources were used. Many of the original documents can be read in their entirety on-line on the Penn in the 18th Century site, a related exhibit created jointly through SCETI by the University Archives and the Kislak Center at the Penn Library.

In general, sources for this Penn in the 18th Century exhibit (biographies and histories of the Charitable School, Academy, College and then University) have been limited to sources held at the Penn Archives.

In an effort to combat the potential for errors, when there has been any doubt about a given source, every effort has been made to find at least one other reference as a check for the information. Many sources provide redundant information. Any researcher can consult the sources used in the creation of these Web pages. Below is a list of the major primary and secondary sources, with citations and descriptions, including information on each work’s organization and accuracy. Whenever information for a biography was drawn from a source not listed here, each supplementary source is cited on the biography page itself.

Primary Sources

For a full listing and description of University Archives documents dating from the 18th century consult the online Guide to the Archives General Collection of the University of Pennsylvania, 1749-1820.

Many key primary documents from the University Archives and from the University of Pennsylvania Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts department may be viewed online on the Penn in the 18th Century site. Included are Charters and Constitutions, Trustees Minutes, Tuition Books, curriculum and commencement materials, and documents written by Benjamin Franklin, William Smith and others.

The following are the key documents:

Other documents are available online, including:

Research Materials Compiled by the University Archives

  • Alumni RecordsThese are files held at the University of Pennsylvania Archives. Most deceased alumni have a file, although information can be minimal, especially for 18th century individuals. The contents of these files vary greatly in type, quantity and usefulness, depending on the individual.
  • Lost AlumniFrancis James Dallett, Scott W. Hawley, and the staff of the University of Pennsylvania Archives.

    This is an unpublished, partially completed compendium of information about early students of Penn. The information is organized chronologically by class. It is very thoroughly researched, and highly accurate with regard to information directly relating Penn. Information contained within regarding degrees from other schools, etc. should be verified.

Published Secondary Sources

  • American National Biography
    American Council of Learned Societies & Oxford University Press.This is essentially the online version of the Dictionary of American Biography. Most, but not all, of the biographical sketches available on the Web can also be found in the print version. Likewise, there are a few sketches in the print version that are not online. If the biographical sketch online differs from the print version, the online version reflects the latest, most complete research. The articles are well researched and sources are cited. This is a great reference tool, but it is a paid subscription site only. ANB is accessible through many colleges and universities. Members of the Penn community can access ANB through the Penn Libraries’ web site.
  • Biographical Catalogue of the Matriculates of the College 1749-1893
    A Committee of the Society of Alumni. Philadelphia: Avil Printing Company, 1894.This work is a good starting place for researching people who attended Penn. It gives very brief outlines of people’s lives including the dates of their degrees and degree types. It is organized chronologically by class, with the names of the trustees and other officers at the start of the book. The source is generally reliable, but there are errors and information should be verified whenever possible.
  • The College, Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia: The Development of a Colonial Institution of Learning, 1740-1779
    William L. Turner, University of Pennsylvania doctoral dissertation, 1952
  • The College of Philadelphia, 1749-1779: Impact of an Institution
    Ann Dexter Gordon, University of Wisconsin doctoral dissertation, 1975
  • The Dictionary of American Biography
    The American Council of Learned Societies. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964.This is a classic reference for biographies of famous Americans. Composed of a number of volumes, the DAB is organized alphabetically by last name. The articles are well researched and sources are cited. On the whole, the book is very accurate and a great tool. (Also see the online version, American National Biography)
  • Lawmaking and Legislators in Pennsylvania
    Horle, Foster, & Scheib. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.This book is one in what will someday be a many volume set. The volumes are organized chronologically, and contains essays on the lives of many Pennsylvania Legislators. To the reader or researcher of early Pennsylvania history this book is a tremendous resource. The essays are thorough and well researched with citations included. At the time of this writing, only the first two volumes are available, although the third is on the way. Volume 2 runs through 1756.
  • Patriot-Improvers: Biographical Sketches of Members of the American Philosophical Society, volume 1
    Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., American Philosophical Society, 1997.This is the first of several volumes of biographical sketches of members of the American Philosophical Society, elected between 1743 and 1769. This volume includes all those who were members up through 1746. The entries are carefully cited.
  • Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
    The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.This is the magazine published quarterly by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The journal has been published since the mid 19th century. Therefore, the reliability of the articles, and the degree to which they cite sources varies quite a bit. That said, those articles being published currently are usually of a scholarly quality. Perhaps most importantly, all of the volumes have been very well indexed through the mid 1990s.
  • Portraits in the University of Pennsylvania
    Addison. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940.This book was put together as part of Penn’s bicentennial celebration in 1940. As might be expected, it contains portraits of famous Penn people. The images are often accompanied by a short biographical sketch of the subject. The book does not include citations, and therefore has only been used when it is the only source of information found for a given person.
  • Two Centuries of Medicine: A History of the School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
    George W. Corner. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1965.This book was put together as part of Penn’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of its School of Medicine.
  • University of Pennsylvania
    Cheyney & Oberholtzer. Boston: R. Herndon Company, 1901. 2 volumes.This book, part of the series, Universities and Their Sons, contains information about Penn from 1740-1900. At the start of the book are a number of essays about Penn, its origins, and the history of formal education. In the latter half of the book are biographical sketches of important people in the university’s history. The ordering is unclear, but it is indexed. Like many 19th-century works, this book is full of useful information, but does not give sources for the information, and is regularly incorrect. Therefore, the book is a good starting point, but should not be used as a single reference when possible. Unless otherwise indicated, all citations refer to volume 1.