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Penn History

“Carriage House” at the Rear of 3905 Spruce Street Part V: The International House of Philadelphia Becomes Independent of the Christian Association and Develops Its Own Programs 1943-1960

by Mark Frazier Lloyd, August 2000

On 5 April 1943 the International House of Philadelphia became independent of the Christian Association. On that day, in the words of its new President, Reginald F. Chutter, “it was incorporated as a separate entity affiliated with no special institution but associated with all in this area.” Six weeks later, on 19 May, the new corporation purchased the property at 3905 Spruce Street (and both its carriage houses). On 1 June International House became a member of the Community Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity (predecessor to the United Way). Soon thereafter, an assistant director for Latin American students was appointed.

Within a few months the organization began publishing its own newsletter, International House News. The January 1945 issue of the News contained a brief article on the establishment of a Women’s Auxiliary, which was intended to fulfill “the promise of larger service to the House.” By May 1945 President Chutter could report that the membership of International House stood at 1,460, the largest number of whom were not students, but friends and supporters of the House and its aims. There were 178 members of the Pan-American Cultural Group, 160 members of the Chinese Cultural Group, and 90 of the French Cultural Group.

The University’s News Bureau collection at the University Archives includes many interesting news clippings on International House of Philadelphia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These stories cover the last years when International House was located at 3905 Spruce Street. There is, for example, a 14 November 1957 piece by Ruth Seltzer, who wrote the “Society” column for the old Philadelphia Bulletin for many years, in which she describes a series of events publicized as “Lunches-Around-the-World.” She described food for 60 guests, “prepared in the International House kitchen by women students from India.” Seltzer’s column names the women who were responsible for organizing the events, many of whom were considered members of Philadelphia’s social elite.

Though President Chutter recognized as early as 1945 that the International House had outgrown the Potts mansion, it was not until 1959/60 that it found a new home. The News Bureau clippings file includes an article dated 31 July 1959 stating that the International House of Philadelphia had agreed to lease an eight-story hotel in center city Philadelphia as a place to house foreign students. It said, “No students reside at International House on Spruce Street. It has been used as a social and recreation center primarily for foreign students at Penn, Drexel, and the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science.” The October issue of the News provided more detail. “Through the generosity of local business supporters,” International House had leased the former Whittier Hotel at 140 North 15th Street, the northwest corner of 15th and Cherry Streets. In addition to much larger space for social and cultural meetings and for reception and orientation programs, the new building offered “good inexpensive resident and transient accommodations for more than a hundred students, as well as a dining room, game rooms, television lounge, a gift bazaar, and laundry facilities.” The move from Spruce Street to 15th and Cherry Streets took place in August and September and was substantially completed by 21 September, when the Dining Room opened in the new location.

In October 1965 the newspapers announced that “International House Plans Return to University City” with the construction of its present facility at 3701 Chestnut Street. An editorial from the Bulletin stated that “Philadelphia International House is the oldest in the country, dating from 1910. It was situated in a private mansion at 3905 Spruce Street for 40 years before moving to its present location [in center city]. Forced to move by the planned widening of [city streets], the change will prove a blessing in disguise, when the new International House rises at 37th and Chestnut.”


Archival Sources

  • Collections of the University Archives and Records Center (UARC):
    • “International House.” UPF 8.5 News Bureau Collection, Box 138, File Folder 4.
  • Philadelphia Department of Records:
    • Plan 20 S 9, Lots #123, #124, and #136

Printed Sources (available at the University Archives)

  • International House News (UPM 9165), January and May 1945.