Publication Date

December 1, 1997

Following widespread protests, and criticism in the media, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania appeared to rescind its earlier decision to gradually divest itself of various artifacts.

This summer the society had embarked on a controversial policy to transfer or give away the valuable artifacts it had gathered over the years. Such a move, it was felt, would enable the society to pursue a more focused mission of being a historical library and archive. (See the October and November 1997 Perspectives for details.)

In early October, the society announced that it was withdrawing the petition it had filed at the Orphans' Court. The petition sought approval for the society to transfer stewardship over several items in its possession, such as a Copley painting, a statue of actor Edwin Forrest and memorabilia associated with Thomas Jefferson.

Announcing this, Howard Lewis, chair of the society, declared, "We are gratified by the tremendous amount of public interest in our art and artifacts collection and, as a result, will reassess and further explore our options to keep the art and artifacts collection intact and in Philadelphia." But, he added, "this decision does not affect the society's commitment to our tightened mission and continued improvement as a special collections library."

This commitment was reflected in a resolution adopted by the board of the society on October 23, calling for the immediate appointment of a special committee to recommend one or more recipients to keep the society's art and artifact collection intact and in Philadelphia. The board also approved plans for renovation of the society's Locust Street facility. "These renovations are not about physical appearance but the care and conservancy of the documentary collection," said Susan Stitt, president of the society.

The society expects, in fact, to meet some of its renovation costs through deaccessioning and transferring the Copley painting of Governor and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the artifacts associated with Jefferson to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation at Monticello.

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