Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Leon Gardiner was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1892. At the age of ten, his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Gardiner worked and resided the rest of his life. He developed many interests, such as photography and music, and had a keen interest in preserving African American history. As a teenager, he began collecting materials documenting race relations and the institutions and achievements of African Americans.
During these formative years, Gardiner started attending meetings of the American Negro Historical Society (then called the Philadelphia Afro-American Historical Society), which had been founded in 1897 by a group of local individuals, including Robert Adger, W. M. Dorsey and Jacob C. White, Jr., who wished to study and preserve materials documenting the African American experience. His fellow members drove further Gardiner's passion for collecting; and his night time work at one of the Philadelphia branches of the U. S. Post Office allowed him to freely collect and research during the day. During the 1920s and 1930s, Gardiner's collection became well-known throughout local African American research circles and he worked with other groups, including the Philadelphia Society for Negro Records and Research.
In the years before World War II, Gardiner wrote articles for the Philadelphia Tribune and the Philadelphia Independent, while maintaining his job at the post office. His schedule of work, collecting, research, and writing kept Gardiner quite busy but negatively affected his health. He died suddenly of a heart attack in Philadelphia in March 1945.
In 1923, Gardiner married Bernice E. Modeste, a South Philadelphia typist and stenographer. She and Gardiner had three children, but the couple later divorced. Bernice worked for the IRS and served during World War II with the Women's Army Corps. She retired from the IRS in 1955 and pursued mostly volunteer work with her church. She died in Philadelphia in 2002 at the age of 100.
Gardiner married again in 1940 to a woman named Beatrice and they had no children. Beatrice Gardiner helped maintain and add to Gardiner's collection of research materials and memorabilia. She died in Philadelphia in 1981.
The Leon and Beatrice M. Gardiner collection is housed in three document boxes, one archival album, and one photograph album. The papers and photographs span from the 1820s to the 1970s. The collection covers many topics dealing with African Americans, but has scant personal materials from either Gardiner or his wife. Gardiner's own papers comprise six folders in Box 1. Among them is a small amount of personal correspondence regarding family matters, gifts to HSP, Black history, and social and political activities promoting equality for blacks; materials dealing with the John Brown Memorial Association and correspondence with Charles H. Wesley at Howard University; and papers concerning postal employees' associations and beneficial activities. There are also papers of the Mutual Alliance Service Corporation, a beneficial society which loaned money to needy members for immediate necessities; miscellaneous bills and receipts, a power of attorney and court papers, essays and other information on African American history, including two essays by Alberta S. Norwood, whom Gardiner assisted; and an address book and miscellaneous notes and songs.
Beatrice M. Gardiner's papers, taking up the remaining five folders in Box 1, include correspondence from family members and concerning the Women's League, Inc., and materials related to Father Divine's Peace Mission Free School, and the Gardiner, Newlin, Richardson Family Association. Two personal files of inspirational material are included, labeled "Poems and Picker-Upper Readings" (Box 1, Folder 10) and "When I feel down and need a lift" (Box 1, Folder 9). This latter file primarily contains pamphlets and form letters on retirement.
Box 2 of the collection contains an assortment of items, from correspondence of Mr. and Mrs. George Gardiner to an 1881 notebook of one Julia Buchanan at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, in which she mentioned upstate New York and Montreal and wrote about women's issues, suffrage, and smoking. There is also a group of political material and printed ephemera from the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, Omega Psi Phi, and Young Women's Christian Association. Additional ephemera is grouped by category: churches; schools; concerts and plays; monuments, associations, and social occasions; and advertisements, business cards, and printed ephemera. Box 2, Folder 12 contains photocopies of the title pages of published works which were transferred to the library.
The Gardiners also collected newspaper clippings related to many areas of African American history, including education, church and religious activities, musicians and actors, writers and artists, athletes and military heroes, urban affairs, national and international affairs, and individuals. A small number of clippings on other subjects are also included. All clippings are housed in Box 3.
In addition to papers, the collection contains a siginificant group of photographs which have been housed in one archival album (Box 4) and one volume (Volume 1). Though the vast majority of photographs are unlabeled, it is clear that most document a family (probably the Gardiners) or families, as many of the same people appear throughout the pictures. They range from formal portraits to candid snapshots and include interior and exterior scenes. The now-sleeved photographs in the archival album have been numbered according to their microfilm placement, "1" being the first photograph filmed and so on. This number order was not maintained in the album due to the many shapes and sizes of the photographs. The pictures in Volume 1 have also been microfilmed in the order in which they appear. Most of these images date from 1939 and further document many of the faces and places seen among the loose photographs.
This collection is available on microfilm, XR 901, Mfilm Z1361.N39 A54 1998. (This microfilm series also includes the records of the American Negro Historical Society, Collection 0008.)
Gift of The Estate of Beatrice M. Gardiner, 1981.
Accession number 1981.20.
Box 2, Folder 12 contains photocopies of the title pages of published works that were transferred to the library. Some of these items have been cataloged, but some have not. Call numbers of those that are cataloged have been written on the papers. For information on the uncataloged items, please contact the library.
Some of the materails in this collection may have been catalogued in the PC-6 section of HSP's card catalog, as well as in the guide Afro-Americana, 1553-1906: author catalog of the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (call number INDEX Z 1361.N39 P48 1973), copies of which are available in HSP's library.
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2012
- Processing made possible by a generous donation from Randall M. Miller.
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.