Main content

Horace Howard Furness collection on the Great Central Fair


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

Horace Howard Furness is best known as a prominent nineteenth century Shakespearean scholar, but during the Civil War, he served an active role in the United States Sanitary Commission.

Furness was born in 1833 to Reverend William Henry Furness, minister of the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia and a leading abolitionist, and Annis Jenks Furness. He graduated from Harvard University in 1854, and then spent two years touring Europe, Asia, and Africa with his college roommate, Atherton Blight. He returned to Philadelphia after his trip, and he received his license to practice law in 1859 and married Helen Kate Rogers in 1860.

When the Civil War broke out, Furness joined the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which was created in 1861 to help provide food, medical supplies, clothing, and other support to wounded Union soldiers and their families. The Philadelphia branch was a major eastern hub for the Sanitary Commission, and Furness was instrumental in raising funds for the commission.

Together with the Relief Committee of the Women's Pennsylvania Branch, the Philadelphia branch of the Sanitary Commission raised more than $1.5 million in cash and supplies for the relief effort. By the end of the war, the Philadelphia branch managed a volunteer hospital, a supply department, a pension agency, and an employment bureau.

As part of its fundraising efforts, the Philadelphia branch hosted the Great Central Fair in June 1864. One of the largest such fundraising fairs held during the war, the Great Central Fair was held from June 7 to June 25, 1864, in temporary buildings at Logan Circle. Furness served on the fair's Executive Committee as recording secretary.

After the war, deafness precluded Furness from practicing law and he devoted his life to scholarly pursuits. He compiled sixteen volumes of criticism of Shakespeare’s plays and became internationally respected as a Shakespearean scholar. In 1880, he was elected a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and served in that capacity for twenty-three years. He received honorary degrees from Harvard, University of Halle in Germany, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and Cambridge University in England. He was also one of the earliest members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1909, he was honored by the Pennsylvania Society of New York, which awarded him the first gold medal presented to a Pennsylvania citizen in recognition of distinguished achievement. He died in 1912 at the age of seventy-eight.

This collection contains papers and ephemera from the Great Central Fair held by the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Philadelphia in June 1864, as well as other materials from the U.S. Sanitary Commission and related aid organizations. The collection offers insights into the planning and implementation of the Great Central Fair, women's aid efforts during the Civil War, and medical practices and sanitation in the 1860s.

Series 1 contains materials relating to the Great Central Fair, including correspondence, meeting minutes, receipts, ticket vouchers, circulars, broadsides, ribbons, tickets, stamps, newspaper clippings, and other miscellaneous records and ephemera from the fair.

Series 2 contains miscellaneous materials from the U.S. Sanitary Commission and related aid efforts, including correspondence, circulars, photographs, ephemera, pamphlets, newspapers, and reports.

Both series are arranged alphabetically by folder, with pamphlets grouped in boxes 6-8 and oversize materials grouped in Box 9 and Flat File 1. Volumes are arranged by size.

This collection is arranged into two series:

Series 1. Great Central Fair, 1864-1867, undated, 2.3 linear feet

Series 2. Miscellaneous U.S. Sanitary Commission, 1861-1865, undated, 1.4 linear feet

Kobrick, Jacob I. Finding aid. Furness-Bullitt Family Papers (Collection 1903). The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Available at (accessed 9/14/10). Lewis, Robert M. Report of the General Superintendent of the Philadelphia Branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission to the Executive Committee, January 1st, 1866. Philadelphia: King & Bair, Printers, 1866. Stillé, Charles J. Memorial of the Great Central Fair for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, held at Philadelphia, June 1864. Philadelphia: United States Sanitary Commission, 1864.

Gift of Fairman Rogers Furness and Mrs. Wirt L. Thompson, 1916.

Box 10 contains ribbons that require more appropriate housing. Boxes 7, 8, and 9 and volumes 1 and 11 require treatment for mold.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Dana Dorman
Finding Aid Date
This collection was processed as part of the Digital Center for Americana pilot project, funded by the Barra Foundation and various individuals.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open to researchers.

Collection Inventory

Scope and Contents

This series contains correspondence, meeting minutes, receipts, ticket vouchers, circulars, broadsides, ribbons, tickets, stamps, newspaper clippings, and other miscellaneous records and ephemera relating to the Great Central Fair.

The bulk of the series contains materials relating to the planning of the fair, including correspondence regarding acceptances and refusals for committee positions, drafts and final lists of committee members, committee reports, and proposals for fair buildings.

The series contains many ticket receipts, vouchers, and subscription lists for the fair; these records typically list names of prominent citizens of Philadelphia who were active in civic and social life during the Civil War. Volume 7 contains the minutes of the Executive Committee for the weeks after the fair ended. A scrapbook (Volume 1) contains newspaper clippings about various committees' solicitations and announcements.

Great Central Fair ephemera in this series includes tickets and stamps (Box 4, Folder 4); songs and other entertainment created for the fair (Box 2, Folder 12); circulars and broadsides (Box 2, Folder 13; Box 9, Folder 1); and copies of the fair's daily newspaper, Our Daily Fare. A copy of Forney's War Press from June 11, 1864 (Flat File 1) contains a long article about the opening of the fair on page 5.

The series also contains a large number of ribbons and badges from the fair (Box 10), including ribbons labeled Public School Department; Private School Department; Umbrellas, Parasols, Canes; Artists' Album for Miss Cushman; Sewing Machine Committee; Iron Committee; 18th Ward Committee; Clothing Department; Importation Committee; Committee on Relics Curiosities and Autographs; Post Office Committee; Children's Clothing; Gentlemen's Furnishing Goods; Secretarys Page; Committee on Arrangements (Internal) and Reception of Goods; Executive Committees Messenger; Floral Committee; House Furnishing Department; Wholesale Dry Goods Committee; Brewers & Maltsters; Gate Tender; and Hats, Caps & Furs. A badge is labeled "worn by the ladies of the Committee Military Goods," and other miscellaneous ribbons include "Gettysburg Gettysburg Gettysburg," "H," and "C D T." Other items in Box 10 include a red, white and blue badge with no text or label; a metal buckle or adornment; and a sash from the Floral Committee.

Series 2 includes a fair number of studio photographs (Box 5, folders 1-3), which may depict men and women who helped organize the fair. Only one woman is visibly wearing ribbons from the Great Central Fair, and no photos are labeled.

Physical Description

2.3 Linear feet ; 5.5 boxes, 12 volumes, 1 flat file

Committee chairman acceptances, (March 1864).
Box 1 Folder 1-2
Committee chairmen refusals, (February-March 1864).
Box 1 Folder 3
Committee correspondence, notes, and reports, (circa 1864).
Box 1 Folder 4
Committee lists, (February-May 1864).
Box 1 Folder 5-6
Committee lists printer's copy etc., (March-June 1864).
Box 1 Folder 7
Committee reports, (1864).
Box 1 Folder 8
Correspondence, (February-April 1864).
Box 1 Folder 9-11
Correspondence, (April 1864-1865, undated).
Box 2 Folder 1-10
Donation notebooks (blank), (1864).
Box 2 Folder 11
Entertainment, (1864, undated).
Box 2 Folder 12
Miscellaneous circulars for the Great Central Fair, (circa 1864).
Box 2 Folder 13
Newspaper clippings, correspondence, ephemera (removed from Volume 1), (circa 1864).
Box 2 Folder 14
Plans of fair buildings, reports, miscellaneous, (circa 1864).
Box 2 Folder 15
Plans of fair buildings, reports, miscellaneous, (circa 1864).
Box 3 Folder 1
Proposals for buildings, rejected, (1864).
Box 3 Folder 2
Receipts, (1864-1867, undated).
Box 3 Folder 3
Ticket receipts and vouchers, (1864).
Box 3 Folder 4-17
Ticket vouchers, (1864).
Box 4 Folder 1-3
Tickets and stamps, (circa 1864).
Box 4 Folder 4
Tickets (including committee season tickets, list of places for sale, order receipts for executive committee room Logan Square, and relating to sales in Delaware), (1864).
Box 4 Folder 5-10
"List of the committees of the Great Central Fair . . .", (June 1864).
Box 6 Folder 1
Circulars and broadsides, (circa 1864).
Box 9 Folder 1
"Ground plan of the Great Central Sanitary Fair", (1864).
Box 9 Folder 2
Our Daily Fare, (June 8, 1864-Sept. 11, 1865).
Box 9 Folder 3
Ribbons and badges, (circa 1864).
Box 10
Scrapbook, (circa 1864).
Volume 1
Season tickets notebooks, (circa 1864).
Volume 2-4
Gentlemen's subscription book, (June 9-28, 1864).
Volume 5
Ladies' subscription book, (June 9-27, 1864).
Volume 6
Executive Committee minutes notebook, (July 14, 1864-Sept. 1, 1864).
Volume 7
Committee donation notebook, (circa 1864).
Volume 8
Committee list notebook, (circa 1864).
Volume 9
Report of the Secretary of the Committee on Boots, Shoes, and Leather, (1864).
Volume 10
Roll call, minutes, communications, reports, committees miscellaneous book, (circa 1864).
Volume 12
Receipt book, (1864).
Volume 13
Forney's War Press, (June 11, 1864).
Oversize Flat File 1

Scope and Contents

This series contains correspondence, circulars, photographs, ephemera, pamphlets, newspapers, and reports from the U.S. Sanitary Commission and related aid efforts during the Civil War.

The correspondence in this series relates to Furness' work with the Sanitary Commission throughout the northeast, including routine letters and telegrams from Frederick Law Olmsted, who served as the general secretary of the Sanitary Commission. Furness worked to help organize branches and other related relief organizations, raise money, and generally support wounded Union soldiers and their families.

This series includes a large number of pamphlets (boxes 6-8), including reports and solicitations from the U.S. Sanitary Commission, U.S. Christian Commission, Western Sanitary Commission, Women's Central Association of Relief, Kentucky Branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Ladies' Soldiers' Relief Association of Utica, General Aid Society for the Army, and more. U.S. Sanitary Commission medical pamphlets (Box 6, folders 14-27) cover topics as varied as military hygiene, scurvy, venereal disease, and surgical techniques, and provide insight into medical practices during the Civil War.

Newspapers include The Sanitary Commission Bulletin (Box 8, folders 7-15), published in New York, and The Sanitary Reporter (Box 9, Folder 5), published in Louisville, Kentucky, which kept the public informed of the Sanitary Commission's work. The Boatswain's Whistle (Box 9, Folder 4) was a daily newspaper published during the National Soldiers' Fair held in Boston in 1864 and edited by Julia Ward Howe.

This series also includes a fair number of studio photographs of men and women (Box 5, folders 1-3), perhaps organizers of the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia.

Physical Description

1.4 Linear feet ; 4.5 boxes, 1 volume

Correspondence, (October 1862-December 1863).
Box 4 Folder 11-13
Frank B. Fay's plan for Auxiliary Relief Corps, (April 1864).
Box 4 Folder 14
Hotel bills, (1862-1863, undated).
Box 4 Folder 15
Miscellaneous circulars, (1861-1864).
Box 4 Folder 16
Photographs, (circa 1864).
Box 5 Folder 1-3
U.S. Sanitary Commission blank camp inspection forms, (circa 1861-1865).
Box 5 Folder 4
U.S. Sanitary Commission blank printed envelopes, (circa 1861-1865).
Box 5 Folder 5
U.S. Sanitary Commission blank printed forms, (circa 1861-1865).
Box 5 Folder 6
U.S. Sanitary Commission miscellaneous circulars, (circa 1861-1865).
Box 5 Folder 7
Pamphlets, (1861-1864).
Box 6 Folder 2-28
Pamphlets, (1861-1864).
Box 7-8
The Boatswain's Whistle, (Nov. 9-Nov. 19, 1864).
Box 9 Folder 4
The Sanitary Reporter, (May 15, 1863-March 1, 1864).
Box 9 Folder 5
The Western Sanitary Commission; A Sketch, (1864).
Volume 11

Print, Suggest