Simon Gratz papers
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
Simon Gratz (1840-1925) gave much to the civic life of Philadelphia, serving in many leadership capacities for a variety of institutions and organizations. Perhaps his most significant contribution is his service to Philadelphia’s Board of Public Education, and what he is most remembered for. Nelson Bond commented that he was “one of the most respected men of the city, the one who has probably done the most to promote Philadelphia schooling in the last half century.” Appointed by the Court of Common Pleas, he first served as a representative for the 8th Section of the Board of Education in 1869. Gratz held the position until required by ill health in 1921 to step down. His impact on public education as Bond noted was “the tremendous growth of public education: the number of public schools raised from 210 to 356; the number of high schools from 2 to 12; the number of pupils from 81,283 to 230,403; and that of the teachers from 1500 to nearly four times that number.” In 1869 he was also appointed to the Committee of the Philadelphia Normal School. Then, in 1876, he served as the chairman of that committee, pouring much attention and energy of “a singular focus” to the development and expansion of the Girl’s Normal School. Under his leadership the school then offered an expanded course program and school of practice. In 1884 he served as president pro tem, and then president for the 1897-1898 academic year. Honoring his legacy to Philadelphia’s public schools, the Simon Gratz High School was built in 1925.
This collection contains Simon Gratz’s personal correspondence with relatives, business and legal associates, fellow Board of Education members, among others. A variety of other documents are also included: journals, auction and sale catalogues, engravings, prints, and photographs. The collection primarily concerns Simon Gratz’s professional life between 1847 and 1923, including his work as a legislator, attorney, member of the Philadelphia Board of Education, and in other local civic engagement. The collection is arranged chronologically within each series and subseries.
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Weckea D. Lilly.
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2015.
There are some 5,284 letters comprising this series, dated from 1847 to 1923 (Boxes 1-12). The letters address a number of topics and issues. Included are "acquisition" letters concerning what would become the Gratz Collections (250A, 250B, etc.) for autographs, books, and manuscripts from a number of persons who were aware of Gratz's interest in collecting and trading. As the letters make known, he traded and acquired materials from a wide range of people from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There are a few letters from scholars requesting the use of letters and papers from his collection. As Gratz was also influential in the legal profession, some of the letters concerned his consultations about a range of legal affairs including legal opinions and reviews, petitions, and related documents. From Gratz's lengthy tenure with the Philadelphia Board of Education there are letters addressing the school department, social events and activities, resignations, recommendation for positions, school buildings, curriculum, the history of the school system, and the Jefferson Medical College. There are also a few letters from relatives concerning deeds and estate management.
(10 letters and 1 signed document)
The school papers contain a number of items including lectures delivered to Philadelphia public school students on a range of topics in grammar, rhetoric, history of language and narrative, and various incidents in history like the finding of the Rosetta Stone, the settlement of Plymouth, and Christopher Columbus' voyages. It is believed but uncertatin that Simon Gratz wrote and delivered the lectures. Other lecture in Folder Four are a compilation of lectures composed by a number of scholars in medicine and religion. The majority of the these lectures are undated; however, one was given in 1838 (Knight) and another in 1853 (Alembert/Freeman). Other items include reports and resolutions (1836-1846) from sections of the school board's committees, especially the High School Committee. The most prominent topics explored here are teachers, annual expenses, teacher salaries, curriculum developmetn and teaching, and the reorganization of various school divisions. The remaining items in this series are commencement programs from the Girls High School.
Boxes 14-16 contain photographs, engravings, prints, and portraits with a variety of scenes and people, including portraits of Simon Gratz (Box 15, Folder 4). Other miscellaneous material removed from its original housing includes Johann Friedrich Cristoph Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (photocopied) typed and translated correspondence, a receipt signed by Frances Budden and one by David Rittenhouse. Some bindings were not complete or stable, thus box sixteen houses two (former) volumes of lectures: Folder 1 contains lectures to the Central High School faculty and students, on a number of topics at the opening of the school year between 1846 and 1858; folders 2-4 contain a series of ten lectures entitled the "History of the Public Schools," which tell the story of the public school system in Philadelphia from 1809 to 1846; and the remaining two folders includes "Items Removed From" volumes 1 and 3. The volumes in this series include a few personal sets of class notes and two volumes of Perrot's and Wilhem's musical instructional manuals, as well as sales catalogues divided between foreign (volumes 6-16, 1880-1942) and domestic (volumes 17-33, 1881-1943) sales. The sales catalogues reveal the other means by which Simon Gratz acquired items for his collections.