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James Grier Ralston 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

James Grier Ralston was an educator and missionary. He studied Natural History at Washington College and graduated in 1838. It was then that he started recording various aspects of the climate and collecting minerals—which eventually led to the formation of an impressive mineral collection. In 1835 he began a long teaching career working at many institutions including the New London Academy (where he had completed his primary education), Florence Academy, Groove Academy, and Academy of Steuvenville.

After college he studied with Dr. John W. Scott at the Princeton Theological Seminary from 1839 to 1840. He was also licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Castle. He then became a missionary with the Winnebago Indians in Wisconsin. Due to poor health, he was forced to return to Pennsylvania in which he then founded and headed the Oakland Female Institute in Norristown in 1845. According to one obituary, “It became under his management one of the leading institutions of its kind in this part of the country." There, he trained more than 3,000 students. Another obituary asserted that “Dr. Ralston aimed to give it high standing, and consecrated it in this thought and purpose not only to the intellectual growth of the pupils, but also to the service of the church and the advancement of the kingdom of Christ.”

He was awarded an honorary degree (LL.D.) from Lafayetteve College in 1865, and Doctorate of Divinity from Washington and Jefferson College in 1868. He also wrote articles for various newspapers including The Presbyterian, The Standard, The New York Observer, and the Daily Herald. Ralston also wrote the “Historical Sketch of the First Presbyterian Church of Norristown, Pennsylvania.” Land speculation being one of his other interests, he helped to organize the Western North Carolina Land Company in 1874.

Ralston is remembered most for his service to the Norristown community. He died in 1880.

This collection consists of four volumes and loose items removed from the volumes. The volumes record Ralston's interests and administrative activities from his time at college to his serving as head of a school. The volumes do not present in-depth details of Ralston's activities from which one could produce a complete narrative of events.

Volume One, "Miscellany and Memorandum," primarily includes notations from his experiences before and after graduating from Washington College. It covers a ten year period between 1833-1843. Ralston scribbled in notes about various religious subjects including the nature of Christ, "religion as science," and prayers. Most of the notations reflect his interests in the natural sciences and history and in recording changes in weather patterns. More specifically, he seemed to have been most intrigued by snow storms, for the majority of the weather notations mention something about snow. He also recorded his height and body weight beginning August 7, 1834. After he graduated from college in 1838, he continued to record similar material along with the names of students.

Volume Two records a trip to Europe in 1867. It seems to be more of a to-do list where he noted the names of people and places he encountered in France. In Volume Three are news clippings. It is from this volume that the loose materials were removed. There are two news clippings that discuss his trip to Europe. There are many clippings that discuss his death, which indicates that another person collected or created this volume of clippings. And, finally, Volume Four is a receipt book of his student payments when he was head of the women’s seminary.

"Death of Rev. J. G. Ralston" "Death of Dr. Ralston"

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Weckea D. Lilly
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

Miscellany and Memorandum, 1833-1843.
Volume 1
Untitled, 1867.
Volume 2
Scope and Contents note

This volume contains various notations regarding Ralston's trip to Europe in 1867. Among the countries he visited, it mentions the United Kingdom and France.

Untitled, 1863-1875.
Volume 3
Scope and Contents note

This volume contains a number clippings - which have been pasted in - that Ralston wrote about his trip to Europe and various religious matters. The majority of the clippings that were removed to Folder 2 were death notices and obituaries concerning Ralston's death and funeral.

Receipt Book, 1848-1881.
Volume 4
Items removed from Volume 3 [Correspondence, Notes, and Programs], 1853-1880.
Box Folder 1
Items removed from Volume 3 [Newspaper clippings], 1867-1880.
Box Folder 2
Items removed from volume 3 [Miscellaneous], 1880; n.d.
Box Folder 3

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