Ruth Branning Molloy Collection
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center [Contact Us]3401 Market Street, Suite 210, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center. 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
Ruth Branning Molloy, a poet, writer, photographer, and Philadelphia historian, was born on July 24, 1910 in the Bronx, New York. At the age of fourteen, she graduated from West Philadelphia High School for Girls. Mrs. Molloy estimated that she lived at more than 30 different addresses in West Philadelphia, most of them during her youth.
In 1926, Ruth Branning enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, where she participated in many clubs and activities, including Sphinx and Key, Bowling Green, and the Freshman Commission. She was also the editor of the 1930 Record Book, and a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.
After earning a B.S. in education from Penn, Ruth Branning went to work for The Philadelphia Inquirer. As an editorial assistant in the library, she researched material for "Everybody's Column" and "100 Years Ago," and helped build the department's reference file. In 1932, she married Joseph E. Molloy, librarian at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Most of their married life was spent in West Philadelphia, where they raised their three daughters. They lived for a time at 3822 Locust Street until the University purchased their house and the other houses on their block during a campus expansion. From Locust Street, the Molloys moved to St. Mark's Square where Mrs. Molloy lived until her death in 2002.
Ruth Molloy was a prolific writer of essays, poems and other articles for publications such as the Saturday Evening Post, The Inquirer, The Evening Bulletin, and Mademoiselle and Good Housekeeping magazines. She also took photographs, which were published as photo essays. Her story "Twenty Below, at the End of a Lane," a fictionalized account of her childhood, originally printed in Mademoiselle magazine, was included in the Best American Short Stories of 1956. She was also a regular contributor to The Pennsylvania Gazette and the first ever female Chair of the Editorial Board of the General Alumni Society of the University of Pennsylvania.
Aside from chronicling the history of West Philadelphia for her personal scrapbooks, Molloy was one of the founders of the University City Historical Society. She often gave tours of the University City area and spoke about its history to school groups and organizations. On several occasions, Molloy created exhibits on various aspects of the history and traditions of West Philadelphia and frequently sent letters to possible descendants of West Philadelphians she wanted to know more about. In 1983, she initiated the "Adopt-a-Grave" program, designed to preserve the history of graves at Woodland Cemetery in West Philadelphia.
In 2000, Molloy's book of poems, Finally, illustrated with her photographs, was published by Sutter House. Despite her failing health, she continued to work on her multi-volume history of West Philadelphia until her death, on November 8, 2002.
The Ruth Branning Molloy Papers mostly document Mrs. Molloy's life in West Philadelphia and her association with her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Some of Mrs. Molloy's scrapbooks are dedicated to the history of West Philadelphia before she was born; however, the vast majority of the collection is in some way related to Mrs. Molloy's life in West Philadelphia.
Most of the collection was originally contained in Mrs. Molloy's 33 scrapbooks. Her scrapbooks were titled, "Advertisements" (2 volumes), "Art and Artisans," "Correspondence, Bills (and Letterheads), Wills and Lists," "Crime, Fire, Poetry, and Misc.," "Exteriors, Demolition, and Real Estate," "Exteriors and Interiors" (3 volumes), "(Remember Me?) Forget-Me-Not, Remembrance of Things Past (and Future)," "Groups and Crowds," "Miscellaneous" (3 volumes), "A New Beginning," "Obituaries etc.," "Occasions and Events" (2 volumes), "People" (2 volumes), "Portraits," "Scattered Headlines," "Street Scapes and Open Spaces," "Titles, Dedication, Maps, Introduction, and Interiors-Exteriors," "Untitled" (4 volumes), and "West Philadelphia 20th Century and Me" (5 volumes). While some of these titles have been recycled as folder titles in the collection, many have not been. The titles, dedication page, index, bibliography and other parts of the scrapbook can be found in the miscellaneous series.
The Correspondence series includes both letters addressed to and written by Mrs. Molloy as well as letters pertinent to the history of West Philadelphia that have nothing directly to do with Mrs. Molloy. Aside from the remnants of the scrapbooks, the miscellaneous series contains poetry written by Mrs. Molloy herself as well as a number of other West Philadelphians. Mrs. Molloy's essays and remembrances about her life are contained in a folder under her name in the people series.
The collection also contains Mrs. Molloy's memorabilia from the University of Pennsylvania, histories of West Philadelphia, Penn, and residents of West Philadelphia, photographs, photographic negatives and slides. The memorabilia includes a relief sculpture of Penn professor Joseph Leidy and memorabilia from Mrs. Molloy's University Class of 1930 among Penn others. The photographs are divided into three groups, buildings, groups and events, and portraits. Within these groups, the photographs are subdivided into Penn photographs and West Philadelphia photographs. The slides are divided into three groups, buildings, groups and events, and portraits. Notable slides include a series on the construction of the Women's Dormitory (now known as Hill College House) and St. Elmo's, as well as numerous slides from Class of 1930 Alumni Events throughout Mrs. Molloy's lifetime.
Almost all the books in the collection have something to do with the history of the University or its graduating classes. There are a number of reunion books of various classes ranging from 1879 until 1907, several versions of The University of Pennsylvania Illustrated and many other books on the history of the University. In the book collection are also brochures from student events and the mathematics thesis of Anne and Elizabeth Linton, sisters who taught math to Mrs. Molloy at West Philadelphia High School for Girls in the 1920s. Also included are the yearbooks of Penn's College for Women Classes of 1923 and 1924 as well as the Record of the Class of June 1928 of the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
The papers of Ruth Branning Molloy, author and photographer, are arranged in several series. They include: Correspondence, Miscellaneous, People, Photographs, University of Pennsylvania, and West Philadelphia, (2.5 cubic ft.), and Books, (2 cubic ft.).
The vast majority of the documents and Photographs from the collection are from Mrs. Molloy extensive scrapbooks. In order to make research using the collection easier, the scrapbooks were taken apart and their contents reorganized. Mrs. Molloy's slides are also contained in the collection and can be found as a part of her photograph collection.
These papers were donated to the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center by the family of Ruth Branning Molloy.
- University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center
- Finding Aid Author
- Seth S. Tannenbaum, Mira Shetty
- Finding Aid Date
- August 2007, May 2018
- Access Restrictions
Access to collections is granted in accordance with the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Centers.