Delaware River Port Authority records on the naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
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Overview and metadata sections
The Delaware River Port Authority was founded on July 17, 1951 as a successor to the Delaware River Joint Bridge Commission. On the same day, President Truman signed a bill to permit the building of a second crossing of the Delaware River, which is now known as the Walt Whitman Bridge (the first being the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, completed in 1926 under the name Delaware River Bridge). The Walt Whitman Bridge is a single-level, seven-lane suspension bridge reaching across the Delaware River from Philadelphia to Gloucester City in Camden County, New Jersey. Construction on the bridge began in 1953, and the bridge was opened to traffic in May 1957. It is now one of five expressway-standard bridges connecting the Philadelphia area with the southern part of New Jersey.
The naming of the bridge, as evidenced by this collection, was highly controversial. The bridge was meant to be named after a person of note who had lived in New Jersey, but some area citizens opposed the name "Walt Whitman Bridge" for a variety of reasons. Walt Whitman (1819-1892), the famous American humanist poet, essayist, and journalist has been called America's first "poet of democracy" and is best known for his work Leaves of Grass. Whitman's writing has sometimes been the subject of controversy, often due to his overt depictions of homosexuality and bisexuality. Many objecting to the choice of his name for the bridge saw Whitman's work as sympathizing with communist ideals and criticized him for his egalitarian view of humanity.
The bulk of the Delaware River Port Authority records on the naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge is composed of correspondence from New Jersey and Philadelphia area citizens expressing their support for or opposition to the name "Walt Whitman Bridge" for the bridge connecting Philadelphia to Gloucester City, New Jersey. This correspondence comprises Series I, which includes letters from supporters, letters from opposition without alternate suggestions, letters from opposition with alternate suggestions, and other correspondence. It should be noted that box 1 folders 7-13 contain identical or almost-identical copies of a single form letter written in opposition to the name "Walt Whitman Bridge" differing only in annotation (folder 7) or simply identical but for the distinct signatures at the bottom (folders 8-13).
Series II includes reports, minutes, meeting summaries, and other records from the Delaware River Port Authority pertaining to the naming of the bridge. The most substantial portion of this material is made up of copies of a "Summary for Special Committee on Bridge Names" written in June 1955 and pertaining to both the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the Walt Whitman Bridge. As per its introduction, the summary is divided into the following parts: I. Actions of the Delaware River Port Authority, II. Suggestions from the public at large, and III. Staff evaluations.
The third series contains a small collection of clippings on topics pertaining to the naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge that primarily concern religious issues with Walt Whitman's lifestyle. It also includes an essay by Janice Rowan, a New Jersey student, which covers the naming of the bridge as well as the contents of the present collection.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Molly Hutt
- Finding Aid Date
- 2015 January 21
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.