Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. 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
A native of Philadelphia, Thompson Westcott (1820-1888) was one of the city's leading journalists and historians of his generation. He studied English at the University of Pennsylvania, and later completed the study of law under Henry M. Phillips, until he was admitted to the bar in 1841. Westcott began his writing career with humorous pieces published under the name "Joe Miller Jr." in newspapers such as St. Louis Reveille, New York Mirror, and Knickerbocker Magazine. In 1841, he officially entered journalism and became law reporter for the Public Ledger. A few years later, in 1848, John Lawlor, Robert Everett, and Edward J. Hincken, founders of the Sunday Dispatch, offered Westcott a position as main editor of their newspaper. Westcott worked for the Dispatch for thirty-six years, until his retirement in 1884. In the meantime, he collaborated as a writer or editor with a number of other city papers and publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer (1863-1871), Commercial List, the Old Franklin Almanac, and the Public Ledger Almanac.
In addition to his career as a journalist, Westcott established himself as a local historian, primarily through his series on the history of Philadelphia, which he published weekly in the Sunday Dispatch between 1867 and 1884. In 1884, he published the three-volume book History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, which he co-edited with another prolific historian of the time, John Thomas Scharf (1843-1898). Westcott was the author of several other works, including Life of John Fitch the Inventor of the Steam-Boat (1857), Taxpayer's Guide (1864), Names of persons who took the oath of allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania, Between the Years 1777 and 1789, with a History of the "Test laws" of Pennsylvania (1865), Chronicles of the Great Rebellion Against the United States of America (1867), Centennial Portfolio (1876), and The Historic Mansions and Buildings of Philadelphia: with some notice of their owners and occupants (1877).
Thomas Westcott compiled a set of scrapbooks which includes the complete series of the 267 chapters of Charles Durang's history of theater in Philadelphia between the years 1749 and 1855. These chapters appeared in three different series in the weekly newspaper Sunday Dispatch from May 7, 1854 (Vol. VII, No. 1) to April 19, 1863 (Vol. XV, No. 52). Primarily active as a dancer, actor, and ballet master, Charles Durang (1794-1870) drew upon his life-long experience with the Philadelphia theatrical scene to write a historical work after his retirement from the stage in 1853. Partly based upon the notes of his father John Durang (1768-1822), America's first professional dancer; and integrating notes of the editors of the Dispatch (including, probably, Westcott himself), Durang's history was never published in book form. In 1868, Westcott arranged the clippings from the Dispatch in a six-volume set of scrapbooks titled "History of the Philadelphia Stage, Between the Years 1749 and 1855." The scrapbooks, which include page numbers, indexes, and lists of illustrations, are interleaved with hundreds of images of theaters and portraits of famous actors and artists, as well as with personal correspondence, playbills, and additional clippings on theatrical subject.
Upon Westcott's death in 1888, historian John Thomas Scharf, who had co-edited with Westcott the History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 (1884), acquired a large portion of Westcott's papers and collections. In 1891, Scharf gave them to Johns Hopkins University, as part of a larger donation of archival material mostly relating to the history of the southern states. Westcott's set of scrapbooks was probably part of that donation, as "Durang's History of the Philadelphia Stage" was explicitly mentioned by Scharf in the accompanying letter. However, in June 1915, the scrapbooks were sold in Philadelphia by auctioneer S.V. Henkel. At the beginning of the following year, Westcott's scrapbooks joined the University of Pennsylvania special collections, as a gift of one of the university trustees, businessman Morris Lewis Clothier (1869-1947). Especially after their conversion to microfilm in 1956, Westcott's six scrapbooks have been widely consulted and referenced by theater, music and cultural historians, not only for their textual context, but also for their extremely rich iconographic and documentary apparatus. A volume VII, microfilmed with the six Durang/Westcott scrapbooks, contained playbills and other material post-dating and not related to Durang - it is not covered here.
Durang's history of Philadelphia theater was published in the Sunday Dispatch in three series, each bearing a different title: The Philadelphia Stage: From 1749 to 1821 (first series, 75 installments published from May 7, 1854 to October 7, 1855); The Philadelphia Stage From 1749 to 1855 (second series, 56 installments published from June 29, 1856 to August 2, 1857); and The Philadelphia Stage From the Year 1749 to the Year 1855 (third series, 136 installments published from July 8, 1860 to April 19, 1863). The three series were distributed by Westcott among the six volumes so that each volume contains a similar number of pages. Volume I covers the years from 1749 to 1817-18; volume II from 1817-18 to 1826-27; volume III from 1826-27 to 1831-32; volume IV from 1831-32 to 1841-42; volume V from 1841-42 to 1849-1850; and volume VI from 1849-50 to 1855. All the scrapbooks include page numbers, a handwritten index, and a list of portraits. Westcott inserted portraits and other images, as well as personal correspondence, playbills, and additional clippings relating to Durang's chapters, resulting in a remarkably thorough representation of the history of Philadelphia's theater history. The chronological order in which Durang presents the historical events, combined with the author's limited use of narrative flashbacks and flash-forwards, makes the indexes useful to locate any mention or image of a given figure or institution active or relevant in a specific period of time. Please see the container list for more detailed information on each volume.
All volumes have been scanned and their digital facsimile are available online:
Gift of Morris L. Clothier, January 21, 1916
Formerly Dewey 812 P54D.
- Chestnut Street Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Arch Street Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Walnut Street Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Theater -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- 19th century
- Drama -- History and criticism
- Circus -- History
- Theater -- United States -- History -- 19th century
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Siel Agugliaro
- Finding Aid Date
- 2017 August 25
- 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.