Processing the Richardson Dilworth papers

(I’m posting this on behalf of Willhem Echevarria, Project Archivist–CM)

Last September, I began processing the Richardson Dilworth papers as part of the NHPRC Civic Engagement project. This is a wonderful collection of documents reflecting the social and political life of Philadelphia, particularly during the 1950s, as seen through the eyes of former Philadelphia mayor Richardson Dilworth.

Dilworth was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 29 August 1898, and after finishing a stint in WWI he worked as a lawyer in Philadelphia and became an expert on libel cases after performing counsel for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Working with the firm Evans Bayard and Frick, Dilworth represented several insurance companies, the Philadelphia Transit Company, the Triangle Corporation, Curtis Publishing, Time, Inc., and did trial work in numerous accident cases. During this time Dilworth became one of the most respected trial lawyers in Philadelphia.  He also gained first-hand knowledge about the city and the extent of corruption in public agencies.

Dilworth was elected Philadelphia city treasurer in 1949 running on a bill that included Joseph S. Clark, Jr. for mayor. Dilworth was elected district attorney in 1952 and later became the 116th mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He served as the city’s mayor from 2 January 1956 until resigning in 1962 to run for Governor of Pennsylvania, a race in which he was defeated by William Scranton. After his tenure as mayor, Dilworth served as partner in the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP; and, in 1967, he became president of the Philadelphia Board of Education.

Heavily involved in the social and urban development of Philadelphia, Dilworth is known as one of the architects of the social reform movement that, among many other things, put a halt to the decline of Center City, developed extensive public housing for low-income families, and contributed to the draft of a new city charter that consolidated county and city offices. This new charter called for official examinations of potential civic service employees, which contributed to the end of a de facto patronage system (begun by the Republican-dominated administration 67 years previous to Clark becoming mayor) by then pervasive in all city offices and services.

The papers I am processing at HSP document the career of Richardson Dilworth, primarily in the form of office records generated in the years before and after he served as Mayor of Philadelphia. The collection has been arranged using, whenever possible, Dilworth’s own filing system, and overall processing is based on the Green-Meissner “more product, less processing” approach. This collection provides an extraordinary behind-the-scenes view of Philadelphia from the perspective of one of the city’s most influential public officials, and is of special interest to researchers on Philadelphia politics, education, urban development, city planning, and United States political history during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Documents in the collection consist of correspondence, reports, political campaign materials, brochures, pamphlets, and scrapbooks. Additionally the collection contains Dilworth’s office files related to his law work (including files from his years as Philadelphia’s District Attorney), Board of Education activities, city planning, housing, civic organizations and projects, the Reading Railroad receivership, and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Committee on Transportation. There is also a sizeable amount of Dilworth’s personal correspondence, as well as clippings he collected on various politicians, campaigns, and political, cultural, and social issues related to Philadelphia. Other material includes numerous photographs, check stubs, typescripts of speeches, and papers related to the naming and dedication of the Richardson Dilworth International terminal at Philadelphia International Airport. The collection also features personal documents from Dilworth numerous trips abroad, including files related to his trip on the ill-fated SS Andrea Doria. Records generated by Dilworth during his administration as mayor of Philadelphia can be found in the City Archives.

For more information on this collection you can contact me at wechevarria@hsp.org, or call 215-732-6200 Ext. 207. Also, a finding aid with the contents of the collection indexed by subject will be available online shortly on the Research and Collections section of our webpage. In the meantime, if you would like to read more about Richardson Dilworth, please point your browser to this article.

HSP Civic Engagement Collections: A new NHPRC-funded project

This month HSP begins a new 26-month project to process and conserve fourteen collections related to civic engagement in Philadelphia and beyond. Willhem Echevarría has already started work as project archivist, and in December he will be joined by Leah Mackin as project preservation technician. Previously, both Willhem and Leah worked on our Chew papers project and Digital Center for Americana pilot project, and we’re fortunate that they’ll be continuing on with this new initiative.

In this blog post I’d like to talk about some of the reasons I’m excited about the Civic Engagement Collections project and efforts surrounding it.

Citizens' Permanent Relief Committee flyers

Flyers from Citizens' Permanent Relief Committee records, ca. 1890s


Working with great collections
The project deals with collections documenting a wonderful variety of people and organizations. These range from Albert Greenfield (real estate broker turned banker, politician, and philanthropist) to Morris Milgram (socialist activist turned integrated housing pioneer and developer of planned communities). From Anthony Biddle, Jr. (elite-born diplomat and military officer) to Max Weiner (who helped launch a grassroots consumer protection movement in the 1960s). The project includes the papers of reformers across three generations: Herbert Welsh, who from the 1870s to the 1930s tackled everything from imperialism to forestry to civil service rules; Richardson Dilworth and Natalie Saxe Randall, who helped lead Philadelphia’s political reform movement after World War II; and John Fryer, psychiatrist and gay rights activist, who in 1972 helped persuade the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

Organizational collections in the project include the records of the Citizens’ Permanent Relief Committee, a late 19th century philanthropic group that aided people harmed by natural disasters, famine, war, or political repression; and the Indian Rights Association, which played a key lobbying role from the 1880s to the 1930s around its paternalistic aim to “bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship.” There are also six decades of records of the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia, which promoted women’s political participation and took stands on issues ranging from child care and public education to the United Nations and the Marshall Plan.

I’m especially pleased that this project will enable us to digitize 160 hours of phonograph recordings from the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission, a pioneering civil rights coalition formed in 1941. To help promote its multi-cultural ideals, in the 1940s and 50s the commission sponsored a series of radio plays, stories, and interviews with people of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. The Civic Engagement project will make these recordings publicly accessible for the first time since they were broadcast.

Highlighting our 20th-century holdings
While HSP is rightly famous for our pre-20th century collections, the fact that we also have rich collections up through the late 20th century receives much less attention. For example, most of the applications to our research fellowship program (a collaboration with the Library Company of Philadelphia) focus on our pre-20th century collections. The Civic Engagement project – which primarily deals with 20th century collections — is part of our plan to change all that.

A related effort is our recently launched Greenfield Project, funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation. This will endow a research fellowship in 20th-century history and create a web portal focusing on 20th-century collections and featuring related interpretive material. The Greenfield Project funding also covers archival processing work on the Greenfield Papers, which is part of the Civic Engagement project.

Max Weiner collection flyers

Flyers from Max Weiner collection on Consumer Education and Protective Association, ca. 1970s-1980s


Implementing “More Product, Less Process” (MPLP)
The Civic Engagement project is funded primarily by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the grant-giving arm of the National Archives and Records Administration. The NHPRC has gone farther than any other major archives funder in embracing MPLP principles. To get NHPRC funding for a “detailed” processing project, including any descriptive work below the collection level, a repository has to ensure that virtually all of its collections are or will soon be open for research and locatable online. This embodies one of MPLP’s key tenets, that repositories should provide a basic, minimum level of access to all their collections before giving intensive attention to a select few. HSP’s Archives Department wholeheartedly endorses this approach. For the first time ever, we will soon provide online collection-level descriptions for all our archival holdings, through a new online guide that will launch later this year.

Processing work on the Civic Engagement collections will be based on MPLP principles as well. This means that some practices will be streamlined to speed up processing and make more collections accessible more quickly. For example, collections may receive only rough arrangement below the sub-series level. Non-archival folders will be replaced only if they are damaged or do not fit in an archival box. And, yes, metal fasteners will be removed only if they are rusty or pose a hazard to users. Staff time for this project has been allocated based on an average of 2.6 hours per linear foot for processing work and 1.25 hours per linear foot for conservation work. HSP has five different processing levels that we use depending on the specific collection, and guidelines for this project are based on our Level 3 protocol, in the middle of the range.

Contributing to a regional effort
The Civic Engagement project is interconnected with a consortial processing project that HSP is participating in. The PACSCL Hidden Collections project, funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, is processing collections at 24 institutions, including HSP. (PACSCL stands for Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries.) The two projects share the same processing methodology and were developed in close coordination with each other. HSP staff helped design the PACSCL project, establish its standards, and write its manual. PACSCL project staff, in turn, has helped to train HSP staff in the use of MPLP principles and Archivists’ Toolkit. Two collections in the Civic Engagement project (League of Women Voters of Philadelphia and the World War II collection) will be processed by PACSCL project staff at HSP, working alongside HSP staff. This type of interchange enriches our work and helps us see our tasks as part of a regional effort.