Young Man's Institute Board of Trustees minutes

Collection 4052

(0.1 Linear feet ; 1 volume)

Summary Information

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Young Man's Institute Board of Trustees minutes
Date [inclusive]
0.1 Linear feet ; 1 volume
Finding aid prepared by Weckea D. Lilly
Text [Box]

Preferred citation

[Indicate cited item or serie shere], Young Man's Institute Board of Trustees minutes (Collection 4052), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Return to Table of Contents »

Background and scope note

The Young Man’s Institute was founded in Philadelphia in 1850. The first meeting to establish the organization was held on May 14, 1850, chaired by Samuel V. Merrick. The second meeting was then chaired by Peter A. Keyser. As no official leadership structure had yet been established, a designated leader would not be in place until after the adoption of the constitution and by-laws. Joseph R. Ingersoll was elected the institute's first president on June 24, 1850. However, Ingersoll’s leadership is not as pronounced in the volume compared to that of William Welsh, who was elected October 15, 1852. Previously, Welsh served on various committees and as vice president.

The purpose of the organization was to facilitate a movement of instruction and learnedness among the city’s working classes—most commonly referred to at the time as the “mechanics-class”. In an 1853 publication of the organization’s annual report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the organization conveyed its primary intentions: “The design, we repeat, is to build up a system of instrumentalities, with the object of benefitting, morally and mentally, young men generally, but particularly those of the working classes.” This mission would be pursued by the establishment and support of the various library and reading-room associations about the city. They included branches in Northern Liberties, Spring Garden, West Philadelphia, The Philadelphia City Institute (establishment discussed in the minutes dated April 16, 1852), Southwark, and Frankford. As can be gleaned from the discussions found in the minutes, these branches functioned as auxiliaries to the main committee of “concerned citizens” and managers of the various institutes to fulfill its ultimate mission. The Young Man’s Institute procured and distributed the funds – in the form of grants and loans – that would provide for the resources used to construct buildings; purchase books, furniture, and fixtures; and pay for the hiring of “agents” (later called librarians). In addition to operating as a library and reading room, provisions were also made to include lecture halls to attract young men, as they believed, by means of lectures that “would be far more engaging to them than books." The managers imagined these young men to have lower intellectual capacities. The managers assumed they were working against the “imperfectly educated,” those “influenced by injurious associations,” young men who “have no mental cravings,” and most especially those with “no desire for books.” Thus, the lectures were recruited from “competent men, willing to descend to their capacity by the use of language and modes of illustration intelligible and interesting to them, and men at the same time deeply impressed with the importance of the word, they could not fail to attract audiences, create a desire for information, and rescue numbers, eventually, from ignorance, poverty and vice.” Lectures, then, were to cover a variety of subjects across literature, history, and science.

According to minutes in 1854, “Lectures were generally delivered by lecturers of our own city, of undoubted ability, and gave very general satisfaction. They were exceedingly well attended, and were principally on literary subjects, as the Institute has no philosophical apparatus for scientific subjects.” However, during this same year, the Northern Liberties branch found it difficult to pursue its mission. Regarding its failing efforts and notification of this matter to the board of The Young Man’s Institute, the branch members lamented: “...your Board are given to understand that its once hopeful organization is at present inoperative.”

The job of attracting and recruiting young men to the institutes became the responsibility of the managers of each respective district. By design, then, the president instructed in a meeting in 1858 to, “let [the manager] gather them around him, and, taking down a volume of history, biography or the like, let him read and explain its contents; and let his eye and voice and manner witness to the sincerity of his wishes for their pleasure and profit.” But the minutes reflect that the board felt a sense of failure about its mission. The board lamented thinking that not enough was done by the Managers of the Institutes to improve upon the academic attainment and intellectual development of the city’s working classes. During one heated discussion in the minutes, one board member offered a rather impassioned speech, “[D]id the Managers of our Institutes, as missionaries of philanthropy, seek out in the streets and alleys of their neighborhoods, the poor, neglected laboring youth, now spending their time in idleness and ignorance of their best interests, and, bringing them in, explain to them the worth of a cultivated mind to its possessor, and assist them in its acquirement,-cheering them on in endeavors to learn, and pointing out the many pleasing and profitable employments for their understandings and tastes, to be found in the books around them,-thus raising them by degrees into a new and intellectual life,-the result could not fail to be soon seen, in the increased numbers and altered character of their members” (1859). As the lack of successes were proving to become an issue among all branches, other ways of attracting young men to the centers were put into effect.

While women members were not initially considered, they were not totally excluded. Although the institutes were formed for and marketed exclusively to men, women were eventually allowed to read and study in the reading-rooms and borrow books. However, the record does not show that women were allowed to purchase subscriptions and become members of the library and reading rooms across each district. The 1854 Annual Report indicates the limited time slot that women were allowed into The Spring Garden Institute: “The Library and Reading-Rooms have been kept open from 6 to 10 o’clock in the evenings, daily (except Sundays), during the year, and on Saturday afternoons from 2 to 5 o’clock, for the exclusive use of females desiring to read in the rooms, or to take out books for home reading.”

Regarding the different branches, one of the first branches to admit women was the Moyamensing area institute. In this case, where managers were not successful in recruiting young men, the board thought “that in the absence of the earnest personal efforts of the managers themselves the vest instrumentality to effect it is to be found in the winning and refining influences of the other sex.” It was then that they decided to allot all surplus funds for salaries to hire female agents for each institute. Their duty was “to attract to the rooms the working youth of their several neighborhoods, and when there, to entertain, instruct and otherwise benefit them, by whatever means the Institutes furnish.” Mary C. Roberts was hired in 1861 and paid $100.00 a year to perform such a duty at the Moyamensing Literary Institute. She was replaced in March 1863 by Miss A. Freymuth. Hired by the Mechanics Institute of Southwark in 1861 was Miss M. A. F. McCormick. In 1862 the Philadelphia City Institute hired Harriet Christman; and, the Spring Garden Institute hired Cecilia Beyer. The only institute that declined to hire a female agent was the West Philadelphia Institute, as the president, James Miller, of that district declined and thought that a separate one be created “to their own sex” (1862). Immediate successes were observed as of March, 1862; however, by December of that year some of the branches reflected that there had not been any improvements in the “attendance of lads” by hiring female agents. Still searching for a better way to increase numbers, they began instituting night school and hiring teachers.

The night school idea was popular, since it was previously noted that afternoons and evening were the times of the day most frequented by local youth. By 1893, the Spring Garden and the West Philadelphia branches' night school programs were transformed into schools of design, offering instruction in architectural and mechanical drawing. The last recorded meeting in the volume was held on September 17, 1863. Nothing of considerable note was discussed. In the draft of the final annual report the total number of volumes acquired by that point, by all of its branches, was 13,031 books. The committee had successfuly expanded its holdings by purchasing new books and receiving donations of others from members of the learned community of Philadelphia. Beyond the historical account of the organization here, this volume is rich with the thoughts and cultural memes of well-to-do professional men in Philadelphia in the mid-1800s with regard to men and women of lower social stratas. It also documents a group's attempt to provide an educational outlet for self-improvement in 19th century Philadelphia.

Return to Table of Contents »

Administrative Information

Publication Information

 Historical Society of Pennsylvania , July 2016.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107


This collection is available for research.


Purchase, 2006.

Accession number 2006.033.

Return to Table of Contents »

Related Materials

Related materials

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Phildelphia City Institute records (Collection 3023).

Return to Table of Contents »

Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Philadelphia City Institute. -- History


  • Library systems managers.

Personal Name(s)

  • Valentino, Carmen


  • Philanthropy and education.
  • Women librarians.
  • Working class--History--19th century.

Return to Table of Contents »


The Young Man's Institute, Public Ledger, January 03, 1854.

"Our Public Institutions-The Young Man's Institute and the kindred," Philadelphia Inquirer, November 10, 1856.

"The Young Man's Institute," Philadelphia Inquirer, October 03, 1893.

"The Young Man's Institute-Meeting of Contributors-Election of Members of the Board," Philadelphia Inquirer, October, 8, 1878.

"The Young Man's Institute," Public Ledger, October 08, 1873.

"Libraries for the People-The Young Man's Institute," Philadelphia Inquirer, November 16, 1853.

Return to Table of Contents »