Lilith Martin Wilson: Berks County’s First Female State Politician

“Her life was dedicated to the Common Man.”–These words are inscribed on Lilith Martin Wilson’s tombstone in Aulenbach Cemetery. Wilson was the first woman elected to the Pennsylvania State Legislature from Berks County. She also was the first woman to run for Governor of Pennsylvania, in 1922. Arriving in Reading just a few years after women earned the right to vote, Wilson was already well-known member of the Socialist Party in the US.

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Lilith Martin Wilson, as a young woman. (Reading Eagle)

Lilith Browne was born on September 13, 1886 in Dublin, Indiana. Not much is known about her early life in Indiana. From Census records available online, it looks like the Browne family moved around Indiana, before settling in Anderson, Madison County. On September 14, 1903–the day after her 17th birthday–she married George Springer Martin in Anderson. Later, she was educated at The Rand School of Social Science in New York. Formed by members of the Socialist Party of America in 1906, it taught both traditional humanities coursework and served as training center for socialist theory (“Guide to the Rand School…”).

Before coming to Reading, Lilith traveled around the US lecturing on socialism and acting as a party and campaign organizer. According to the Coshocton (Ohio) Morning Tribune, Lilith had been contracted by the Pennsylvania State Socialist Association in May 1915 to lecture around the country. In 1920, she was living in New York and was a speaker at the Indiana State Socialist Convention (Indianapolis Star, May 22, 1920.) Ancestry.com has a number of articles that detail her travels around the US lecturing on Socialism. The Ogden (Utah) Standard Examiner described her as an “earnest, forceful speaker”–obviously, she had made a name for herself as an ardent advocate for Socialist ideals.

She moved to Reading in 1921 to support Socialist campaigns in Reading and Pennsylvania on behalf of the Socialist Party. She had been elected that year to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party (“History of Women in the PA House”). She married L. Birch Wilson, also a Socialist and later Reading City Controller, in October 1921. Even though Lilith Wilson was a  prominent Socialist in her own right, author William C. Pratt proposed that her prominence and successful elections were due in part to being the wife of well-known Socialist (Pratt, 81).

In 1922, Wilson was nominated to be the Socialist Party’s candidate for Pennsylvania Governor. According to the Pennsylvania Manual, 1921-1922, Wilson lived at 521 S. 15th Street in Reading. She was one of fifty women running on major Pennsylvania tickets in the 1922 election. She won more than 30,000 votes, and came in third after Gifford Pinchot (the winner) and John A. McSparran (who won Berks County). The next year she ran for Reading School Board and lost (Pratt, 80).

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521 S. 15th Street (as it looked in 2011): Wilson lived in this home when she ran for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1922 (Google Maps)

According to William C. Pratt, by the late 1920s, the Socialist Party in Reading was having trouble getting both men and women to vote. A special effort was made, though, to appeal to working-class women. A tax assessment and increase in 1927 hit a nerve with Reading women and attendance at the regular meetings of the Women’s Socialist League increased (Pratt, 74). In 1928, Lilith Wilson was named the chair of the Socialist Party’s new National Women’s Committee.

After unsuccessful local elections, Wilson ran for the State Legislature in 1930 and won. She was the first woman elected to a state office from Berks County, as well as the first Socialist woman elected to any legislative body in the United States. She was reelected in 1932 and 1934. Various sources site her causes as women and children’s rights, workman’s compensation, a minimum wage, health care, and pensions.

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Lilith Martin Wilson, ca. 1930s (Pennsylvania House of Representatives)

Lilith Martin Wilson died in the Wernersville State Hospital on July 8, 1937. She was unable to finish her third term, due to poor health. It is hard to know what Wilson’s political career would have been like in the late 1930s. According to William C. Pratt, the local Socialist movement faced a fight between the “Old Guard” Socialists and the new “Militant” members. Other Socialist groups seemed to break up or dissolve by then. The Women’s Socialist League actually reorganized amid the Party’s chaos in 1941; however, Socialist women in Berks County and nationwide were relegated to support positions and few were actually elected to higher office.

Researched and Written by BHC Curator, Stephanie Mihalik

Sources:

  1. Berks County Women in History: Profiles, Volume 1,” edited by Irene Reed, pages 314-315, Tudor Gate Press, 2005.
  2. The Socialist Movement in Reading, Pennsylvania, 1896-1936: A Study in Social Change, Henry G. Stetler, 1943.
  3. Guide to the Rand School of Social Science Records TAM.007,” Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive at New York University, http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/tam_007/.
  4. “Woman To Talk on Socialism,” Coshocton Morning Tribune, May 28, 1915.
  5. “Socialists Open State Convention Here Today,” The Indianapolis Star, May 22, 1920.
  6. “Miss Lilith Martin Will Speak Friday,” Ogden Standard Examiner, April 14, 1921.
  7. “History of Women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 1923-2005,” written by Jeanne H. Schmedlen, Office of the Speaker of the House John M. Perzel, 2005.
  8. Berks County Marriages, Book 63, page 43.
  9. William C. Pratt, “Women and American Socialism: The Reading Experience,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 99, no. 1, January 1975, pages 72-91.
  10. “Miller is victor for 129th seat with a 54% tally” Peter L. DeCoursey, Reading Eagle, Wednesday, November 4, 1992.
  11. “Accomplished Women of Berks County,” Reading Eagle, March 17, 2002.
  12. “A woman’s place: Lilith M. Wilson,” Reading Eagle, March 16, 2003.
  13. Pennsylvania Politics Today and Yesterday: A Tolerable Accommodation, Paul B. Beers, The Pennsylvania University Press, 1980.
  14. “The Socialist Administration in Reading, Pennsylvania: Part I, 1927-1931,” Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr., Pennsylvania History vol. 39, no. 4, October 1972.
  15. “Triumph and Disaster: The Reading Socialists in Power and Decline, 1932-1939–Part II,” Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr., Pennsylvania History vol. 40, no. 4, October 1973.

 

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Pearl Haines – Reading’s Dancing Star

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BHC Research Library Collection

By her own admission, Pearl Haines never worked a day in her life. She was born to entertain and share her joy of performing with young people willing to follow in her footsteps of dance and entertainment. The work she did was more than a source of income; it was her passion. She was a long-time dance instructor for 54 years, with most of that time spent at her dance studio at 108 South 6th Street. She touched the lives of many with her dance instruction and became a name that all in Reading knew well.

Pearl Haines was born on July 17, 1899 in Reading, PA to William and Catherine (Yoder) Haines. By an early age it was clear that entertaining people was in Miss Pearl’s blood. At age 3, she made her first public appearance when she recited a poem at a Sunday school rally at St. Marks UCC on 211 Greenwich St. Dance lessons soon followed at the age of 6 with Professor (Pappy) Drexel at his studio in the rear of 1144 Perkiomen Avenue. Her early years were formative in her development in theatre -First as the lead in “Alice in Wonderland,” which was performed at the Orpheum Theatre on August 28, 1908. Miss Haines performed as Alice many times in her early career at both the Orpheum and Academy of Music, which prompted children to call out “Hello Alice” when they saw her riding on an open trolley car.

Later, she was cast as the lead in “Dream of Mysticland” as “Little Miss Nobody” to highly favorable reviews. More performances followed in the ensuing years at the Rajah Temple at Pearl and Franklin Streets, The Orioles Home on South 9th Street, Redmen Hall on Walnut Street and the Hippodrome on Penn Street. By 1914, she was a shining star on the theatre and recital scene in Reading, where she was the featured attraction to the delight of audiences citywide. Theatre-goers simply could not get enough of the charismatic young Haines, as she performed with her Juvenile Minstrels as the featured attraction, gaining headlines for the reviews that followed in the daily paper. By 1915, everybody in the city knew of Pearl Haines.

Pearl opened her first dance studio at the Moss and Marion Fire Hall in 1915 at the age of 16. For a young girl who was still in school, she kept an active social schedule performing in theatres and halls to large audiences and taught dance to young children, who emulated her with the desire to follow in her footsteps. It was at this time she met a young Irene Burkhart, who would accompany Miss Haines as her pianist for 35 years. As the popularity of her dance classes increased, Haines dance studio was moved to its long-time location at 108 South 6th Street. This was the location behind her home that Pearl Haines established herself as a dance instructor to thousands of young children.

Pearl continued to work as a dance instructor and entertainer into the 1920’s, when she was cast as Fi-Fi in the comedy “Fi-Fi of the Toy Shop” in a Rogers Company of New York production.  The production was performed to a large crowd at the Rajah Theatre for the benefit of St Mary’s Episcopal Church, which had been damaged by fire.

By 1927, a great adventure awaited Miss Pearl Haines. She hired an agent, George Hamid, and proceeded on a 14-year summer tour of county fairs up and down the Eastern Seaboard as the Pearl Haines Revue. Her dance revue was known as “Polly and her Polly-Anns” and they performed as part of the price of admission in front of the grandstand. Newspapers advertising their local county fairs consistently listed the “Pearl Haines Revue” as one of the featured acts in their promotions. They started with a rented truck, which eventually grew to a 5-ton truck, to carry props, scenery, floodlights, and  a tent with a kitchen, dining room and dressing room. Accompanying the troupe was Pearl’s mother Catherine, who cooked meals and made all the costumes. Five girls in the company took turns assisting Catherine. Mr. Hamid dubbed them the “Biggest Little Show on Earth.”

 

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In 1934, Pearl’s troupe sailed to San Juan Puerto Rico to perform at the Gran Feria Exposition de Puerto Rico, making the revue the first dance group from Reading, Pa to travel overseas. During this trip Pearl and “Polly Ann” Marie Shalter were invited be on a radio program to sing a duet while Pearl played a marimba solo. They also saw President Roosevelt as his parade passed by their hotel balcony! Pearl and the Polly-Anns greeted him with a “Hi Frank!” He looked up and waved and gave a big smile. Another memorable moment was in 1938, when a young photographer asked if he could take a photo of the girls relaxing between acts. Later they discovered he was a photographer from Life Magazine and they made the September 26th edition.

During her travels, Pearl Haines was very well-known in Reading. Between the success of her dance studio, her adventures working county fairs from Canada to Florida, and her performances in the theaters of Reading, Pearl Haines was a local celebrity. Her picture appeared as a feature act in the daily entertainment news next to a photo of Cary Grant and her name was mentioned in the same articles as John Barrymore and Myrna Loy, as she continued to perform around town. From 1936 to 1949, Pearl returned to the scene of her first lead roll when her revue danced in the Civic Opera at the Orpheum Theater. The county fair tour ended in 1941, although the Reading Fair still saw the Poly- Anns. The group even helped Reading celebrate its Bi-centennial with a revue at the City Park Bandshell.

Life changed for Pearl Haines when she married George Horton of Afton, New York in 1952. She met George at the county fair in Afton, where she later started a dance studio. Unfortunately, George passed away in 1958. Following his death, Pearl returned to Reading to live with her mother Catherine. Pearl then began teaching dance at Micky Norton’s School of Dance in Laureldale. Two of her pupils opened their own dance studios and one student aspired to higher success. Robin Miller opened a dance studio and performed in the Court of Ballet at Radio City Music Hall and served as an understudy to the lead dancer in Broadways “West Side Story”.

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Pearl Haines on May 10, 1975 as she welcomes you to the women’s club for the “Day to Remember” – BHC Research Library Collection

Pearl Haines retired from teaching dance in 1970, but she remained an active individual. She became president of the Women’s Club of Reading from 1974-1976 and again from 1982-1984. During her first term Pearl presided over the Women’s Clubs celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Second Continental Congress on May 10, 1975. The event was billed as “A Day to Remember” as the club held a tea dressed in colonial attire to mark the event.

 “Your life is God’s gift to you – what you do with your life is your gift to God.” – Pearl Haines in the December 1974 Women’s Club Bulletin

Pearl was an individual who gave her all to the people in her life, especially when she taught and entertained. Pearl Haines passed away at the age of 96 on January 18, 1996. As famous as she was in her time, she never became wealthy, but in her own words she had everything she wanted:

“You could say I’m a millionaire with friends.”

Researched and written by Richard Polityka

Man of Dirt: A BHC Member Profile

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BHC Member Richard Peal showing off his glass collection.

Meet Richard Peal – a new member to the Berks History Center. Richard has dug up an unusual way of connecting with the past! He calls himself “Man of Dirt.”

It all started back in the 70’s when Richard worked as a lineman for what was then, N.J. Bell. He was setting poles with a crew along the railroad in Metuchen, NJ when out of the hole popped a fully-intact bottle, which was inscribed: Thomas A. Edison Special Battery Fluid. This was the first bottle that Richard took home and put on a shelf in his garage. Over the years, while working for the telephone company, quite a few more bottles came home and were put on the shelf in the garage.

In the late 90’s Richard was still working for the phone company, which is now Bell Atlantic. He had a different job at the company when he was working on a road widening project on Route 9 in Lakewood, NJ. One of the contractors was digging up the road and bottles just started flowing out of the ground! It turns out that Route 9 went right through what used to be part of an old Lakewood dump site. Knowing that Richard kept the bottles, the contractor gave him the “go-ahead” and Richard began bringing home truck loads of glass bottles every day. What started as an accidental bottle collection suddenly became serious business!  With his first born son in tow, Richard began digging for bottles regularly and in 1999 he went to his first bottle show in Toms River, NJ.

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Later Richard became a member of the Jersey Shore Bottle Collectors Club, and by 2002, he was running the bottle show. Richard ran the show for 10 years until he moved to Exeter Township in 2013. And that’s when his interest in Berks County’s history began.

“There’s no sense in collecting Jersey bottles out here, so I changed it up and I now collect Reading Glass,” says Richard. “Currently, I do 10-12 bottle shows a year and I am always looking for something new to add to the collection.”

When it comes to local history, Richard’s glass collecting hobby has led him down a number of rabbit holes, so to speak. Richard recently visited the BHC Research Library to dig further into the history of Reading Glass Works. He discovered that there were 2 companies. The first, Reading Artistic Glass Works, operated in the 1880s and specialized in art glass. The other business, which manufactured bottles and jars, ran from about 1889 to the 1920’s along the canal at Franklin Street and River Road in Reading.

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BHC Members Touring Behind the Scenes in the BHC Museum at the January 2018 Members Happy Hour Event

At the Berks History Center, we have members of all types – Some members love the Revolution, Civil War and other American history, while others are avid genealogists and enthusiastic collectors. Some of our members favor the history of their borough or township and others simply enjoy reminiscing about Berks County’s extraordinary past. While your reasons for being a member to the BHC are as varied as the artifacts in our collections, we all share one common passion: a love for Berks County’s history.

That’s why we think it’s so important to share YOUR Berks history. This year, we would like to change things up a bit! We would like to create more opportunities for you, the members, to share your stories with one another. Instead of writing about what WE are doing at the Berks History Center in this column, we hope to share YOUR stories about YOUR Berks County history.

If you are a member of the Berks History Center and would like to share a bit about your particular passion for Berks County’s history in The Historical Review of Berks County, please contact me, Alexis Campbell, at publicity@berkshistory.org. Whether it’s a hobby of collecting, an interesting family history or just your enthusiasm for a particular subject, we want to share your Berks history!

Written by Communications Director, Alexis Campbell. Originally published in Spring 2019 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County

Looking Forward in 2019: A Message from the Director

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To all our good friends and supporters of Berks History Center (BHC), Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a safe, happy and healthy holiday season and that you are making it through the winter of 2018-19 in good spirits. Though we still have a bit of winter left to endure, I think it’s safe to say, “the back of this winter is broken!”

A lot’s been going on, so let’s catch up.

Members Only Holiday Happy Hour and Behind the Scenes Tour:

I’ll begin by thanking all of those who attended the BHC’s January 10th Members Only Holiday Happy Hour and Behind the Scenes Tour. I was astounded by the show of support we had from our membership at this event. Over 120 people attended and got the chance to see what the staff, volunteers and interns have accomplished as we go about preserving Your Berks History! It was an evening of conviviality shared by a membership that understands the importance and is proud of its heritage. All of us at the BHC thank you for your support of what we do. I also want to thank the tour volunteers for the evening and the staff of the BHC for their hard work especially BHC Curator Brad Smith for his attention to detail that allowed us to coordinate a total of eight groups of 10-12 people departing on tours every 10 minutes with little to no confusion or congestion. It was a sight to behold! I also wish to thank Dana Lonaberger for volunteering her time as bartender and providing us the recipe for Pompey’s Punch. Thank you!

2018-2019 Strategic Plan:

Next, let me update you on the BHC’s Strategic Plan I wrote about in my winter 2018-19 column. Facilitated by the Philadelphia consulting firm Schultz & Williams, we have made considerable progress, and from the data collected so far, along with feedback from the half-day board/staff retreat held on November 30, 2018, the central strategic planning questions the BHC looks to answer include:

  • Who do we want to be?
  • Where are we going?
  • How do we get there?

To answer these questions and create a strategic plan that addresses them, six working groups made up of BHC trustees, staff and community stakeholders were organized. Each of these working groups was tasked with focusing on key planning issues, and collectively they are working together to complete the work that is so critically important to the outcome of the planning process.

 The areas of concentration for the working groups include:

  1. Mission and Relevance
  2. Programming, Exhibits, Partnerships and Collaborations
  3. Image/Community Engagement and Membership
  4. Location and Facility
  5. Financial Stability
  6. Leadership and Board Development

The groups began by working independently, meeting at least once, but it was understood that in many cases their work was dependent on and impacted the work of other groups. As an example, whereas the principal work of the Financial Stability Work Group was to set up a sustainable business model for the entire organization, a significant portion of the budget it constructs will fund the initiatives that are created from the other working groups.

Upon completion, the tasks assigned to each working group will shape the reports they will provide Schultz & Williams. Schultz & Williams will then synthesize that information into a report that will ultimately be submitted to the Strategic Planning Task Force shaping the direction and substance of the final strategic plan. This should be finalized by late March or early April and we will be sharing the report with our membership to keep you informed on the course of action the BHC will pursue over the next 3-5 years.

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150th Anniversary/Events:

As exciting as the strategic plan is by itself, one can’t help but see its symbolic importance when viewed in conjunction with the BHC’s Sesquicentennial Anniversary in 2019-2020. The BHC is 150 years old, that’s remarkable and though there are other historical organizations that old and older, this is a huge milestone for us. From July 2019 through June 2020, BHC will be celebrating in a big way and I would like to tell you about some of the events and initiatives we have already planned.

So far, events include a Charter Day Jubilee on July 12th 2019 to commemorate the day The Historical Society of Berks County was organized in 1869, a Hidden Treasures of the Oley Valley Tour on October 19th recreating the early Pilgrimages of the Historical Society, an Incorporation Day Birthday Bash on December 13th 2019 to celebrate the date the Historical Society was incorporated in 1869, as well as special 150th Gala Dinner, (date to be determined).

These events, in addition to special 150th Anniversary membership offers and giving opportunities, a new museum exhibit, and a new publication by the BHC will serve to mark this milestone in the history of our organization. Together, the BHC’s 150th Anniversary and the strategic plan can be viewed as a “Rebirth” of one of our community’s longstanding institution and will set in motion the next chapter in our already long history.

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Palmer Gallery

My final topic for this column is the renovation of the BHC’s Palmer Gallery. This is something we have wanted to do for a while and following the dismantling of the World War I & Berks Exhibit, it was time to move on this assignment.

The renovations were made possible by a generous gift from the Focht Family Foundation and include: Removing the existing wall paper, prep-work and painting of the walls, ceiling and trim, in addition to the installation of new carpeting throughout the gallery. The project will be finished in plenty of time for the installation of our upcoming exhibit commemorating the HSBC/BHC’s 150th Anniversary Celebration.

All of us at the BHC wish to thank the Focht Family Foundation for their generous support and for assisting us in entering our Sesquicentennial with an exhibit gallery worthy of this auspicious occasion.

That’s it for now and I look forward to reconvening with you with the summer 2019 issue of The Review. Wishing you all the best, until then…

The 4th Annual Berks History Conference Focuses on Berks County & the Civil War

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The Berks History Center invites you to attend the 4th Annual Berks History Conference on April 13, 2019, located at 940 Centre Avenue, Reading, PA 19601.

The Berks History Conference is an annual gathering for history enthusiasts and features a series of lectures on Berks County’s history. This year’s conference will focus on the Civil War and will cover a variety of topics that explore Berks County’s involvement in the conflict including: Berks County’s famous first, First Defenders, the Ringgold Light Artillery; Provost Marshal George W. Durell and his experiences executing the Federal Civil War draft; a photographic expose of the Antietam battlefields; and the prominent role of the PW&B Railroad in the war and its connections to Berks County.

The Berks History Center welcomes four distinguished conference speakers: Mark Pflum, First Defenders Civil War Historian; John M. Lawlor, Jr., Professor Emeritus; Stephen Recker, Photograph Collector & Author; and Scott Mingus, multiple award-winning Civil War author.

“The Berks History Conference is a unique opportunity to delve into specific aspects of Berks County’s rich history.” said Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “And when it comes to the Civil War, there is no shortage of stories that awe and inspire.”

The Berks History Conference is sponsored by The Berks Packing Company, Inc. and Sweet Street Desserts.

Tickets are $25 for students, $50 for members, $60 for non-members and can be purchased by calling 610-375-4375.  Berks History Center is also offering a special new member fee for $95 that includes admission to the conference and a discounted membership to the Berks History Center. Lunch is included for all participants.

To register call 610-375-4375 or click here for a brochure and more information.

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Berks History Center Transfers Rare Artifact to Rightful Home in Chester County, PA

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(Right) Ellen E. Endslow, Director of Collections/Curator at Chester County Historical Society accepting the Mendenhall Box from (left) Bradley K. Smith, Curator at the Berks History Center.

The Berks History Center (BHC) is pleased to announce the transfer of a rare artifact, a wooden strongbox or chest, to the care of the Chester County Historical Society on Wednesday, January 30, 2019.

The artifact, which was designed to hold and protect important papers, is particularly unique due to its age and well documented history. While BHC staff members knew of the chest’s existence and were aware of a 1684 date carved on its face, it was only during the BHC’s 2016-2017 collections management initiative that its full history and significance came to light.

The collections management initiative was an undertaking designed to improve artifact related record-keeping through a process of inventory and historical research. PA Museums, Pennsylvania’s state-wide Museum Association, awarded the BHC with a 2018 Institutional Achievement Award in recognition of the initiative’s success.

 

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The chest belonged to Benjamin Mendenhall of Concord, a township of Chester County until the formation of Delaware County in 1789. The earliest known historical text that discusses Benjamin Mendenhall is the 1862 publication History of Delaware County, by George Smith. Smith indicates that Mendenhall was a wheelwright who emigrated from the English town of Mildenhall in 1686 (contemporary research shows that Mendenhall attended a Philadelphia wedding on November 15, 1684, so he clearly arrived in Pennsylvania sometime prior to that date).

Numerous sources indicate that he served one term in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and was an active member of the Chichester/Concord Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends. Benjamin Mendenhall was married in 1698 to Ann Pennel and they had a large family; one of their daughters married the famed botanist, John Bartram on October 11, 1729. The Mendenhalls are also the sixth-great grandparents of U.S. President, Richard Nixon.

The Mendenhall chest remained with family members living in Chester or Delaware County until 1872, when the donor-to-be, Stephen Merideth, moved from Pughtown, Chester County to Reading, Pennsylvania. According to the BHC’s accession records, Meredith donated the small chest to the Historical Society of Berks County on September 13, 1921.

While the reasons for Merideth’s donation to the BHC are unknown, the artifact holds significant historical value to Chester County, not only in the unique age and quality of the box, but also in its well documented provenance as a cherished family heirloom.

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A caption with the photograph says “photo by Goldman, Reading, Pa”. This presumably refers to William I. Goldman (1856-1922), who first appears as a photographer in the 1877-78 edition of The City Directory of Reading, PA and continued in the photography business until his death in 1922

In 1897, teenager Earl Merideth, son of the chest’s eventual donor, wrote: “I am a profound admirer of ancestral relics, of which I have a great one, namely the money box, about 10” x 8” x 6” of Benjamin Mendenhall. On it are carvings by his own hand, artistic in nature, together with ‘B. 1684 M.’ on the front of box. The old lock though broken still clings to it. It is a wonderful old box, and I may safely say that it bids fair to outlive twice or thrice as many generations as it has in the past. I would not part with it for a great deal. It is made of hickory wood and firmly put together.”

Although the chest has been in BHC collection for nearly 100 years, the artifact has little connection to Berks County beyond the fact that its last private owner lived in close proximity to the museum’s headquarters. After careful research and consideration by the BHC Curator and Museum Committee, the BHC decided to deaccession the artifact from its collection. The BHC offered the chest in recognition of the fact that the vast majority of its history is connected with communities and families of Chester County.

As explained by BHC Executive Director, Sime Bertolet, “after careful deliberation, we concluded that the chest belongs in Chester County, the ancestral home of the Mendenhall family, and we are delighted that the Historical Society of Chester County agreed with this assessment.”

Ellen E. Endslow, Director of Collections/Curator at Chester County Historical Society, said, “the Chester County Historical Society is thrilled to have this (artifact) in the collection. This is part of what good collections management is about in the museum profession. The fact that Brad did such an excellent job researching the item and realizing that it is such an important part of Chester County’s history that it belongs in Chester County is a very professional way to treat an important object like this.”

The BHC transferred the artifact to the care of the Historical Society of Chester County on Wednesday, January 20, 2019.

Berks History Center Acquires New Painting by Famous Berks County Artist, Ben Austrian

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The Berks History Center (BHC) is pleased to announce a new acquisition, “Puppy Watching Chicks with Worm,” oil on canvas by Ben Austrian.

The acquisition was made possible with a gift from the Spinnaker Foundation, which focuses on the arts, athletics, education and health with an emphasis on educating children, encouraging philanthropic activities and improving the local community. Most notably, the Spinnaker Foundation has helped to promote the preservation and collecting of Berks County art by Berks County artists.

With the support of the Spinnaker Foundation, “Puppy Watching Chicks with Worm” was purchased from Greshville Antiques in December, 2018 and is now on display in the BHC museum. The 15”x20” gold leaf framed painting (copyright 1906) depicts a brown and white puppy watching two chicks fight over a worm.

Ben Austrian was an American painter best known for his realistic portrayals of farmyard life. Much of his subject matter focused on hens and their chicks, cats, dogs, horses, and game. Born on November 22, 1870 in Reading, PA, Austrian was largely self-taught. His work was influenced by other well-known Berks County artists including Federick A. Spang.  Austrian is best known as the painter of the famous Bon Ami chicks.

With this new addition, the BHC has a total of nine Ben Austrian paintings its collections. However, the subject matter is quite varied. Other Austrian works in the BHC collection include: “Still Life,” “Trees, Grass & Meadow,” a portrait of “John Misler,” “The Stand Off Terrier with Chick,” “Chicks with Basket,’ “Rooster & Hens,” and two “Hanging Game” paintings.

“Puppy Watching Chicks with Worm” is a particularly charming addition to the BHC’s collections of Ben Austrian’s work and epitomizes the subject matter for which this Berks County artist is famous. This painting, along with a number of Austrians, are now on display in the BHC Museum, open Tuesday-Friday, 10AM-3PM, and Saturday 9AM-3PM.