A Contemporary Account of Drexel's Founding
Preface by Roger A. McCain
Philadelphia, Jan. 17. 1997
Harper's Weekly was a newsmagazine of the 1890's, published on newsprint and often illustrated with prints. In January, 1892, they reported on a major event of the day: the founding of the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry. The cover was a picture of the benefactor, and the news account follows, with the architectural sketch of the Institute building that accompanied it. The Drexel Institute, of course, became Drexel University, and the Institute Building, now known as Main Building, still stands, largely unchanged. Indeed Anthony Drexel builded for the ages.
Here is an Editorial from the same issue. Perhaps the following quotation from it sums up the Drexel ethos as well as one can: "It would indeed be a fatal error to relax in any essential way the traditional standard of university education. ... But in order to maintain it, it is not necessary to prohibit or to depreciate the studies which contemplate immediate usefulness." Drexel was a noted Philadelphia landmark from the first.Here are some other early Drexel pictures. Here is an earlier piece from Harper's Weekly.
Does Mr. Anthony J. Drexel know how well he has builded in the matter of the institute that bears his name? Probably not. It is one of those rare institutions whose aim is not financial success; and when it comes to a question of the amount of moral good to be conferred, man can only estimate vaguely, and hope for the best. This institute is a direct blow at socialistic doctrines of equality in wealth; it shows what beneficent use may he made of a large fortune.
The Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry -- to name it at length -- is located in Philadelphia. The building has been in course of erection for some months, and was formally dedicated Thursday, December 17th. The exercises were held in the auditorium of the building, a hall capable of accommodating two thousand people. It was crowded. The Right Rev. Henry C. Potter, of New York, implored the Divine blessing upon the institution and upon its founder; Chauncey M. Depew delivered the oration; the Hon. Wayne MacVeagh, acting in behalf of Mr. Drexel, who was absent, delivered to the president of the institute, James MacAlister, LL. D., the deeds of the building; and Bishop Whittaker, of Philadelphia, pronounced the benediction.
The cost of the building and grounds has been $500,000. In addition to this expenditure, Mr. Drexel has made over to the institute long-time securities valued at $1,023,000, which are now producing $50,000 annually. Still further, Mr. Drexel has given many books to the library and a valuable collec tion to the museum. This last department has also been remembered by George W. Childs, Dr. Edward H. Williams, and the family of the late Lieutenant Allan G. Paul, U.S.N.
The building stands at Chestnut and Thirty-second streets, on high ground. It is in the style of the classic renaissance, and is of light buff brick with terra-cotta ornaments of a darker color; the base is of rock-faced granite. The main entrance is from Chestnut Street by a richly decorated portal. It admits to a noble portico in colored marbles, and with an oak-panelled ceiling. Thence, one gains the entrance hall, in which the Greek motive is emphasized by columns in red Georgian marble. Beyond is the great central court, 65 feet square, wainscoted in marble, and with a groined ceiling, the centre filled in with a diffusing sash of stained glass. Above this is a roof of glass and iron. A grand staircase in Italian marble and decorative iron-work conducts from the court to the upper stories. Broad galleries run around the court on the second and third floors, and are supported and enclosed by arcades. From these galleries the class rooms, studios, and laboratories open. They are all lighted from the exterior of the building. The wood-work throughout is of polished oak.
The first floor contains the library, a well-lighted commodious room, with a capacity for 75,000 volumes. The museum is also on this floor. The gymnasium, fitted with the latest athletic appliances, is on the top floor; two suites of marble bath-rooms are connected with it. The department of photography will also he on this floor, and there are rooms for printing and developing, and a dark room.
In the attic one is impressed with the ventilating system. Here are four electric motors, each operating an exhaust fan that has to do with a distinct part of the building. Foul air has no chance to accumulate within these walls. Going down one flight of stairs, the chemical laboratory is found. The ceiling of this room is one large grating, through which fumes and odors escape, and are at once driven off by the exhaust fan.
In the basement are three superb dynamos, built from special plans for the institute by the Edison General Company. and adjoining then is the boiler-room, a model for light and ventilation it contains three boilers of 200 horse-power each. The system of heating employed renders each room independent of the others, and has an automatic system of regulation that causes an equable temperature to be maintained throughout the entire building. In the basement also are the rooms for wood-turning, machine shop, blacksmithing, and electrical study and experiment.
Throughout the building, in its construction, its appointments, and equipment. the dominant idea of the builder stands forth prominent before all else: let us have the best of everything. There has been no paring of expenses. Having the intention to do a good work, Mr. Drexel has done it as perfectly and completely as the appliances and inventions of the day permit. And now the manual and mechanical part of the work is completed, There remains the practical application of the plan. What is this?
First, it is not a charity. It will not give with no expectation of receiving back to itself any reward. It will, so it is hoped, gather strength from the breadth of its work, the scope of its instruction, and the ability of its graduates, so that coming years may find it prepared to proceed upon still broader lines into still wider fields of usefulness.
It aims to educate, but not along a hackneyed line. Pupils in the schools of the past and of to-day study a great deal that affords admirable mental discipline, but is of no practical advantage in their life work The Drexel Institute will largely avoid this. Its curriculum is to be such that when a young man or young woman goes forth from its doors with its diploma in hand, be or she may find a situation open and waiting. It will educate to meet the needs of changing social conditions, and the exigencies of a busy life as the masses of the people find them. It will afford training -- and that is practical education -- to the masses, who have undoubted ability, but no possibility of attaining development under present scholastic conditions. This is its object -- the extension and improvement of industrial education as a means of opening better and wider avenues of employment to young men and women. This is to be done largely by means of lectures, evening classes, the library, and the museum.
And now, what can the young man or woman learn at the institute?
There is to be a course of study and practice in art, including free-hand and model drawing, oils and water-colors, design, modelling, and sculpture. It will include a three-years' course for teachers of art in public schools. There is a scientific department, in which chemistry and physics will be taught. The laboratories are excellently equipped. There is the department of mechanic arts. It will aim to fit boys and young men for a business or industrial career, and to bring them into sympathy with the industrial tendencies of the times. It will include a thorough course of manual training, supplemented by instruction in drawing and mathematics and other branches. It will introduce the pupil to the mysteries of wood-work, iron work, machine construction, elementary economics, and will also give him a good physical training.
And then, for the girls and young women, there is a department of domestic economy. It will teach necessary things, and things often not known until taught by stern experience, in the organization and management of the household. It will be thoroughly practical. The course will extend over two years. Cooking will be taught in model kitchens, and meals will be spread in a model dining-room. And besides cooking, the girls may learn millinery, dress-making, the building, sanitation, decoration, and manage ment of the house, household economy, hu man physiology and hygiene, business forms and accounts, free-hand drawing, and elementary economics.
The technical department will include courses in applied electricity, machine construction, mechanical drawing, photography, house decoration, wood-carving, cookery, millinery, and dress-making. It is comprehensive of much that is taught in other departments. There will also be teaching of the methods of business, a regular system of physical training, and a normal department for intending teachers. This will recognize the change now going on in elementary schools, and prepare to meet the resulting needs.
One notes here not alone many things that the sexes may study together, but also much that is intended particularly to benefit young women. It is in advance of former plans of co-education. The nature of the instruction throughout is well considered to improve and elevate mankind as a whole, and not any one class. It will bring beauty and light into phases of life where they have been sadly lacking.
A system of free scholarships is prepared, hut for the greater part admission will he accompanied by a small fee. That which is easily obtained is lightly considered; an education is too important a matter to be triflingly dealt with. And thus, with a noble building, a princely endowment, a modern equipment, a fair prospectus, and an efficient corps of teachers, the Drexel Institute starts upon a course of broad philanthropy, of which no man can consider the possible bounds.