Building Penn’s Brand, continued


The Gazette featured Houston Hall in its first issue, and pushed for a new Valley Forge campus in the 1920s and 1930s.

Also uncelebrated was Franklin’s academy that was open to girls as well as boys, while the college was open to all males who could meet the academic requirements. German Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg C1763, the “fighting clergyman” who served as a brigadier general during the Revolution, was an early graduate; another was Moses Levy C1772, the nephew of Nathan Levy, who founded many of Philadelphia’s Jewish institutions. In 1802 Philadelphia’s and Penn’s continuing social openness was evident when Levy was elected to the board of trustees, where he served until 1826 as Penn’s last link to the Revolutionary generation. His story was also ignored in Penn’s magazines, in favor of inflated or spurious claims of connection to George Washington Hon1783 (in absentia), whose birthday was celebrated with historic and patriotic lectures for a century in the now-forgotten University Day, and Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, who in the 1930s was “discovered” to be an alumnus of the Class of 1765 on questionable evidence. Photographs of Wayne’s statue in Valley Forge appeared in the Gazette, with the implication that this was the image of manhood appropriate to Penn’s future.

The University’s 19th-century status as a center of engineering and its progressive role in educating those awarded city scholarships (granted in exchange for much of the land of Penn’s growing campus) were also dropped from the narrative. When collegiate prestige increasingly depended on exclusivity, inclusiveness was not a plus. A principal factor that led to the reshaping of Penn’s history was the growing rivalry with Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Cornell, which was played out on the football field, in the design of the campus, and in aspects of campus life from rituals to songs. Penn’s anthem, “The Red and the Blue,” composed in 1896, places the origins of Penn’s colors in a combination of those of the best of her rivals. “Fair Harvard has her crimson, and Yale her colors too / But for dear Pennsylvania, we wear the Red and Blue.”

Meanwhile, the newly constructed dormitories, student union, and athletic field marked the metamorphosis of undergraduate life. In 1902, the first issue of Old Penn opened with a photograph of Houston Hall on its front page accompanied by an article on “College Clubs and Fraternities.” No more would college life at Penn be characterized by harsh, eye-straining work in the laboratory or library; instead, Old Penn reported a new and more enticing lifestyle:

The ancient idea, that the book worm is the highest product of scholastic or University training, has been displaced by the realization that the man best equipped for the conflict with modern world conditions, and most apt to be a credit and benefit to his Alma Mater, is the one whose development is many sided, if not entirely perfect.

Sports, music, theater, and other extracurricular activities took place in clubhouses, the gymnasium, and the new stadium that became the image of the turn-of-the century campus.

With University identity increasingly gauged against peer east-coast institutions Penn’s leaders commissioned Cope and Stewardson to design, in addition to the Quad dormitories, the Law School and a series of new classroom buildings in anglophile styles. They contrasted with Frank Furness’s library and the power plant and engineering-school building designed by the Wilson brothers (demolished in the 1920s for the construction of Irvine Auditorium) that were rooted in the functional expression of the region’s industrial culture.

To create an identity of appropriate antiquity on the English model, Penn’s new architects turned back the clock three and four centuries to buildings of the 14th and 15th centuries at Cambridge and Oxford. The new standard of genes instead of genius led Penn to advance its founding date and to shift its identity from engineering and the sciences, the programs in which more than half its students studied, to the anglophile elite culture of the East.

That the University was intentionally draping itself in the authority of English collegiate history by promoting an architectural continuity with Oxford and Cambridge was apparent in the way that the campus was depicted in Old Penn and the Gazette. Under the editorship of George Nitzsche L1898 (later the University’s publicity agent and recorder), Old Penn told the story of the campus and its growth so as to compare favorably with its Eastern rivals.

In its first year alone, stories praised the “magnificent” new law school building that proved that Penn was attracting students from around the nation. The paper reported with pride that the new gymnasium, Weightman Hall, was among the “most commodious in the United States and will be equipped with every modern convenience,” though it did not mention the industrial trusses that spanned its interior. And it weighed in on the importance of state appropriations for the growing School of Veterinary Medicine. However, even before the first year of publication had ended, the insidious focus on the past turned to fiction in an essay on “The Botanical Garden in May,” in the May 16, 1903 issue. Here Nitzsche certainly embellished and probably created history by claiming:

[T]he garden was a part of the great Governor Hamilton’s estate, whose stone mansion still stands in Woodland Cemetery. Along these walks, great statesmen passed with him in social or political converse. Here are trees planted for the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, a weeping willow for Provost Harrison, a tulip poplar for Governor Pennypacker …

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