The University Museum

Originally Published in 1916

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An Appeal

At this moment of its highest achievement and most marked success, which happily corresponds to a time of extraordinary prosperity for Philadelphia and for the country, the University Museum has, in the circumstances, a special sanction for an appeal to the public.

It is necessary and right at such a time to call attention to the work that this Museum has been quietly doing, to state its needs and to put forward its claims. Its performance is of a kind which has been recognized in every great city as necessary for the education of the public. In Philadelphia this recognition is not yet so complete as in some other great cities, but the very remarkable increase of public interest in the University Museum during the last year gives ground for the belief that Philadelphia is prepared to play a leading part in this wholesome and universal movement for culture and in promoting the ideal of liberal education.

The structure which is known as the University Museum and which stands at the corner of Thirty-third and Spruce Streets, represents about one-fifth of the building which has been planned for construction on that site. To complete this building will require a sum of three and a half million dollars. The collections which have been obtained at great expense and which are of great value, cannot be adequately shown or properly cared for until the exhibition halls, storerooms and laboratories are increased. This need is a very urgent one and one that, must be met in the near future if the Museum is to continue its useful work.

The need for developing the collections in all departments of the Museum, without intermission, is fundamental; for such an institution could not long survive a partial paralysis of its proper functions. To relax the efforts towards increasing the collections along the lines already defined would have an effect so reactionary that the good work already accomplished would be rendered all but worthless. At the present moment an effort is being made to raise $300,000 for the immediate purchase of collections and works of art which the proper development of the Museum requires and which have been selected with a great deal of care.

For the proper maintenance of the Museum, including the heating and lighting of the building, the salaries of the people in charge of the collections, the cost of installing the exhibitions and their protection, there is required a sum of $100,000 annually. The interest from endowment at the present time amounts to only $14,000 and the income from membership fees amounts to $5,000. The sum of $10,000 will be received for one year from the University of Pennsylvania out of its appropriation from the State. These sums are available towards the cost of maintenance. The remainder of the funds has to be provided each year from private contributions. At the present time, therefore, an endowment fund of $2,000,000 is an urgent necessity.

During the year 1915, the sum of $175,000 was spent for maintaining expeditions in the field and purchasing collections. Every cent of this money proceeded from private contributions.

How You Can Share in the Work of the Museum

There are a great many people in Philadelphia who can help this public work. The persons who have heretofore contributed have been most generous, but the burden is becoming too heavy for a small number of contributors to bear. It is now necessary to appeal to a larger number of people and to a wider range of interests in order to take the next forward step and secure the Museum in its useful work for the future.

In order to afford a large number of people an opportunity of participating in this necessary work for the public good, and in order to reciprocate by giving special privileges and benefits to all who join in this agreeable plan of cooperation, the following classes of membership have been created and a person holding any one of these memberships is entitled to the privileges which are explained below.

Fellows for Life, who contribute………………………………………….$1,000
Fellowship Members, who pay an annual contribution of………. $100
Sustaining Members, who pay an annual contribution of………… $25
Annual Members, who pay an annual contribution of…………….. $10

All classes of members receive tickets which entitle them to reserved seats at the courses of lectures given for members at the Museum, and invitations to all receptions given to members.

Annual Members receive also the MUSEUM JOURNAL and copies of all guides and handbooks, and free use of the library and reading room.

Annual Members receive in addition, an extra ticket entitling the holder to a reserved seat at each of the lectures.

Sustaining Members receive in addition to the general privileges, copies of all publications issued by the Museum, and two extra tickets entitling the holders to reserved seats at the lectures.

Fellowship Members receive in addition to the general privileges, copies of all publications issued by the Museum and five extra tickets entitling the holders to reserved seats at the lectures.

The fees received from Annual Members, Sustaining Members and Fellowship Members are put into the fund for current expenses. The fees received from Fellowships for Life are turned into the Endowment Fund.

None of these moneys are available for expeditions or collections, which have to be provided for by special funds contributed for these purposes.

Any one who shall have contributed or devised money or property amounting to $100,000 to the Museum for any purpose may be elected a Benefactor.

Any one who shall have contributed or devised money or property amounting to $50,000 may be elected a Patron.

An expedition sent to any part of the world to make explorations or to assemble collections costs from $5,000 a year to $15,000 a year. Many of the expeditions that are now in the field and that have heretofore been in the field, have been equipped and supported by single individuals. This is a particularly agreeable way for anyone with a taste for exploration to participate in the work that the Museum is doing for the promotion of knowledge and for the public welfare.
Philadelphia must not be content with second place in the things that make for culture. The University Museum has already prepared the way. It now holds out to all intelligent and loyal citizens a brilliant opportunity to serve the City by giving it a really great museum.

If you find that the subject of these lines lies within the scope of your sympathies, the following pages will not be without interest for you. When you have read them at your leisure and made up your mind how you can, with most satisfaction to yourself, take an active part in the realization of the brilliant prospect here set forth, we hope that you will feel persuaded to pay a visit to the Museum and see it for yourself if you have not already done so. If you are satisfied and would like to participate in the work, make your wishes known either in person or by a letter.

What the University Museum Is Doing

Your attention is especially invited to what the University Museum has already accomplished and to the fact that it is not an experiment, but an institution which has already proved its practical usefulness. The first fact to be noticed is that the Museum owns twelve acres of ground and that the building which has been designed and partly erected on that site is one which has already attracted attention as one of the City’s architectural ornaments. The newest portion of this building, which was opened in February of this year, consists of an auditorium and a large exhibition hall, both of which have been since that time used with great advantage by the public.

This building has cost about $600,000, all of which has been paid. The collections which are housed in it have been obtained either through purchase or by our own expeditions which have excavated in Babylonia, in Egypt, in Greece, in Italy, in China, and in Peru, and by expeditions which have worked in almost every country in the world. There are also many collections of great value which have been given by their former owners or left by will to the Museum for the benefit of the public. The intrinsic value of these collections is estimated at $1,000,000, while their educational value is incalculable. There is no debt of any kind on the building or on the collections, which are entirely free on the 365 days of the year. During last year more than 100,000 visitors enjoyed the exhibitions and during last winter 5,000 school children with their teachers listened to illustrated talks and saw motion picture exhibitions in the auditorium. A similar number of school children with their teachers were personally conducted through the exhibitions and had these explained to them by the Curators and their assistants.

A course of sixteen lectures was given for the benefit of members during the same season. These lectures were delivered by well-known travelers and explorers and by eminent specialists, both American and European. On each occasion the auditorium was filled, and the entire number of people who listened to these lectures during the winter of 1915-16 was in excess of 16,000.

Besides these regular lectures, classes met in the Museum for the study of special branches of art. These classes were free and voluntary and received instruction by regularly appointed teachers. Students and others interested in the collections are constantly being shown through the exhibition halls individually or in small groups by the Curators and by their assistants.

The Antiquity of Man

To illustrate one of the ways in which these excursions in the Museum serve to stimulate the imagination and provoke thought, look for a moment at four objects selected at random. There is a fragment of a marble statue of a Greek boy made by an unknown artist about 400 years before our era. That is a very respectable antiquity, an antiquity to which we are accustomed to look back with pride and almost with reverence as to our own origins; but our inheritance goes back much farther than that. In another case you may see a stone lamp that lighted somebody’s house in Crete about 2,000 years before the beginning of the Christian era. In a case near by is to be seen a wooden tablet dug out of a tomb in Egypt. Upon it are engraved crude hieroglyphics which give the name of the occupant of that tomb and tell what a very great man he was-4,000 years before Christ. There is no doubt that this antique Egyptian was a great man, but it is not known that he was any greater than the nameless one who made a certain flint axe which lies in still another case in the Museum. This rudely fashioned implement was found in the banks of the river Seine and its age carries one so far back in the earth’s history that at the time when it was made Western Europe had an Arctic climate. In the Britain and France of that time the beaches were battered with icebergs and the North Sea was strewn with the floe. This was the natural state of Europe when a progressive savage made that rude weapon of stone to hunt the hairy mammoth on the site of Paris 100,000 years ago.

Compared to this ancient hunter, the famous Egyptian who lived 4,000 years before Christ, flourished quite recently; the stone lamp that was new in Crete 2,000 years later is a modern invention, and as for the Greek boy who was the model for that beautiful fragment of stone, he would seem by comparison to be a contemporary of ourselves. It is a very long stretch of time that unfolds itself to the imagination as you pass from case to case or from hall to hall in this Museum, and one of the lessons that these exhibits teach is that this process of time corresponds to very extraordinary changes in the condition of the earth and especially in the state of man. These are among the fundamental facts of modern knowledge and they are facts that every cultivated person should know. To know this past is to know something of ourselves, not to know it is to be in ignorance of ourselves.

The University Museum Helps the Applied Arts and Benefits Local Industries

In the variety of its uses the University Museum has also a very practical side. In a manufacturing center like Philadelphia where the modern industrial arts are in a state of active development, the factories stand in need of models such as the Museum affords. In the manufacture of textiles, rugs, pottery and the useful and the decorative arts generally, a correct appreciation of art values and a knowledge of the way to arrive at them can be had only by the study of collections which, like those in the University Museum, illustrate the history of decoration and the evolution of design.

Many manufacturing concerns deeply interested in the tendencies of public taste and intelligently aware of the importance of correct standards, find in the exhibitions at the University Museum, trustworthy guidance and a source of profitable information. By having recourse to this guidance they are enabled to produce articles that are true to type and that represent the highest expression of art value in modern manufactures.

The Lesson of London: A Great Museum in War Time

In January of the present year the British Government, among other measures designed to save money for the prosecution of the war, took steps to close the museums of London. The effect produced upon the country by this proposed economy found expression in a formal protest made by a number of responsible men well known in public life—men whose names would carry weight throughout the world in matters of art, of science and of letters.

These experienced and thoughtful representatives of the cause of national education, though loyal to the government and fully alive to the supreme need of the hour, placed themselves on record in a manner that shows that they viewed the closing of the museums as a measure not to be contemplated even by a government that is facing an economic situation that fills the financial world with dismay.

Lord Bryce and his distinguished associates, in a clear-cut statement which was laid before the government for consideration, showed that the museums of London are performing a service in relation to public education and to the national welfare so important that the country could not afford to have them closed even at a time when it is supporting the burden of war and paying the ruinous price which victory entails.

This serious statement, coming from responsible men of affairs working in sympathy with the government and close to the councils of the nation, affords a striking proof of the importance that is attached to museums in a country that is taking stock of all its resources and subjecting its possessions, material and moral, to a rigorous test.

Of all the lessons which the people of America can draw from the great war, none is of greater importance than this: that the European nations, regardless of the heavy sacrifices which have fallen to their lot, are unwilling in their enforced economies, to save money by blocking up the sources of liberal culture and pure enjoyment through suspending the work of the museums. The experience of Great Britain with reference to museums in war time is the same as that of the other European countries that are engaged in the conflict. The Louvre, which closed when the invading armies came close to Paris, is opening up its galleries again; and in Berlin, not only are all the public collections kept fully up to normal conditions, but a new museum is actually in course of construction. This is a very striking array of facts. It presents a sharp contrast to the hasty judgment of the uninformed, and of all who hold that museums are mere luxuries. It represents an acknowledgment, moreover, that is quite in keeping with American ideas, for in this country too, museums have come to be looked upon as necessary instruments of education. An instrument that has been found of such value in time of war and in time of peace is one that calls for special and hopeful recognition at the present moment of our history.

America is today prosperous to an unparalleled extent, and this prosperity is shared by all classes alike. The daily press, the trade journals, the reports of corporations and government returns, show an accumulation of wealth by the people of this country that surpasses anything of the kind in history. The share of this wealth that comes to Philadelphia is a very large one. If London can afford its museums today, Philadelphia can afford a much greater one than it has. Its great opportunity lies in the University Museum, an aggressive institution that has laid its foundations on an ample scale, that has already made its name known throughout the world and that bears the same relation to this City that the British Museum bears to London.

A Tale of Two Museums

The British Museum was founded in 1753 and its history reads like a romance. Its influence today reaches far beyond the United Kingdom. The greatest and the smallest parts of the Empire feel a just pride in it, and, embodying as it does ideas which they share alike, it has come to be a mould of their Imperial sentiment and an emblem of their faith.

Recently it was pointed out in Parliament that the British Museum is doing a very great work at this critical period in the world’s history. It was said that the refugees that crowd the city, the soldiers home on leave or convalescent from hospital all go to the British Museum for recreation. From Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, India, from all over the map, the men in khaki come together under that roof among the treasures of antiquity and the collections gathered from all the earth. There the nations meet, as people meet upon a holiday, and from that center, even in the tumult of war, a great civilizing and humanizing influence is going out over the whole world.

A few years after the founding of the British Museum, to be exact, in 1785, the first museum in America was founded. Its history has been written and that too makes interesting reading. This was the Peale Museum, founded by Charles Willson Peale and situated at Third and Lombard Streets in Philadelphia. It was the intention of Peale and his associates to lay the foundation of a great National Museum, and their successful efforts to assemble collections worthy of their high ambition afford striking proof of the industry and forethought as well as the liberal intelligence that distinguished the founders of the Republic.

In 1792 Thomas Jefferson was elected President of the Peale Museum, and upon the Board of Managers were such men as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Mifflin, Robert Morris, David Rittenhouse and Dr. Caspar Wistar. At the head of the list of subscribers in 1794 stands the name of George Washington, followed by the names of John Adams and James Monroe. It is a curious fact that none of the collections that were gathered into the Peale Museum are now in Philadelphia. If you would see them you must go to New York and Boston.

What a fine thing it would have been if the Peale Museum, starting as it did so soon after the British Museum, had been given a permanent home in this City and if the far-sighted plan of its founders had been realized by the building up of great national collections on this historic ground. There is no city in the country so well situated and none so well fitted as Philadelphia to be the home of such collections. Two things are essential for the existence of a great museum. It must be in a community where wealth and culture are combined with liberal ideas, and it must be in the center of a large population. Both these conditions are satisfied here better than anywhere else in the country. The City has not taken advantage of this situation and in the meantime other cities have acquired great museums. The Metropolitan was founded in 1869, the Boston Museum in 1870, and the Field Museum of Chicago in 1894. Philadelphia, it is true, has today several museums, each of which is doing its own work along its chosen lines, but the City does not possess a great museum in the sense that other cities have great museums, nor does it possess public collections that are worthy of its place in history.

What Museums in America Are Doing

Reference has been made to the uses of a great museum in time of war and its civilizing influence. That civilizing influence is needed also in time of peace and it is needed in America quite as much as in Europe or in any other country. If America is today becoming the richest and most powerful nation of the world, we will do well while we talk of preparation for war to see to it that all the wealth and all the power shall not be converted into instruments of destruction, and that a just proportion goes to the things that make for a higher culture and a more sane and happy condition of life.

The Commissioner of Education in his Annual Report for 1913 stated that there are in the United States 600 museums. The statement needs the extensive qualification which makes up the body of the chapter that is devoted to the subject, for out of the whole number not more than fifty of these so-called museums are active at all, and only about half of these are doing any really useful work. In that report a large group of museums, namely, thirty-eight per cent, are classed as college or university museums administered under the auspices of colleges or universities. The following passages from the report will serve to indicate the position which they occupy. “Although a few museums under control of colleges or universities . . . have endowments sufficient to ensure their maintenance, the great majority are inactive and deteriorating. . . . They are less valued in college institutions today than they were in the first half of last century and rarely receive adequate support unless aided by endowment. Their condition is seldom satisfactory and often pitiable.”

It is pointed out by the Commissioner that the experience of this large class of museums, and the unfortunate condition in which they find themselves, show very clearly that owing to the great cost and to other circumstances, the work of a museum cannot be successfully carried on by a college or university. The few exceptions are cases where very special conditions give the museum an independent existence.

One of these exceptions is the University Museum of Philadelphia which has been spared the fate of so many other university museums as analyzed in the Commissioner’s report, by the wisdom of the University Trustees in creating for its government a separate organization. This consists of a Board of Managers made up of sixteen elective members and four members of the Board of Trustees of the University. The Board of Managers controls the work of the Museum, cooperates with the University, affords facilities for the use of the collections by students and instructors and relieves the University of all responsibility for the support and for the administrative and executive work of the Museum. In this way the University Museum has been able to undertake and carry to successful conclusion a number of important expeditions, to acquire valuable collections, to enlarge its building and to develop liberal plans for increasing its usefulness in the community.

To quote again from the Commissioner’s report, we find that fifteen per cent of the museums in the country are maintained by municipal or state appropriations and that these “are growing in numbers, size and usefulness and are receiving increasing appropriations of public moneys and contributions from private sources.” They are “the most active and progressive museums of the present time, because the continuance of appropriations is contingent upon work of such broad scope and practical nature as to maintain the interest and approval of the general public. . . . The introduction of the educational function into museums is the keynote of their phenomenal development during the last quarter of a century. They are now democratic in the highest sense, responsible directly to the people and developing in proportion as they satisfy the needs of the public.”

As a matter of fact, the four or five really great museums of the country are museums which receive municipal support in the shape of annual appropriations equal to their needs. By comparing the University Museum with this class it will be seen that while it is doing a similar work, its resources are totally different. It receives no funds from the City, and is supported entirely by private endowment and by contributions from citizens. In short, this Museum belongs neither to one class nor to the other, but occupies a unique position among the museums of America. At the same time it has, during recent years, taken a more and more prominent place among the museums of the first class and is doing a work similar to that which the great Municipal museums are doing in New York, Boston and Chicago.

The Scope of the University Museum

In the division of its interests, as well as in its sources of revenue, the University Museum occupies a different position from all the other American museums. It excludes, on the one hand, the mineral world, the plant life, and all the animals lower than man, and on the other hand, it leaves out all the productions of contemporary art and modern industry. It is a Museum of the Arts, and its business is to illustrate scientifically and from the historical point of view, not only the fine arts which furnish the sphere of the artist but also the useful arts, which engage the ingenuity of the artisan and employ the skill of the craftsman.

Apart from the great library in Bloomsbury, the scope of the University Museum is almost identical with that of the British Museum, an identity of interest that befits the legitimate successor of the Peale Museum. In such a museum the collections belong to the past rather than to the present and many of them derive their origin from a very remote antiquity.

The sources whence the treasures may be derived, the mines that yield the ore, lie far afield and in order to gain these sources and work these mines it is necessary to send out expeditions into widely separated parts of the world, either to explore ruined cities or to invoke the aid of the heathen artist and the heathen craftsman; for the humble savage folk have their message to give and their contribution to make to the history of civilization as well as ancient Egypt or Babylon or Greece or Rome. Indeed the so-called savage tribes are themselves a part of antiquity, preserving a very ancient heritage of the race; and when they have made their contribution they too must pass away. In order to throw out lines of communication, so to speak, with these contributors, living and dead, the University Museum has sent its expeditions all over the world.

These expeditions by opening up buried places or by cultivating friendly relations with savage tribes, have sought man’s handiwork in all ages and in all places; they have assembled the work of the potter, the smith, the weaver, the skin-dresser, the equipment of the warrior, the tools and utensils of industry and of domestic use, articles of personal adornment, the work of the painter and the work of the sculptor. These collections, the products of the arts in every stage of perfection, are the raw materials out of which the Museum is enabled to construct its educational exhibits. In the laboratory of the Museum all these disconnected facts fall into line and become articulate and weave themselves into an orderly pattern in which all may read the message of the past and behold the wonders that have been wrought through the ages.

No object, however humble, is without significance in this reconstruction of the past. The crudest and the meanest things may have their uses here. The Parthenon would not be inspiring if men had always built like that. The printing press would fail to stir the emotions did we not see in the distance the half dressed hide on which the savage traced the legends of his tribe. The Truths of Christianity, the Offices of the Church, the very Symbols of our Faith are the more vital and momentous for being seen in their proper relations to other and earlier beliefs and to the emblems of other faiths that were in the world since the dawn of man.

From what has been said it will be seen that the scope of the University Museum is not only one that permits of great concentration of effort but one that is broad enough to engage the concerted effort of all the liberal-minded spirits of Philadelphia for an indefinite period. That it is worthy of such a concerted effort, everyone must agree. With the support which is confidently looked for there is no reason why there should not be fully and admirably realized in this City a great Museum of the Arts similar to the British Museum. In such an event Philadelphia would take the place which belongs to it by virtue of its venerable traditions, and become once more and for all time the center of a higher culture and of a finer civic life on this Western Continent.

The Aims of the University Museum

To put the whole matter briefly, in its well-defined scope the University Museum aims to include the life history of the human race and to bridge the gap that separates man in his most primitive condition from the same being in the pride of his highest attainment. Its scope is man’s achievement; its object to illustrate and explain the evolution of human culture. In more specific terms, its purpose is to preserve and hand down to posterity a visible record of man’s history that will tell by means of his handiwork the story of his career on earth. The characters in which this wonderful story will be written are, therefore, the actual devices by which man has marked his pathway through the ages towards the unseen goal of his desire.

On the one hand will be seen the things that were fashioned by the houseless men of Europe when the mammoth and the musk ox were replacing the elephant and the hippopotamus on the icebound banks of the Seine, and on the other hand, revealed in sculptured stone and hammered bronze, will appear the wisdom of Babylon, the might of Egypt, the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome.

The idea which is presented in merest outline in these pages includes, therefore, in one comprehensive plan, the whole scheme of human culture in its essential attributes and in its progressive development. By the exhibition of well-selected examples of the art of all peoples and all times, the Museum will show the universal artist in his unending search for truth and beauty, and following him from age to age and from land to land we may be helped to see the conditions under which these elusive qualities are to be found. Above all, by bringing into strong relief the ingenuity of the mind expressed by the cunning of the hand, it will reveal the nobility of labor and proclaim the triumph of the craftsman.

This at all events is the ideal towards which we can with most advantage bend our energies. By keeping that ideal before us, even if we fail to realize it, we will accomplish more than if we kept in view a lesser purpose, which might be the measure of our ability though not the measure of our will.

Cite This Article

"The University Museum." The Museum Journal VII, no. 2 (June, 1916): 73-86. Accessed February 21, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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